The Challenge
By Janet Lynne

Part 8

-15-

Spoiler warning: This part contains a major spoiler from the Xena Series Finale, "A Friend in Need." If you do not wish to be spoiled, skip the first part of chapter 16, the italicized dream sequence.

Ryan stretched, as much as she could under the constraints placed upon her body, as she watched her brother leave the hospital room. She looked at her hands and fiddled with the IV stuck in the large vein on the back of her left one.

Without looking at her mate, she said somewhat sheepishly, "Um, Janna, I said some pretty stupid things yesterday. I hope you know that I didn't really mean them." She gazed over at her wife then, adding, "I could never mean them. I'm so sorry."

Janna sighed and smiled weakly. "I know, Ryan. I wasn't very understanding, myself. I'm sorry too."

Ryan continued. "But, um, I need you to understand that I do feel useless like this...and I feel guilty about putting myself in the position that I did, and getting hurt." She looked back at her hands, adding, "The last thing that I want to be is a burden to you...especially now."

"Ryan, I understand that. First of all, let me say that I don't blame you at all...not in the least. But let's move beyond that, okay? What's done is done. What we need to do now is figure out how to go on from here...let's get you healed and home and then rehabilitated, and continue with our life together.

You know, our relationship won't stop and wait until you're back to one hundred percent, we need to live day by day, right now, and make every day the best it can be...for both of us." She gazed seriously into Ryan's eyes before adding, "And you could never, ever, be a burden to me...you are my life, Ryan. You and this baby that's coming. I joyfully take on whatever comes along."

She stood up, walked to the bed, sat down next to Ryan, and picked up her hand. "I love you, Ryan...in sickness and in health." She held up her hand as she added with a grin, "I know...it's a cliché, and people have said it without truly meaning it, or thinking anything would ever happen to challenge it, but I do mean it, Ryan. I mean it with all of my heart." She kissed her wife's hand. "I love you with everything that I am and nothing will challenge that ever again. I will never forget our love again."

"Not even when I'm being an asshole?" Ryan grinned sheepishly.

"Not even then, love." Janna's eyes sparkled, punctuating her point.

"Thanks, Janna, 'cause I can be, you know."

Janna just smiled.

Ryan looked back up at Janna and said quietly, "I'm kinda scared, baby. I don't think I've ever really been afraid of anything before, but this scares the shit out of me."

Janna sighed. "I know, honey. I'm scared too. Our future is an unknown right now. But you know what? We have each other and that's a huge plus. Even with troubles and hardships and challenges, what we have is pretty damn great."

Ryan nodded, and Janna added, "Honey, I've gotta tell you...I've never been so scared in my life as when I felt something was wrong with you that night, and then Sam came to the door. I was so paralyzed by fear that I forgot to breathe, I think." She blew out a breath as she felt the knot in her stomach return in remembrance.

"Janna, baby, I'm so sorry that I did that to you." Ryan's eyes misted as she gazed at Janna mournfully.

"God, Ryan, it was a nightmare...an absolute nightmare, for three days, but it wasn't your fault, love. Please, please stop blaming yourself." She kissed her wife's fingers.

"Janna...you felt something was wrong? That night?"

"Yeah, I guess I felt your fear, just for an instant, and then pain, and then you felt very far away. I just knew that something was terribly wrong...and I can't even say that it was an entirely physical sensation. I'm pretty sure that there was some intuition involved."

"Jesus...and Sam came? To the house?"

"Yes. He came to take me to the hospital. First I called the station, but the dispatcher wouldn't tell me anything, though I could tell she knew something. She asked if I was at home." Janna raised her eyebrows, and Ryan closed her eyes and grimaced.

"Then the doorbell rang and I think my heart nearly stopped. Everything from then on is pretty much a blur...until you woke up." She grinned, "I didn't even really notice the morning sickness too much while I was so worried about you."

"Well there's a plus," Ryan said sarcastically.

"But now, I have you back...and I'm not letting you get away from me ever again."

"Great...kiss me then, baby."

Janna did. And when they parted, she lay down and stretched out on the bed, pulling Ryan's head onto her shoulder.

In an uncharacteristically small voice, Ryan murmured, "Janna, it's gonna be hard for me. I hate hospitals...hate pain...hate being confined. You're gonna need patience, I'm afraid. And, shit, I hate feeling like I'm going to be needing too much from you when you're not well yourself. I hate that, Janna."

"Honey, it's okay. I know we'll manage. And Jesus, I should be feeling better before too long, don't you think? I mean, I'm almost through the first trimester."

