The sun sat at such an angle as to invade the large, silent house. In through the large front windows, inching its way across the hardwood floors. Slowly, it creeped through the partially open door, reaching vainly for the king sized bed in the middle of the room. It came up short and sat disappointed, but not for long as the blonde woman in the bed rolled onto her back and groaned.
Ranelle cracked open one green eye to take in the semi-light status of the room. Dean's room. She looked to her right to see the officer curled up on her side, facing away from Ranelle. The blonde stared up at the ceiling, just letting her thoughts wander.
Her shoulder felt pretty damn good, and she was pleased that her stay in the hospital had been relatively short. She would need some physical therapy, but that was a small price to pay considering what could have happened.
She was glad that the psycho who had been here to kill Dean and Anthony, to silence them for supposedly knowing things they shouldn't, was dead. It was a strange feeling. Ranelle had always considered herself as someone who greatly valued all human life. Maybe, maybe that philosophy went out the window when it was the lives of people she loved.
She could live with that. Dean, she was quickly realizing, meant the world to her. But still, it bothered her to know that there were people out there who still had reason to want them dead. What would happen when she printed her story? Would the terrorists retaliate? Or would they just accept that the damage had been done and leave it at that? She hoped so.
Even more than that, Ranelle hoped that the police would be able to do something, anything about these terrorists. There was no way they could claim that there was no threat. One man had died and she and Dean were injured. Surely, they would have to try and do something now. Even if all they did was hand the case over to someone who could.
That was one of the things that had terrified her the most about this entire situations. They were, in essence, alone. They had no proof, no one to turn to for help except themselves, and vigilantes were not looked kindly upon. And if still scared her, these people had the motive and obviously the means to carry out this objective of theirs.
The hole in her shoulder attested to that, as did Shelley's condition in the hospital.
All they could do was stand beside each other hope for the best.
"You have a good sleep?"
The voice startled Ranelle enough to make her jump. "Jeez... I thought you were asleep. Yeah, I slept real good. You?"
"Uh-huh. I always do when I'm with you."
"Guess we better keep that up then, huh?"
"Dean?" Ranelle asked, after a long pause.
"What're you doing?"
"Staring at the wall, trying to decide if I'm actually seeing the outline of my dresser or if it's my imagination."
"What?" Ranelle sat up and scrambled to lean over Dean. She looked down at the tan face below her. "What did you say?"
"You heard me."
"Are you seeing something?"
"I think so."
"Hey, that's great!!! I'd give you a hug, but..."
Ranelle trailed off as the officer sat up slowly and opened her arms. The blonde carefully fit herself in the warm haven and sighed blissfully as the long limbs wrapped around her gently.
"I can't believe we slept through most of yesterday and all night." Dean muttered disgustedly into the fragrant hair under her chin.
"I guess we needed it."
The officer just grunted and continued to snuggle. The pair flopped back down onto the large bed, their limbs tangled comfortably. Dean let out a sigh.
"What'cha thinking about, Navy Guy?"
Dean grinned at the sound of Stacey's nickname for her coming out of Ranelle's lips. "Nothing much... I got my ass kicked, again."
Ranelle raised herself up and looked at Dean's face, frustrated that the officer was unable to look back at her. "Didn't we talk about this already?"
"Yeah.. but it seems, I dunno, bigger than just being rusty. Every time I turn around, BAM, I get knocked down."
The blonde shifted and laid her head down on Dean's shoulder. She pulled out the knowledge she had gleaned from a few psych classes, taken purely for interest, and thought. "Well... how do you normally fell when you fight? Do you like it?"
"Yeah.. it's fun for me."
"Is it still?"
"Beats me, Ranelle. If I knew what the problem was I could fix it."
"Now don't get snappy. So how do you feel? Nervous, scared, unsure, apprehensive? All of the above? None of the above?"
"Uh..." Ranelle could actually hear Dean thinking, the gears in her mind turning over a problem that, had it been anyone else's, would have been easily solved by the officer's keen mind. "A little unsure I guess. Maybe a little nervous."
"Okay.. so you're unsure of yourself and your capabilities. Why?"
The room fell silent, two minds working over a dilemma. The shaft of sun continued to strain and finally, it's golden tendrils reached the foot of the bed. The light chortled with glee.
