Disclaimer: All the stuff you recognize belongs to people more brilliant than I (*cough*Jim Henson & Co.*cough*). The rest came from my addled mind for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended.
Rating: T (For frank talk about how babies are made, nothing more.)
Summary: Nothing surprises Dr. Frank Zelman, a twenty-five year fertility specialist, anymore—until he meets the Kings.
A/N: So, now that I've gotten my "unhappily-ever-after" stories out of the way ("Just a Dream" and "The Road Not Taken" if you haven't read them yet), I thought I'd cleanse my palette with some humor (not a romcom this time). It's not over-the-top—just a silly idea my muse whispered into my ear a few weeks ago.
Special thanks to my wonderful beta, cu-kid! If you haven't read her stuff yet, you can find her under my favorite authors!
A Strange Day at the Office
I've been in the baby business for more than twenty-five years. My specialty lies in helping couples with infertility issues, and I love my job—most of the time. It's not always rainbows and peaches; there are days where all I am is the bearer of bad news. But then, a couple conceives against all odds, and the glow of pure joy in their eyes makes it all worth it.
The walls of my office are papered with photos of babies and families I had a hand in creating. I've dealt with all kinds of couples—from the soft-spoken to the belligerent—from all walks of life. Nothing surprises me anymore when dealing with infertility.
Until two years ago.
I was having one of my rare good days at the clinic—most of my calls and appointments had been the kind to make my patients smile. The next day I was leaving for a much overdue vacation with my wife—a trip to the Mediterranean—and I was glad to be leaving on a high note.
Terry, my assistant and head nurse, peeked into my office. "Hey, Frank," she said, looking a little ruffled. "There's a couple in the waiting room demanding to see you."
I looked at my watch. Four o'clock. That was when I usually stopped seeing clients and did my paperwork—reviewing test results, making notes in patient files and the like. If I didn't give myself that cushion, I'd never make it home for dinner.
I frowned at Terry. "Are they patients at the clinic?"
She shook her head. "No."
"See if you can't fit them into one of the other associates' schedule tomorrow." I gave her a dismissive wave of my hand. After a few years of infertility, many couples felt a sense of growing urgency—anxious to see a specialist immediately, as if we were able to magically fix their problem with one appointment.
"I'm sorry, Frank." She winced. "The husband says he'll only see the best 'mortal healer' and apparently, you're it."
Mortal healer, huh? I hoped this guy wasn't a wacko. "Then they'll have to come back in two weeks." I was not going to miss dinner. Peggy would be cranky, and life was never good when Peggy was cranky.
"I told them that, but he refuses to leave." She set a thick file on my desk. "Maybe you could meet with them for a few minutes—just to placate them."
They must have been very insistent if Terry was asking this of me. She was a gentle soul, but could be tough as nails when needed. No client had ever strong-armed their way past her before.
"All right," I said, watching the relief flood her features. "Send them in—but warn them I'm not going to do a full consult." I'd give them ten minutes—fifteen, max.
Terry smiled. "Thank you." She left, closing the door behind her.
I took a moment to flip through the medical records she'd set on my desk. It was the file for a Sarah King—maiden name, Williams. I perused the blood test results, ultrasounds and notes her gynecologist had made. According to the file, Mrs. King was the proud owner of a healthy uterus and a pair of working ovaries. The only issue was her age. She was nearing her fortieth birthday, and while AMA (Advanced Maternal Age, for the layman) could be a problem with conception, it was usually a bigger concern for fetal development—not my department. I sighed. My gut told me her body wasn't causing their infertility issues, which left one other culprit.
The men who came to my practice were never happy to be there. They could be sensitive about their family jewels—not that I blamed them. Some broke down and apologized to their significant others for being the reason they hadn't produced a child, while others stared at me, red-faced—blaming me with their angry eyes as if I had something to do with their low sperm count. I thought about how demanding Terry said the husband was, and I was certain he'd be part of the latter group. I sighed again.
And the day had been going so well.