She kissed her wife's head. "We'll take care of each other, okay? It won't be easy, but we'll manage somehow. Anyway, I have a lot of faith in you. I know you'll work hard and do what you need to do to get better in record time." She laughed. "I know you, Ryan."

"Oh, yeah?"

Janna looked at the still-battered face of her beloved and grinned. "Yeah, I do...so there."

"Okay."

"Ryan, I do want to ask something of you. I want you to be honest with me about how you feel, okay? If you're having a lot pain, or a bad day emotionally, let me know...don't try to be tough and hide it from me, please? That would really hurt me. I want to know so that I can do what I can to help."

Ryan started to speak and Janna hushed her. "No...don't hold back to try to protect me or think that you shouldn't burden me with it...like if I'm sick or something...I want to know immediately...even if I'm having a bad day too. It will give me something else to focus on, and I guarantee you that helping you, or comforting you, or soothing you, will help me to feel better." She looked at her mate pointedly. "I mean it, Ryan...please promise me."

Ryan sighed resignedly. "Okay, Janna. I promise. But I can be pretty tough, you know."

"Oh, I know. But I also know how soft you are."

Ryan looked quickly toward the door to make sure no one was around. "Shit, baby, quiet...I don't want anyone else hearing that."

"Oh, Ryan...anyone else who means anything to us already knows it."

"What? No..."

Janna kissed her forehead. "I'm afraid so, love. Come on, rest now. Do you want your head up or down?"

"Up. I'm tired of being flat on my back."

Janna grinned. "I kind of like you flat on your back."

"Well, I like it too, baby, but ugh, God...don't go there, please. I don't need to be horny on top of everything else."

"Honey, you are naturally horny...the pain and the morphine are just mellowing it out. In fact, you are the horniest woman I have ever known."

"Are you complaining?"

"Oh, absolutely not! I'm thanking you."

"Good. Lie down here with me and take a nap and we'll have a sexy dream together." Ryan depressed the button on the handheld bed control and the head of the bed rose, allowing them to recline against it.

"Okay, which dream shall we have?" Janna smiled coyly.

"How about the warrior one where we were making love by the lake?"

"Oh, God, Ryan...that's a sexy one." She sighed. "You know, you were as sexy in that life as you are in this one."

"So were you, babe."

With that, Janna curled around Ryan and as they slept together, the sexy dream commenced. When Zac returned later, they both had very pleased smiles on their faces.

~~~~~~~~~

The naked warrior stretched her long frame out in the sun as her partner finished her bath. The clear, blue lake spread out majestically before her and as she gazed at the sky, she breathed deeply, filling her essence with the beauty of the place. She returned her gaze to the lake just as her mate was walking out of the shallow water.

Her breath caught as she watched the water drip from her partner's lithe, strong body. Her gaze lingered on the bard's soft, full breasts and her heart rate sped up as a gentle, but insistent, throbbing began between her legs. Her mate either picked up on her desire through their link, or read the leer on her face, because instead of settling beside her to dry off in the sun, she walked up to the dark warrior and knelt between her legs.

"By the gods, Xena...you are so beautiful," she said quietly as she gazed openly at her mate.

"And, so are you, Gabrielle. Come 'ere." She sat up and reached out to the blonde, who fell into her warrior's warm embrace.

The dark woman held her close and nipped at her throat. The smaller warrior threw her head back, enjoying the sensuous contact, and the warrior took full advantage, kissing and sucking at her throbbing pulse point.

"Gods, I want you Gabrielle." She sought out her partner's lips and kissed her deeply, leaving no question as to her desire on that warm, breezy afternoon in India.

"I need you, Xena...love me."

"I do, Gabrielle. Let me show you how much." Without waiting for an answer, she lowered her head to her bard's lovely assets and suckled erotically, coaxing deep moans from her smaller partner.

"Gods, Xena..."

The tall warrior then lifted her eyes to her mate's face and murmured against her sweet breast, "I haven't loved you since your hair has been short."

"It's, ahh, yes, gods...it's um...only been short half a day, Xe...Xena."

"Mmm..." The warrior slowly moved her lips down her partner's body, pausing to lick seductively at the intricate mehndi design that surrounded her navel. "Gods, I love this body art on you."

"It's uh, pretty...it's pretty hot on you too, love." She threw her head back and moaned loudly as her mate's talented tongue drew immense pleasure from her body. "Oh, gods..."

The tall, dark warrior then laid her mate down gently and covered her body with hers, reaching a long arm down to run talented fingers through golden curls. Time fell away from them then, as they lost themselves in each other for long hours.

When the full moon rose at dusk, they were still entwined...still writhing together and dancing their sacred dance. Luna, the spirit within the moon, smiled at them and winked. The warrior-shamaness looked up at her and winked back before returning her attention to enjoying her mate's delicious body.

