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I didn’t know what the flowers meant. Nothing like that had ever happened when I’d meditated in the Thorn Land. Over the next few days, I just kept thinking about what Rurik had said, that no other monarch save my father had ruled more than one kingdom in recent history. It had taken great power and magic for me to exert my dominance over the lands…. Were they feeding it back to me in return? I certainly felt stronger with them, but I’d never expected any sort of unconscious physical manifestation. What else was I capable of? What could I make the land do?
I didn’t mention the matter to anyone, not even Kiyo. He’d seen the red flowers but brushed them off. If I told him about the Thorn Land, I feared he’d grow upset about the thought of my magic increasing. He grudgingly accepted what I already possessed but still feared it would turn me into my father, no heir needed.
And although I’d felt physically better in the Otherworld, I grew weak again after a day or so back in Tucson. I didn’t mention this to Kiyo either, but Jasmine was around enough to pick up on it.
“Are they calling to you again?” she asked over breakfast one day. She was devouring Pop-Tarts, another love we apparently shared. I was too worried to have an appetite and simply watched. “You look like crap.”
“I don’t know,” I said, drumming my fingers against a glass of water. “There’s no precedent for this – at least not anymore. No one knows what to expect from me having two kingdoms.”
“I bet Dorian would know.”
I bet he would too, but I shook my head. “He’s not all-knowing no matter how much he wants to be,” I countered. “And I’m done with him.”
“Okay.” She didn’t fight it. For a while, she’d kept telling me I’d made a mistake in breaking up with Dorian, but Kiyo had been growing on her. I still wasn’t sure if she approved, but at least I didn’t have to listen to teen advice about my love life anymore. “But you might just have to go back soon. I mean, think about it. You’re bound to two lands in the Otherworld. Aren’t the lands and the monarch one? Part of you’s there. It makes sense you’d have to be there twice as much.”
I winced at the idea, though it had been on my mind too. “If I were there any more, I’d be living there permanently.”
She swallowed the last of some crust. “You may not have a choice.”
Her flippant tone irritated me. “There’s always a choice. I rule them. They don’t rule me.” I stood up abruptly and briefly became dizzy. It felt like the lands were mocking me. Damn it, I thought. You will not call me back so quickly. I’m staying in this world for a while. I’ll come and go when I please. “I just need to stop thinking about it. I’m going to see if Lara’s got a job.”
“Yeah,” said Jasmine dryly. “That’ll fix everything.”
Lara did have a job for me, several actually. Even though she was all but living with Tim – in my house – she still kept meticulous records and took all my calls. She looked disappointed that I only accepted one from her growing list of jobs, a small one at that: a simple haunting that would probably take about five minutes. She said nothing, but I knew that she worried if I didn’t make any money, she wouldn’t either. So, remembering Enrique’s comment about needing help but not being able to trust anyone, I gave her his card with the suggestion she call about part-time work.
“Are you firing me?” she asked.
I smiled as I gathered up all my weapons. “No, but I want you to have a backup plan in case you get laid off.” Her eyes widened in alarm at the joke. Or, I suddenly wondered, was it a joke?
I brought Jasmine with me to the job because I still felt uneasy about leaving her alone. Besides, she was finally getting her fill of the human world, and I had a feeling her insistence on me returning to the Otherworld was partly selfish.
Later, after I’d finished the job, I kind of regretted bringing a witness.
“Wow,” she said, as we drove home. “You got your ass kicked.”
“I did not.”
So. This was what it was like having a sister.
“I banished it, didn’t I? You saw it go to the Underworld.”
“Yeah,” she admitted, “but it sure did take a long time. I felt like I could have done it, and I’ve never banished anything before.”
I gritted my teeth, refraining from commenting that I still had her chains. The troubling thing was, I had kind of sucked. I’d been in no real danger – not with a ghost that minor – but it had beaten me up more than it should have. I was off my game, a little slower, a little weaker. I’d walked away with some bruises and now noticed as we drove that my shoulder itched. For a moment, I thought the ghost must have hit me there, but there was no pain. The stitches. I’d nearly forgotten about them, now that they’d finally been able to heal. My skin had probably started to grow over the threads. I needed them out.
No one was at my house, much to my disappointment. I’d hoped Kiyo had stopped by and could remove the stitches. Trying to be optimistic, I decided he must be pulling a shift at the veterinary hospital and wasn’t with Maiwenn. Thus far, I’d heard no official word from her about my new double-queen status. Other monarchs had weighed in, though. Some had responded by showering me with congratulatory gifts and groveling. Others had let me know – in an amiable way – about other monarchs they were pals with, monarchs with big armies. It turned out everyone did fear the Iron Crown.
