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After Rain

Chapter Text

12th February 2016.

 

Ash returned to the FBI SWAT Quarters at night after a whole day’s training and work. Usually, it was the regular time of hanging out with Sledge in the gym, but he was not here today. He was on his days off, left this morning to go back to Scotland. Not for visiting his family but saying farewell to his old friend.

 

It traced back to the massive operation in the European Commission in Brussels, at the end of last month. Rainbow succeeded to save the hostages, who some of them were forced to put on bomb vests to be the suicide bombers. Although they resolved the crisis, it was a hard and cruel day they would never forget.

 

People said no victory comes without sacrifice. That time, Aidan – Sledge’s fellow Scottish teammate, was listed as one of the costs. Deployed with the team as one of Rainbow’s support operatives from SAS, he exerted the utmost effort to protect and save hostages until he got shot in an attempt of rescue. His willpower supported him to make a final distance to take the packs to the evacuation area before he collapsed, then Doc came to treat him immediately. Unfortunately, his wounds were too severe with a terrible amount of blood loss, which made him pass away in the following day.

 

The moment was carved in Ash’s memory -- Doc felt frustrated at ending up unable to save Sledge’s old friend while the Scotsman consoled him with a kind smile. Ash didn’t know why, but she was annoyed by it. She already knew Aidan was Sledge’s best friend for years. He mentioned that he left home to enter a grammar school which had a remarkable rugby team in Edinburgh by his speciality in the sport when he was twelve years old and felt homesick and challenging to get along with others.

 

Aidan, Seamus’ classmate, was the first one who befriended with him. He came from a worker’s family in Glasgow, got the scholarship to study in one of the best schools in Scotland. Keeping in the top in grade, Aidan didn’t show any arrogance but was keen on learning, while also being eager to help Seamus with his homework. Referred to Sledge, if it wasn’t for him, he couldn’t have passed all subjects so smoothly. After Seamus managed to adopt the new life, his promising talent in sports won him a place in the school’s rugby team, and later in Scotland’s youth national team.

 

They originally had different dreams. When Seamus showed the potential to succeed as a professional rugby player from captaining the U-20 national team at dramatically young age, Aidan did his best in study to with the aim of the medical college of The University of Edinburgh, until Aidan’s father – his family’s primal resource of income got a severe illness and was unable to continue his work. To support his family, Aidan decided to enlist in the army, and it also set Seamus’ decision between his aspiration of public service and the path of a sportsman.

 

“Hey, don’t worry about me. The study can wait. I can get back after I did good works with bringing my young siblings up enough to take care of my parents!” This was Aidan’s word to console his friend who showed concern on his face.

“Your father is sick. It’s strange to see you so optimistic about this.”

“It’s just what happened. But how to face it is my decision.” Aidan made a fist bump with Seamus, “Anyway, It’s good that you are coming with me. I’m sure such a strong lad like you is what the army always needs.”

“Yeah, let’s go.” Sledge hooked the shorter young man’s shoulder while getting on the train to the recruitment centre.

 

Sledge once said they were close like brothers. After five years of army’s duty, they both passed the selection of SAS at the same time. It might be a coincidence, but it precisely strengthened their relationship. Everyone could see how deep their understanding in tactics was, even after Seamus became one of the operators of Rainbow while Aidan didn't. Losing him could be agony to Sledge, but he didn’t show any sadness to anyone. The sense of leader’s responsibility could be the source of his fortitude, and Ash clearly knew Sledge believed himself had full responsibility to deal with the loss. Nevertheless, Ash still couldn’t understand why he tried so hard to keep up.

 

Suddenly, Ash realised the reason for her being upset – she expected to share the burden with him, but Sledge didn’t let her. To be honest, she had the crazy impulse to fly to Scotland to see Sledge right now, maybe bring his SAS teammates like Thatcher, Smoke and Mute as well. How much she wished Sledge to know there were so many people caring about him.

 

“Hey Eliza, what’s the problem?” When Ash going straight to her room, Thermite’s voice stopped her.

“Not your business.” Ash retorted coldly while looking at the Texan sitting on the couch.

“I know it’s about Seamus, isn’t it?” Thermite nodded in certainty.

“You understand nothing.” Ash made a salty response.

“Calm down! I mean, if you don’t like him bearing that alone, neither should you.” Thermite grabbed Ash’s elbow, “Let’s talk to our English amigos to figure something out, alright?” He took Ash out of the quarters, “I’m calling Miles and Jack out, too.”

“Wait!” Ash was dragged to the recreation room and pushed on the sofa before she could react in any way. Thermite and Castle sat beside her, while Pulse chose another armchair.

“Hey, Jack, no. I think this seat is for Baker.” Thermite chuckled.

“Why?” Pulse asked in confusion.

“Because he’s a granddad and every armchair is for a granddad.” Thermite made a witty smile.

“Not amusing at all.” Pulse puckered his forehead, “And I don’t think Thatcher likes to be treated in this way.”

 

In a minute, Thatcher arrived with other two English teammates. “So, I heard you want to talk about Seamus’ issue with us.” They seated on the couch opposite to the FBI operatives.

