"Thanks for a truly disturbing visual—oh, here we are." They walked into the private room, where Dr. Sarett and Princess Alex were waiting for them. "Where's everybody else?"

"Nicky's got riding lessons—I didn't want to interrupt. I know Dave wants the kid's life to stay as normal as possible under the circumstances—the other Alex is touring a new battered-men's shelter, and Kathryn is meeting with the COCS."

Christina giggled. The Coalition of Cruise Services had the worst acronym ever. She knew it was immature, but hearing it out loud always slayed her.

David went to his father, straightened blanket, and kissed man's forehead. He didn't look deadily ill—in fact, David was paler. King Alexander merely looked like he'd fallen asleep after a hard day. Possibly one where heavy drinking was involved. "Is there news, Doctor? My sister said it was urgent."

"Well. I don't know that it's what you'd call urgent .. ."Weeks of frequent meetings and medical updates with the royal family had helped him loosen up a bit. He still dressed too stiffly for a doctor; Christina imagined hospital administration insisted he wear a dark suit under his lab coat, and his mahogany-colored shaved head gleamed under fluorescent lights. He'd be downright scrumptious, she thought, if he'd lose the big, clunky glasses and switch to contacts. His brown eyes swam behind the large lenses, making him look constantly near tears. "It's definitely promising, howev—"

"He's starting to wake up!" Princess Alex interrupted. "He talked!"

"No way," Christina said, utterly flabbergasted.

"Way, my queen. He said 'ham and... ' That was it. Like ham and eggs."

"Dr. Sarett, how many times do I have to tell you? It was salmon. My dad's a fisherman. Trust me, wherever he is in his head, he's thinking about fish, not eggs."

"What happens next?" David said.


"Well, we'll keep monitoring him closely, of course, but his brain waves are already shifting and he does appear to be—"

"English, remember," Alex warned.

"It's like he's in the deep end of the pool, and he's swimming toward the shallow end."

"That's awesome!"

"Yes, Your Majesty. Her Highness thought you and the king should know right away."

"Her Highness knows her shit."

"Awwwww," the princess said mockingly. "That's so nice."

"So, can we hang around and wait for him to wake up?" Chris asked eagerly.

"Your Majesties are welcome to wait, but it could take him another month to come all the way back. However, studies have shown that comatose patients can hear and even see—you've noticed his eyes open occasionally—so if you'd like to speak to him, it might facilitate—"

Christina bent until her mouth was level with the king's ear. "Hey, dickhead! Your kid knocked me up! So rise and shine, because I'm not doing this by myself! Now get up before I put my foot up your lazy ass!" She straightened and cleared her throat. "How's that?"

Dr. Sarett's eyes were bigger than usual behind his glasses. "That will probably do the trick, Your Majesty." He clutched the king's chart protectively to his chest. Chris and Alex grinned at each other, each imagining the notes the guy was going to add later. David merely looked pained. "Congratulations, by the way," the doctor added.

"Yeah, that's so great, you guys!" Alex hugged Christina, then grabbed her brother and squeezed him so hard he gasped. "When did you find out?"

"About ten minutes ago," David said.

"This morning," Christina said. "The stick was blue. But chill out, we're not telling the planet for at least another couple weeks."

"Boy," the princess said, impressed, "you guys didn't waste any time. Honestly, David, I thought you were a monk or something."

"Ha!" Christina chortled.

"I'm not having this discussion," David said.

"Thank Christ," King Alexander II said.

Chapter 35

She opened the door of Allen Hall and spotted "her" penguin at once; it was getting disgustingly fat. She really had to stop sneaking up here and feeding it. Just because David told her it was an orphan didn't mean she, like, had to bond with it or anything.

"Hey, guess what, Fred?" she asked as it came toward her as fast as its nonexistent legs could carry it. "Al woke up! Isn't that the coolest? Now .. ."

She crossed the room, opened the feeding closet, rummaged, then grabbed a bucket of fish out of the fridge. "Okay," she said, turning back, "I can't give you the whole bucket this time, because that book of David's I read said too much wasn't—"

The door to Allen Hall opened, and in came Edmund. Carrying a bucket.

He saw her and started in surprise.

Best defense: good offense. "What are you doing here?" she snapped.

