The Challenge
By Janet Lynne

Part 7

-13-

The early evening sun of late spring shone brightly on the cream-colored building, but its intense rays did not enter the cool darkness of the Intensive Care Unit on the third floor. In Ryan's room, next to the window, the blinds were tightly drawn, casting the room in a peaceful blue tint, broken only by the intermittent flashing of red, green, and amber lights on the medical equipment and monitors. Janna slept soundly, with her head resting beside her wife on the bed, and Ryan's brother sat quietly nearby, watching his sisters sleep.

He sat, silently suffering an acute pain, and pondered his sister's life. He had never known her to be as happy as she had been the past year, since meeting Janna. In fact, he had never really known her to be happy. Content, perhaps, but not happy. She had always been a tough, solitary soul: going through life without ever becoming really close to anyone. There had been her father, and her grandfather before that, and to some extent, their mother, and later, her best friend John, but never any deep love interests that he had been aware of. As far as he knew, all of her previous lovers had not been much more than conquests.

How different she was now, he thought, after meeting her soulmate. And how cruel was fate, to possibly separate two who had so much to live for. Finally. A tear tracked down his cheek as he said another prayer to the Grandfathers. He added a prayer to their own grandfather, who had so recently appeared to his sister in a dream, warning her of, apparently, this very occurrence and its aftermath. Grandfather, you have shown Puma and her mate how their bond might survive this. Please, now, help her to survive to face the challenge. Give her the chance to overcome and conquer it as I know she can. Thank you, grandfather.

He bowed his head solemnly and looked back up into tired green eyes, gone gray in the dim light.

"Zac."

"Janna," he said as he stood and walked around the bed to greet his sister-in-law. They hugged tightly and he held her close.

"How long have you been here?"

"About an hour. I didn't want to wake you. John told me what a rough night you had."

Janna glanced at her love in the bed as she said, "I'm surprised I slept...I've been so upset."

"It's good that you did, Janna. The baby needs for you to get lots of rest."

"I know. So, did you get all of the details?" Janna sighed as she looked up at him sadly.

"I did. God, I'm sorry, Janna." He looked at his battered sister. "She just had to be the hero, didn't she?"

"Of course she did. She wouldn't be who she is otherwise." Janna choked up as she added, "Damn brave, silly, stubborn woman."

"Strong. She's a strong woman, Janna. I'm sure she will survive this. I'm sure that you both will."

"You think it's what your grandfather warned her about, don't you?"

"Yes, I do. And I have the strongest faith in the both of you." He pulled his sister's wife close again and added, "Have faith, Janna. Think positively. Our thoughts affect our reality."

Janna gazed into the blue eyes that were so much like her wife's as she replied, "I know...I believe that too. Thank you for reminding me of it, Zac."

Janna returned to her perch beside her mate, to resume her vigil. She picked up Ryan's hand, kissing it tenderly, and began speaking to her, as if she were awake and aware.

Ryan was aware, on some level. No one had mentioned the word 'coma' to Janna, but she knew that it was a reality. Her mate was in a coma. As her body healed, Ryan's mind shut down and her spirit rested. The small portion of awareness that remained, heard and stored away Janna's tender words and caresses, and her mate smiled, deep within; the loving warmth from Janna healing her slowly, but surely.

Later that night, John Stewart took his shift at Janna's side, replacing Zac in the large chair while the MP retired to a sofa in the ICU waiting area. John wanted to be present when, if, the nursing staff refused to allow Janna to stay the night. One nurse did begin to raise a fuss but was curiously not supported by the security personnel whom she summoned, so she gave in, deciding that she would rather not get involved.

A few hours later, John went home to the wife and son he had not seen for a day and a half and to try and get some rest. He had taken a leave of absence to be with his partner and intended to return to her side early the next morning. Before leaving the ICU waiting room, he and Zac had watched the local evening news, on which their loved one was featured as part of the top story.

The blonde talking head read from the teleprompter, "In our top story tonight, two valley police officers are hospitalized, one in critical condition, after an early morning vice raid that netted the confiscation of over one million dollars worth of narcotics and firearms, including automatic weapons, and broke up a suspected prostitution ring. One of the officers, Paul Johnson, a ten-year veteran of the Police Department, who was shot while entering the suspected ringleader's headquarters on Eighth Street, is listed in good condition with gunshot wounds to the arm and leg.

