The Challenge
By Janet Lynne

Part 6

-11-

Just as John entered the alleyway, he heard Ryan's gunshots and saw the suspect car crash into the building. He watched in horror as the car caromed off the wall and slammed into his partner. Her body was hurled through the air and bounced once, landing with a sickening thud nearly at his feet. The car came to rest against the opposite side of the alleyway, engine and tires smoking, its occupants unmoving.

As he dropped to his knees beside his fallen partner, he screamed into his uniform radio, "Officer down! Officer down! In the alley near Eighth and F...behind the warehouse. Officer down!" As he finished the call, several of the cops who had been pursuing ran up to aid Ryan, while several others checked the status of the suspects.

John looked down at his partner's crumpled form and his stomach lurched as he was gripped by horror. She was lying on her stomach, unconscious and bleeding from head and leg wounds. Her left leg was twisted unnaturally under her, as was her right arm. He tore off his shirt and covered her as he screamed, "Where's the fucking ambulance!"

A fellow cop laid a comforting hand on his shoulder and said, "En route, John. Hang on." Two other cops knelt beside Ryan and laid comforting hands gently on her still form. John sat next to her and held the hand of her least injured arm.

"She's alive...pulse is weak," said one of the cops, a woman, as she gently checked Ryan's carotid artery.

Another said, "Make sure the ambulance has access...and make sure they look at her first."

"She's first anyway, Lt. The perps are DOA," said another cop as he walked away from the wrecked car. "She nailed them good."

The group of cops surrounding their fallen friend all nodded, satisfied, and then the ambulances arrived, followed by several fire trucks. The paramedics from the closest unit jumped from the truck, rushed to Ryan's side, and began offering life support. The other cops moved away, but John stayed as close to her as he could.

The scene became almost surreal to him as they worked over his friend. As he watched them carefully turn his partner over and rip her shirt open, gingerly removing her bullet-proof vest, his heart was beating furiously, his head pounded, and he had to remind himself to take even breaths. While one medic took her vital signs, another cut off her pants, revealing a badly mangled leg, with bone protruding in two places.

The lights from the many emergency vehicles cast the scene in an eerie glow, with the flashing lights painting the people, buildings and trash bins in the alley with an almost strobe-like effect. Residents of the seedy hotels and apartments above the alley looked on from open windows and fire escapes.

As John observed them, the actions of the medics took on an almost slow-motion effect and he suddenly felt very disconnected: almost as if he had left his body. He vaguely heard what was being said, but none of it registered until he heard, "Backboard" and, "Possible internal injuries." With that, he was shaken back to reality and realized that someone was speaking to him.

He looked up and saw his Captain, Sam. As he stood to face him, the senior officer said, "Stewart...how is she?"

He shook his head, as if to wake himself up. "I don't know, Cap. Pretty bad, I think." He swallowed hard and looked back down as the paramedics gently rolled Ryan onto a backboard, with a third carefully holding her neck. "Jesus." Tears sprang to his eyes and one rolled down his cheek. He angrily wiped it away. "Bastards...fucking bastards."

Sam reached out and pulled John by the arm, away from his partner. "John, you stay with her...go in the ambulance. I'm going to go get Janna. I'll have my wife meet us at the hospital."

John nodded dumbly and Sam wasn't sure he had been heard, but then the fair-haired cop looked him in the eye and said, "Will do, Cap. Will you have someone call my wife, too?"

"Done, Stewart. I'll see you there." He looked down at his friend's battered, still form and shook his head as he mumbled, "Son of a fucking bitch." He looked back up at John pointedly and added, "You keep her with us."

"All right, Captain."

"Ryan!" Janna quickly realized that the pain she felt was coming through her link with her mate. She jumped up from the bed and screamed her wife's name again. The initial sharp pain she had experienced was replaced by a dull ache and tears began streaming from her eyes. She felt like she had been punched in the chest. She could feel Ryan's warmth, so she knew she was still alive, but the ache was much stronger than the usual warm glow, and her mate felt somehow far away.

"Ryan, Ryan...oh God, Ryan." She began to pace, not knowing what to do. She was growing numb and the strong feeling that Ryan was hurt was becoming overpowering. While she was still able to think coherently, she picked up the phone and dialed the station. She got an unfamiliar operator and in a strained voice said, "I need to reach Officer Ryan Norden-Zamora. She's on special duty tonight...is there any way you can put me through, or get a message to her?"