There was a soft knock at the door, and Terry walked in. "These are the Kings," she said, stepping aside to let the couple enter.
I'm a straight guy—as straight as they come (except for a little experimentation during summer camp when I was a kid)—but I couldn't help staring at Mr. King as he walked into the room. I don't think I'd ever laid eyes on a more beautiful man—one who somehow seemed to exude masculinity in spades despite his elegant features. He had pale blond hair about chin length, a tad unkempt but it seemed to add to his attractiveness. His eyes were unusual—icy blue, though one pupil was significant larger than the other—and as he looked at me, I felt as though I were a young, awkward adolescent again despite being in my mid-fifties.
"Dr. Zelman." Mrs. King's voice snapped me out of my gaping. I stood and turned to her. She was just as beautiful as her husband with rich, dark hair and bright green eyes. The birth date in her records had to have been a typo, though. There was no way she was in her late thirties. She didn't look a day over twenty-five.
"Mr. and Mrs. King." I shook their hands—Mr. King's grip was like a vice. "Won't you please have a seat?" I gestured toward the leather armchairs beside them.
"Thank you." Mrs. King smiled. She was absolutely radiant, and I could see why her husband married her. "But please, call us Jareth and Sarah."
Mr. King—or Jareth (an unusual name)—didn't so much as sit, but draped himself over the chair. His leg dangled over the armrest, and he looked as if he were lounging in his own living room. No one was that relaxed during their first appointment; my potential patients always sat rigidly, waiting for me to deliver the verdict. Jareth, if anything, seemed bored.
"As my assistant told you," I said, glancing at Sarah, "I only have a few minutes. Unfortunately, you caught me at the end of my day." I turned back to Jareth to give him a conspiratorial grin. "I can't be late for dinner. You know how it is with the wife."
Jareth stared back at me as if I had just uttered a bunch of gobbledygook. For a moment, I wondered if he spoke English. He did have a slightly Scandinavian appearance.
"I can assure you that you won't be late for dinner, Francis," Jareth said with a perfect British accent. I shouldn't have been surprised his voice matched his looks.
I thought about telling him to refer to me as Dr. Zelman, as a professional courtesy, but again I felt like a clumsy kid under his unwavering gaze. I cleared my throat. "Since our time is limited, we'll just do a brief overview of what you can expect here, and I'll get Terry to schedule you for a full consultation in two weeks." At Jareth's narrowed eyes, I added, "Or, if you'd prefer not to wait, you can meet with one of my associates."
"Sarah tells me your skills in the healing arts are exceptional. We will see you—now." His words made my jaw clench.
I'd dealt with his kind before—not just any old alpha male, but the alpha male over all other alphas. He was probably wealthy, in some sort of leadership position and used to getting his way. This guy was the king of the jungle, and just as he knew it, he expected me to know it, too. Well, I'm no slouch, myself.
"Listen, a full consultation could take an hour or more, not to mention the tests we'll need to order. And we've got—" I glanced at my watch and did a double take. One minute after four? If the second hand wasn't still ticking, I'd swear my watch had stopped. "As I was saying," I continued, a little perturbed, "we've only got about fourteen minutes before I need to wrap things up."
Jareth waved his hand. "Why don't we do this: You'll begin the consultation, and we'll see how far we get in fourteen minutes? If we should have further need of your services, then we will wait until you've returned from your cruise. Agreed?"
I glanced at Sarah to gauge whether or not she thought her husband might keep his word. I didn't want to have to battle them out of the office when the time came. Sarah returned my look with an easy smile, as if she wasn't expecting any trouble at all. It did little to soothe my worries, though.
"Okay," I said, forcing a smile. "Let's get started, then. First, tell me why you're here. How long have you been trying to conceive?"
"Long enough." Jareth studied his nails, bored once more.
"About fifteen years," Sarah answered. I studied her face. Was she really as old as her file said? If so, that was one hell of a skincare regime.
I opened her file. "Have either of you met with another specialist?"
"No," Sarah answered. "This is our first time."