"Oh!" Ranelle turned and sat up slightly. "Okay... just listen to me, alright?"
Ranelle gently turned the officer's head so that the blue eyes at least appeared to be focused on her. "Even if you can't see me, I like to see you, 'kay?"
A tiny smirk appeared. "'Kay."
"Alright. Your self-confidence in yourself and your ability to protect other people has been shattered. Why? Well, your team, people you were responsible for leading, for protecting, was decimated. Don't tell me that you don't blame yourself for that, that you don't have any guilt. Don't even try. So you have this guilt and you're beating yourself up inside, wishing you could have done better or something different. And while all that's going on you've got yourself convinced that you aren't good enough to protect people, that you've lost that ability."
Ranelle paused, looking for some sign that Dean was following her, seeing what she was. "Anddd?"
"Well isn't it possible, Dean, isn't it possible that you have yourself so convinced that you aren't any good that those are the results you're getting? Our mind is, arguably, the strongest tool humans have. So don't you think it's possible that you are expecting.... no, more than that, that you believe you'll fail in a fight and you are? If people can do things through sheer will, then don't you think it's possible to not do things through will."
"I... I guess so. But why would I not want to be able to fight? I do want to."
"Well, maybe what's holding you back is more of an unconscious response to something traumatic."
Dean laid still, scowling up at the ceiling while she thought about it. It was, she supposed, quite possible that Ranelle's amateur diagnostic was very accurate if not dead on. It made sense and she had never really given the issue much thought, she just knew that her prowess as a fighter was not what it used to be. She had just accepted that, not delving into the depths of her mind to try and figure out why. The answer to that dreaded question was not as bad as she had feared. Dean decided she could live with it.
"Alright, Dr. Maloch, how do you suggest I go about fixing this little problem?"
"Well, now you have to remember that I'm just guessing here, but I figure all you have to do is believe you can do anything."
"But I don't."
"I know that. But try and pretend that you believe you can do anything. I don't care if you have to act like the Little Train that Could, just try and believe it. Cause if you do, if you manage to convince your mind, everything else," Ranelle patted Dean's torso, "will follow."
Dean grunted. "So... you're into psychology and stuff?"
"And stuff, yeah. Not enough to have wanted a job in it, though."
"And why might that be?"
"I didn't think I'd be very good at it, sitting around analyzing other people's problems." Ranelle looked up to see Dean raising an expressive eyebrow at the ceiling. "You don't count."
"I meant strangers. I don't think I could do that with strangers. But people I love, no problem." Ranelle patted Dean again and happily put her head back down.
"Ah, good, you're both awake."
"Yes. You two should really get moving you know, you have a plane to catch in," she looked down at her watch, "four hours."
Ranelle laughed at Dean's reply. "Carmen got us tickets to San Diego."
"Yep," the Italian answered, smiling.
"You're the best Carmen!"
"I know. Now, get a move on, both of you."
With that, she turned and left the youngens to their own devices.
Ranelle rolled out of the bed and groaned slightly. She must not have moved all night, her legs and arms were horrible stiff. Dean heard the groan and cocked her head, concerned. "You alright?"
"Yeah.. just sore." The blonde looked over to see her tall friend shaking her legs out while leaning against the wall. "Guess it's a mutual feeling, huh?"
"Yep." Dean grimaced, straightened, and moved to the bathroom. "Could you get me a bag and..."
"No problem. How long do you think we'll be there?"
"Oh, three days maybe."
"Alright." Ranelle moved to the closet and opened it, grabbing the black duffle that Dean kept there. She just grabbed the pants and shirts, folding them neatly in the bag. It was the easiest packing job she had ever done, it's not like Dean had a lot of choice.
"Ow! Damn it!"
Ranelle turned sharply and put the bag down. "You alright, love?" She stopped and pulled back her head a little. The term of endearment had just slipped out, and Ranelle decided she liked saying it. She poked her head into the bathroom to see Dean standing on one leg rubbing her other foot.
"I'm fine, I just stubbed me toe on the wall."
"Mmkk." The blonde turned and picked up the duffle again. She could hear Dean rummaging around in the drawers and cupboards, so she was surprised when the officer's voice floated into the room.