The other officer, Ryan Norden-Zamora, a thirteen-year veteran of the Police Force, was run down by a car driven by the two suspected ringleaders. Officer Norden-Zamora shot and killed both suspects before she was injured. She remains in very critical condition at St. Joseph's hospital. Both Officers are being cited for bravery and Officer Norden-Zamora and her partner, John Stewart, are being credited with stopping the two extremely dangerous criminals.

The raid, which resulted in fifteen arrests, was the culmination of a nine month undercover sting operation which was a joint venture of the City Police Department, County Sheriff's Department and the Federal Narcoatics Task Force." Footage of the crime scene and shots of the crowds of well-wishers at the hospital in support of their fallen comrades completed the news story.

Zac and Dan both experienced sharp jolts of pain as Ryan's image was flashed on the screen and both men looked down as they attempted to swallow sobs.

"Son of a bitch," John muttered. He gazed at Zac with moist eyes. "She's the best cop ...and the bravest...that I've ever known, Zac."

Ryan's brother simply nodded.

The next morning, the consulting neurologist examined Ryan, and was encouraged that the swelling in her brain had decreased.

"This is a positive sign, and the CT scan also looks good. It appears that we won't have to go in and relieve the pressure surgically. We'll continue to watch her closely for another day or so and if she remains stable, the orthopedists can go in and repair her leg fractures."

"What about the coma, Doctor? Would they operate on her in that state?" Janna asked as she held her mate's hand.

"Well, we can't know what will happen, of course, but I expect her to come out of it soon. As I said, we'll watch her for another day or so and make that determination." He nodded. "Okay?"

"Yes, thanks."

The man left and Janna resumed her vigil at her wife's side. Soon thereafter, John returned, spelling Zac, and pulled the bed tray around in front of Janna. He then set two bags on it and said, "Breakfast. Eat."

Janna grinned at him. "Yes, sir." She opened the bag to find bottled juice and bagels. "Thanks, John. I was getting kind of tired of meal bars."

He frowned. "I can imagine. How can you eat that stuff?"

"It's only supposed to be for emergencies...for when I start to get nauseous." She gazed at her mate in the large bed. "As it turns out, they were for an emergency." She kissed her wife tenderly and then sat down to eat, talking to Ryan all the while.

John smiled, and so did Ryan, from the far-away place where she rested.

Sometime during the second night, she wasn't sure quite when, Janna got very tired of sleeping in the chair and thought, fuck it. She may have even muttered it aloud, though it's not likely. So she climbed into the large bed next to Ryan, on her least injured right side. Oh, yes...this is so much better, she thought as she carefully snuggled next to her mate.

She draped her arm carefully over Ryan's slinged arm and against her bandaged chest and leaned up to gently kiss her lips. "Good night, love. Sweet dreams. I love you Ryan." She spoke quietly and then sighed deeply before dropping into the deepest sleep she had experienced since Ryan's accident.

The next morning, when John arrived to spell Zac, Ryan's brother met him outside the ICU unit.

"You've got to see this," he said, grinning, and led John into the room. "But be quiet," he warned.

As he walked in, John was greeted by the lovely sight of Janna wrapped protectively around her wife, deeply asleep. They looked adorable and both tough men grinned goofily.

Zac grinned widely as he said, "The nurses are pissed...they need to check her vitals but are too embarrassed to come in, and I told them not to wake Janna."

"Good for you, bud. This has got to be good for both of them." As they stood gazing at the women, Janna stirred and stretched, yawning cutely. Instead of opening her eyes, though, she settled more snugly against her mate and smiled. And then Ryan smiled.

Zac looked at John wide-eyed. "Did you see that?"

"Shit...she smiled!"

They both approached Janna and Zac tapped her shoulder lightly. "Janna...Janna!"

Janna opened her eyes with a frown. "Hmm?"

Zac said excitedly, "Ryan just smiled!"

Janna repeated, groggily, "Hmm?"

"She smiled, Janna! When you snuggled against her. She smiled!"

Janna's eyes opened fully then. "She smiled?"

"Yes!" Answered the happy chorus.

Janna raised up on one arm and gazed down at her wife. She gently caressed Ryan's cheek as she said, "Ryan, sweetheart, are you awake?"

She was answered by a soft groan and Janna's tears were immediate.

"Ryan...Ryan, love...can you hear me?" She gently kissed her mate's cheek. "Ryan?"

"Mm," was the hoarse reply.

"Oh, God...oh my God! Call the nurse!" She looked excitedly back down at her mate, saying, "Honey, it's time to wake up."