~~~~~~~~~~

Zac gazed pointedly at his sister when she opened her eyes several hours later.

"Jesus, Sis, do you think it's a good idea for you two to sleep together in a public place like this?" His voice was serious but his eyes twinkled merrily. "I thought the poor nurse was gonna have a heart attack."

Ryan actually blushed. "It's a private room...and anyway, a girl can't help what her brain does while she's sleeping, you know." She stretched gently, trying to work out kinks that couldn't be easily worked out, and groaned as the ever-present pain reasserted itself.

"Well apparently, Ryan, both your brains were thinking the same thing." He grinned.

"Shit...," she groaned. "Sorry, Zac."

"No problem, I uh, actually kind of enjoyed it."

"Pervert!"

"Who's a pervert?" Janna mumbled as she yawned next to her mate's ear.

"Zac...apparently he enjoyed our dreams as much as we did."

"Ugh...." Janna pulled the sheet up over her head in embarrassment. A meek little voice rose from under the cover, saying, "I had a feeling that wasn't a good idea."

"Well, baby, just because I'm laid up doesn't mean we should stop living. I'm only half dead, you know." Despite her constant pain, her voice took on a coy note as she added, "As soon as I'm a little better healed, we're gonna do a lot more than dream about it...whether I'm still here in the hospital or not."

She was answered by another groan, and she grinned devilishly while her brother scowled playfully at her.

"Christ, you two." He shook his head. "Sis, I'm very happy to see that you are definitely on the road to recovery."

"Thanks, Zac." She cleared her throat gently and added, "I, um, couldn't have done it without you guys...you, Janna, John. I'm not sure I would have pulled through without you." She gave Janna's hand a squeeze under the sheet.

Janna's head reappeared and she turned onto her side to hug her mate...carefully. "It was our pleasure, love. And our joy. We love you so much." They enjoyed a gentle kiss and snuggled together contentedly as Zac looked down at his hands.

A little later, as Ryan attempted to keep down a clear, liquid meal and Janna and Zac ate cafeteria sandwiches, a pleasant face popped around the corner of the door and grinned.

"Hey, guys! How's our patient doing?" The cute curly-haired blonde asked as she entered the room.

"Sara!" Janna jumped up to greet their friend. As they hugged, Janna said, "She's doing so much better...look, they're letting her try to eat."

Ryan scowled at her friend. "Try is the operative word. Janna, honey, I don't think I can get any more down...not and have it stay down." She pushed the tray away and leaned back, groaning.

"Okay, love. That was great for your first try...you don't want to push it."

Ryan nodded lightly and looked at Sara, grinning weakly. "Hey, Sara. How's the baby?"

"He's great, Ry...how are you?" She knit her brows in concern as she gazed at her battered friend. Ryan still sported many bruises and scrapes on every visible portion of her body, and was somewhat painful to look at. Sara approached the bed and grasped her hand gently. "John says you're doing a lot better, but honestly, my friend, I'm afraid of what you must have looked like before."

Ryan grinned. "Sara, brutally honest as usual!"

"Well? How are you feeling?"

"Like shit, frankly, but a little better today...and it's better than the alternative. It sure helps to be surrounded by love." She reached for her mate's hand and pulled her close to the bed.

"I can imagine. Look, John is down in the car with the baby, so I can't stay long...I just had to see you." Her eyes teared as she added, "You gave us a terrible scare, Ry. I'm so glad to see you awake and eating and doing better. God..." Her emotions began to get the best of her and Ryan reached her other hand out to her friend and pulled her close as well. The three of them shared a quiet hug and then Sara left to send John up.

As he entered the room a few minutes later, he said playfully, "What's this about making my wife cry, Ryan? Always have to be the heartbreaker, huh?"

Ryan grinned as she wiped one of her own tears away. "Fucker."

"Ooh, she's feeling better...the real Ryan is coming out now."

That statement earned him a flipped finger and he laughed heartily.

As the evening went on, Ryan received a steady stream of visitors, most of them cops, and by the end of visiting hours, she was exhausted.

After saying goodbye to Zac for the night and giving him their house key, Janna crawled onto the bed next to her mate and settled gently beside her.

"Hmm, wasn't that cute, earlier, when John suggested that we could request a bed for me in here, and we both shouted, "No!"

Ryan chuckled quietly, "Yeah, it was. I thought he was gonna pee his pants from laughing. Asshole." She grimaced then, as she was hit by a sharp pain, and sighed. "Med's wearing off again."