"Yeah?" She turned to see Dean leaning against the wall with a tube in front of her face. The said tube was held out a moment later for her inspection.
"Is this toothpaste?"
The dark head nodded seriously before disappearing with a muttered 'Good'.
Ranelle just grinned and placed the packed bag on the large bed. She walked out into the hall and through the swinging door into the kitchen. "Ah, Ranelle. Listen, why don't you give me your keys, tell me where everything is and let me go pack you a bag?"
"Oh, I couldn't ask you to do that Carmen."
"Nonsense, I'd be happy to. And if I weren't, I wouldn't have offered. Besides, if I take care of you, you can take care of our Dean."
The blonde woman smiled and hugged Carmen, taking a moment to just relax and revel in the knowledge that both she and Dean had friends who would do almost anything for them. "Thanks, Carmen. It gives me some time to make some calls."
"Of course dear."
Ranelle quickly passed on her keys and told Carmen what she needed, and before she knew it the Italian woman was off. She sat down at the table with the cordless, trying to decide who she should call first. She finally settled on Stacey.
The phone rang three times before the perky sound of her friend's voice met Ranelle's ears. "Hey Stace."
"Ranelle! I didn't expect to hear from you so soon. How are you, girl?"
"I'd pretty good Stacey, thanks. Listen, I need you to keep looking after my apartment and Terkers for a few more days."
"What?! You're leaving? Ranelle, you just got out of the hospital!"
"I know, Stacey, believe me I know. But a good friend of Dean's is in the hospital, and not in very good shape. She's going and I'm not letting her face that alone what with everything that's happened. She needs me, Stacey."
Stacey sighed. She knew Ranelle was right. Dean, despite her big, bad soldier persona, was fairly dependent on the people she let close to her. And Ranelle was one of those people who Dean was probably the most dependent on. The blonde woman had walked into the officer's life during a particularly vulnerable time and proceeded to fall in love with her, making her pivotal in Dean's continued survival.
The curly haired woman remembered vividly the state Dean had been in at the hospital. She also saw the slight changes in Dean which occurred from the time she had first met the officer to now. It was obvious that Ranelle was the reason for those changes, and Stacey strongly believed her blonde friend was also the only thing keeping Dean on an even keel
"Of course she needs you, girl. And you know you can count on me. All you have to do is ask."
Ranelle smiled and sighed in relief. "Thanks, you're the best, Stacey."
"Mmm..." she didn't sound convinced with that sentiment, "how's Dean doing?"
"Better. She woke up this morning and thinks she's seeing outlines, so we're both looking on the bright side."
"Hey, that's great!! She doesn't need something like that in her life, she's been through enough crap."
"Yeah... I think she's trying to not get her hopes up too high, but I can see that she's being positive."
"Did she ever see that eye specialist?"
"Yeah." Since Dean had been hanging around the hospital anyway, a doctor had finally gotten the officer to sit still long enough for a more in-depth examine and scheduled an appointment with an eye specialist. The officer had gone, grudgingly, only in the hopes that someone would be able to tell her what was going on.
"Oh, sorry Stace. I just drifted off there."
"So I noticed."
"Anyway, Dean went. The doctor said it looked like there was some damage to her retina. You know, kinda like what happens if you look at the sun for too long. She said that it also could be combined with Dean getting hit on the head. Also, psychological things could factor in. Basically, there wasn't much that could be done to treat it and a combination of things could be responsible."
"Doesn't sound very comforting."
"No, it doesn't. Fact is, only Dean and our crazy terrorist know exactly what happened in that house. And Dean doesn't seem too inclined to share. But she's staring to see again and in the end, that's all that matters to me."
"Hm.. well, I have to get to work, Ranelle. Don't worry about your apartment, or that fuzz ball of yours. I'll look after it. And you take care of Navy Guy, 'kay?"
Ranelle smiled into the phone, touched by Stacey's concern for someone she called friend but still hardly knew. "I will, and thanks. Bye."
They hung up, and Ranelle swiftly made two more calls, one to her uncle and one to Scott. She didn't think Dean would remember to call him, and he had as much right as anyone to know what was going on. He was Dean's childhood friend, after all.