There was a pause before the female dispatcher spoke. "Is this Mrs. Norden-Zamora?"

"Yes."

"Mrs. Norden-Zamora, are you home?"

"Yes...oh, God...what's happened?"

"I have no information on that, ma'am. I will relay your message."

"Please...has something happened to my wife? I know something is wrong...I can feel it...please." She implored the hapless dispatcher.

"Ma'am, I'm very sorry but I have no information for you."

Janna could only sob quietly and clicked off the phone. As she stood trying to think of who else she could call, the doorbell rang.

"No...oh, God, no..." She numbly walked down the hall and down the stairs, nearly paralyzed by fear. As she reached the door, she saw though the stained glass the distorted form of their friend Sam. She was gripped by terror as she reached for the dead bolt, and her hand shook almost uncontrollably as she began to swallow convulsively. When she swung the door open and saw the grief-stricken look on Sam's face, she lost control.

She fell into Sam's arms and sobbed, "Sam, what's happened? Please...I know something has happened. I called the station but they wouldn't tell me anything."

Sam gently gripped her chin, forcing her to look at him. "Janna, you need to be strong. She's been hurt."

"Oh, God, no," she wailed. "Sam, is she alive? Please tell me she's alive." She implored him with red, swollen eyes.

He nodded, "Yes, she's alive, but it's not good, Janna. Let's get to the hospital." He guided her by the arm to the stairs. "Come on now, get dressed. I'll wait here."

Janna looked down at herself. She had forgotten that she wore only a long t-shirt. One of Ryan's shirts. Suddenly, she felt extremely faint and sagged against the banister. Sam rushed to her side and helped her up the stairs. He walked her into the master bedroom and sat her on the bed.

"Janna, where are your clothes?" He asked softly. She looked dumbly at him and then shook her head and pointed to a rocking chair. On it sat a pair of jeans and on the floor in front of it, two pair of Birkenstock sandals, one sized seven, one sized ten. At the sight of Ryan's shoes, she dropped her head into her hands and was wracked by deep sobs.

Sam approached and firmly said, "Janna...you need to be strong for her. Can you do that? We all need to be strong. Now, I need you to get dressed so we can go see her. Come on, Janna. Georgie is meeting us there."

Janna took a deep, shuddering breath and looked up at Ryan's friend and Captain. She nodded her head and said, "Okay, Sam. For her. I'll try to be strong for her," and she stood up.

"Good, Janna. Get dressed, hon."

Janna nodded and went to the dresser, where she pulled out a pair of underwear and a bra. Sam turned his back when she started to pull them on. Just a minute later, he was guiding her back down the stairs.

When they got to the downstairs hallway, he halted them and asked, "Papers, Janna. You have papers, don't you? For emergencies?"

"Yes...in my office. I'll get them." She returned a moment later holding a large envelope and looked so sadly up at him that Sam thought his heart might break. As her tears fell anew, Janna sobbed, "We prayed that we would never have to use these."

"I know, Janna, but it's good that you have them. Now there should be no problems."

Janna nodded and took a deep breath. As she picked up her backpack from the hall table she said, "Let's go Sam. Take me to her."

John watched the medics load his best friend into the ambulance and climbed in after her. The doors were slammed shut and the unit took off, quickly gaining speed and rushing through the empty streets of the city.

He watched quietly as the paramedic continued to look after his friend. He listened as the man made the radio call informing the hospital of her injuries and their estimated time of arrival, wincing as the man said, "Head injury, double compound leg fracture, dislocated shoulder, possible internal bleeding...BP is falling."

Dear Jesus, God, all the spirits that Ryan believes in...please look after my friend. She has so much to live for...please. Amen.

As he prayed silently, tears fell unrestrained from his eyes and he gently grasped Ryan's left hand. He gazed quietly at her battered body. Her head and leg were bandaged and bloody, her uniform and bra had been ripped and cut away and she already had various tubes stuck in her body, delivering vital fluids. He gingerly reached down and carefully pulled the thin sheet up, trying to protect her modesty, even though he knew that she possessed none. Suddenly, he was filled with the love that he felt for his friend and began to speak to her softly, imploring her to hang on and to fight.

