"Come on, Carter." Kerry's voice was gentle. John opened his eyes,
wincing at the bright work light above the trauma table. Jing-Mei
tilted it away and smiled.
"What happened?", his throat felt like sandpaper. They must have
intubated him at some point.
"You passed out." Jing-Mei answered.
"Felt dizzy. Still do. What's wrong with me?"
"Would you believe double pneumonia?" Kerry grinned.
"He's on his way, Carter. We're admitting you. Luka will bring your
"Don't worry. She'll be checked out. It's not viral pneumonia; just
the plain old kind you get when you work too hard plus spend an
inordinate amount of time running around in the snow looking for
babies." Jing-Mei teased him.
"No, I meant it's my turn to put her to bed... tell her a story..."
"Well, first it's your turn. We administered a mild non-prescription
sedative. You're the one going off to dream land."
Carter was asleep. He didn't wake up until later that night. Luka was
seated by his bed and smiling. "I thought you'd never wake up. How do
"Woozy. My chest's a little sore. Must have been from them pounding
"Probably, Kerry's a lot stronger than she realizes."
"She's fine. I've been here most of the evening. I went home to put
her to bed though. Mrs. R's staying the night."
"Good. Did they say how long I'm in for?"
"At least a week. Janaskja, you're pretty sick. Have been for weeks."
"Shit, that means I'll miss her half-year birthday." John frowned.
"Don't worry, they'll be plenty more to celebrate. You scared me,
Janaskja. I get this call from Kerry... I'll admit it, I panicked."
"It scared me too. One minute, I'm examining this guy's hernia; the
next minute the room is going around like the tilt-a-whirl at
Lakeside Park. I knew you hadn't been kissing me... I didn't know
what the hell was going on."
"Well, let's try something." Luka leaned over and kissed John.
"Yep. It's precisely the same sensation; only the one you produce is
much much nicer."
"Thank you. I don't want to go through life thinking I make you sick."
"Far from it, husband of mine. Damn, I'm sleepy. And I've only slept
for ten hours."
"Well sleep some more. I'll be right here."
"Oh no you won't, Sascha. You're going home and checking our
daughter. God forbid if I gave her this."
"Already done, my love. Katerina's fine." Luka caressed John's
cheek. "Go to sleep."
"Only if you go home. We're parents now. I know you love me, but
Kitten will only know if one of us is there. Mrs. Riordan is
wonderful, but she isn't you."
"Alright, alright. As soon as you go back to sleep, I'll leave."
"Thanks. With those social services guys looking over our shoulders,
we don't want to give them any excuses." John closed his eyes then
opened one. "JA ljubav te."
* * * * *
Evan Ross hung around outside the trauma room long enough to hear one
of the staff say "pneumonia". He had no way of knowing this condition
can be caused by a number of factors, the rarest of which requires a
severely compromised immune system and the presence pneumocystic
Carinii microbes. John's bout with pneumonia in prep school, plus ten-
odd years as a smoker, left him vulnerable to the most common form of
pneumonia that merely requires the victim to be over-worked and
exposed to frequent rapid changes in temperature.
Jonathan Edwards heard about Carter's collapse as he was leaving for
the day. His talk with the social worker was still worrying him.
Veering off to the ER Admin, he pulled John Carter's master medical
file. He too, noticed the relatively new-looking HIV status reports
and jumped immediately to a totally erroneous and damaging
conclusion. He never bothered to check any of the other files and
thereby missed the fact that *all* of the HIV reports were newly
A sub-strain of the deadly virus which before had not been included
in the test protocol had finally been added. All staff blood samples
had been stored and dated. So in a three-week period, using temps the
Administrator had signed for; all of these samples were re-tested and
the more comprehensive results placed in the employee files. As front-
line troops, the ER staff were the only ones to benefit from in-house
testing. All other HIV tests were sent to a private lab for
Jonathan Edwards removed a sheet containing Carter's earliest test
results and slipped it into his briefcase. As soon as he reached his
car, he dialed Evan Ross' cell phone. Their conversation was brief.
The emotional pain resulting from it, would last a lifetime.
* * * * *
John shook his head. He had only himself to blame. Since being made
an attending, he'd been putting in extra hours, preparing course work
for his students and grading the same. Often, Luka would wake up in
the early morning, to find his husband fallen asleep at the dining
room table surrounded by books and papers. Between over-work and
frequent trips outside into sub-freezing temperatures then returning
indoors to work up a sweat treating trauma victims, it was no wonder
he'd gotten sick.