"Where does it hurt, hon? I mean mostly?"

"The surgical incision is the worst right now, but the lower leg and ankle are pretty bad, too." She groaned as another pain hit. "Jesus...sorry, Janna...I don't mean to whine."

"Ryan, you're in agony...whine for God's sake. And hit the med switch, love."

"I was thinking of trying to do without...stuff gives me weird dreams." She took a deep breath before continuing. "Last night, I had a mixed up warrior dream. I was the warrior, but I was on a flying horse, and had superhuman powers. Very strange..."

"Hm, yeah, wow. Want some Reiki, then? Maybe you won't need as much morphine."

"Yeah, Janna, thanks."

"Anytime, baby. Close your eyes. Try to sleep, and I'll give you a bunch. I need some myself right now."

"Okay, baby, night."

"'Night, love. Sweet dreams."

"I'll dream of you tonight, so they will be."


-16-

Within the throes of an intense dream, Janna tossed her head on the pillow she shared with Ryan.

"Ares! Ares, I need you, now!" The small, powerfully built blonde warrior shouted at the top of her lungs as she gazed at the ceiling of the dark temple, attempting to summon the usually meddlesome god. "Gods be damned, Ares...show yourself!"

Suddenly, in a showy flash of twinkling lights, the god appeared, with a smirk plastered on his darkly handsome face. "I knew the day would come, Gabrielle, when you would call on me again." He bowed chivalrously, an absurd gesture coming from him. "How may I serve you...or, should I say, how may you ser..."

"Shut up, Ares. Xena needs your help." The warrior-bard interrupted, her face deadly serious.

The haughty god adopted a wary air as he asked, "What is it...and why isn't Xena asking me herself?"

The bard took a deep breath and sighed, swallowing the painful lump in her throat as she did so. "Because she's dead." She gazed sadly at the ground as sobs rose in her throat yet again. Looking back up, she stated, "She's dead, Ares."

"Dead. Yeah, right...if she were dead, Gabrielle, I would know about it. Try again."

"Ares, gods..." Gabrielle took a deep breath and blew her frustration out with the breath. "She is dead, Ares. It happened across the sea to the east, in Japa. It didn't happen in your realm." As she gazed at the brutal being, he could see the deep pain in her eyes. She added, "We can bring her back, Ares...I have her ashes here." See pulled the small urn from her silk robes.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa...wait a minute. Her ashes? Gabrielle, only Zeus could bring back a mortal from ashes, and Hercules took care of him real good, didn't he?" He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle, I really am, but I don't have the power to do it."

"Yes, you do, Ares...with the help of Aphrodite and our friend Eli." She implored him with her serious gaze.

He shook his head in disbelief, but spread his hands as he said, "Okay, this I've got to see. Let's give it a shot."

Gabrielle closed her eyes in relief and then nodded her head. "Thank you, Ares." Then she gazed at the ceiling again and called, "Aphrodite! Aphrodite, I need you... please." As the bard called on her goddess friend, the god of war stood behind her, scowling, arms crossed impatiently across his chest.

With a poof of smoke, the goddess of love appeared before her eyes. "Hi sugar! What's up?"

The god of war answered sarcastically, "Hey Sis...it's good to see you , too."

"Aphrodite, thanks for coming. I need your help. Xena's been killed, and I need your help to resurrect her." At the voluptuous goddess' look of surprise, the bard added, "It's true, Aphrodite, but you and Ares together can revive her. Please, Aphrodite..." The warior-bard implored, teary eyed.

The goddess gazed sincerely at her friend as she said, "Sure, girlfriend. Whatever I can do to help."

Gabrielle threw her arms around the goddess and hugged her tightly. "I'll be grateful to you forever."

When they separated, she nodded at Ares, who scowled again as he said, "Sure, she gets the hug. Whatever. Let's get this over with."

Gabrielle nodded again and walked to the altar set against the back wall of the temple. She carefully placed the small, black, ceramic urn upon it, her fingers lingering on the smooth clay. She gazed lovingly at it as she said, "We're bringing you back, love...please don't be upset...everything will be alright."

She took a deep breath and turned to the gods. "You'll need our friend Eli's help. He's crossed over, but is still a powerful healer. He helps to rule the kingdom of heaven." She knelt before the altar and brought her hands together in prayer.

As she prayed silently to her old friend, the air before her shimmered and the image of Eli appeared. He smiled at Gabrielle, but said nothing. Gabrielle looked back at Ares and Aphrodite and nodded. They both stepped forward and stood before the altar.

