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"Were you able to set up a meeting?", Dave asked quietly. He and
Rocket Romano were getting coffee from Magoos.

"Yes. By the way, your performance was excellent. Just the right
amount of indignation topped off with an 'accidental' exasperated
outburst." Romano grinned.

"Hey, piece of cake. Getting yelled at is what I do best." Malucci
flushed at Romano's praise. "I've got to get back. I've been leading
a fairly quiet life lately, and I don't want to give Dr. Weaver any
reason to turn up the volume."

"Don't let *me* stop you." Romano replied. "Thanks again for a job
well done."

Dave waved and headed for the ER. "Hey, Dr. Greene? Could you pinch

"What on earth for?"

"Dr. Romano just told me *twice* that I'd done a good job. I figured
I must be dreaming."

"You look wide awake to me."

"Yeah, it must have really happened then. Here's your coffee, Chief."
Dave handed over the coffee to Kerry Weaver and went up the hall
whistling. Leaving the two senior staff to exchange puzzled looks.

* * * * *

On Wednesday morning, Dr. Romano seated himself in the
Administrator's office. Dr. Weaver came in and took the other chair.
Jonathan Edwards finished his phone call and turned to face the two

"I'll get right to the point." Rocket said flatly. "We have a
problem...", the meeting got underway. Romano cited figures from the
ER leave records and Kerry indignantly defended her staff.

"I do not allow my people to call in sick for trivial illnesses." She
said in response to a withering barb from Romano.

"Well if a cold in the head isn't 'trivial', what would *you* call
it?" Romano's sarcastic tones caused the Administrator to wince.

Kerry responded to her cue in a fashion similar to Dave Malucci. "I
sent Carter home because he had a fever that was inconsistent with
those associated with mere head colds. He was showing every
indication of developing a very bad case of the 'flu. In fact, we
admitted him last night as you are well aware..."

"What's wrong with Dr. Carter?", Edwards wanted to see if he could
catch Kerry in an outright lie. He was therefore surprised when
Romano responded.

"Why don't *you* tell us? You've been through his medical files."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I think you should.", Rocket's smile was not pleasant.

"Excuse me, sir, Mr Rosenbaum is here to see Dr. Romano.", the
secretary announced over the intercom. Without waiting for Edwards to
acknowledge the interruption, Romano went to escort Judge Waterston's
clerk into the room.

"Now, could you explain to me how a confidential medical record
belonging to Dr. Carter found its way into the possesion of Child
Welfare services?"

"I loaned it to one of the social workers." Edwards replied

"Did you authorize this 'loan', Dr. Weaver?"

"No, I most certainly did not."

"Well, could you explain to Dr. Weaver why you felt it necessary to
break the law?" Romano was relentless.

"It was obvious to me that Dr. Carter's health warranted action. This
hospital might have been placed in a very untenable position if
someone hadn't taken steps to uncover the truth."

"Ohh, so now you're a lawyer as well as a doctor. What's your next
career move, Indian Chief?"

"I was acting on behalf of this hospital; trying to ensure that no
one was put at risk by Dr. Carter." Edwards replied.

"And how could he have presented a health risk? Did you diagnose his
illness? Are you familiar with the myriad varieties of pulmonary
infections? I'm waiting." Romano sat back.

"The document I removed from Dr. Carter's file looked to me as if it
was newer than the other materials in the folder. I had been made
aware of Dr. Carter's frequent illnesses over the past months and I
thought Child Welfare Services should take his health into account
before making a decision that affected the life of an innocent child."

"And I suppose asking *me* about the health of one of my staff would
have been too difficult?", Kerry was livid.

"How was I to know if you would tell me anything? You're friends with
him. You used to live together."

"Well *I* never lived with Dr. Carter. As Chief of Staff, I should
have been informed of your suspicions."

"I'll admit my actions were unorthodox, but the fact that Dr. Carter
has twice been admitted to this hospital for a serious illness
indicates I had every right to be concerned." Edwards was positive he
had acted for the best.

"Oh yes, every right, especially since you're responsible." Kerry
said flatly.

"I don't understand."

"No, you don't. You couldn't. You've been very careful not to give
voice to your suspicions in the presence of physicians. Why? Is it
because you knew we could tell you the truth? That there is nothing
wrong with Dr. Carter other than a broken heart?" Kerry paused to
calm herself.

"Dr. Carter is suffering from pneumonia caused by over-work in an
environment that exposes him to constant fluctuations in the ambient
temperature. In addition, he has been depressed because some ignorant
individual saw fit to meddle without being in full possession of the
facts. When that child was removed from the care of Dr.s Kovac and
Carter, both men suffered and are still suffering. I hope you feel
proud of yourself. You used the adoption process to advance your own
personal beliefs and have done irreparable damage to three innocent
people.", Kerry Weaver's anger was all the more effective because of
her quiet explanation.