"You can beat this, Ry. Be strong for Janna...be strong for your baby. They need you." As he said her wife's name, John thought that he detected a faint movement of her eyelids. He repeated, "Janna needs you, Ryan." The faint movement repeated. "Yes! Ry, I saw that...hang on my friend. Hang on. I love you, buddy...fight for me."

When the paramedic had finished his radio call, John looked at him and quietly asked, "Will she make it, Joe?"

"If anyone can, it's her, John. I swear to God, she's the strongest woman I've ever known. She beats the shit out of me every time our team plays hers." He looked down at Ryan and back up at the machine monitoring her vital signs. "It's pretty bad, though John." He shook his head sadly. "God dammit...it's hard when it's one of us."

"At least she took out the pricks that did it." John muttered, his voice a mixture of anger and pride.

"Did she? Good for her. Good for her." He nodded as he prepared another bag of IV fluid.

~~~~~~~~~~

During the short drive to the hospital, Sam kept a vigil on Janna's state. She sat unmoving, stoically trying not to break down. He found himself wishing he could say something to ease her mind, but he couldn't come up with anything, so he remained quiet. He had seen Ryan...he knew how badly injured she was.

Suddenly, Janna spoke quietly, in a determined voice. "Sam, tell me what happened."

He briefly considered hedging, putting it off until they reached the hospital, but realized that she deserved to know. He knew that he would certainly expect to be told the truth if something similar had happened to his wife.

Without preamble, he began, "She was on foot, chasing suspects fleeing in a car. They had fired on two officers...one of them is down, too. She followed them into an alley, took them out, but the car crashed into her. She was thrown quite a distance I guess." He glanced quickly at Janna and then back to the street.

"What are her injuries, Sam?"

"Janna, I'm not sure...the ambulance got there right away and I left to get you before they took off."

"Sam, tell me what you saw." Janna pinned him with a pointed stare.

"She was unconscious, Janna. She looked to have head and leg injuries...possibly more."

"What do you mean, 'more'?"

"They were loading her onto a backboard...but that's pretty standard, Janna." When he saw her flinch in pain, he added, "She's getting the best possible care and she's got a whole lot of people pulling for her, Janna. I don't think there is a more popular cop in the entire department."

As he looked at Janna he saw her close her eyes and swallow hard and her tears began to flow again, silently, as her lips began to move in prayer.

Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Great Spirit, Jesus, Buddha...please look after my wife. Keep her in your loving protection and give her the strength she needs to fight this and return to me. Thank you. Amen and Aho.

Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Great Spirit, Jesus, Buddha...please look after my wife. Keep her in your loving protection and give her the strength she needs to fight this and return to me. Thank you. Amen and Aho.

Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Great Spirit, Jesus, Buddha...please look after my wife. Keep her in your loving protection and give her the strength she needs to fight this and return to me. Thank you. Amen and Aho...The silent prayer continued until they reached the hospital.

The Captain pulled up into the ambulance bay and Janna vaguely noted that there were dozens of emergency and police vehicles parked around the emergency entrance to the hospital...many either haphazardly or double-parked or parked in restricted zones. Sam parked his unmarked department car between an ambulance and a fire truck and he and Janna hurried into the waiting room.

Janna was completely unprepared for what she encountered when they entered the emergency department. There were peace officers, dozens and dozens of them, of every possible persuasion, milling about everywhere. And they all looked up, seemingly as one, when she entered the area. Their hearts ached at the sight of the small, cute woman in the over-sized "Police" t-shirt and faded jeans.

Sam wrapped an arm around her shoulder and whispered, "They're all here for Ryan, Janna. Every last one of them."

Janna stopped and looked at the ceiling, unable to handle the emotion that overcame her at that moment. It passed though, when Ryan's partner rushed to meet her and scooped her into his arms.

"Janna."

"John," Janna cried as she lay her head on his shoulder. She looked up into his eyes and croaked, "How is she?"

"She's hanging on, Janna. They won't let me in there...they're still working on her. We should tell them that you're here."

"Let's go." She stopped and remembered Sam, then, and grabbed his hand. "Thank you, Sam."

"Go take care of her, Janna. If you need anything, Georgie's on her way. "

"Thanks, Sam."

John led Janna down the clean, white hallway to the triage nurse's desk. An officious looking middle-aged woman dressed in blue scrubs was on the phone there and looked up as they approached. She held up her finger as John started to speak. "All right," she said. "I'll handle it at this end." She hung up the phone and looked expectantly at them.