Eli closed his eyes and the air around the can containing Xena's ashes began to shimmer with energy. At the same time, Ares and Aphrodite both closed their eyes in concentration and the air around the urn became even more luminous. The urn was lifted on the currents of energy and began to glow from within. Suddenly, a golden fire shot out of the urn and hung in the air above it, coalescing into a vaguely human form.

As the energy swirled within the human-like form, it began to solidify and take shape. Gradually, Xena's body could be discerned among the fiery, golden energy. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the fire disappeared and Xena's resurrected body hung in mid air briefly before falling to the altar with a thud.

Gabrielle gasped and rushed to her mate's side. The ghostly image of Eli smiled, then disappeared, and Ares and Aphrodite did the same, smiling as they vanished in swirls of smoke and twinkling lights.

Gabrielle gazed down at the warrior's naked, still body. Gently, she reached down and cradled her beloved's head, caressing her cheek as she whispered softly, "Xena. Can you hear me, Xena?"

She held her breath as she waited. Come on, Xena, wake up. Please, wake up.

She repeated the words aloud. "Come on, Xena, wake up. Please, wake up."

She caressed her partner's cheek again.

"Xena, please. I love you...don't leave me again. Wake up."

The tall warrior flinched, and her bard's heart jumped. "Xena! Xena, can you hear me?" She bent over, placing a gentle kiss on the warrior's lips, lingering there as if sharing life-giving warmth. She deepened the kiss, sharing her breath and her energy with her mate, and the dark warrior coughed.

"Xena, oh Xena, gods..." The bard cried, rocking her warrior in her arms. "Come back to me, Xena."

"Gabrielle." Her voice rose barely above a whisper. "I'm here, Gabrielle."

The bard pulled the warrior up into her arms and held her close, then kissed her again. This time, the kiss was returned, very lightly. The warrior-bard's warm tears bathed her warrior's cheeks as she held her close, rocking her gently.

"Xena, Xena, by the gods, Xena, I love you. I love you, Xena."

"Love you, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle looked up at the sky, to the dark god and his sister, whom she knew were observing them, unseen, and whispered, "Thank you, Aphrodite, Ares. I will never forget this."

"Ares?" The warrior asked weakly.

"I'll tell you later, love. Right now I need to get you warm. I'll be right back." The small woman left and returned a minute later with their bedrolls. She placed them near the temple's altar and then helped her partner onto them, covering her warmly. She then busied herself making a fire and soon the temple was beginning to warm perceptibly.

As her partner slept, she gathered the few scraps of food they had left in their packs and fixed a meager meal. After coaxing her mate to eat a small bit, she lay next to her and pulled her into her arms.

Xena held tightly to Gabrielle, as if not wanting to part from her again even for an instant. "Gabrielle, why? I told you that bringing me back would condemn those 40,000 souls."

"Xena, Eli came to me in a dream. He told me that no spirit had to remain tormented... that he would welcome them into his realm. He places no restrictions or limitations on any soul...all are welcome there. He said he could feel my torment at losing my soulmate and wanted to do one last thing for us." She caressed Xena's brow. "So see, those souls are alright...Xena, I had to do it. I need you so much. I know you were nearby...I could feel you...but it wasn't the same, Xena. I would rather be with you on the other side than live without you."

Xena nodded weakly. "Thank you, Gabrielle. I missed you too."

A short time later, as they lay in each other's arms, Gabrielle said softly, "Xena, it was way too close this time. I can't go through that again. I just can't." The bard mumbled against her partner's temple, "Remember when we were on the ship on our way to Japa, you said that we should take a break from this life and go away for awhile?"

The warrior nodded.

"I want to do it Xena. Let's leave as soon as you're strong enough. I don't care where we go...let's just go."

"Alright."

"Alright?"

"Yes." The normally strong warrior added weakly, "I'm done with this, Gabrielle. I figure freeing 40,000 souls is redemption enough. I'm ready to go away with you."

"Oh, gods, Xena..." The bard began to cry softly.

"Hey...what's that for?"

"I'm happy, Xena. You're alive, we're going away to a safe place and we're going to have a life together." She gazed into her partner's usually brilliant eyes, which were still dulled somewhat, but at least held life. "That makes me so happy, Xena."

"Me too, Gabrielle."

They held each other quietly for a few moments and then the bard softly said, "Lesbos."

"Hmm?"

"Let's go to Lesbos for the winter...as long as I can get a promise out of you that you won't be distracted by any other women." She grinned against her mate's hair.

"Gabrielle! I wouldn't." She turned to look up into her smaller mate's eyes and said seriously, "Gabrielle, you are everything that I will ever want or need. You are my soulmate...Gabrielle, you complete me." As she spoke, tears began to fall from her eyes and her mate was insured of her sincerity.