John ran from the room to get the nurse and when they returned, Janna was leaning over her wife, kissing her tenderly.

As she pulled back, Ryan's eyes slowly fluttered open. It seemed to take a few moments for her to focus, but then her eyes tracked to Janna's face and she smiled faintly.

"Janna," she whispered.

"Ryan, my love." Janna's tears dropped onto her wife's face as she leaned above her and caressed her cheek. "Welcome back, honey. I've missed you so much." She gently kissed Ryan again.

"Janna...where are we?" Ryan croaked, trying to speak above a whisper.

"We're in the hospital, love...you were hurt on Monday night...on duty."

"What day is it now?"

"Wednesday."

"Shit...what happened to me, Janna?" She looked dazed and confused as she searched Janna's eyes for some answers.

The nurse stepped up then and said, "Ms. Norden-Zamora, I'm glad you're back with us, but I need to check your vitals now, if you all don't mind."

Ryan tried to move, but was stopped by the pain. "Ow, fuck..." she moaned and then whispered coarsely, becoming upset, "Will someone tell me what's going on?"

Janna gently laid her hands on her shoulders as she said, "You were hit by a car...by the suspects...after you shot them. Do you remember that?"

"No, but it feels like it was a truck. What happened to me?" She closed her eyes as a wave of pain swept over her.

The nurse answered, "Broken ribs, broken leg, broken ankle, ruptured spleen and dented head. How's that?"

"Shit...that's plenty, thanks." She smiled crookedly, or tried to, and warmed everyone's hearts.

"Can I please do my job now, people?" The wisecracking nurse asked.

Janna grinned, "Sure!" And moved off of the bed, but not before kissing her wife again...at which Ryan smiled successfully.

As the RN tended to her business, Ryan closed her eyes, exhausted by the act of regaining consciousness. Janna, John and Zac, stood back, Janna embraced by the men, and waited for the nurse to finish.

"Okay...now don't tire her out...and I don't see three of you in here, do I?" She raised her thick, black eyebrows at John and Zac and they both grinned sheepishly. "I didn't think so. Say your hi's and then let her rest...I mean it."

"Yes, ma'am!" Zac replied.

When she heard her brother's voice, Ryan whispered, "Zac?"

"Hey, Sis." He approached the bed and kissed his drowsy sister. "You sure know how to get attention, don't cha?" He grinned down at his sister.

"Zachary Red Hawk...what the hell are you doin' here?"

"I came to keep you in line. Your little lady here needs you well and back home."

Ryan looked at her mate. "Janna, are you okay, baby?" She asked weakly.

"I'm fine love...especially now. You rest now. I'll be right here."

"'Kay." She closed her eyes again, but they flew open again a few moments later. "I was hurt on duty?" She asked. "On the raid?"

"Yes, love."

"John...is John okay?" She asked, fear coloring her voice.

Her best friend's familiar voice answered, "I'm fine, Ry. Now that you're done scaring the shit out of us."

"John." She smiled weakly. "Come 'ere."

John approached and grasped her left hand. "I'm here, buddy."

"How'd the raid go?"

"We kicked their asses."

"Good. But it looks like they kicked mine too. Anyone else hurt?"

"Yeah, Paul Johnson got shot...he'll be fine. He's downstairs."

"Just me and him?"

"You and him and the badasses you killed, Ry. They were true slime, Ryan...you did good. Saved a lot of lives." Her partner gazed at her proudly and she nodded slightly.

"Jesus...I've got a fuckin' headache that'd stop a train."

"Honey, you rest now. I'll see about pain medication." Janna said with concern.

"No, Janna. I just need you...okay?" Her eyes misted and she closed them, lest the guys notice.

"Absolutely, baby. I'm right here. Let's go back to sleep." She gingerly climbed back into the bed and very gently embraced her mate. Ryan's eyes closed and she fell almost immediately back to sleep.

Janna began to cry softly as she held Ryan, and she looked at her friends. "Guys, will you let everyone know that she's awake, please? And thank them for their prayers?"