As expected, Ranelle got similar reactions from everyone about her leaving so soon after getting out of the hospital. But when they heard why, there was a slight, reflective pause, and then acceptance. She was incredibly pleased with the understanding that both her friends and family showed her. It reassured Ranelle that everyone truly supported her in her relationship with the officer.
Eventually, the blonde hung up for good and slowly made her way back to Dean's bedroom.
Dean finished brushing her teeth and felt around for the lid, located it and screwed it back on. Next was the shower. She felt her way over and turned on the water, making sure of the temperature before jumping in. The officer shed her clothes, making sure she knew precisely where they were so she wouldn't have to spend long minutes trying to relocate them.
The tall body moved into the large shower stall, tan hands looking for and locating shampoo. She cautiously smelt the contents of the container before using it. She had learned, very early on after losing her sight to smell everything. If she didn't there were very bad results. Some things just weren't meant to be used as toothpaste.
Being blind was an odd experience. At first, it had terrified her beyond words. The concept of not seeing, not being able to read words on paper, or use a computer, or work. That was the one that had really gotten her.
When she quit, Dean wanted it to be strictly her choice and only her choice. She didn't want to have anything else making her do it. And that's exactly what being blind meant. She'd have to quit, and she wouldn't have a say in the matter.
But then, very slowly, Dean started to resign herself to the possibility of being blind for the rest of her life. And how that would change things. Not just the way she lived, that she would have found a way to work around. What had bothered her, was not seeing Ranelle's face again. Or Scott's, Anthony's, Carmen's, Maria's... her niece and nephew, not being able to see them grow into the fine young adults she knew they'd become.
It wasn't the things she wouldn't be able to do, or the new things she'd have to learn or even the new limitations that would be put on her.
It was the people.
Missing out on so much of their lives because she was blind. Sure, she'd be there through the years, and hear her niece and nephew talk of their lives and boyfriends/girlfriends, and eventually their spouses and children. But she wouldn't see them. She the changes they would go through, or see their significant others, or their children.
And that, that just plain rubbed her the wrong way.
But then this morning, she had woken to a slight difference. Nothing much, so minute she had thought that she had been imagining it. But she hadn't been. She was starting to see again, and so she suddenly had hope. Hope of regaining her normal life, and seeing Ranelle again.
And now, now Dean was sure that when this all was finally over and she once again could see, that she would be a little stronger, and a little more appreciative of things in life.
The officer pursed her lips, feeling the water run down her face and neck. And really, that's all that mattered, right? Coming up against roadblocks in life and getting past them. Surviving and coming out of it all a little stronger and a little wiser. Moving on.
Yes, Dean decided, as she shut off the water and stepped out, grabbing a fluffy towel and wrapping it around herself. That's what was important, and that's what she would do. Survive and move on, no worse for wear.
She dried off and wrapped the towel around her again, grabbed her clothes and walked into her room. Dean spent a moment finding clean clothes in her closet and putting them on. She had just slipped on a shirt when her hand brushed across one of her uniform bags.
The officer grabbed it off the hook and walked over to the bed where she sat with the bag across her lap, gently running her fingers along the edge.
Ranelle walked to Dean's room and poked her head around the door frame. She paused upon seeing the slumped form on the bed with the suit bag across her lap. The blonde could practically feel the waves of quiet misery and tension rising off Dean's body and traveling across the room.
"Hon?" She moved into the room, sure that the officer had heard her. Reaching the bed, Ranelle gently lowered herself down and leaned against Dean's shoulder. "What's wrong?"
The strong body shifted and wiggled a bit, signaling that Dean really, really wanted to be moving around. Pacing. "I just... I was getting dressed and I came across this and it hit me... what was really happening. That I could be going to a funeral in a few days." The dark head shook and Dean sighed, "I really don't want to have to put this on." She hefted the bag and then stilled.
Ranelle sucked in a breath, not sure what to say. "Do you really, truly think that's going to happen?"
"You didn't hear Jack on the phone. He knows, he knows she's going to die."
"Oh, Dean." And really, that's all she could say. So Ranelle just got her good arm around the officer as best she could, once again comforting the most important person in her life.
The flight had been as good as one would expect, and now Ranelle was once again traveling through the streets of San Diego. They were on their way directly to the hospital. As soon as they had arrived Dean had called Jack. Shelley had worsened, they needed to hurry.