"I know that, Xena. I love you, too...always and forever."

"Always and forever, Gabrielle."

Ryan blinked her eyes awake and frowned. Jesus Christ, they get stranger and stranger. Friggin' drugs. She sighed and tried to stretch, and the pain settled in again. Fuck, when will it start to improve?

She blew out a breath and tried to settle herself more comfortably in the hospital bed. Janna stirred then and Ryan used the control to raise the head of the bed.

"Morning, honey. How are you doing?"

"Shitty, Janna. God, I can't get comfortable," she said, anger beginning to color her voice.

"Honey, maybe I shouldn't sleep with you...maybe I prevent you from moving around like you need to or from getting the rest you need."

"No, Janna, your presence is comforting...it's this god damned, fucking five hundred pound cast that prevents me from getting comfortable. And the incision in my gut." She looked at her mate and smiled weakly, adding, "Shit, baby, I don't think I can sleep without you. I'm so used to your presence."

Janna smiled. "I know, me too. I don't think I've used a regular pillow since before we met, have I?"

"Nope, that's my job now, baby. Give me a kiss, love...that'll send some of this pain away."

Janna did, and it did. They snuggled for a while, until Ryan's breakfast was delivered and then Janna got up.

A short time later, after retrieving bagels, fruit and herbal tea for herself from the cafeteria, Janna sat beside Ryan while they ate. Rather, while she ate and Ryan drank her breakfast, as she was still on a liquid diet.

"Ryan, I had a really intense warrior dream last night. It was realistic, like they always are, but it also had some very strange elements."

"What was it about?"

"Well, the intense part was where you had died, love, in Japan, I believe. The weird part was that you were resurrected and you recovered. Then we decided to go away and rest and not fight any more. I felt then just as I do now, with you recovering...just so happy and relieved that you are alive."

Ryan had listened quietly to Janna, and set her spoon down in the broth. "Shit, Janna, we did it again...we had the same dream. I thought it was the drugs that made it weird, but you saw the same things. Jesus." She shook her head and picked up her spoon again.

"What was it about, Ryan? I mean, the man and woman that helped you were gods...does that mean that the mythical gods were real? And we actually knew some of them?"

"Well, my Grandfather told me that in the ancient times, there were powerful beings, Star People, who were on the planet helping humans, and they were considered gods. Maybe that's what they were." She shook her head, confused. "I don't know, babe. Maybe the only way to find out the truth is to consult with the spirit dudes. They seem to be pretty near omniscient."

"Mm, true...but remember hon, they're the first to admit that they don't know all, and only have the experience of their own thousands of lives, along with the perspective of the plane of existence that they now exist on."

"Well, yeah, Janna, but still, compared to an earthbound human they are pretty damn near omniscient, as far as I'm concerned."

"We'll have to put that at the top of our list of questions for our next channeling session then, love." A thought struck and Janna looked at Ryan curiously. "You know, I haven't told Terry and Anna about your accident yet, but I'll bet when I do, they'll want to come right out and do a healing session. Are you up to that, honey?"

"Janna, I'd kill for a massive dose of Reiki. This pain is really starting to get me down."

"I'll give them a call, then. See if they can make it over this way soon."

"Thanks, baby." She patted her mate's thigh and sighed. "You know, it's been almost a week since we made love. I had thought that we just might go our entire lives making love every day. I'm sorry I blew that for us, Janna."

"Ryan, honey, don't worry about that. The number of times is meaningless. We'll get back into our routine soon."

"We haven't even been able to make our morning connection...I really miss that too." Ryan said sadly.

"I do too, love. Um, why don't we tomorrow? We can be discrete about it...stay under the covers. Especially if we wake up early...which isn't a problem for you. Will you feel up to it?"

Ryan's wide grin was answer enough.

Later that evening, as they were having their dinner with Zac, their entire softball team stopped by on their way to their game.

As Sharon, the manager, walked in and saw her star pitcher's battered and bruised body, with her leg in traction, she gasped, "Aw, fuck, Zamora! We're sunk...no offense Elaine," she said as she quickly turned and glanced at her backup pitcher.

Elaine laughed. "None taken, Sharon...I'm well aware that Ryan's in a league of her own."

Ryan smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, coach. And, um, I'm afraid that your second baseman isn't playing tonight either."

Sharon looked at Janna and then back at Ryan and actually almost grinned. "I didn't expect she would be. I went ahead and called a couple of the girls you scouted for me Ry." Addressing Janna, she added, "Janna, you come back when you're ready."