The guys nodded in unison, and left, smiling. Janna curled protectively around her mate and proceeded to thank every deity she could think of for returning her soulmate to her.

~~~~~~~~~~

Janna and Ryan slept most of the day, awaking only when Ryan's pain got so severe that it roused her. She grudgingly accepted pain medication, putting up only a small fight, because she knew that her body needed rest but couldn't do so when the pain was too bad.

Janna's mother sat with them much of the day. She looked up from her book once more as a stray beam of sunshine floated in. As she gazed at her daughter and her mate, she was warmed by their obvious devotion. Janna was gently wrapped around Ryan as she lay immobile. With splinted leg, slinged arm, broken ribs, surgical incision, IV lines, and catheter, it was not only difficult for her to move, but the slightest movement caused intense pain...in addition to the ever-present dull, throbbing aches.

At lunchtime, Beth left briefly to retrieve lunch for herself and Janna. While she was gone, Ryan stirred and groaned.

Janna roused and mumbled, "Am I hurting you, Ryan?"

"Ugh...no, baby, you're comforting me." She reached for the pain medication delivery switch and flicked it, then waited for it to kick in. "Jesus, Janna, I didn't know it was possible to hurt this much." She groaned as she tried to take a deeper breath, wincing as she did so.

"I'm so sorry, love. I'd give you more Reiki but I'm not sure it would do much through the heavy painkillers...they seem to hinder it somehow."

"'S'okay, love. Just lay here with me...as long as you're comfortable." She closed her eyes as the throbbing aches began to dull, and a pleasant, mild euphoria set in. "What are they giving me, Janna? It sure works fast."

"Morphine, sweetheart. So don't get too used to it." She smiled down at her mate, who was sporting a goofy grin.

"Mm...'kay." She slowly rolled her head to look at her mate. "Love you, baby."

Janna smiled down at her lover and caressed her cheek. "Love you, Ryan." She leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to her wife's lips, which Ryan opened playfully, allowing Janna's tongue to slip in. She tenderly caressed Ryan's tongue with hers, just briefly.

Still kissing Janna, Ryan somewhat drowsily mumbled, "Mmm, baby. Now my clit is awake but we can't do a goddamn thing about it."

Janna ended the kiss and scowled at her naughty mate, but softened it with a smile and said, "Sorry, Ryan...but look at the catching up we'll have to do when we get you home."

"It's what I'll use to motivate myself." She sighed and closed her eyes, as exhaustion, in concert with the morphine, put her back to sleep.

Janna resumed her position next to her mate, as exhaustion still claimed her as well, and was already asleep again when her mother returned. Beth smiled and lay Janna's lunch on the tray next to the bed, and sat to quietly eat hers.

Later that afternoon, Ryan's attending physician arrived with the orthopedic surgeon to discuss the leg surgeries. They arrived to find the two women still curled up together, asleep. Beth gently shook her daughter awake, and Janna disengaged herself from her sleeping partner and sat up on the bed.

The middle-aged surgeon remarked, "I didn't think these beds were big enough for two," and he chuckled. Janna grinned, happy that he hadn't had a completely different reaction to seeing the two women sleeping together.

"Well, we're definitely glad they are, because I can't leave her, and that chair just does not make a comfortable bed." Janna grinned winningly. "Um, should I wake Ryan?"

The attending said, "Yes, why don't you. I'd like to check her responses."

Janna nodded and gently rubbed her mate's arm as she softly said, "Sweetheart, can you wake up? Sweetheart..."

"Mm...don't wanna, Janna. Tired. Hurts."

"Honey, the doctors are here. They'd like to talk to you."

Ryan sighed, then opened her eyes and smiled weakly at the intruders. "Hey."

"Hello, Ryan. I'm Doctor Jensen and this is Doctor Mattos. We'd like to have a look at you, if you don't mind."

Ryan nodded and Janna moved away from the bed. The first doctor pulled the sheet down to Ryan's waist and then lifted up her gown to check her surgical incision and ribs. Most of her torso, what wasn't tightly wrapped, was covered by dark bruising.

"Jesus..." Ryan muttered as she got the first good look at her body. "Are you sure it wasn't a train that hit me?"

The doctor smiled and then remarked, "Everything looks fine...no infection, no swelling...won't be much of a scar. How do the ribs feel?" He asked as he gently palpated them.

"Like shit."

"That's to be expected. How about here?" He palpated her liver area.

"Pretty sore."

"Your liver was bruised. We'll need to watch it...but it feels pretty good now."

Next he carefully removed her arm from the sling and examined her shoulder and its movement. "Much pain here?"

"Not too bad. I did this once before."

"I think we can lose the sling, then, since you'll be confined to bed for the near future."