The blonde woman was dreading it. Getting there, and losing someone she had only started to know. It wasn't fair, it just wasn't fair at all. She glanced to her right, where Dean was slumped against the door of the cab. The officer was being far too quiet for Ranelle's taste.
They pulled up at the hospital a short time later and climbed out with their bags. Ranelle fished out some money to pay the cabbie and sent him on his way. She wished they could have stopped at a hotel or something first. But Jack had said hurry, and so they were.
Ranelle gently grasped Dean's arm, leading the woman through unfamiliar territory. It was something the officer normally wouldn't have accepted, but it was at the moment a necessity. After a brief trek through the halls, Ranelle arrived outside the designated room.
Just as they stopped in the hall the door opened and a large, muscular man came out. Ranelle knew, before he spoke, that this was Jack. "Dean?"
The officer smiled and tilted her head. "Hey, Jack-O."
He came forward and hugged Dean, and she returned it with vigor. The he stepped back and looked up at his friend who only topped him by a head or so, and frowned. "What's up with that?"
"I have a little vision problem at the moment. It's not important. How's Shelley?"
"Not so great. Come on, I know she'd want you to be with her." Jack looked to Ranelle and smiled. "Hello."
"Oh! Um, Jack this is Ranelle, my... um..." Dean trailed off, not sure what Ranelle was.
The blonde rose to the occasion and stepped forward. "Dean's partner." As she shook hands with Jack, Ranelle looked out of the corner of her eye at Dean. The officer had a little smile on her face and nodded. She seemed to like that title.
The trio moved into the room, Ranelle hung back, feeling a little out of place. Jack and Dean moved to the bed and the blonde could see that Dean was saying something to the unconscious form on the bed. After a few minutes they sat in chairs, and Dean beckoned Ranelle over. She came and settled next to Dean, sending a quick prayer up for Shelley's recovery. But she knew it was futile. Knew that Shelley was on the verge of leaving this world, knew that Dean was right and Jack knew that his fiancee was leaving him. Knew the doctors knew.
It sucked royally.
Less than two hours later Shelley quietly departed this world, leaving behind parents, three siblings, numerous friends, and a heartbroken Jack.
They left the hospital is a somber mood, not quite ready to believe that Shelley was gone. After a short drive, they arrived at Jack's small house, tired, sad, and pissed.
"Funeral's day after tomorrow."
Dean turned in the hallway, her hand on the wall, "That soon?"
He nodded. "We did all our funeral arrangements already. Didn't want the hassle." He slunk down the hall and sat on the couch, sighing.
"Jack, why don't we go get a hotel room?"
"No, it's fine. You guys can stay here. Truth is, I don't feel like being alone right now."
"Okay." The officer carefully made her way over to an easy chair and plopped down into it. Ranelle followed suit.
In all that strained silence they sat, not saying a word, just thinking of their now-absent friend.
It was going to be a long trip.
Dean sat on the bed, staring at the other wall. She could see a little better today, the outlines were more pronounced and there were little gray areas where light was. She had figured this out by locating a gray area and walking to it. The first time the officer found herself in a pool of warm sunlight.
It wasn't much but it was progress, and that was good.
She heard the door creak open and the rustle of fabric as someone entered. Dean knew it was Ranelle, Jack's footsteps were a lot heavier, and besides, he didn't smell that good.
"Shouldn't you be getting dressed?"
"Uh-huh." Dean turned her head and gave the impression of sending a baleful glare toward her uniform.
"Do you, um... need some help?"
"Nah," the officer stood and walked over to the uniform, "I'll manage. Thanks, though, for asking."
Ranelle smiled, adjusted her sling, and left the room. Dean was managing, although she got the distinct impression that the officer really didn't want this funeral to be happening today. Ah well, that's life. Things often happened that you had no control over, that you'd rather erase from all time and do-over. But there weren't any do-over's in life, and sometimes, sometimes that really sucked.
This was one of those times.
Ranelle waited downstairs with Jack, who was decked out in dress whites and looked pretty darn good, considering the circumstances. Several minutes later Dean slowly came down the stairs and stopped in front of the duo. She couldn't hear a thing, and that worried her.
"What? Is something crooked.... or what?"
The blonde woman came forward and touched Dean's arm. "No, nothing's crooked. You look... incredible.