I called my regular doctor, hoping to get an appointment this week as backup, in case Kiyo stayed absent. To my pleasant surprise, they’d had a cancellation that afternoon and could remove the stitches right away. It was good news for me but an annoyance for Jasmine, who’d just gotten comfortable on the couch.
“Oh, come on,” she said, stretching out. “We just got home. Can’t you please leave me here? I promise not to conquer the world or get pregnant while you’re gone.”
“You know,” I said, “Lara and Tim had sex right where you’re lying.” She jumped up.
A half hour later, we arrived at my doctor’s office.
I left Jasmine in the waiting room, deeming her safe enough with her iPod and magazines for the five minutes it would take to remove my stitches. Maybe she’d read some contraception pamphlets to pass the time.
“They did this in the ER?” the doctor asked when I was admitted to an examination room and had taken off my shirt.
I’d been seeing Dr. Moore for a couple years now. She was a pleasant, mid-fortyish woman who had eventually learned not to ask too many questions about my injuries. She thought I was a “contractor” who practiced martial arts on the side.
“Not exactly,” I said. “I tore the ones the ER did, so my boyfriend had to redo them.”
She took hold of tweezers and a tiny pair of scissors and leaned over. “Well, his work’s neat, and it didn’t get infected. If I’d seen you when this happened, I would have confined you to your bed. I would have known better than to assume you wouldn’t promptly rip these out.”
“Yeah, I really pulled one over on the other doctor.”
She snorted a small laugh and proceeded to pull the stitches out. They stung where they tugged the skin, but honestly, it was nothing compared to my normal wear and tear.
“There you go,” she said, stepping back. “You’ll have a scar.”
I put my shirt back on and faced her. “Battle trophy.”
She rolled her eyes, leaning against the wall with crossed arms. “You shouldn’t joke about that.”
“Sorry.” I picked up my purse, but her expression said we weren’t done.
“Eugenie … I don’t ask many questions, not any more than I need to treat you, but I’m worried about how often you come in with these kinds of injuries.”
If only she knew how many I didn’t come in for. “I – “
“No, no,” she interrupted. “I don’t need to know all the details of your life. I try not to judge – but you might need to. There are jobs out there that are physical in nature. That’s life. But whatever you’re doing … maybe you should reevaluate it. To be blunt, you look terrible today.”
“Oh, that.” Crap. I could hardly explain that it was the residual aftereffects of a magical battle in the Otherworld, during which I’d fought for dominion of a fairy kingdom and become its new master, thus doubling my reign. “I’m just, uh, coming down with something. Just kind of tired, you know.”
She arched her eyebrows.
“Then let’s do some quick blood and urine tests,” she said, straightening up. “Check your electrolytes, thyroid …”
I fumbled for an excuse. I’d never been comfortable with those kinds of tests since discovering I had gentry blood. I was pretty sure human medicine couldn’t detect that sort of thing, but I didn’t want to take any chances. “I don’t have time. My sister’s waiting for me in the lobby.”
“I’m sure she’ll be okay,” said Dr. Moore. “This’ll take five minutes.”
“Fine.” I sat back on the table, defeated. “But can you send someone to make sure she’s still out there? She’s the sullen one.”
Dr. Moore’s nurse returned to send me to the bathroom and then drew blood when I came back. She was in the middle of telling me they would send the tests out to a lab, when Dr. Moore herself stuck her head back in.
“Can we talk for a moment?” she asked.
The nurse discreetly left, and once we were alone, I braced for another lecture about my lifestyle. “I really need to get back to my sister,” I told her. “You don’t know what she’s capable of.”
“Eugenie.” Dr. Moore’s voice was kind but firm. “Most of those tests we have to wait on, but there are a few we do right here with urine.”
“And, you’re pregnant.”
I thought about this for a moment and then enlightened her.
“No. I’m not.”
Those eyebrows rose again.
“Your test came back positive. Now, we can’t tell how far just from a urine test, but based on – “
“Your test is wrong!” I sprang up from the table. My world was starting to reel again. “I can’t be pregnant!”
To her credit, she took my outburst calmly, but that was probably part of her training. “The test is very accurate, and it would explain why you aren’t feeling well.”
“I can’t be pregnant,” I repeated adamantly. There was a mistake here. A terrible, terrible mistake, and she needed to understand that. Until she did, I refused even to process what she was claiming. “I take my birth control pills. Every day. Same time. Just like I’m supposed to. I’m not going to lie: I do other stupid shit all the time. But not with pills. I take them perfectly. I did with the antibiotics too. I’m careless with stitches but not prescriptions.”
That calm expression shifted to surprise. “Antibiotics? When were you taking antibiotics?”
I pointed to my shoulder. “When I got this. The ER doctor gave me a prescription.” I frowned. “What? Why are you looking at me like that? I told you: I took them correctly, all of them.”