At that, Ryan scowled and groaned, lying her head back against the pillow. "Christ."

"Ms. Norden-Zamora, you were very critically injured...it will take some time for your body to repair itself." He pulled his stethoscope up to his ears and placed the bell against Ryan's chest as he leaned over her. "Take a deep breath, please."

Ryan complied, grimacing. "That's pretty painful...did I puncture a lung, too?"

"You sure did, but it sounds good now."

Ryan rolled her head, looked at her mate and sighed, looking as if she were resigning herself to some horrible fate.

Janna slipped up to the head of the bed and rested a hand on Ryan's shoulder. "We'll get through it together, Ryan."

Ryan simply blew out a frustrated breath. Addressing the doctors, she said, "So what's going on with my leg?"

The surgeon stepped to the bed then, as he said, "Your leg is broken in four places. The femur is broken here," he touched her mid thigh, "And you have compound fractures of both the tibia and fibula, right about here," and he gently touched her splinted leg about halfway between her knee and foot. "And, your ankle is shattered. We need to go in and place four or five pins, possibly more, so that we can restore something approximating normal movement."

Ryan murmured, "Fuck...," before looking the doctor in the eye and asking, "How close to normal are we talking about?"

The man assessed his patient and replied honestly, "I'd say, if we're lucky, 75 to 80%."

Ryan put down the waves of pain that were beginning to roll over her again and rose above them, replying steadily, "I'd like to shoot for closer to 90 to 100%, if we can, Doc. My job depends on it and I love to play softball."

"We'll do all we can for you here, and then you'll have to work hard in physical therapy. If you do, and, like I said, with luck on our side, maybe we can approach that figure. But, I really won't have a good idea of what we're facing until I get in there and take a look. And, we should do it as soon as possible." He turned to the other physician and asked, "What do you think, Scott, can we do it tomorrow?"

"Yes, from my standpoint, she's looking good. I see no reason to wait."

"Alright...tomorrow it is...first thing." He nodded to Ryan.

"What kind of recovery are we talking about, doctor?" Janna asked.

"Providing things are as I expect, I would say, four to six months in a cast, followed by a walking cast and physical therapy. Hopefully there won't be a need for further surgery after that."

"Four to six MONTHS?" Ryan practically bellowed.

"Months," the doctor replied calmly. "The largest bones in your body are broken."

"Fuck!" She looked despondently at Janna, then back to the doctors. "Janna, Jesus! There's no fucking way I can be in a cast for six months. I have to work...I pitch for two softball teams...I teach an aikido class." Her eyes then grew wide as she added, "Oh, shit...and my wife is pregnant... due at Christmas. How the hell am I going to support her through the pregnancy? She's sick constantly, she needs me...we have Lamaze in October..." Ryan shook her head in disbelief.

"Honey, it's okay...we'll work it all out."

"Janna, God...this can't be..." Ryan rolled her head miserably and swallowed hard. "Fucking Christ," she murmured unhappily.

"Ms. Norden-Zamora..."

"Mrs. Norden-Zamora," Ryan replied sullenly.

"I'm sorry...I expect that a woman in your condition should make a nearly complete recovery...there's no reason to think that you won't...but, unfortunately, it takes time." He looked at the unhappy woman with sympathy, then gently patted her leg. "I'll see you in the morning."

Ryan didn't respond, so Janna thanked the doctors, and they left.


-14-

Ryan lay quietly in her hospital bed, growing more sullen by the minute. Janna sat beside her in the chair, thoroughly frustrated and Ryan glanced sadly at her mate. "I don't blame you for not wanting to sit by me...I'm nothin' but a fuckin' loser."

Janna counted to five before answering, as she had become accustomed to doing over the past hour. "Ryan, where is this coming from? You are so far removed from a loser that I could laugh at that statement."

"Fuck, Janna...I can no longer support my wife...in any way...financially, physically, spiritually, nothing. I am absolutely and completely good for nothing like this."

Janna gave the soft touch one more try, though she was quickly becoming frazzled, and her nausea had returned with a vengeance. "Ryan, love. Please don't be so hard on yourself. None of this was your fault..."

"I could have said, 'no', Janna...my wife is pregnant and sick for Christ's sake...I should never have agreed to take the duty. I should have told the Lt. to fuck himself." She shook her head, wincing when it hurt. "No, I never should have been out there."

"Honey, I disagree, but let's go on to the other points. Financially...that is not a problem, and you know it. We have plenty saved..."

Ryan didn't let her finish. She closed her eyes to try to shut out the pain, then said, "Janna, stop. You know how I feel about that. I will not be kept by you. I financially support this marriage equally."