Ryan's jaw dropped in shock. "Somebody check Sharon's temperature...I think she's sick."

"Yeah, Ry, she's been awful mellow...we've been wondering about her too!" Carrie, the catcher, said, eliciting laughter from everyone else.

Sharon scowled, a more natural look for her. "Fuck...you...all." That received an even bigger laugh.

Ryan shook her head as she grinned, looking around at her teammates. "Jesus, there haven't been so many dykes in one room in this hospital since Jackie's wife had her baby here a few years ago!"

Janna laughed and threw her arm around her wife's shoulders, kissing her temple.

After a short, friendly visit, Sharon said, "Well, guys, we've gotta run...we have a game to win. You take care, you two. Zamora,"

"It's Norden-Zamora now, Sharon and you goddamn well know it." Ryan smiled and raised her eyebrows at her friend and coach.

"Sorry!" Sharon said dramatically. "Habit. Anyway, you get better. We're all thinking about ya."

"Thanks guys...it was good to see you. Win it for us tonight."

"It's a done deal, Ryan." Sharon said, before doing the most surprising thing she had ever done in any of the ballplayers' presence...she kissed her pitcher's cheek and gave her infielder a hug before quickly turning away.

The players all looked at each other wide-eyed and smiled at Ryan and Janna before following their coach out of the room. Carrie and Jackie, Ryan's closest friends on the team, lingered and kissed both of their friends goodbye.

Carrie held Ryan's hand as she said, "We'll come see you again in a few days and bring our wives...Michelle and Kathy both send their love."

"Thanks, Carrie. We'll see you then. Go give 'em hell!" Janna nodded her agreement and they watched their friends go.

"That was nice," Janna said as she settled Ryan's head on her shoulder.

"Yeah, God...it was good to see them...and Jesus, this must have really shaken Sharon up...I've never seen her show tenderness to anyone before."

"It's shaken everyone up, Ryan. Everyone who knows and loves you. This has been very hard, honey...you almost died, you know."

"I know." She snuggled against her wife's shoulder and let their love, and their gratitude, pass between them as they watched the sun travel toward the western horizon outside of Ryan's window. Their brother watched them, in turn, as he realized that his sister was on the road to recovery and that it was time for him to return home. He quietly thanked the Grandfathers and the spirits as a silent tear tracked down his cheek.