“Antibiotics can negate birth control pills,” she said. “Didn’t you know that?”
“I … What? No. That’s not … No.” A mistake. A terrible, terrible mistake.
“Women taking both need to use some other form of contraception until the antibiotics have run their course.”
A horrible, cold feeling began spreading over me. “How was I supposed to know that?” I asked in a small voice.
“Your pharmacist should have told you when you got the antibiotics. The interaction would have shown up in your records.”
I thought back to that night, how my mom and I had stopped at the place closest to the hospital. “I didn’t go to my usual pharmacy….” And I had gotten out of there as fast as I could, not bothering to talk to the pharmacist because I’d taken antibiotics lots of times in my life. I certainly hadn’t bothered with the enclosed pamphlets.
Dr. Moore seemed to think she’d gotten through to me. “Now, we can figure out how far along you are if you know when your last period – “
“No,” I exclaimed. “No, no, no. I can’t be pregnant! Don’t you understand? I can’t be. I can’t have a baby. I can’t!” I was shouting again and wondered if this place had security.
“Calm down,” Dr. Moore said. “Everything will be all right.”
No, no, it wouldn’t. Everything wouldn’t be all right. Nausea welled in me, nausea I’d felt for a few weeks or so – and that had nothing to do with inheriting the Rowan Land. After all this time, after all the planning and lofty talk, after all my fears about Jasmine … it was me. Human medicine had screwed me over. No, I had screwed me over. I’d fucked up. My own carelessness had brought this about. Everything anyone had ever said about the Storm King prophecy began to run through my mind. Sformi, King’s first grandson. An invasion of the human world. Led by his mother. Domination and blood. And I, I was bringing it about…. I was the instrument….
Dr. Moore was supporting me, and I had a feeling she’d said my name a few times. She glanced at the door and opened her mouth, about to call her nurse.
“No!” I clutched at her white coat. “Don’t. Listen to me.” My voice was raspy and desperate. “I can’t. I can’t have a baby. Don’t you understand?”
She peered at me through her glasses, regarding me knowingly. “Then you don’t have to. There are options – “
You can’t have a boy, some voice inside me said. What if it’s a girl?
“Wait,” I interrupted her. “When can you tell the gender?”
That got a shocked look. “You’d base an abortion on gender?”
“I – no, wait.” Fuck. I couldn’t think. I was panicked and scared and confused. I needed to get my head together. What did I do? I had to get rid of this baby, pure and simple. People did it all the time. It was easy in this day and age, right? “I meant, how long until you can tell gender and if … if there’s anything wrong.” I groped for something reasonable, something that wouldn’t make me seem like a heartless woman who’d kill her son. “You can do those tests, right? Like, genetic tests? I … I’m so afraid of having a baby and having there be something wrong. My family has a bad history. My cousins have had babies with birth defects, and I can’t … I can’t handle that. I have to know. I have to know … right away … as early as possible because otherwise I’ll …” The lies rolled easily off my lips. Anything. Anything to know the gender.
Dr. Moore studied me again. I still sounded crazy and scattered, I knew, but a little less than before. “When was your last period?” she asked quietly.
I turned to her wall calendar. The numbers swam before me. I couldn’t focus. How the hell could I remember that when the fate of the world was on the line? I thought about my last period and tried to link it to some event, something that would trigger a date.
“There.” I pointed. “It started on the fifth.”
She nodded, doing mental calculations. “Which lines up with the antibiotics. You’re almost nine weeks along, as the reckoning goes, though technically only seven since conception.”
Seven. Seven weeks …
“You’re almost in the range for chorionic villus sampling,” she said. Chorionic what? “They don’t like to do it unless it’s necessary, though. There are risks for the fetus. They almost never do it for someone your age, who’s in good health….”
“But it can tell me?” I said urgently. “It can tell me what I need to know?”
“It can tell you a lot. No test can tell you everything, but it can give you peace of mind … especially if you really do have a bad family history …”
Did I ever.
“I do,” I said. “Please.”
I held my breath, knowing she was wavering here. Finally, she turned to her filing cabinet, rifling through it until she found a carbon form. She scrawled something in doctor’s handwriting on it and handed it over. “Here.”
It was a referral to an OB-GYN’s office nearby. The form had my name, some boxes checked, and a few illegible words. I did make out CVS and emergency.
“Emergency?” I asked. I mean, it was, but I was surprised she’d nailed it.
“It means you’ll get scheduled in right away. Most of these tests are backed up – because they aren’t done this early. Give it to my nurse when you leave.” She was writing something else as she spoke. “She’ll call them and schedule you – but you need to be aware they may refuse it when you’re there, based on their judgment. I meant it: this isn’t routine.”