"Ryan, you will be getting disability. Probably nearly what you make normally, and the Peace Officer's benefits..."

"I will not take charity, nor will I accept pay when I'm not working!" Ryan grasped her head as she was gripped by pain from the still-healing concussion.

Janna groaned and dropped her head into her hands. Suddenly, she was overcome by nausea and had to run to the bathroom. Ryan could hear her retching from her bed and had she not been flat on her back, would have hung her own head in her hands.

When Janna returned and looked at Ryan, she saw a face full of pain and dejection. Quietly, Ryan muttered, "See, I can't even help you when you're sick. I can't even get out of this goddamned bed."

Janna, sick, tired and frustrated, simply looked at Ryan and quietly said, "Ryan, self-pity does not become you," and stood looking at her mate with disappointment written all over her face.

Ryan, pressed by the pain and the drugs, the frustration and self-loathing, then said something she would regret for a very long time. With a gaze as cold as ice, she said, "If you're so goddamned, fucking disappointed in me, then leave. Get out of here. I'm hurting so bad I can't see straight and I can't do this fight right now. So leave. I don't fucking want to see you right now, Janna." She turned her head away from her wife and closed her eyes tightly, trying to shut out the pain.

If she had seen the intense look of pain on Janna's face, Ryan would have retracted the statement immediately and reached out to Janna...even through her own pain. But she didn't. So Janna was left standing there, staring in disbelief at her wife, and feeling a sting of pain like she had never experienced in her life. With tears streaming down her face, she quietly picked up her backpack and left the room without looking back.

Ryan was so lost in her own world of pain, both physical and emotional, that she didn't feel Janna's through their link. When she opened her eyes and saw that Janna was gone, she angrily flipped the morphine switch, needing desperately to feel numb. Suddenly, all of her pain, all of her fear, all of her frustration, merged and coalesced into something primal and she screamed, "I should have fucking stayed single!"

Janna felt the words like a blow and slid to the floor where she stood just outside of Ryan's doorway. Zac, hearing his sister's scream, came running and knelt at Janna's side, thinking that she was hurt. Janna looked up at him with pain-filled eyes overflowing with tears.

"What is it, Janna? Is Ryan okay?"

Janna shook her head. "No, she's not. She's taking this all very badly and taking it out on me. I didn't know she could be so mean, Zac," she cried as she stood.

Zac helped her to her feet and put an arm around her. "Janna, she's not. She's talking through the pain, and the drugs...don't you know that?"

At the negative shake of Janna's head, he added, "Oh, Janna, she is. She loves you more than anything...you have to know that, Janna. Come here."

He led her to the waiting room and sat her down, then sat beside her. He continued, "Look, she's very like a man in some ways, Janna. She considers herself the provider. She feels like your protector. She's even told me that you both found out that she has been your protector in literally dozens and dozens of lives and she continues in that role in this life. Janna, it's inbred in her. It's an essential part of who she is, and right now she feels useless. She feels like a liability to you."

He gazed seriously into his sister-in-law's eyes as he added, "I've gotta tell ya, Sis, that as a man, that is the worst thing you can feel. She feels powerless and, I would even say, emasculated. Please don't take to heart anything she says in this state." He searched her eyes. "You've got to understand how much physical pain she's in, too, on top of feeling so down on herself."

Janna looked at the floor as more tears fell. "I know Zac, that's what I've been telling myself for the last two hours...but what she just said...there has to be a grain of truth in it somewhere, or it wouldn't have come out." She looked deeply into Zac's eyes. "Zac, nothing has ever hurt me as much as what she just said does."

"What exactly did she say?"

"I should have fucking stayed single." Janna repeated, choking on the last word.

Zac closed his eyes and muttered, "Shit." He picked up Janna's hand and held it gently. "Janna, I know that hurts...I know you're sick and hurting, but please try to understand her. Okay? Please?"

Janna bowed her head and muttered, "Zac, I'll try, but right now, I don't have the energy to see past this nausea. I just want to go home and take a bath and crawl into bed, okay?" She felt totally defeated, and powerless to battle it at that moment.

"Let me drive you home, then."

"No, please stay with her. She needs company, whether she believes it or not, and I can't do it right now, so it has to be you. I'll ask my mom, or John, or whoever's around, or I'll get a cab." She looked up sadly into Zac's stirring eyes. "I'll see you later, Zac."