My eyes darted to Jareth. "I've got Sarah's medical records here, but I'm going to need yours as well, Jareth." Saying his name felt odd, like calling the Pope by his first name.
"Whatever for?" Jareth raised a brow.
Yes, he was definitely not going to be easy. "I need to take a look at your medical history to see if there are any injuries, illnesses or exposures which may have affected your fertility." I found it was always best to be direct. It was like ripping off a Band-Aid—painful but over quickly.
Jareth snorted. "Surely you're not implying I'm the cause of our childless state."
That's exactly what I'm implying. I almost said it, too. "I've looked at Sarah's history and it appears she's perfectly capable of conceiving and carrying a child. Without your medical file and further tests, we won't be able to pinpoint the reason you're having trouble."
"I don't have a medical file. I've never had cause to see a healer until now." Jareth leaned forward. "If it will put your mind at ease, I've never suffered from injury, illness or exposure."
Yeah, right. I leveled my gaze at him. "Not even the common cold?"
He shrugged. "There is nothing common about me."
Sarah rolled her eyes.
I glanced at my watch again. One minute past four—still? "We'll need to do some tests."
"What sort of tests?" Jareth asked.
"First, we'll need a sample." I pulled a small plastic container out of drawer and set it on the desk. Jareth eyed it warily.
"A sample of what, precisely?"
"Your semen." Where had this guy been? Even men who'd never darkened the doors of a fertility clinic or sperm bank had seen enough in films or television to know the importance of The Cup.
Jareth smirked. "And how, Francis, do you intend to procure this sample?" The tone in his voice made me uncomfortable, and I readjusted my original assessment, adding "mischievous" to "wealthy and powerful."
"Actually, you'll do it yourself—manually." I pushed the cup toward him.
He barked a laugh. "Well, that is certainly less unpleasant than being poked with needles." He cocked his head. "What if I'm not feeling particularly amorous?"
"We have magazines and videos available should you need something to jumpstart your motor."
Jareth's lip curled in disgust. "I have no need for such base material." He gave his wife a look which made the temperature in the room rise a few degrees. "Sarah is more than stimulating."
Sarah groaned, shaking her head.
I closed my eyes as I involuntarily pictured the beautiful young woman without clothes (hey, I'm still a guy), and forced the fleeting image away. "Of course," I said, clearing my throat.
"Shall we get on with it, then?" Jareth asked, standing up. For a moment, I thought he was going to do it right there in my office. "I'm assuming you will provide private facilities for us."
Us? Surely he's not thinking… I saw the look in his eyes. Oh yes, he was thinking exactly that. "Yes, we do have a room for that, but for the sake of our other clients, we ask you take care of things alone." As much as we bluntly dealt with procreation here, no one wanted to be sitting in the waiting room, knowing a fellow was getting worked over by his gal in another room.
Jareth smirked. "You have no other clients and neither do your associates. Your nurse can show us the way." He swiped the cup from my desk, and reached a hand toward his wife. "Come, Sarah."
She crossed her arms and leveled her gaze at him. "Jareth."
They stared each other down for at least five minutes. I worried my office was about to explode in Armageddon.
Fortunately, Jareth dropped his hand. "No? What a pity. It would have been so entertaining."
As he opened the door to leave, I said, "Just give the sample to Terry when you're finished."
"Certainly." His eyes glinted with mischief. "Though she is not the person I'd prefer to give it to." With a parting glance at his wife, he left the room.
I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding. I turned to Sarah. "Is he always like this?"
She laughed. "This isn't even remotely close to what he's like."
Somehow I didn't think she meant he was more affable outside of the clinic. "How long have you two been married?"
"Feels like forever—and not always in a good way." She chuckled. "About fifteen years."
I raised my eyebrows. "You two have been trying to conceive since day one?" Most couples liked to enjoy a honeymoon period before they added the complications of a baby—and the ones who came to my office didn't think the honeymoon period would last indefinitely.