"Surely Your Majesty has greater demands on her time," was his frosty reply. Fred had totally forgotten about her and was now hopping up and down in front of Edmund.

The two-timing little creep! Fred. Not Edmund.

"Perhaps I should bring this up with the king."

"Which one? Never mind. Look, let's just put all our cards on the table, all right? I won't tell if you won't, okay?"

"... as you wish."

"Yeah. Consider that, like, a royal command. Or something."

Edmund reached into the bucket, withdrew a smelt in his long, white fingers, and dropped it. Fred made it vanish. "Or something, yes, ma'am."

She narrowed her eyes at him, but all he did was look innocent (as much as he could, anyway) and keep feeding Fred.

"All right, then," she said at last.

"Her Majesty is quite right," Edmund said suddenly. "They are inordinately smelly birds."

"And annoying."

"Can't even fly."

"Can't keep them full!"

"All in all, quite aggravating."

"Okay, so we're agreed."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Okay. Well, 'bye."

"It's merely that I felt the king regent had enough demands on his—"

"Eds—don't even bother."

He sighed and dropped another smelt. "Yes, ma'am."

"Now don't get me wrong, Al—"

"Oh, man, here we go." The king was sitting up in his hospital bed, wolfing down green Jell-O. His hospital gown kept slipping, revealing formerly tanned skin that had paled during his hospital stay. "All aboard for the ingrate train."

"—because I'm glad you're awake and all—"

"I'll bet, Queen Regnant Christina."

"—but cripes! Talk about a heart attack! I nearly fell out the window."

"You were nowhere near the window. This Jell-O sucks. Somebody get me a steak. Two steaks."

"No steaks for you, Coma Boy. Not for a while, at least."

"No steak, my ass! Who's in charge around here?"

"Neither one of us, I'll tell you that much."

"Congratulations. Once you realize that, you're ready to be queen."

"No, thanks. Did you see David? He aged about twenty years in six minutes."

"Cry me a river. Kid's gonna have to suck it up again sometime ... longer than a few weeks, too. God, this Jell-O is terrible."

"Stop your whining." Christina raised shades and squinted out at the sunny day. "So when can you start running Alaska again?"

"I dunno. Doc says I'm here for at least another week. And I could use a vacation."

Christina nearly fell out the window again. "Vacation! You've been asleep for almost two months!"

Edmund rapped discreetly and crept into the room. Al and Christina stared; Edmund never crept There were rumors that he snuck, but he'd never been caught. "Good afternoon, Your Majesty. Your Majesty."

"Oh, come on," she groaned.

"I feel your pain, my queen. But technically you're still co-regent until Parliament relieves you."

"And they can't un-king me," Al said with a remarkable lack of smugness.

"The queen of England is here to see you, Sire."

"Uh-huh. Pull the other one. And get me a steak. And find out when I can go fishing again. And where's the mail? I can at least go through my mail while I'm trapped in this cotton hellhole."

"No mail!" Chris said loudly. "You're supposed to take it easy. Believe me, believe me, no one wants you up and around more than I do. But you gotta do it slowly. By the way, stay away from animal tranquilizers in the future."

"Yeah," the king said dryly. "I hear they make me sick."

"King Alexander, Queen Christina," Edmund said loudly, startling them both... he usually slipped away during an argument, disappearing like Batman. "Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain."

Queen Elizabeth walked in. For a record third time in two hours, Christina nearly fell out the window. Even the king looked stunned; a scrap of green Jell-O clung to his beard and his mouth was open. He hastily adjusted his hospital gown.

"Good afternoon," the queen said.

"Buh," Christina said.

"Hi, Liz. Thanks for coming by."

Queen Elizabeth's regal brow wrinkled momentarily, n smoothed out. "It is my pleasure, Alex. I am so pleased to see you've begun your recovery."

She was a small woman, surprisingly small, but she stood ramrod-straight in her blue tweed suit. Her hat was also blue, with a tiny veil she could peek through. Her gloves were white, and immaculate. Her shoes were low-heeled, dark, and sensible. Her dark gray hair looked perfect; nothing was out of place. A white purse with a white strap dangled from her forearm.

Her eyes, the color of faded denim, missed nothing.

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