~~~~~~~~~~

Three hours later, as the moon, their loyal friend, sat in the southern sky, half full, the two estranged lovers both tossed and turned miserably. For her part, Ryan was in severe physical pain, but it didn't come close to the pain she felt emotionally at being separated from her mate. And Janna, terribly sick to her stomach because she had been unable to choke down any dinner, moaned and writhed miserably on the bed. She too, felt an even more intense emotional pain than the physical. Both women cried themselves to sleep and slept fitfully, when at all. In their nearly one year together they had never once slept apart, and the fact of their separation was tearing both of them apart.

Luna tried to send subtle, loving energy to remind her friends of the special vision message: to remember the love, but she was unsuccessful, as both women were too lost in their pain. Tomorrow is another day, she thought as she went on her way, continuing her eons-old cycle.

The next morning, Janna, still feeling deeply hurt and thinking that Ryan wouldn't want to see her, waited to go to the hospital when she knew that Ryan would already be in surgery.

When Janna didn't show up before she was taken into surgery, Ryan fell into an even deeper depression and found herself wishing that she could just slip away during the operation. She just wanted the pain to be over. As the anesthesiologist pressed the mask to her face and she went under, her last, mournful thought was, she doesn't love me any more. I don't want to live like this.

Janna arrived in the surgery waiting room, feeling very down and as if Ryan didn't want or need her there. She sat sullenly by herself, feeling sick and not wanting to visit with Zac or John. Both men gave her the space she needed, but after about an hour of silence, John had to say something.

"Janna, don't um, take this wrong, okay...I'm not upset with you...Zac told me what happened yesterday, so I know how hardheaded she was being. I just want you to know that she was very upset when you didn't show up this morning. She tried to bluff her way through it, but we both saw it. She thinks you don't love her anymore, Janna...and when they took her away, she was crying."

"What? She's crazy. She's the one who was acting like she doesn't love me."

Zac answered her, softly. "Yes, Janna, she is crazy. Crazy with pain and fear. She loves and needs you so much that she's feeling desperate. Please try to understand where she's coming from." Zac got up and knelt before Janna, taking her hands in his. "This is what grandfather was warning you about, Janna. It's this...not her accident, but it's aftermath. Do you see that?" He pinned her with his piercing blue gaze.

Janna had not seen it...not until that very moment. She looked at Zac wide-eyed. "Oh, my God, Zac...you're right. He told us to remember the love. We haven't done that. Neither one of us."

She gazed unseeing at the blue-carpeted floor. "Remember the love..." she murmured quietly. "Oh, Jesus...what an idiot I've been." She looked back up into Zac's eyes. "Oh, God, Zac...I've hurt her badly, haven't I?" Tears began to flow and she looked up at the ceiling.

"You've hurt each other, Janna, because you did not remember the love." He gently grasped his sister's chin and forced her to make eye contact with him. "But it's not too late...with a love like yours it is never too late. Remember the rest of her vision. How many people have a love that can survive so strongly for over fifty years? How many, Janna?"

Janna sighed. "I don't know, Zac, but I know that we do." She burst into tears and sobbed openly. "Oh, God..."

"Be there for her when she comes out, Janna. Just be there...and remember. It will be hard, but if you just remember, you will prevail."

"Yes, Zac. You're right. I'll do that." She gazed seriously at him. "I have to."