"This is Officer Norden-Zamora's next of kin."

The woman looked at Janna. "You're family?"

"I'm her wife and her legal next of kin...and I have power of attorney as well."

"Do you have the documents? Because, unfortunately, until this State recognizes same sex marriage, you don't have many legal rights here. I'm sorry."

Janna shoved the large envelope at her and said impatiently, "They're all in here...may I see her?"

The woman took the envelope and quickly scanned its contents. "Okay, these seem to be in order...I'm sorry, you can't see her yet...she's still being treated."

"How is she?"

"The doctor will be out as soon as there is anything to tell you. In the meantime, I have some forms for you to fill out." She thrust a clipboard at Janna, but John intercepted it.

"Look, these can wait...let her see her wife."

She looked sharply at John and then turned her gaze to Janna. "I'm sorry, but no one can be in there while the trauma team is working, and we really do need her medical history from you."

John handed the clipboard to Janna. "She'll fill that one out, but the rest can wait...please tell the doctors that Ryan's spouse is here."

"I'll do that, Officer."

"Right now, please." He pinned her with a fixed stare.

The woman looked pointedly at him, as if she were wondering just who the hell he thought he was, but Janna's soft plea of, "Please," swayed her and she left the desk and walked down the hallway.

John placed his hand on Janna's back and said, "Come on," and they followed the nurse. She turned into a bay marked, "Trauma 2," and they stopped just outside the door. John cautiously poked his head around the corner and looked into the room. He saw a battalion of doctors and nurses surrounding a gurney. All he could see of Ryan was one arm hanging over the side and one of her feet. The team was working frantically, but he saw one of the doctors look up toward the doorway after the nurse spoke to him.

The doctor spoke briefly to a colleague and then made his way out into the hallway, pulling off bloody gloves before exiting the room and tossing them into a receptacle.

He spoke to John. "You're Officer Zamora's next of kin?"

Before John could speak, Janna said, "I'm Officer Norden-Zamora's wife."

The doctor seemed stymied, but only for a second, before he got down to business. "Does she have any medication allergies or pre-existing conditions?"

Janna shook her head. "No."

"Any previous surgeries or injuries?"

"None."

"All right, good. She sustained compound fractures of her left leg and ankle, has several broken ribs, one of which punctured a lung, a severe concussion, and we suspect internal injuries, because we can't keep her blood pressure up. We're trying to stabilize her enough to get her into surgery. We'll need you to sign a surgical release."

"Okay...anything."

The doctor looked at the triage nurse. "Sylvia, get that form for ..." He looked questioningly at Janna, "Mrs. Norden-Zamora?" At Janna's nod, he continued, "For Mrs. Norden-Zamora, so we can take her wife up to surgery."

The nurse nodded and left. The doctor then looked at Janna and added, "I think we'll be able to stabilize her enough to get her into surgery, but it's still touch and go...until we know what the extent of the internal injuries are, I can't tell you much more."

Janna nodded and said, "Okay, thank you, doctor."

He nodded and hurried back into the trauma room and Janna collapsed against John's side. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and guided her back to the triage desk, but not before she spared a quick glance into the trauma room and murmured, "Hang on baby...I'm here. I love you, Ryan."

Ryan floated on a cloud of white-hot pain. She vaguely felt Janna's presence through the pain-filled haze and that was all she needed. She didn't attempt to feel anything else. That was all she needed and she allowed the black to seep back in and overtake her consciousness again. But not before the fuzzy thought fought its way out of her foggy brain: Love you too, baby.


-12-

John led Janna back to the large waiting room. She briefly recalled that the last time she had been there, she had been the patient and it had been Ryan who had sat waiting for word on her condition. It was the night that they had met, nearly one year earlier, and Ryan had driven her there to have her assault injuries treated.

Ryan told her later that she had fallen in love with Janna instantly...in fact while she was still sitting on the sidewalk after the beating. Janna, in turn, had admitted that she had realized her love for Ryan the instant the cop had gently touched her face to peer at her injury...while she sat on the sidewalk after the beating. Lord, Jesus...she can't die. We're only just beginning our life together. I need her...her baby needs her. Please, Jesus, please...

