"The drugs are still in his system," Dr. Lillian said.
"Drugs, plural?" I asked.
She nodded. "Our metabolism is so fast that it takes quite a cocktail of chemicals to keep us sedated for any length of time."
"Gregory wasn't sedated. He seemed very much aware of everything that was happening," I said.
"But his heart, his breathing, his involuntary reflexes were all subdued. If you can't access the full effects of an adrenaline rush, you can't change shape."
Lillian shrugged, taking a small sip of her coffee. "We don't know, but there is something in the extremes of the fight or flight response that opens the way for our beast. If you can deprive a shapeshifter of that response, then you can keep them from shifting."
"Indefinitely?" I asked.
"No, the full moon will bring it on, no matter what drugs you pump into someone."
"How long until Gregory's back to normal?"
Her eyes flicked downward, then up, and I didn't like that she'd needed that second to school her eyes, as if something bad were coming.
"The drugs will probably wear off in about eight hours, maybe more, maybe less. It depends on so many things."
"So he stays here until the drugs wear off, then he shapeshifts and he's fine, right?" I put a lilt at the end, making it a question, because I knew the atmosphere was too serious for it to be that easy.
"I'm afraid not," she said.
"What's wrong, doc, why so solemn?"
She gave a small smile. "In eight hours the damage to Gregory's ears may be permanent."
I blinked at her. "You mean he'll stay deaf?"
"That's not acceptable," I said.
Her smile widened. "You say that as if by sheer will you can change things, Anita. It makes you seem very young."
"Are you telling me that there's nothing we can do to heal him?"
"No, I'm not saying that."
"Please, doc, just tell me."
"If you were truly Nimir-Ra, then you might be able to call his beast out of his flesh and force the change, even with the drugs in his system."
"If someone can tell me how to do it, I'm willing to give it a shot."
"So you believe that you will be Nimir-Ra in truth come full moon?" Lillian asked.
I shrugged and sipped my coffee. "Not a hundred percent sure, no, but the evidence is sort of mounting up."
"How do you feel about that?"
"Being Nimir-Ra for real?" I asked.
"I'm trying really hard not to think too much about it."
"Ignoring it won't make it go away, Anita."
"I know that, but worrying about it won't change things either."
"Very practical of you, if you can pull it off."
"What, not worrying?"
She nodded again.
I shrugged. "I'll worry about each disaster as it happens."
"Can you really compartmentalize to that degree?"
"How do we fix Gregory?"
"I take that as a yes," she said.
I smiled. "Yes."
"As I said, if you were a Nimir-Ra in full power, you might be able to call his beast, even through the drugs."
"But since I haven't shifted yet, I can't?"
"I doubt it. It's a rather specialized skill, even among full shapeshifters."
"Can Rafael do it?"
She smiled, the smile that most of the wererats got when you asked about their king. It was a smile that held warmth and pride. They liked and respected him. Let's hear it for good leadership.
That surprised me, and it must have shown on my face.
"I told you, it is a rare talent. Your Ulfric can do it."
I looked at her. "You mean Richard?"
"Do you have another Ulfric?" she asked, smiling.
I almost smiled back. "No, but we need someone who can call leopards, right?"
"How about Micah?"
"I've already asked him. Neither he nor Merle can call another's beast. Micah did offer to try and heal Gregory by calling flesh, but the injuries are beyond him."
"When did Micah try and heal Gregory?"
"While you were cleaning up," she said.
"I took a quick shower."
"It didn't take long for him to be certain that Gregory's injuries were above his abilities."
"You wouldn't be belaboring the point if there wasn't some hope."
"I can use other drugs to try and overcome the effects."
"But ..." I said.
"But the mix of the drugs could explode his heart or rupture enough blood vessels in other major organs to kill him."
I stared at her for a heartbeat or two. "How bad are the odds?"
"Bad enough that I need his Nimir-Ra's permission before trying."
"Has Gregory given his permission?"
"He's terrified. He wants to be able to hear again. Of course he wants me to try, but I'm not sure he's thinking clearly."
"So you're coming to me like you'd go to a parent for a child," I said.
"I need someone who is thinking clearly to make a decision on Gregory behalf."
"He has a brother." I frowned, because I realized I hadn't seen Stephen at the lupanar. "Where is Stephen?"
"I've been told that the Ulfric ordered Gregory's brother not to attend tonight. Something about it being unfair for him to watch his own brother executed. Vivian has gone to get him."
"My, that was big of Richard."
"You sound bitter."
"Do I?" And that sounded bitter even to me. I sighed. "I'm just frustrated, Lillian. Richard is going to get people I care about slaughtered, not to mention himself."
"Which risks both you and the Master of the City."
I frowned at her. "I guess everyone does know that part."
"I think so," she said.
"Yeah, he's risking us all for his high moral ideals."
"Ideals are worth sacrifice, Anita."
"Maybe, but I'm not a hundred percent sure I've ever held an ideal close enough to trade the people I love for it. Ideals can die, but they don't breathe, they don't bleed, they don't cry."
"So you would trade all your ideals for the people you care about?" she asked.
"I'm not sure I have any ideals anymore."
"You're still Christian, aren't you?"
"My religion isn't an ideal. Ideals are abstract things that you can't touch or see. My religion isn't abstract, it's very 'stract,' very real."
"You can't see God," she said. "You can't hold Him in your hand."
"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin, huh?"
She smiled. "Something like that."
"I've held a cross while it flared so bright it blinded me until all the world was just white fire. I've seen a copy of the Talmud go up in flames in a vampire's hands, and even after the book had burned to ash, the vampire kept burning until it died. I've stood in the presence of a demon and recited holy script, and the demon could not touch me." I shook my head. "Religion isn't an abstract thing, Dr. Lillian, it is a living, breathing, growing, organic thing."
"Organic sounds more Wiccan than Christian," she said.
I shrugged. "I've been studying with a psychic and some of her Wiccan friends for about a year, hard not to soak some of it up."
"Doesn't studying Wicca put you in an awkward position?"
"You mean because I'm a monotheist?"
"I have God-given abilities and not enough training to control those abilities. Most denominations of the church frown on psychics, let alone someone who raises the dead. I need training, so I've found people to train me. The fact that they're not Christian I see as a failing of the church, not a failing of theirs."
"There are Christian witches," she said.
"I've met some of them. They all seem to be zealots, as if they have to be more Christian than anyone else to prove that they're good enough to be Christian at all. I don't like zealots."
"Neither do I," she said.
We looked at each other in the darkened kitchen. She raised her coffee mug. I'd given her the one with a tiny knight and a large dragon that said, "No guts, no glory."
Lillian said, "Down with zealots."