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.
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
"Good. Let's go home." Millicent led the way to the waiting
limousine. As they reached the vestibule, Sarah Nicholson stepped
"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
"Yours wouldn't be either. You can keep it at home." John smiled; a
"What the hell... Oops." She remembered where she was. "Sorry,
"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
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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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".