I wanted to say I'd only had sex with one lycanthrope in animal form, just one time, but as they say, once is all it takes. "Doc, I've read up on Vlad's syndrome. I don't know as much about the other. I mean, if I really am pregnant, then it's just this little bunch of cells, right? I mean, I'd be at best two months along, right? There's no chance of the baby trying to eat its way out until it's bigger, right?" Just saying that made my stomach tight. There might be no option of keeping anything.
"Humans have a pretty long gestation period for a mammal. I am assuming mammalian shapeshifter, here?"
"Yes. Does that make a difference?"
"It can. You see, the problem with Mowgli syndrome is that sometimes the fetus grows at the rate of the animal, and not the human."
I flipped back through every biology class I'd ever had, and nowhere had I ever learned the gestation period of a leopard. It just hadn't been covered.
"Anita, talk to me, Anita."
"I'm here, doc, I just... I know if it's Vlad's syndrome that I have to abort. The baby won't live anyway, and will try to take me with it. But like I said, I'm not as clear on the other syndrome. It's a lot more rare."
"Very rare, in fact less than ten cases reported in this country. If the worst happens and it's Vlad's syndrome, then we have time to fix it. If it's Mowgli syndrome, depends on the animal." I heard computer keys clacking. "Do you know what type of shapeshifter he was?"
"It was only once, and yeah--" I stopped defending myself, and just said, "... leopard, okay, leopard." Sweet Jesus, I couldn't believe I was having this conversation.
I heard the computer keys again. "Leopard is between ninety and a hundred and six days, an average of around ninety-six days."
"So?" I said.
"A human's gestation is two hundred and eighty days."
"Still, so what?"
"So this: I'll assume you don't have severe Mowgli syndrome, or you'd know it by now. You'd be almost ready to deliver."
"You're joking," I said.
"No," he said, "but you don't have that, obviously. You could still have a less severe version of Mowgli syndrome. If you do, then the pregnancy could kick into high gear, and you could go from being barely pregnant to being ready to deliver, in a matter of days."
"I'm looking at the medical literature as we speak. The Internet is a wonderful tool sometimes. Two cases in this country of women who had milder forms of Mowgli syndrome. Even with the test, Anita, all we can tell you is yes or no. Think of it like Down syndrome; we can test and know if you have it, but even an amnio wouldn't tell you the severity of it."
"Vlad's syndrome is an automatic abortion--what about Mowgli syndrome?" I asked.
He hesitated, then said, slowly, "Not automatic, no, but the birth defects can be pretty, um, severe."
"It's never good when your doctor sounds nervous, Dr. North. What am I missing that's put that tone in your voice?"
"If you have even a mild form of Mowgli syndrome, then by Monday the fetus could come up on an ultrasound as over the age limit for abortion in this state. You really do not want to be out of options on this particular birth defect, Anita."
O-kay, I thought. "Two o'clock, right?"
"Meet me at St. John's, just come straight up to the maternity ward."
My heart pounded up into my throat. "Maternity ward? Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself there, doc?"
"At my office, we'll have to send out the blood for testing. At the hospital, we'll get all the results back much faster. Depending on the test results, if we want a closer look, the hospital is set up with the ultrasound equipment we'll want for this."
"You've got ultrasound at your office," I said.
"We do, but they've got more sensitive equipment at the hospital. We'll get more information much quicker, and speed really is of the essence here, Anita."
"Okay, I'll be there at two."
"Your bedside manner sucks today, by the way."
He laughed. "I know you, Anita. If I didn't scare you, you'd find excuses to delay coming in."
"Did you exaggerate to scare me?" I asked.
"No, sorry, but no. I just told you more bluntly than I would normally have told a patient. But then most of my patients don't need rough treatment just to get them into the office."
"You're not wanting me in the office, doc, you're wanting to see me at the hospital. I only go to hospitals when I've gotten hurt in the line of duty."
"Are you backing out on me?" he asked.
I sighed. "No, no, I'll be there." I thought of something, and figured I should ask. "I can bring company with me to the maternity ward, right? I mean it's not like when I was a kid, and all restricted, is it?"
"You can bring a friend to hold your hand, if you want, but since we may have to do a pelvic exam, it should be a close friend."
Pelvic exam, shit. "At least one of them will be close enough to stay in the room. The rest can wait outside."
"The rest?" He made it a question.
"At least one boyfriend, maybe more, and bodyguards."
"Bodyguards? Are you in danger?"
"Almost always, but this isn't... it's not like bad guys trying to hurt me, or anything. Let's just say that I think this will be a pretty stressful visit for me, and for the foreseeable future I shouldn't be going anywhere stressful without muscle."
"Is that supposed to be a riddle?" he asked.
"Not on purpose," I said.
"You're usually pretty straightforward, Anita."
"Sorry, but this isn't something I can really explain on the phone."
"Okay, does it affect your health, and this situation?"
I thought about it, then said, "Maybe, yes. I guess it does." I realized if I shapeshifted for real that I'd lose the baby, and this entire medical emergency would be over before we'd even decided what to do about it. But I just couldn't think of a quick way to explain what had been happening to me. "Can I bring the extra people?"
"If I say no?"
"Then we have a problem."
"How many extra?"
"Hopefully no more than four." I did quick math in my head. Two bodyguards, and at least one of each beast I held inside me. "Five."
"Five," he said.
"At least two of them will be boyfriends."
"If they're not disruptive, then I guess so."
"If anybody gets disruptive, it's gonna be me," I said, and I hung up on him. It was rude, but my nerves just couldn't take any more talk about it. I was scared, so scared that my skin felt cold with it. Cold? I touched my forehead and tried to decide if I really was cold. If I was, then I was endangering Damian, my poor vampire servant, who was the first of my metaphysical men I started draining energy from, if I went too long between feedings. Was I draining him to death, so he'd never wake from his coffin? I'd tamed the ardeur so that it wasn't as demanding; I could push it off for a few hours, but the price was high. And sometimes the price had almost been Damian's life. Theoretically, after Damian was dead then I'd start draining Nathaniel. I never wanted to find out if the theory was right.
I checked my watch: ten a.m. God, it had been a long, damn, morning. It was incredibly early for so many of Jean-Claude's vamps to be awake. So far only master vamps had woken up, and that didn't include Damian, but still... Was I already draining him, just because I hadn't fed the ardeur or eaten any breakfast? Real food helped keep the other hungers back, from the ardeur to the beasts. I hadn't even had a cup of coffee yet. It wasn't the time of day, but how long I'd been awake without eating that made it a mistake. Maybe we'd eaten a big enough meal from Auggie last night, but I couldn't chance that. I needed food. The only question was, which hunger to feed first? Sex, or coffee? Hmm, let me think.
IT TURNED OUT to be coffee first. Requiem wasn't in the bedroom, and Micah came through the door with a tray of breakfast. He didn't say that I'd waited too long to eat, and maybe endangered Damian, or risked raising my beasts again and hurting myself, or losing the baby, or that by neglecting myself I could make the ardeur more uncontrollable. No, he didn't say any of that. He just brought in the food and put it on the bedside table. Two cups of coffee, croissants, cheese, and fruit. All food in the Circus was catered because there was no kitchen. The old Master of the City hadn't kept many humans with her, and hadn't given a damn for anyone's comfort but her own. Jean-Claude had remodeled the bathrooms first. Priorities. Frankly, you could get good take-out food, but a decent bathroom, that they don't deliver. Still, as I looked down at the tray of food, I thought, We need a kitchen.