Sarah shrugged. "Jareth was anxious to have a child, and we've known each other for—oh—close to twenty-five years, now." Her expression turned wistful. "Man, I used to hate him."
I blinked, thinking she must have misspoken. Hate? "Then how did you two end up together?" I found myself curious, wondering why a sweet girl—no, woman—would end up with a man like him. Aside from the obvious reason of his good looks, of course.
She sighed. "I'm sure you can guess when Jareth sets his mind to something, he doesn't give up until he gets it." She smiled. "Eventually, those things I despised about him became endearing. I'm not exactly sure how it happened, and if I didn't know he had no power over me, I might have suspected magic was involved."
Her eyes widened, and she laughed—though it sounded forced. "That probably didn't make sense, I'm sorry. I forget where I am," she said. "Long story short: he wore me down."
I nodded, ignoring the strange comment about magic. "He seems like—"
"A force of nature?" She snorted. "You have no idea. I honestly don't know how I held out as long as I did."
"Neither do I."
I glanced up, startled to see Jareth back in the room already—and lounging in his chair, no less. When did he get back?
"That was fast." Sarah gave her husband a sardonic grin. Maybe she wasn't as sweet as she appeared to be.
Jareth shrugged. "Indeed. I had only to recall our lovely tryst in the study the other day."
Sarah turned red. "Jareth." There was a definite warning in her tone.
Jareth ignored her and turned to me. "My wife is exceptionally gifted, Francis. I would say I'm fortunate to have her, but it would imply I had nothing to do with acquiring her." He smirked. "After the years of extraordinary effort I put into winning Sarah, I refuse to allow Fate to take the credit."
"You incorrigible, frustrating Goblin Ki—" Sarah cut off and took a deep breath. "When we get home…" She glared at him
Jareth's grin turned feral. "I can hardly wait, precious. Will my riding crop be involved this time?"
I cleared my throat, feeling more than a little uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. "Let's get back to business." I checked the time again, sure we'd finally exhausted the fourteen minutes. Two past four? What? I shook my watch. The thing had to be dying. I looked at the clock on the wall and frowned. It said the same time. How?
"Yes, let's." Jareth's voice drew my attention back to them. "What's next?"
I raised my hands. "Now we wait. Terry will give you a call when the results come back from the lab—it usually takes a few days." I stood up. "After that, you can either meet with one of my associates or schedule an appointment with me in two weeks."
Sarah started to rise, but Jareth made no move. "I'd rather not wait," he said.
I opened my mouth to tell him he had no choice when the door opened. Terry stepped inside, her expression bewildered.
"Here are the test results for Mr. King." She handed a file to me.
"Mr. King? Mr. Jareth King?" I asked as I took the file. That just wasn't possible.
Terry glanced at Jareth. "Yes." Without further explanation, she made a hasty exit.
"It seems your laboratory was running more efficiently today," Jareth said, raising a brow.
"You promised." Sarah narrowed her eyes at her husband.
He gave her a nonchalant shrug. "You said nothing about time, precious. Even after all these years, you still forget the value of words." Jareth turned to me. "Now, if you would kindly acknowledge my remarkable virility, so we can move on to the real problem."
I raised my brows. "And what do you think the real problem is?" I hadn't opened the file yet.
"Incompatibility, of course." He spread his hands as if it should have been obvious. "Not that my kind haven't successfully produced children with yours in the past, but it's been several years and your people are always evolving." He cocked his head. "Of course, Sarah's not quite like you anymore, which might also be an impediment."
"Jareth!" Sarah hissed through clenched teeth. She kicked toward his leg, but Jareth captured her foot with his hand.
"Temper, temper, my love." His hand slid up to her calf in a caress before he let it go. "I believe our healer needs all the facts in order to provide adequate assistance. Wouldn't you agree, Francis?" He turned back to me.
My jaw unhinged at this point. My kind? His kind? What the hell was he talking about? I tried to appear unfazed by his ridiculous claims. "Why don't we look at the test results and go from there?"