"Uh-huh.. I'd forgotten how good you looked in that stuff." Jack added his own two cents and soon they were off, a striking yet somber group.
The California sky was overcast with clouds, throwing the day into an ugly grayness that served to bring everyone's spirits lower and lower. The service was nice, a typical Naval funeral, with many people besides family present to show their respects to a friend. To someone who had died before their time. To someone that would be greatly missed.
When the last words faded into the air Dean turned slightly to the bereft man beside her. "I'm sorry Jack."
"It wasn't your fault Dean. Shelley had the choice to say no, she wanted to help you. And you didn't ask her to go digging around like she was."
"What do you mean?"
He turned to face his sightless friend and out a hand on her arm. "I would have told you this before but there was never a good time. Shelley was sticking her nose into other places too. She was looking for proof of the mole in the Navy. That's what got her killed, cause she found it."
Dean's body jerked at the prospect of this being over. "She found out who the mole is?"
Jack nodded and then realized his friend couldn't see him. "Yes. She thought so. She sent it off to the Pentagon."
Dean blinked and felt Ranelle's hand on her other arm, offering gentle support. "Are you serious?"
"So this is all over?"
Dean sat down on the chair behind her and sighed. That would be a great relief, if Shelley had found proof that would stop this entire thing. It had been weighing on her mind for a long time, how this entire thing would come to an end. But at the cost of her friend's life? The officer shook her head and placed it in her raised hands.
Jack watched on, concerned. He looked up at Ranelle and got a similar look back. A shudder made its way through Dean's body. The blonde leaned down and looked at Dean's face. "Are you alright?"
"It might be over. After all this and it might finally be over," she whispered with relief. After a time, Dean straightened herself up, gathered her wits, and stood. Her emotions were back under control, her professional Naval Commander facade was back in place.
They started to make their way out of the cemetery with a steadily moving trickle of other people. "When are you guys going back to Dallas?"
Jack nodded and kept on walking.
"Commander Ransom?" Dean stopped upon hearing her name. She felt Ranelle gently pulling her over to where the sound had come from. When she stopped she was standing in front of two men, who as far as she could tell, were very large indeed.
"My name is Admiral Rogers and I've come from the Pentagon where we received some very interesting material from one Shelley Wright. She said I might talk to you for a little more information on what's been happening for the last four weeks."
"Are you going to be taking action?"
"I assure you, Commander, that there was enough evidence to have this mole arrested immediately. He is in custody and we are trying to see if the corruption went any further. We are also taking action to find any other members of this terrorist group here in the United States and a campaign has been proposed to try and break up their group. They are a huge threat to this country's security. Your input is only needed to uncover new information and maybe find some more charges to attach to this mole and any accomplices."
"Of course Admiral, I'd be happy to help you out. I must ask first though," Dean turned and called to Jack, "that you show this man some identification. I can't verify it at the moment."
Jack came over, curious. He looked at the ID and told Dean that yes, these was the real deal. She nodded, satisfied. "I think we should go to a coffee shop or something, don't you? This is going to take awhile."
So they went, and it did indeed take a long time to go over everything and relate all their suspicions and information. They got some odd looks from the other patrons, two men in suits, one woman decked out in Naval dress whites, and a second in a subdued black pantsuit. But they ignored it and focused on the task at hand.
"Well, thank-you Commander. You have been most helpful." The men stood and Dean followed.
"You're welcome, Admiral Rogers. If I could ask, before you go. Who is the mole?"
"I suppose you have a right to know, since he almost got you killed several times. One Admiral Tyler Clarkson."
Dean shook her head. "Never heard of him."
"Yes, well, that's usually the way these kinds of things work. The people who end up getting hurt have no affiliation with the person doing the hurting. Again, thank-you for your time Commander Ransom." He turned to Ranelle and tipped his hat a little, before both he and his partner left the diner.
Ranelle stared after them for a long time and then commented, "It's over."
"No," Dean sighed, "something tells me it isn't. Not yet."
To be continued....
Hope you all liked that. I have a little bit of a web-site at http://www.angelfire.com/falcon/sbzarben It's not much but that is where you'll be able to find out what's happening with me and what I'll write next, after Soldier's Peace is done. As always, feel free to direct questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org