My next words were hesitant. “Then why are you doing it?”
“Because I believe that in pregnancy, the mother’s health outweighs everything else.”
Mother’s health. I didn’t like thinking of myself as a mother. Fuck. This shouldn’t even be an issue at all! We should be discussing abortions. Why did I care about gender? I didn’t want a baby. I wasn’t ready for a baby. Certainly not one who’d fulfill a world-conquering prophecy.
“In this case,” said Dr. Moore. “Your mental health is especially concerning. Which is what this is for.” She handed me the other piece of paper. It was a referral for a psychologist.
“I don’t need – “
“Eugenie, shock over an unplanned pregnancy is normal. Expected. But it’s clear … you have some very serious issues around this.”
She had no idea.
“Have my nurse call for the test. Then schedule yourself a therapist appointment and a follow-up with me.”
There was no way I could tell her I had no intention of going to therapy. I wasn’t even sure about the follow-up. But I’d gotten away with something, and I knew it. I nodded meekly. “Thank you.” I left before she could change her mind.
Jasmine’s face was filled with irritation and impatience when I finally returned. “That took forever,” she said, tossing a magazine aside. “How deep were those stitches?”
“Not that deep,” I murmured. I walked toward my car on autopilot, still stunned. “She was worried about how tired I was, that’s all.”
“Well, you can fix that when we go back to the Otherworld.”
I started the car, staring off into space for a few ponderous moments as numbers floated around in my head. Nine weeks, seven weeks. Two days. That was how long until my test. Two days.
I refocused on my surroundings so I wouldn’t get us into an accident. “We aren’t going to the Otherworld anytime soon,” I replied.
Jasmine shot me a look that clearly expressed her feelings on that, but there must have been something in my own face that answered back because she didn’t fight the issue anymore.
When we returned to my house, I put my purse and paperwork in my bedroom before sitting with Jasmine in her usual spot on the couch. Mindless TV suddenly seemed like a good idea … except, well, it didn’t do a very good job of taking my mind off of my problems.
Pregnant. Conqueror of worlds. Storm King’s heir.
Me. It was all on me: what had happened and what was to come.
We hadn’t been home long when Kiyo showed up. He gave me a cheerful grin and wore his white coat from work, meaning he must not have been cozying up with Maiwenn. Small blessing. His smile was enough to make Jasmine smile in return, but I couldn’t muster one. There was nothing to smile about right now. Nothing good in this world. Nothing good in either world. He joined us on the couch, sandwiching me in between him and Jasmine, and caught hold of my hand.
“Hey, how are you?” he asked. He peered at my face, even though I was pointedly not looking at him. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” I lied. “Tired.”
Storm King’s first grandson will conquer the human world.
“She’s been like that all day,” said Jasmine. “She needs to go back to the Otherworld but won’t.”
“Is that true?” he asked.
“I didn’t think you’d have a problem with that,” I said. “You’ve always wanted me to stay away.”
“Yeah, but not if it’s affecting you like this. You really look sick, Eug.”
“She also got beat up by a ghost,” Jasmine added helpfully.
“Hey!” I glared. “I did not!”
Kiyo chuckled and pulled me closer. “Stop playing tough. Go to the Otherworld tomorrow. I’ll come with you, so it won’t be as bad.” He relaxed, and there was a finality in his voice that I didn’t like. I didn’t like his presumption. I also wasn’t entirely sure I should be going to the Otherworld, in light of recent developments.
Flowers. Flowers everywhere, everywhere I step. I’m the land, and the land is me. Where I bring life, the land does too….
Or death. I could bring death as well. It was my choice.
Over and over. The words in my head were all I heard. I didn’t hear the TV, or Kiyo and Jasmine’s occasional comments. I didn’t really hear when Kiyo said he’d make dinner and went to drop off his overnight bag in my bedroom. But I did hear him when he came raging back to the living room, waving my CVS referral form in the air.
“Eugenie!” His voice was a roar, one that made Jasmine cringe and widen her eyes. “What the hell is this?”
I stared up at him levelly, surprised I could be so calm in the face of that outrage, especially after the emotional upheaval I’d been through all day. My own despair and shock had never left, but now I was able to push it down and meet Kiyo’s eyes, as I allowed myself to finally acknowledge the other thought that had been bouncing around in my mind. Because along with the choices I had and the consequences I faced, there was one other matter to consider.
I’d looked at the numbers, at the calendar. I’d factored in the dates, the antibiotics, what had been done – or, perhaps most importantly, what hadn’t been done. It was all very clear. There was no soap opera here. No talk show?Cworthy mystery.
“Congratulations,” I told Kiyo. “You’re going to be a father. Again.”
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