As she sat silently praying and imploring the Universe to save her soulmate, cop after cop, firefighter after firefighter, paramedic after paramedic approached her and offered their support. Most of them simply nodded and touched her hands. Very few of them could come up with appropriate words, but Janna appreciated that. She needed their support, not their pity, and she didn't feel up to having to speak with any of them. She simply nodded her appreciation to each one. She knew many of them, in passing at least, from the Peace Officer's Softball League. She had, in fact, watched her wife strike almost all of them out at one time or another.

John left briefly to use the phone. He had called his wife, their close friend Sara, earlier and wanted to update her. He knew she wouldn't be sleeping; that she would be terribly worried and waiting for word. They had a month-old son who most likely would be keeping her up anyway.

While John was gone, Sam's wife Georgia arrived. She rushed to her younger friend and wordlessly embraced her as she sat beside her.

"Janna, how is she?" Her concerned brown eyes conveyed her depth of compassion for Janna and Ryan.

"They don't know yet, Georgie. She has some broken bones and a concussion, and they suspect internal injuries. They're trying to stabilize her now for emergency surgery."

Georgie closed her eyes in pain and sighed. "Honey, can we send her Reiki? Are you up to it?" Georgie had become an enthusiastic student of Janna's several months earlier after witnessing the Norden-Zamoras' healing of one of her son's severe insect stings, and had recently attained the second degree of the healing art.

"I hadn't thought of that, Georgie...I've been too upset. Let's give it a try...though I don't know how effective I'll be." Janna gazed at her friend with green eyes dulled by grief.

Georgie nodded and hugged Janna briefly before setting herself to the task of visualizing the healing symbols and sending the energy on its way.

As she and her friend sent the powerful, loving energy to her mate, Janna felt connected to Ryan for the first time in the half hour since she had been injured, and it served to soothe her own aching heart center. It was reassuring to again feel Ryan's familiar warmth, if only just a spark of it. Along with the Reiki, which flowed from her palms, Janna sent her love to her mate through their heart chakra link. She visualized it washing over her mate, encompassing her body and soul with the full breadth of her love.

The Reiki energy flowed exceptionally strongly for both women, as it tended to do when most needed. Janna received the distinct impression that her beloved's body was eagerly soaking up the healing energy. They had been running the energy for a full fifteen minutes when a nurse approached Janna and informed her that Ryan was being taken up for emergency surgery, and invited her to follow them up.

Janna jumped to her feet and held out her hand to Georgie, who grasped it as she stood, and followed Janna down the hallway. They stopped outside of Ryan's trauma bay and watched as the team hurriedly pushed the gurney out.

As Janna got a glimpse of her mate, her gut clenched in fear and horror. Her beloved's beautiful body was a mass of bruises, contusions, and bloody bandages. Her entire left leg, from foot to thigh, was dressed and splinted, and her head was wrapped in a wide bandage, with blood seeping through on the left side of her head. There were wires and tubes protruding from what seemed to be every part of her body, and to top off the horrifying scene, her torso was uncovered immodestly, as a thin sheet covered only her pubic region.

The team pushed the gurney quickly past the patient's wife without so much as slowing down and hurried into a waiting elevator. One of the nurses accompanying Ryan motioned for them to wait for the next lift and Janna was left watching her soulmate as the elevator doors closed her out. As she lost sight of her mate, Janna burst into tears and Georgie threw an arm around her as she hustled Janna onto the next elevator, hurriedly punching the second floor and "Close Door" buttons.

When they arrived at the surgical suite the doors were already swinging shut and Janna could only stand and watch them close. She suddenly felt totally defeated and dejection overcame her, as she was wracked by powerful sobs. Georgie led her to the nearby private waiting room and sat her down. A minute later, John arrived, carrying Janna's backpack, which she had forgotten in her haste.

As he sat down next to Janna, he caught Georgie's eye and they exchanged meaningful worried glances. John looked at Janna and patted her hand. "Janna, do you need to eat something? Can I get you anything?"

She sniffled and shook her head dejectedly, then whispered, "I have some meal bars and water. That's all I need." She looked up at John and added, "Thanks." She felt nauseus but was unwilling and unable to dwell on it, being much more preoccupied with her mate's condition.

He nodded and sat back in the chair. Sighing deeply, he fought to hold the images of his partner's broken body at bay. But they were powerful images and a few tears escaped his eyes. Janna quietly reached over and picked up his hand, doing the same with Georgie's on her other side, and they sat there together, waiting, holding hands and silently supporting each other.