“That’s right,” Thermite replied with a kind smile, “Eliza thinks he needs comfort.”

“Hey, I don’t ever say that—” Ash tried to explain, “He intends to deal with this alone, and I respect his choice.”

“So, you don’t worry about him at all?” Castle threw another question.

“Maybe a little, but just in a friendly way.” Ash pouted, “I mean, I’m not his girlfriend or anything else, I don’t like to stick on it for too much.”

Girlfriend?” Smoke cheered, “Finally, our big Scots boy finds his spring!”

“Idiot!” Ash retorted in rage, “I said not!

“I understand the truth: Seamus likes you.” Smoke shook his finger with a smirk.

“Shut up, or I will cut off your tongue.” Ash clenched her fists.

“You two, enough!” Thatcher separated the two in tension away, “Ash is right. Seamus and Aidan had known each other from childhood, and they had a deep relationship. I believe we must give them a private moment without any interruption…… For the last time.”

“Yeah, you have a point.” Thermite shook his head, “We can’t fly to Glasgow to see him now, after all. Maybe we just need some talk to him after he returns.”

“Would it work? From my knowing of Cowden, he’d just tell you ‘I’m fine’.” Mute threw them a flat piece of truth. “He believes such a private issue is just for his own consideration and should keep away from bothering others. Therefore, if you all want to know if there’s any way to help him, I’d give you a ‘no’.”

“But Aidan was also our teammate, and we’ve already worked and lived together for quite a long time,” Pulse groaned, “is there anything we can’t share with each other?”

“Such as undergarments?” Smoke answered hilariously.

“Oh, I can lend one or two pairs of boxers to you. Like, I have one with a flame pattern. Don’t you think it’s cool?” Thermite got Smoke’s humour and kept on the track, and was rewarded by Smoke’s joyous chuckles and others’ stern look.

“Can’t you two behave like proper grown-ups?” Mute complained.

 

“Let’s get back to the topic. You know, Valentine’s day is coming.” Castle suggested. “We can do a little celebration and relax.”

“Lovers’ day? We’re not the kind of people who celebrate this.” Thatcher shook his head.

“For example, my parents always book a restaurant and have some nice chats on the day,” Castle continued with his family custom.

“I guess it’s just what husband and wife would do, isn’t it?” Smoke scratched his head and turned to his senior, “So, Maggie, can you tell me when will you get a woman?”

“Stop calling me like that, and it’s not your bloody business, muppet!”

 

Ash didn’t mind others’ banter as she was deep into consideration, “I guess it can work. But don’t get it wrong, I just want to have a discussion, nothing else.” She got up in a hurry to her room with nodding, “I’m gonna draft a plan. Bye.”

 

“Gone like the wind.” Pulse commented, “She’s always like that, acts immediately with any new idea in the brain.”

“On Valentine plan, you already have one, do you?” Smoke patted Pulse’s shoulder, “With your hubby.

“It’s a secret.” Pulse shared a glance with Thermite.

“Ha! Same do I.” Smoke laughed, “We will know on that day, after all.”

“I’m going to rest, you shouldn’t stay any longer either.” Thatcher groaned while getting up, “If I see your sleepy face in the next morning, I will take care of you very well.”

“Killjoy.” Smoke struck out his tongue to Thatcher’s back playfully.

 


 

On the next day, Ash finally had some free time in the afternoon after a day’s work. She stayed at the workshop with Thermite, Mute and Fuze to discuss Sledge’s preference on food so that she could book the right place.

 

“I don’t think Seamus has any preference,” Mute answered, “Maybe the only thing he really likes is protein. Just choose any place you fancy.”

“He’s Scottish, so, find a place that serves his hometown cuisine then?” Thermite reckoned, “Uh, no. I forgot he’s already back there. Let’s think of other options.”

“How about ramen?” Fuze turned his head from his blueprints, “I know there’s a Japanese restaurant Wagamama serves delicious ramen in the downtown. I like it there, so I sometimes drive to there for a quick but comforting dinner.”

“Uh, noodles?” Thermite showed disapproval, “The most unromantic choice in my mind.”

“I reckon it’s a good idea.” Ash’s eyes sparkled, “Instead of fancily decorated restaurants, such a casual place might be better to let him feel relaxed.”

“And do you have any gift in mind?” Mute inquired, “Like chocolate. Better hand-made.”

“Gosh, chocolate…” Ash facepalmed, “I barely know how to do sweets.”

“Because you’re a spicy girl.” Thermite interrupted.

“I can help,” Fuze stood up, “I’ve learned baking from my бабушка. And I’m going to meet with IQ in the kitchen to make a delight for tomorrow.”

“Monika? I guess it will be Black Forest cake?” A certainly famous German dessert came to Ash’s mind.

“Correct.”

“You’re making a cake?” Thermite jumped off the chair, “Count me in.”

“We’ll reserve a piece for you, but before then, keep your feet out of the kitchen.” Fuze raised his hands with the declaration.

“But Eliza can go with you?”

“IQ said she doesn’t want you to burn everything off there.” Fuze followed Ash out of the workshop, while Thermite collapsed in the chair with a sigh.