I opened the file and looked through the report, feeling more chagrined as I did. This was not good. Not at all. It was just as I suspected, and I was fairly certain Jareth wasn't going to take the news well. Here comes the angry "it's the doctor's fault" stare. I stole a glance at the clock, hoping I could get out of breaking the news to them. No luck. It was only five past four. Damn. This was the longest fourteen minutes of my life.
"Before we address the possible issues with compatibility," I said slowly, trying to find a gentle way to burst this guy's ego, "we'll need to explore some methods to increase your sperm count." Not exactly delicate, but at least I didn't laugh and say, "Remarkable virility? Ha! Not a chance!"
Jareth smiled, but something dangerous glinted in his eyes, making me want to scoot back a few inches. I might have. "Are you certain?" he asked.
I scanned the test results once more. There was no mistake. "Yes." Why, after years of dealing with macho men, I felt nervous, I couldn't say. There was just something about the blond-haired man and his unsettling gaze.
Jareth started to rise, the smile dropping from his face, but Sarah stopped him with a hand on his arm. She gave him a pointed look before addressing me. "What kind of methods?"
I was pretty sure I had narrowly avoided getting strangled, and I gave her a grateful smile. "There's a few things which can be done—and all at home." I slipped into doctor-mode. "First, and I know couples are generally uncomfortable talking about this with their doctors, you'll have to decrease the frequency of sex and self-stimulation to have at least a three to four day gap between ejaculations."
"Less?" Jareth looked appalled by the idea. Sarah didn't look too pleased either.
Before I could get distracted by wondering what kind of sex life they had in which they'd both be disappointed by the news—usually at least one half of each couple looked relieved at the restriction—I trudged forward with the spiel I'd been doling out for twenty-five years. "Yes. And you'll also need to think about your clothing."
Jareth glowered at me. "I fail to see what my clothing has to do with conceiving a child, as I usually wear nothing when attempting to do so."
"Wearing constricting clothing, particularly in the groin area, can hinder sperm production." I wasn't even trying to be gentle anymore. I just wanted to get this consultation over with before the man murdered me for questioning his masculinity. I didn't know how much longer Sarah could hold him back. "You'll want to avoid wearing restrictive undergarments and tight pants."
Sarah burst into laughter. No, not even laughter—this was a full-blown guffaw. She laughed so hard her face turned red, and she gulped wheezing breaths between each fit of giggles.
"Sarah love, is there something you find particularly amusing?" Jareth raised a brow, his expression the opposite of pleased.
She tried to contain herself. "It's just…" She broke off, laughing again. "You wear them…"—another laugh—"…all the time!" She turned to me. "You don't know…" —laugh—"…what you're asking!" She lost it completely, pounding her fist on the armrest and kicking her legs.
Both Jareth and I watched her for a few minutes, him scowling, and me wondering why the minute hand on the clock refused to move.
Jareth huffed an exasperated sigh. "When you are quite finished, Sarah, I'd like to complete this consultation."
She sobered up—mostly—and wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said to me. "You've effectively barred him from his entire wardrobe—at least the pants."
"That's enough." Jareth shot his wife another glare.
Sarah feigned innocence. "What? Weren't you the one who said we needed to give the doctor all the facts?"
Jareth was not amused. "You play a dangerous game, girl."
She grinned, and it was disturbingly similar the one he gave her earlier. "I've been playing it for the last twenty-five years, Jareth, and I'm not planning on stopping anytime soon."
I turned away and cleared my throat—again. (Why did I keep losing control of this meeting?). The look which came over Jareth's face at his wife's words… Well, let's just say I felt like my office was one step away from becoming the latest backdrop to some wacky porno.
"As I was saying," I continued on, as if they hadn't been about to leap out of their chairs to pounce each other, "you'll also want to be sure to eat a healthy diet, and avoid alcohol and tobacco."
Jareth frowned. "You do know how to take the pleasure out of life, Francis."
I shrugged. "If you want a baby, then you're going to have to make some sacrifices."