When Luka popped upstairs for his daily visit, he was shocked to see
John busily writing. "Janaskja, you're supposed to be resting. What
on earth are you doing?"
"Here." John blushed and handed over several sheets of paper filled
with his surprisingly, for a doctor anyway, neat handwriting.
"Once upon a time..." Luka read. "You're writing fairy tales?"
"Yeah, for Katerina. I figured while I'm in here, you can alternate:
singing to her one night, and reading one of these on the other
nights. Honest, I got Kerry's okay before I started. It keeps me from
"Janaskja, they're lovely." Luka quickly scanned the stories. "All of
our friends are in here. I never knew you could write."
"Neither did I, Sascha. Actually, it was Connie's idea. She heard me
telling Katerina the first one and suggested I write them down. "So
how is she doing?"
"Just fine. She was missing her other Papa that first night, but Mrs.
R came up with a great idea. She put one of your undershirts from the
hamper under the sheet at the head of Kitten's bed. Now, when she
goes to sleep, it's as if you were there."
"I have a pretty clever godmother." John grinned. "The shirt wasn't
"Not at all. In fact, Kitten's not the only one who sleeps with her
nose buried in your scent. I put another shirt over my pillow. Our
bed is awfully lonesome without you, Janaskja."
"And I bet the bedroom, hell the apartment, is pretty quiet too."
"Now why didn't *I* think of that?" Luka grinned.
"Taping your nocturnal symphonies..."
"You didn't want the police to arrest you for disturbing the peace?"
John sat up for a kiss. "Three more days, and I'll be back home and
you can do the laundry."
"I can't wait, beloved." Luka winked and went back to work as John
Unfortunately, the intended recipient never got a chance to hear
these beautiful little stories. When Luka came home, he was surprised
to see Sarah and her colleague waiting in the living room. Katerina
was dressed to go out and Mrs. R was obviously trying to hold back
"What's wrong?" Luka was suddenly as scared as he'd ever been.
"I'm sorry, Luka..." Sarah began gently.
"Your petition has been denied and this child is being transferred to
another foster home."
"You're not serious?"
"I'm truly sorry, Dr. Kovac, but my superiors have ruled against you
and Dr. Carter." Sarah Nicholson frowned at the curt manners of Evan
"But why?" Luka was stunned.
"You'll have to take that up with the directors of our office." Ross
replied. "We've got to leave now."
"Can I hold her one more time?" Luka's voice cracked.
"Yes." Sarah Nicholson said firmly, glaring at the other man.
Luka took the child into his arms and she smiled. At first, not
trusting his voice to speak, Luka held her against his cheek,
inhaling her clean scent. "Good-bye, little one. We will always love
you and we'll never forget the joy you brought into our lives.", his
voice broke and with tears standing in his eyes, he handed Katerina
over to Sarah. "Please, if she ever asks about the people who cared
for her first, tell her... tell her we loved her and would have loved
to keep her always. If she thinks that's a reference to her birth
parents, so be it. I understand you will not be able to tell her
anything about us...", Luka broke down and Mrs. Riordan hugged him.
"Well, you've broken *his* heart and that of another good man. I hope
"Shhhh, Mrs. R. They have to do what's best for the child." Luka
admonished gently. How could he tell John about this? The answer
came: immediately. Sighing and wiping his eyes, Luka once again left
When he got to John's room, the younger man was asleep. The stories'
pages scattered over the bed and floor. Luka picked them up and
stacked them neatly on the bedside table. Luka didn't want to put it
off any longer. His hand shaking, he gently rubbed John's face and
shoulder. A thunderous snore cut off abruptly, John's eyes opened. He
tried to focus in the dimly lit room. Sitting up, one look at Luka's
face told him something had happened. Against orders, he got out of
bed and took Luka into his arms.
"What's happened, Sascha?"
"They came, the social services people, and took her. I'm so sorry,
"Temporarily?" John asked knowing the answer but refusing to face it.
"Our petition was denied and she's been placed in another home."
"Why? I thought things were going well?"
"I did too. Anyway, we're supposed to call the office if we want a
review of our case."