~~~~~~~~~~

The surgeon tiredly pulled the covering from his head as he hit the plate to open the surgical doors. As they swung open, he noted the three occupants of the small waiting room across the hallway. He knew that the attractive, shorthaired blonde woman was whom he needed to speak with and steeled himself as he approached them.

As Janna dozed quietly against Georgie's arm, she dreamed uncomfortably about a large, black wolf stalking a puma. "Janna."

The quiet voice repeated, "Janna," and she opened her eyes to see Georgie gently shaking her. "The surgeon is here, hon."

"Oh." She sat upright and shook her head before glancing at the clock on the wall. 6:30. It took almost three hours?

The surgeon kneeled before the obviously exhausted woman, despite his own exhaustion. "Mrs. Norden-Zamora, she's stable."

Janna closed her eyes with relief and took a breath, then gazed at the surgeon, steeling herself as she did so. "And?"

"She's still critical. When she leaves recovery, she'll go into the Intensive Care Unit. She had a ruptured spleen, which we removed, and her blood pressure improved right away. How much did the doctor in the E.R. tell you about her injuries?"

"That she has broken ribs, a concussion, a badly broken leg, um, a punctured lung, dislocated shoulder. Internal injuries."

He nodded, "Right. We've taken care of the internal injury, though her liver was badly bruised and they'll have to keep an eye on it as well. Her concussion is worrisome because she hasn't regained consciousness since she's been here. We'll see how she does coming out of recovery. Then, as soon as she's stable enough, she'll need surgery on her leg and ankle."

He eyed Janna seriously as he added, "She's got a lot of swelling from the concussion, and may need surgery to relieve it...but we can hold off as long as possible and see how she recovers in, say, the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours."

Janna swallowed hard and nodded.

"You can see her in recovery, but only for a few minutes, and she's not awake. Do you have any questions?"

"Not right now, no, but I may think of some when my head clears a little."

"Just have the operator page me...I'll be on call all day."

"Thanks, doctor." Janna gave him a small smile as she grasped his hand.

He nodded and stood, then nodded at John and Georgia before turning to leave.

The three friends stood and John wrapped his arm around Janna's shoulders. "I'll go downstairs and make some phone calls while you see her. Should I call your parents, Janna?"

"My parents, God...yes, thank you, John."

He smiled and nodded and Georgia said, "I'll go help you, John." She turned to Janna. "Kiss her for us, hon."

"I will, Georgie, thanks. I'll come find you when they kick me out." She left her friends and walked through the doors into the surgical wing. As she approached the desk, a nurse in surgical scrubs said, "Mrs. Norden-Zamora?"

Janna nodded.

"Follow me, please."

Janna followed the woman in blue scrubs into the large recovery area. She was led into the first bay and thought at first that the woman had brought her to the wrong bed. The patient in the bed appeared small and frail and Janna gasped when she realized that it was actually her wife's form.

"Ryan," she whispered as she gently touched the hand that wasn't bandaged. She looked down upon her mate's battered body and a large sob choked her. Ryan was unconscious, with a sheet covering her body up to her chest, her arms lying on top of it. Her right arm was in a sling, while her left sported an I.V. Her head was freshly bandaged, her face was bruised, a nasal cannula delivered oxygen to her system, and her badly broken leg protruded from under the sheet at the foot of the gurney. Tears rolled down her cheeks as Janna said, "I'm here, baby. All of your friends are here. I love you...we all love you. You rest now...get better for me. I'll be right here."

As she leaned over and gently kissed her beloved's forehead, the recovery nurse approached and checked her vitals. She glanced at the distraught woman and felt deeply for her. "She took quite a beating...but she seems very strong. That's a big plus on her side...and so is having someone here, supporting her."