"I'll be sure to let my heir know how much I suffered for his existence, particularly my wardrobe." Jareth relaxed back into his chair. "Any further misery you would like to inflict upon us, Francis?"
I shook my head. "That's all I can do for you at the moment. In a month, we can run the test again to see if we're making any headway."
"Should I choose to subject myself to your care once more, you'll find the results far more to my liking." His narrowed eyes added an "or else" to his statement, and I found myself hoping they would never come back. This was not a man I wanted to cross paths with again.
Jareth stood, holding a hand toward his wife. "Enjoy your trip, Francis. I would avoid the pork, if I were you."
Sarah mouthed a quick "thank you" as Jareth dragged her from my office.
I slumped in my seat, glad it was over and sure I was now running late. I blinked at the clock, then hastily checked the time on my laptop. It can't be…
Terry walked into the office after a soft knock. She put a couple of files on my desk. "I have Peggy on the phone for you."
"Terry, what time do you have?" I asked as she started to leave.
She glanced at her watch. "Four o'clock. Why?"
"No reason." I frowned. "If the Kings come back, tell them I'm unable to take them on at this time."
Terry cocked her head. "Who?"
"The couple who was just here." At her perplexed expression, I added, "You know—the handsome guy with blond hair with the gorgeous brunette who demanded to see me."
Terry raised a brow. "The Martins were the last couple you saw as far as I know. Did someone sneak past me?"
Had I fallen asleep at my desk and dreamt up the meeting with the Kings? That would explain why the clocks had been acting so odd. "Never mind," I said. "I think I was a little mixed up."
Terry smiled. "If you say so."
By the time Peggy and I were headed out on open waters, I was confident I had taken an involuntary snooze at work. I won't lie and say I didn't avoid the pork, though, and I was glad I did. Half the ship spent the trip with gastrointestinal problems while my wife and I enjoyed all the amenities.
Yes, I'd been convinced the Kings didn't exist—until today. I found an odd parcel on my desk this morning. Parcel, I know, is a fairly old-fashioned term, but it's what it was. The package was wrapped in paper and held together with string. In fancy calligraphy, it was addressed to "Healer Francis Zelman." I almost didn't open it.
Inside was a portrait—a painted portrait—of a baby (girl, if I had to guess by the frilly collar of her gown), perhaps three months old. She had a shock of dark hair and ice-blue eyes with mismatched pupils—beautiful, just as I remembered her parents being.
I opened up the letter written in the same elegant hand on thick parchment paper, and read:
Sarah expressed that it would be impolite if we did not share with you the fruit which came from our meeting some time ago. She also said we should offer our gratitude to you for unearthing the cause of our previously childless state, but since your recommendations led to some very unpleasant experiences—not the least of which put a significant damper on my excellent sense of fashion—I am disinclined to do so.
It should be enough for you to know we were able to conceive a daughter using your methods. Considering the sacrifice involved, I have suggested to Sarah that we needn't repeat the experience. She agreed, not having enjoyed the surprises which come with being with child—the delivery only slightly less than the illness which plagued her throughout. We decided we would keep unwanted children if we should choose to add to our family in the future.
Unfortunately, your methods were too successful, and despite having returned to our previous routines, and my wardrobe, Sarah is expecting again. Her midwife suspects twins this time, and I lay the blame at your feet. I expect you will provide us with the knowledge of how to reverse our too-fertile condition after the twins are born. Living with my wife while she is with child has become challenging and not in the way I find amusing.
We will see you in a few months.
I checked the date of the letter and my stomach dropped. It had been sent ten months ago.
Terry popped into the office, and I knew from her harried expression the Kings had arrived.
"Send them in," I said before she could utter a word. I rested my forehead against the desk after she walked out, groaning in anticipation of the insanity which was about to befall me.
Jareth probably wouldn't take too kindly to the idea of a vasectomy.
A/N: Thank you for reading! If you have a minute, please feel free to tell me what you thought of the story. I accept all kinds of reviews—including anonymous ones!