"Mr. Rosenbaum, your office is placed on notice that the normal
process of assigning foster care for the child known as Katerina Doe
has been tampered with. In addition, a confidential document was
stolen from this hospital and placed into the hands of someone who
should not have accepted it. That sets a dangerous precedent.
Jonathan if I were you, a thought that turns my stomach, I'd spend
the rest of the day shopping for legal representation." Romano stood.

* * * * *

"Are you awake?", the sound of Jing-Mei's soft voice roused Carter
from a light sleep.

"For you? Of course. What's on your mind?" John sat up.

"I want to apologize, John. I've been avoiding you." Jing-Mei

"That's ok, I think. What are we talking about?"

"Cowardice. Lack of faith, confidence, what have you... When Luka
told us they'd taken Kitten away from you, I knew how you felt. I
should have talked to you long before now but I was scared if I did,
I'd start hurting all over again.", Jing-Mei paused. "You were an
immense help to me when my son was born. If it hadn't been for you, I
could not have said a proper good-bye.", she smiled sadly.

"I thought the social worker was being a sadistic bitch, making me
hold him before giving him up. Now, I realize I'll always have those
memories and having them makes his absence less painful. I'm sorry
things didn't work out better for you and Luka. If it's any help, I
called your case worker, Ms. Nicholson, and told her she should make
arrangements for you to see Kitten once more after you were released.
It doesn't look as if I was able to convince her."

"It's okay." John took her hand. "Sarah was taken off of the case.
Believe me, if she could have done anything, she would have. Anyway,
Kitten will get to read my story someday. It's not the same, but
thinking of her reading it to her own kids does help a little."

"By the way, I also never thanked you for including me in 'Kitten's
Tale'. I wake up in the night after dreaming about my son and I re-
read your story. I don't really regret my decision, but I'd be lying
if I didn't admit to missing him sometimes. What about you?"

"Well, it wasn't our decision. To give her up, I mean... I feel
awful, Deb. Sorry, Jing-Mei.", Carter corrected himself.

"You can still call me Deb if you want."

"Thanks, but 'Jing-Mei' suits you better. It's pretty, like you are.
Anyway, I do know how you felt." John fell silent then continued more
quietly. "I feel like part of me is missing; hollow inside, you know?
It's funny. Up until that night, I'd never given any thought to
children but when she grabbed my finger and smiled, it was like
getting everything you ever wanted for Christmas and a guarantee for
a happy life into the bargain. She was so small and helpless. I
didn't ever want to let go of her. I used to go into her room and
watch her when she slept."

Jing-Mei nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Mikal's parents send me
pictures and I get to visit over the phone and it helps. Do you think
the social services people would let you and Luka do that?"

"I don't know. I doubt it. It's better as it is. The last thing
either of us want is for Kitten to grow up with any regrets. When
they think the time is right, she'll find out that we loved her and
miss her still. It'll have to be enough. Could you do me a favor?"

"Sure, John."

"Talk to Luka. It's worse for him. I left him to get over this by
himself. This is the third child he's lost and I know he feels awful.
I've apologized for making such a fool of myself but I think he's
hesitant about talking to me about his grief for fear of making me
feel even worse than I do. I'm better now, honestly. So would you
talk to him?"

"Of course."

* * * * *

"Ms. Franklyn. I'm not going to waste any more of your time than I
have to." Laurencia Carlton said briskly. First, I should tell you
I'm biased. I am very good friends with Dr. Kovac and Dr. Carter.
Your people decided to remove Katerina from their custody. I was
instrumental in getting you to re-examine your decision, so do a good
job. My friends were terribly hurt by your agency and I can't deny I
want to see that child restored to them.", she nodded as the other
woman began to speak.

"I know I cannot order or even ask you to do this. All I am asking is
for Dr. Carter to get a chance to see Katerina once more, under the
supervision of your staff. I have been informed you no longer have
any undue concerns regarding the health of the two men. Please do
your utmost to be fair and offset what amounts to character
assasination on the part of Jonathan Edwards."

"Ms. Carlton, you should not be privy to that information." , Jane
Franklyn frowned.

"And your office should not have made a hasty decision bearing such
grave consequences based on one individual's opinions. So that makes
us even. You are an employee of Cooke County and the state of
Illinois. I would advise you to conduct all future operations in
strict accordance with County policy. After today, my office will
cease to concern itself directly in this matter because I am fully
confident your people will do their jobs correctly this time."

* * * * *

J.R. Smythe grinned when she presented "Kitten's Tale" for it's final
review prior to publication. Apart from changing the child's name
to "Catriona" no other alterations were made to John's little story.
In two weeks the book would be on sale nationwide. The publicity
department was drooling over the opportunity to hype a work whose
profits would be turned over to charity and whose creators wished to
remain anonymous.