Janna nodded at the woman and gazed back down at her wife. In a small voice she said, "I just hope they let me stay with her in the ICU. Not everyone recognizes the legitimacy of gay marriages."

The nurse nodded her agreement, then said, "Listen, why don't I have one of the hospital social workers come talk with you? She has advocated for gay patients' rights in the past and can probably help you out if you run into problems."

"That would be great, thank you." Janna said sincerely.

The curly-headed blonde said, "Glad to help...we have to stick together, you know," and she smiled warmly.

Janna returned the smile with a nod before gazing down at Ryan again. "How long can I stay with her here?"

"A few more minutes. We'll have someone find you when she's moved to ICU."

"Okay, thanks."

The woman smiled and returned to her desk across the room.

"I'm here, sweetheart. I love you, baby. I'll be right here when you wake up." She kissed Ryan again, this time tenderly on the lips, and gently stroked her hand, avoiding the bruises that covered it. As she touched Ryan, Reiki began to flow, unasked for, so she placed her other hand lightly on the sheet above her wife's abdomen. She stood gazing at her mate, sending her healing energy for several more minutes, until the nurse gently told her that she would have to leave. She kissed Ryan one last time and backed away from the bed, then turned and left the room.

Ryan still floated on the clouds of pain, but the sensations were dulled somewhat and a blip of awareness made itself known through the thick fog that blanketed her. Janna. She felt the sweet warmth that she associated with her mate, and let it creep slowly through her being before the blackness returned and she slept again. However, that little glimmer of love from her mate served to heal her a small measure, setting her on the road to recovery. Another thought pushed its way through the black and forced its way into her awareness, and it was an even stronger medicine: I'll be right here when you wake up.

Janna left the recovery room and exited the surgical wing, but instead of joining her friends downstairs, returned to the small surgical waiting room. She wanted to stay there while her mate was in recovery and then follow her to the ICU...whether the hospital personnel would allow it or not. She needed to be near Ryan.

She had waited perhaps a half hour, alternately alone with her thoughts and sending Reiki to her love, when John arrived with her parents and brother. As she sat with eyes closed, hands held in front of her, palms out, sending the healing energy to her mate, she heard, "Janna, honey," and opened her eyes to see the welcome sight of her mother.

"Mom." She jumped up and into her mother's loving arms. Beth Norden wrapped her daughter in her embrace, and despite being a few inches shorter than Janna, kissed her head.

"Honey, I'm so sorry. How is she?" Her mother's concerned blue eyes communicated boundless love and sympathy for her daughter.

"She's still in recovery...I'm waiting for them to take her to the ICU." She took a deep breath. "Did John tell you what happened?"

Her mom nodded sadly and then Janna's Dad and brother stepped up and joined in the embrace, and Dan said, "Will they let you stay with her, Sis?"

"They're going to, Dan...regardless of hospital policy. I'm not leaving her side." She gazed at each of her family members in turn. "Not for a minute. I promised her."

Her Dad remarked, "I understand your not wanting to leave her, sweetheart, but you have to take care of yourself too."

"I'm fine, Dad, and so is the baby. Right now I need to devote all of my energy to her." She looked down briefly and then back up into her father's eyes. "If she's not okay, then I won't be either...so I need to make sure she gets better." She turned and sat down again and her family and John joined her.

"Janna, Kris sends her love and wants you to know she's praying for Ry. As soon as she can get the kids to a sitter, she'll be here too."

"Thanks Danny. Hey, um, can I borrow your cell? I need to call her brother, but I don't want to miss her if they bring her out."

As he handed over the cell phone, he said, "Sure Sis, here you go."

"Thanks."

Janna walked to a nearby window and made the call, asking information to connect her to the missile base. After a wait of several minutes, Zac finally came on the line. "Lt. Col. Zamora."

"Zac," her voice cracked.

"Yes...Janna, is that you?" He sounded confused.

"Yes, Zac, it's me. Zac..." she began to cry and took a deep breath.

"Janna...what's wrong?"

"It's Ryan, Zac...she's been badly hurt...on duty."

"Oh, God, Janna...what happened?" She could hear the fear in the tough soldier's voice.