"That'll be a waste of time. We *know* why the petition was turned
"Of course. I'm an addict." John said bitterly. "Dear God, I'm sorry
Luka. I should have prepared us both for this. Those people can't
know how hard I've worked at my sobriety. If only I hadn't been so
"Janaskja, you're doing it again. This is not your fault. I think the
fact that we are two males has a lot more to do with it. They
probably cited your addiction as an excuse, to avoid discrimination
charges. Nevertheless, we won't know for certain unless we ask."
"What on earth would be the point? She's gone.", John's voice caught.
"If it's something we can, or would be willing to fix or change,
we'll do it and try again." Luka said softly.
"Could you face this again?" John was incredulous. "I'm not so sure
I'd want to."
"Yes, I could and so could you. I liked being a father again. I love
her dearly and I know no child will be able to replace her; just as
*she* was not a replacement for..." Luka paused trying to get his
voice under control. "...for my little jewels."
"But Sascha, you and I both know the *real* reason for the denial of
"And if that's the case, the next time, we won't involve the welfare
agencies. There are private agencies too." John coughed
harshly. "Janaskja, get back into bed. You're shivering." John mutely
complied. Luka pulled up the covers.
"Did she cry?" John's voice was tight.
"No, thank God. If she had, I probably would have snatched her from
them and run away. Felony kidnapping would look even worse on our
record. I, we, can only pray her new parents will love her as much as
we did." Luka's voice broke again.
Mindful of his promise to be Luka's anchor, John pulled his husband
into his arms and held him as he cried. His own tears refused to
fall. Rocking back and forth, he rubbed Luka's back as his sobs shook
them both. When Luka's grief subsided, he sat up and gasped. The look
on John's face was something he would never forget. The expressive
brown eyes were dead, lifeless, his mobile features frozen. Luka
gently touched his cheek. "Janaskja? Are you alright?"
"I didn't get to say good-bye. She'll think I didn't love her." John
"She knows, Janaskja. Mrs. R gave them your T-shirt and one of mine.
She'll think we're with her still." Luka offered.
"No she won't. She's an infant, not a fool. The scent will fade
eventually and she'll cry for us and we won't come." John lost his
struggle and wept as unselfconciously as the child they'd both lost.
Luka spent the night after calling Mrs. Riordan. There was no way he
was leaving John alone. When Kerry came in with John's morning cup of
decaffeinated coffee, she was surprised to see Luka, his feet on the
bed, asleep in a chair. John was awake, staring vacantly at the
"John, what happened? Are you alright?" From the look on his face,
and Luka's presence, Kerry knew something serious had occurred.
"They took her, she's gone." John said quietly in a dead tone of
"Who's been taken?"
"She's been kidnapped?" Afterall, the child stood to inherit a
significant amount of money.
"I almost wish she had been. At least that way, we stand a chance of
getting her back. No, the social workers denied our petition." Still
in that dead tone of voice.
"Isn't it obvious?"
"John, I'm so sorry. Under the circumstances, I'll put Luka on leave.
He probably doesn't want to be alone." Kerry was not worried about
Luka. John hadn't looked this depressed even when told of Lucy's
death. She was worried. She had good reason.
Luka overheard their conversation and shivered at the sound of John's
voice. After Kerry left, he pretended to wake up and stretched. "How
"Better." John's voice sounded almost normal. Luka swore inwardly,
John was covering up again. Let me have some of that, I'll need it if
I'm going to function at work today."
"Oh. Well I'll get a real cup from Magoos. Do you want anything?"
"No, I'm okay, I guess."
"Really?" Luka asked gently. "Come on, Iron Man. It's me, remember?"
"No. I'm not fine." John said slowly. We're never going to see her
again. I'm miserable."
"So am I. You know, I don't really want to go to work today.
Actually, all I want to do is crawl into a hole and cry. Care to join
"Crying won't bring her back." John said bitterly.
"I know. But it will help us to face this once and for all. Do you
think you could put up with me for one more day?"
John heard the hesitation, the insecurity in Luka's voice and his
reply was almost normal.
"I need you, Luka. Please stay with me. Put up with you? Don't be
ridiculous. You're the only thing holding me together right now."
"The same goes for me, beloved. The same goes for me." Luka held John
as he started crying again. At least she's alive and hopefully with
people who love her. It's not like before, he told himself. Unbidden,
an image of Solje lying in her crib with her skull smashed came to
him, and he too wept, for all of his daughters.