Charles's design used for the binding and typeface by the firm that
had published the private version was used again. When the book was
shipped, they sat back and waited. A popular female author of a
series of books about magical children had reviewed "Kitten's Tale"
very favorably. By the time John Carter returned to work, nearly one
hundred thousand copies had been sold in the greater Chicago area
with comparable sales being recorded in other cities.

Laura told John about the book shortly after his release from the
hospital. Unlike before, he thanked her profusely and agreed with
Luka that no further harm could be done. After talking with Luka,
John suggested that it was time to dismantle Kitten's room. "We have
her pictures, Sascha. Having her furniture won't help us to remember
her more, or miss her any less." Surprisingly, Luka didn't agree. He
asked John for a little more time not wanting to state the real
reason for his reluctance. Ever since Father Thomas indicated his
feeling that Kitten would be restored to them, Luka had been praying
before the icon in her room that this would be so.

That night, they made love; the first time in months. Afterwards,
John held Luka, who had been overjoyed at John's apparent return to
his old self. "Janaskja?"


"I think we should try again."

"You'll have to give me a while to rest, beloved. I don't have a
magic cock."

"That's not what I meant. Although now that you mention it..."

"Sex fiend.", John grinned and kissed Luka's throat.

"I mean we should try to adopt again. Only this time, use a private
agency. If we ask for our files from social services, it would cut
down on the amount of time the new agency would need to process our
request. There are unwanted children galore in the Chicago area.
Surely, they could give one to us." John was silent. "Janaskja?"

"I was thinking. I didn't tell you, but when 'Ria came to see me in
the hospital, she offered to be a surrogate mother for us. I turned
her down."


"Well, after talking with Jing-Mei, I know I could never ask any
woman to give up a child after carrying it and giving birth. Even
though 'Ria would have full access to her baby, I'd feel guilty for
putting her through all of that. I promise, I'll think about your
idea. It's a good one, but I honestly don't believe I'm ready to go
through it again; not just yet."

"Thank you, beloved. And you're right about your sister. It wouldn't
be fair to her. Now come up here. I think I know a spell to get your
magic wand in working order again."

"Mmmm. I do like how your mind works." John moved on top of Luka who
went to work. "It's been too long, Sascha."

"That's the first time anyone complained about the extra length."
Luka groaned as John's hands began to prepare his husband.

"Well, I don't think that was a complaint. Far from it." John smiled
and Luka's heart turned over. Just maybe, his husband was back. Two
fingers began to move inside him and Luka lifted his hips to increase
the pressure. "Steady as she goes, pardner. I haven't gotten started

"Take your time. Take me."

"Your wish is my command, O patient one."

"I thought I was a doctor?", Luka husked as John's slender fingers
teased his penis.

"Only at work. In this bed, I'm known as Dr. Feelgood." John's hands
supplied ample proof that this name was well deserved. John continued
his "procedure". "Come here.", John's voice was husky. Luka impaled
himself on his husband who gathered him into his arms. "That's it. I
want to hold you while I do my level best to drive you right over the
edge." John rocked his hips and began to thrust upwards.

Luka held on for dear life, rubbing himself up against the hair of
John's groin. The mattress protested vociferously but neither man
paid any attention. John slipped his right hand between them and
started a gentle stroking motion. Luka inhaled suddenly and John felt
the corresponding pressure. "Sweet heavens, you feel so good. Do that
again." Luka's anal muscles contracted once more and John moved
faster. Moments later, his orgasm burst and he cried aloud as Luka's
semen covered his fingers.

They collapsed back onto the bed breathing heavily. Luka was relieved
to hear John's breath sounds were normal; in keeping with someone
who'd exerted himself but not unduly harsh. They drifted into sleep,
wrapped in each other's arms.

* * * * *

"Doctor, we don't know what else to do." The middle-aged woman was
completely frustrated. "She's crying almost constantly. The only time
we have any peace is when she exhausts herself. The paediatrician
took the child into his arms. The baby's cries stopped while she
tried to grab his stethoscope, but as suddenly as they had ceased,
the noise began again louder than before.

Kitten's foster parents had plenty of experience with infants.
Nevertheless, the baby girl who'd come with lyrical descriptions of
her sunny even temperament, had baffled them. Despite paying her
almost constant attention, she refused to make what should have been
a relatively easy adjustment. At first, she seemed merely restless
and would only sleep if one the old t-shirts that had been included
with her things was tucked into her crib.

As the weeks passed, she became fretful, then the crying
began. "Doctor, it can't be healthy for her to cry so much. Apart
from keeping us awake, we're afraid that something serious is the
matter with her."

"I've examined her medical records and examined her. She's in
excellent health, all things considered. Have you talked with her
previous care-givers?"

"No. We were told they'd moved away."