"She was involved in a big sting operation and tried to stop the suspects in a speeding car...it ran her down. She's had emergency surgery to remove her spleen and will be heading to the ICU shortly." Janna stopped and took a deep breath to try to waylay the sobs that were threatening to overcome her again and continued, "She has a severe concussion that's worrying the doctors, plus a badly broken leg and ankle, broken ribs, punctured lung, dislocated shoulder...God, Zac, she's a mess." The tears returned then as she added, "She's not out of the woods yet, Zac."

"Jesus fuck..." Zac muttered, then added, "Janna, I'm coming out there. I'll get the next flight out and see you later today, all right? You hang in there and be strong for her, Sis, okay? Marty and I will be praying and I'll see you later."

"Thanks, Zac. She's at St. Joseph's. Will you need a ride from the airport?"

"No, Janna...I'll take care of it...might take a military transport to Mather or Travis so I don't know where I'll land. You just stay with our Puma and make sure she hangs in there, okay?"

"Okay, Zac."

"I love you, Janna. I'll see you later."

"Love you too, Zac, bye."

Janna clicked off the phone and leaned against the smooth glass of the window. Ryan, baby, please hang on. I love you so much. She sighed, feeling the full breadth of her pain. It filled her being and knotted her stomach. She took a deep breath and slowly released it, trying to let go of some of the fear she felt, but was unsuccessful. She returned to the waiting room, joining her parents, Dan and John.

An hour or so later, the surgery doors swung open and a nurse and an orderly wheeled Ryan's bed out. Janna threw her backpack over her shoulder and jumped up, followed by her family and stepped in alongside her wife. She was still out. "Has she regained consciousness?"

"No, not yet." They continued their purposeful strides, not stopping to allow Janna to touch her wife.

When they came to the elevator, Janna stepped in with them, while her family waited for the next one. Janna picked up Ryan's left hand and held it as they ascended, then continued the contact as they wheeled her wife into the intensive care unit. They were met by a stern-looking nurse, who directed them to a room that was waiting ready. The surgical nurse introduced Janna as the patient's next of kin, so she was allowed to stay with Ryan.

After getting Ryan settled in the unit, and attached to the various monitors, the nurse took her vitals and then advised Janna of the visiting policy, which precluded her presence during shift changes and from 10:00pm until 8:00am.

Janna nodded, but said calmly, "I'm her wife and will not be leaving her side. I'll sleep on the floor if I have to, but I will not leave her."

The nurse looked at her as if she had spoken in a foreign language. "You're her..."

"Wife."

The woman raised her eyebrows, but nodded and left the room. As she exited she thought, I can see this one is going to be trouble. Might need to call security later.

Janna pulled a large, blue vinyl-covered chair as close to the left side of the bed as it would go and sat down beside her wife, gently grasping her uninjured hand. "I'm here, baby. You rest a while, then wake up and give me a kiss, okay." I need a kiss, love... and a big, warm Ryan-hug.

A minute later, John came in. "Hey...they will only let two in here at a time, so we'll keep you company in shifts."

Janna spared him a small smile. "Okay, John. But you should get some rest."

"Janna, I can't rest until she wakes up. And anyway, I'm here to see that you get some rest." When she began to protest, he added, "Now, don't argue. That's why someone else will stay here with you. When she wakes up, you'll know right away." He rested his hands on Janna's shoulders and added softly, "Janna, you have to take care of the baby...for her. She's gonna wake up and want to know that you're okay, you know that."

Janna nodded, knowing he was right. "Okay, John, I'll try to rest, but I don't think I can." John nodded and left briefly to retrieve another chair, then returned and sat on the other side of the bed, and they continued their vigil together.

Janna lowered the side rail on the bed so that she could get closer to Ryan and eventually laid her head on her arms, next to her mate, on the bed. Within a few minutes, she was asleep.

Ryan's consciousness was still mired in the thick fog, but she could feel her mate's closeness, like a beacon. It kept her there, kept her earthbound. When her spirit wanted to give up, to sleep, the beacon of her wife's love kept her grounded and safe. Additionally, some of the spirits that Janna had been calling on repeatedly to watch over her love were in the room with them, doing just that.


Part 7

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