From where she sat above the Coral Sea, Luna smiled, and wrapped her friends within her loving energetic arms.

~~~~~~~~~~

The warrior walked sadly through the forest, leading her horse behind her. She felt very alone. The feeling surprised and frustrated her. She had always been solitary, had never needed anyone before. Why was the small blonde's departure hitting her so hard? Because I love her. Gods, I love her, I miss her, and it hurts. It felt like an arrow through her chest and she sighed deeply, trying to dispel the pain. I love her. I want her to be happy. She is happy now...she never could have been happy with me...not really. It's better this way...he can give her the things that I never could. When she reached the boundary of the forest and came upon a dusty road, she mounted her horse and galloped off, in search of peace.

As she rode her horse with the wind, the dream shifted and she became the horse...no, she was a puma, loping swiftly across a meadow. She raised her proud head and gazed at the sky. A red-tailed hawk soared majestically above on unseen thermals of air.

"Hello, my brother. Thank you for showing me the way."

She continued her lope across the meadow and reached the forest. As she slowed and entered the cool, dark forest, she gazed upward again and her gaze settled on a beautiful white owl, sitting on a pine branch.

"Hello, my love."

The owl gazed at her seriously and took flight, sailing down and coming to rest on her back. As her soulmate settled into place, she suddenly felt complete again.

They continued through the forest and reached a clear pond, with a lovely brook babbling into it. As they rested together near its edge, they reveled in their partnership. Though seemingly very different to outside eyes, they were, in reality, wonderful together. They made a perfect team. Each embodied qualities that complemented the other. As they sat together, a large bear appeared. The puma smiled and welcomed him.

"Hello Grandfather."

"Hello Swift Puma, White Owl. I am glad that you found your way back to each other. You have remembered the love. I am very proud."

"Thank you, Grandfather.

Ryan groaned and writhed uncomfortably. Her brain felt very fuzzy, and as her awareness began to clear, the image of the wise, old bear, and his words, faded, replaced by a consistent, muted, high-pitched beeping sound. She felt a warmth in her heart center...no longer the pierce of the arrow...and could feel a loving touch on her arm. The touch and the warmth translated into a thought: Janna. She smiled. The clouds of fog swirled around her fuzzy mind and she struggled to form another cohesive thought, and another and then to put them together.

Janna gazed down at Ryan's still form. The heart monitor beeped rhythmically, and Janna noticed that it matched her own pulse. She smiled as she caressed Ryan's cheek and then dropped her hand to her mate's arm as she waited for her to awaken in recovery. The same nurse was on duty that had been there the other day, and Janna had talked her into letting her stay with Ryan the whole time she was there. Something in Janna's serious eyes had implored her and she had relented, bending hospital policy.

She lovingly caressed her mate's arm while she watched and waited. Ryan's left leg now bore a huge, heavy plaster cast, from the top of her thigh to the bottom of her foot. She smiled faintly as she shook her head. She's not gonna like that one bit. The nurse returned and checked the monitors.

"She should be waking up any time...why don't you start talking to her? Try to wake her for me. I'll be back in a bit."

Janna nodded and turned to look back at her precious mate. I'm so sorry I hurt you yesterday, love. I will never hurt you again, I promise. Her eyes misted as she sent a surge of love to Ryan through their link and she saw her mate stir.

"Ryan...Ryan, honey, wake up."

The beeping sound slowly morphed into longer syllables and Ryan's fuzzy brain recognized a familiar voice. Her body reacted to the familiar sound and she struggled to open her eyes.

"Ryan, love. Can you hear me? I'm here, baby. Wake up for me now."

I'm here, baby. Wake up for me now. Janna! I love you, Janna. Ryan turned her head drowsily toward the welcome sound of her wife's voice and forced her eyes open. As they fluttered open and her focus sharpened on her wife's lovely, concerned features, Ryan smiled dopily.

Janna returned the smile warmly. "Hi, love. The surgery is over." She leaned down slowly and kissed her mate tenderly, lingering on her lips to communicate her love.

Ryan blinked several times as she continued to try to focus her sight and her brain. "Surgery's over?" She whispered hoarsely as Janna continued to hover just above her face.

"Yes, and it went very well. We're gonna be out of here real soon, Ryan, and back to our life." She kissed Ryan again and pulled back.

Ryan tried to smile. "Love you, Janna. So much." A tear appeared at the corner of her eye and slid down and over a high cheekbone.

"Love you too, Ryan. Always and forever."

A half hour later, Ryan was settled in a new room and rested with her left leg in traction above the bed. Janna sat beside her in a large chair. John and Zac occupied the two other chairs in the room, and her family watched quietly as Ryan dozed.

John stood up and said, "I think I'll go home for a bit and come back later when she's more up to company, okay, Janna?"

"Oh, sure, John. Give Sara and John, Jr. my love."

John smiled. "I'll do that, Janna." He gazed at his partner in the bed and blew out a breath. "Jesus, this has been hard...but I think she's turned the corner. "

Zac nodded. "She has, John. No question. We'll tell her you'll be back later. Go take care of your family now, bud."

John nodded and kissed Janna's cheek before leaving.

"Zac, what about you? I know you can't be away from your duties for too long...not to mention Marty."

"Don't worry about it, Janna...I can stay as long as I need to. I'll leave when I feel it's time. And Marty understands how important family is. She wants me to be here for Ryan."

Janna nodded as she smiled. They quietly passed the time together, conversing softly about Ryan and many things until their special one awakened. When she did so, Zac spent a few minutes with her and then departed for the cafeteria, knowing that his sisters needed to talk.


Part 8

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