The doctor frowned. Their conversation had been accompanied by
Kitten's wailing. Finally, tired out, the baby drifted off to sleep
clutching the stethoscope. "What about her feeding schedule?"

"She stops crying long enough to eat, sleeps for a few hours then it
all starts up again. Katerina is the eighth baby we've fostered but
none of them have ever behaved like this. Do you think she could be
allergic to something in our home?"

"When she wakes up, we'll start testing. Quite frankly, I don't think
that will turn out to be the answer. She's not crying as if she is
physically uncomfortable. This may turn out to be a psychological

"But she's barely six months old!" In her excitement, Mrs. Reece woke
Kitten who resumed crying. Forty mintues and ten needle pricks later,
it was determined Kitten was not suffering from an allergic reaction
to any of the most common substances. After applying a soothing
lotion to the test sites on her arms, the doctor gave Katerina back
to her foster mother.

"What did he say?" Mr. Reece was already on his feet.

"He's just as confounded as we are. Shhhh, little one. Please, hush."
Mrs. Reece jiggled Katerina who was having none of it. "Let's go home
before she gets every kid in here following her example."

"While I was waiting, I bought this in the bookstore in the lobby.
It's a children's story. The social services guys said she was used
to being read to. Maybe this will help." Her husband offered.

"We've read everything to her except for your old copies of 'Field &
Stream' and nothing worked. What the hay, let's give it a try
tonight." At two in the morning, the exasperated couple was forced to
admit defeat. John Carter's hope that his child could hear her story
had come true. Although her foster parents were charmed by the story
and its illustrations, Kitten was not amused.

* * * * *

John returned to work after another week off. Once again, he was
restricted to half-shifts and light duties. Kerry and Luka watched
him like hawks. Carter cooperated fully with their requests. He
worked with the students, handled the administrative paperwork and
managed to keep up a cheerful attitude. One afternoon, he went to see
his therapist who saw through him immediately.

"John, you're not feeling any better about all of this are you?"

"No. Well, a little. Maybe." John leaned forward. "I think I might be
going insane. I keep hearing her crying for us."

"While you're awake?"


"You're still having nightmares then."

"Oh yeah."

"What does Luka say about all of this?"

"He doesn't know." John sat back and sighed. "I know. I should tell
him, but how can I? He's got enough grief of his own without my
dumping more on him."

"Bullshit.", Dr. Lansen said bluntly. "You should know by now,
sharing grief doesn't double it. Just the opposite. Talk to him John,
today. If I didn't know you any better, I'd be calling your sponsor
and giving him the 'look out for this one' talk."

"You don't have to do that. Using drugs is what landed me in this
mess. Luka misses Kitten and wants to try and adopt through a private
agency. Believe me, if I thought about relapsing, just picturing
Luka's face when we're turned down again is more than enough to keep
me sober."

"Do you think he blames you for Katerina being taken away?"

"No. He'd never do that. Even *I* don't really think my addiction had
anything to do with it. No, we're two men living together in a
committed relationship; shit we're a couple of queers. That's the
real reason."

Dr. Lansen kept her professional demeanor in place but she agreed
with John. "What about your recent illness?"

"What about it?" John smiled crookedly. "You're right. I didn't even
try to get well. I guess deep down, I thought if something happened
to me, Luka could get married again. To a woman I mean, and then
nobody would care if he had fifteen kids. I was stupid huh?"

"More like infantile, no offense meant to Katerina and others in her
age group. John, I could increase your anti-depressant prescription
but I'd be wasting my time and your money. Instead, I'm prescribing
immediate action on your part. Go home and talk to Luka honestly.
Don't try to spare his feelings. If he gets angry with you accept it
and apologize. You deserve it.", she smiled at his frightened
expression. "Compared to telling him you used drugs again, this will
be easy. If you need to, call me at home."

"Can Luka call you?"

"Only if you do something really dumb like try to commit suicide. I'm
not going to do your work for you, John. *You* talk to Luka. I know
you're scared but try not to worry too much. From everything you've
told me, you're stuck with that handsome Croatian for the rest of
your life. Now get out of here and let me treat some patients who are
really sick."

Instead of going home, John returned to County to wait until Luka was
off duty. His session had helped him to see that he'd been well on
his way to doing serious damage to their relationship. They rode home
on the El' and John was grateful for this brief postponement to what
was ahead. His grandfather's disapproval though hurtful had not been
grievously wounding. The emotional bond between the old man and his
grandson was not strong enough.

However, John truly loved and respected Luka; coming out of his
charming shell and exposing his heart. Luka had the power to inflict
fatal damage to John's self image. Unconciously, John had adopted a
subtler version of his people pleasing habits to forestall the time
when Luka would be forced to say John disappointed him. Now John
would have to tell Luka everything and he was scared right down to
his shoes.
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