Two days later, on Sunday morning, he bid his sister and her wife goodbye. Ryan sent him away with the promise that she would work diligently to be able to attend his wedding in mid October. He told her that he would hold her to that promise.

~~~~~~~~~~

As Ryan lay quietly on the bed, with Janna sitting beside her, their friend Terry walked the perimeter of the room. She held in one hand an abalone shell with smoking bits of sage in it, while with the other hand she fanned the rising wisps of smoke with a bundle of eagle feathers.

Ryan breathed deeply, becoming quite relaxed despite her pain, and Janna smiled as she felt her mate's calm. Terry's mate, Anna, picked up on Ryan's relaxed state as well, and smiled as she leaned nonchalantly against a wall.

"Okay, guys, I think that's good." Terry said softly as she placed the still smoking shell on the dinner tray. She gazed at it for a moment and remarked, "It looks like it wants to keep burning for a while, so we'll let it."

Anna nodded as she approached the bed. Terry stood beside her on the side opposite where Janna stood and they closed their eyes, centering themselves before starting the healing session.

Just before they were ready to begin, a nurse came into the room and frowned as she detected the acrid-sweet aroma. "What..." She started to say, and Ryan opened her eyes.

"Relax...it's not what it smells like...it's sage. I'm Native American and this is one of our traditions. Please respect that."

The nurse looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded and turned to leave.

"Thank you," Ryan said sincerely, though her pain was wearing her patience thin.

The nurse half turned and smiled before exiting.

"Well done, love." Janna smiled down at her mate. Ryan grasped her hand where it lay beside her and brought it to her lips, kissing it gently.

"Are you ready, Ryan?" Anna asked.

"Yep."

Each of the three women then did the quick ritual which each used to help to call forth the energy, and then they placed their hands on Ryan's body.

Each woman knew intuitively where to begin, and Janna started at Ryan's heart and power centers. Her mate had begun to feel very confined the previous few days and Janna wanted to send her comforting, healing love as quickly as possible. Terry started on Ryan's abdominal surgery site, while her wife applied energy to Ryan's ankle. The healing continued for almost an hour, with the women changing positions as they felt a particular area was complete, until they had covered Ryan's entire body.

About half way through the session, Ryan had fallen blissfully asleep, as the energy relaxed her body while it helped to heal her. When they were finished, Janna took Anna and Terry down to the cafeteria and bought them lunch.

As Janna and Terry enjoyed salads and Anna ate a bowl of pasta with meatballs, they visited.

"Guys, thanks so much for coming out. She's been having a hard time and I know this will help her."

"We don't mind, really, Janna. You should have called us earlier, you know." Her dark-haired friend gently admonished.

"I know, Ter, but I was pretty numb myself. Trying to get by from minute to minute."

Her friend nodded sagely. "How are you doing now, Janna? This has got to be so hard for you."

Janna nodded. "It is, but I'm hanging in there. Looking after her actually takes my mind off of my own discomfort much of the time...though when she becomes difficult, it usually rears its ugly little head at the same time."

Terry nodded compassionately and continued, "Hon, did Ryan tell you what I told her when I was giving her the massage the last time you guys were over?"

Janna nodded as she took a sip of her juice. "Yes, she did. That was very interesting. Do you think it's affecting her recovery now?"

Terry nodded. "Yes, I think it is. I think she'll need lots of Reiki and maybe even a regression or two to work through those ancient wounds." Terry was referring to the fact that she had picked up on Ryan's subconscious tendency to hold onto emotional issues within her body at the sites of past-life traumatic injuries. She had apparently suffered many, many serious injuries in previous lives, or perhaps in one particular life, and those areas of her body were currently giving her major problems.

Janna nodded as Anna added, "We'll be happy to come out as often as you think she would benefit, like weekly, if you'd like."

"Thanks guys...that would be great. I'm afraid I'm not much use to her when I'm not feeling well. And anyway, you two are powerful healers."

"Janna, don't discount your abilities...you're pretty powerful yourself. But I know how it is to not feel up to running it. When I blew out my knee, I never gave any to myself...I always had to have Terry do it." She took a big bite of her pasta and then added, "Hey, you mentioned wanting an attunement while you were pregnant...is today good, or would you rather wait until you're farther along?"

"I don't know...does it matter?"

"No, it's just whatever you feel like."

"I think I'll put if off for a while then. When Ryan's better, we want to come over for some channeling...maybe we can do it then?"

Anna nodded. "Yes, sounds good."

Terry looked up from her salad and frowned as she said, "Hey, what about the Pride Parade in two weeks? Will you still be able to come out for it? Will Ryan be up and about by then?"

"Oh, God...I don't know. I had forgotten all about it. I don't imagine she will be able to travel yet. The doctor said something about using a wheelchair the first few weeks and I'd hate for her to push herself too hard too soon. I don't even know if she'll be out of the hospital by then." She sat back in her chair and frowned. "Darn. We were really looking forward to that trip. She's never been to the parade, and I was gonna try to show her a great time at all of my old haunts."

Terry's eyes sparkled as she said, "Maybe it's for the best, Janna. She's so damn gorgeous she would probably cause a riot."

Janna laughed as she said, "I can't argue with that. I must admit that I was looking forward to showing her off."

Anna grinned and punched her friend's arm before saying, "We'll just have to enjoy all the babes for you and tell you all about it later."

"Gee, thanks, guys. That makes me feel so much better." Her eyes brightened as she added, "Hey, can you take a camcorder and make a video for us?"

Her friends looked at each other and grinned. "Yeah, we'll do that...it should be fun." Terry answered with a grin.

"Just make sure you get the Dykes on Bikes...they always lead the parade and are the highlight for me." Janna giggled.

"I can't imagine why," Anna said sarcastically, "Since a good half of them are usually topless."

"Exactly!" Her eyes lit up again and she added, "Hey, Ryan would be great, wouldn't she? She's a gorgeous dyke, loves her Harley, and possesses no modesty whatsoever."

Terry fanned herself as she said with a grin, "Try and talk her into it for next year, will ya, hon?" Addressing her mate she said, "We'll have to get that tape for them hon, so she'll see what fun it is."

"You are so bad, Miss Terry." Janna said as she playfully slapped her friend's arm.

"I'm just a little ole red blooded Southern girl, Miss Janna." Terry smiled coyly and batted her eyelashes.

The rest of the lunch was finished amidst a flurry of giggles and good-natured teasing and the three friends arrived back at the room to find Ryan still sleeping peacefully after her healing session. Janna and her best friends spent the remainder of the afternoon visiting pleasantly and she saw her friends off shortly before Ryan's dinner arrived.

Later, Janna settled next to her mate, tired after the long day, and Luna, from her perch outside Ryan's window, saw her safely to sleep wrapped tightly around her wife.


Part 9

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