 


 

When Ash and Fuze arrived in the kitchen, IQ had already prepared the ingredients on the worktop. “Oh Shuh, you’re here? And Eliza is here for help, too?”

“I don’t know to make desserts, I’m afraid.” Ash answered, “I’m here for some gift ideas for tomorrow.”

“For your special one? Oh my, how romantic!” IQ giggled, “Just chocolate is too boring. How about brownies? It’s tasty, and easy to make.”

“Well, seems like a good idea.” Ash agreed. “I think I’ve read a recipe before…”

“I can lend you a hand after we’re done with the cake, don’t worry.” Fuze turned to Ash, “You can help us with something in making the cake as well.”

“Yes, because we’re making a big one!” IQ began melting the chocolate and butter in a saucepan. “Eliza, can you help me to grease the cake tin and mix the flour and sugar? And Shuh, whisk these eggs with buttermilk.”

“Can do that.” Fuze and Ash responded positively and went to the tasks they received.

 

Ash wasn't into culinary stuff especially sweet food, but the tasks she was assigned didn’t trouble her at all. On the contrary, she started to find out it might be an exciting amusement. After they put the cake in the oven, they went to help Ash to make the brownies and to prepare the topping and icing to put on the cake when it was the brownies’ turn in the oven. Their efficiency in every operation might also apply in the baking, as they had all tasks done neatly without any time wasted.

 

“Shuh, make a heart on the cake with these chocolate flakes!” IQ urged Fuze to do the final decoration on their Black Forest gateau.

“Are you sure it’s a proper task for a man like me?” Fuze felt confused.

“Yes, it’s the perfect job for a cute guy like you,” IQ smirked.

Fuze shook his head while arranging the flakes on the top of the gateau according to IQ’s request. He did the shape with extra care and received IQ’s positive remark, while Ash was figuring out into how many slices this cake must be divided.

“Twenty-four,” Ash quickly made her answer with a low voice. “Except us, I also count the Canadians who just joined last week, and Sweeney, who provided so much effort to build the team.”

“And of course, Madam Six must have it too!” IQ added, “And Sledge’s slice, I’d save this in the fridge to keep it fresh. You can take it to him after he's back.”

“Thanks.” Ash nodded in appreciation before turned to Fuze, “Shuhrat, another thing… Do you know how do Timur and Maxim celebrate Valentine’s?”

“Can I know the reason you ask it first?”

“Nothing special, I just got curious if the Russian… Or the queers’ custom would be different,” Ash explained.

“Hm, neither of them is into sweets, as I know. I think they would do something spicy for the day instead, just like other days.”

Spicy?” Ash raised her tone while noticing something unusual in Fuze’s words.

“I won’t continue on this.” Fuze frowned and blushed slightly.

“Shuh, no need to be embarrassed.” IQ patted Fuze’s shoulder and answered in understanding, “We all know what’s going on.” Ash didn’t make any reply but got into her consideration of that if the Scotsman was another man low-key loved spice while merely pretending to look pure and professional on the appearance. Fuze didn’t grasp the reason behind the Israeli’s strange reaction against his answer, but he chose to not mind it.

 


 

Then it was the 14th of February. Sledge wore a smile when he returned to the base in the morning before immediately going into his daily tasks. Ash managed to grab a chance to meet him in the corridor and ask if he would like to have dinner with her. Sledge agreed without a second word. Everything seemed smooth so far, but it was just a start. She worried about how to mention the lost friend without making the Scotsman too sad.

 

In the afternoon, Ash worked with her Texan teammate in the workshop just like usual. When they were wrapping up, Thermite handed a gift box to Ash and told her to give it to Sledge this night. “Don’t worry, it’s not something weird. I want Seamus to unpack it, so can you promise not to open it before then?” Ash surveyed the Texan’s act and instruction with a confused face, although she had a mind that he must have a reason.

“So, it’s your gift to Seamus?” Ash asked in confirmation.

“I just think he might find what’s inside the box useful.” Thermite made a friendly grin, “Have a nice evening then.”

 

In the evening, Ash and Sledge met at the front door in their casual outfits, then Sledge drove his car to take Ash to the Old Market Shopping Centre. It only took 15 minutes of driving to the downtown, and as soon as they got into the circle of the city, the iconic large red brick building was just in front of them, easy to identify.

 

“It’s the largest shopping centre in the city.” Sledge suggested while parking his car, “Wouldn’t you like to take some time to walk around these shops? Still, we have time until dinner.”

“Hmm, you know I used to work in Los Angeles, and that city has a lot of malls larger than it.” Ash asked, “Do you come here often? What kind of things do you usually buy here?”

“Nothing special. I come here to get some casual clothes to wear when I’m not on duty.”

“Let’s take a peek, as we don’t have anything better to do, yes?” Ash agreed and got off the car to proceed to the ground floor in the shopping centre.

 

Many couples, young ones, old ones, held their hands together. Yes, on the date this scene must be typical, any single customer could be treated as a rarity in the place, but it provided Ash with an odd feeling. She glanced at Sledge who put his hands into the pockets of his jackets relaxedly.

 

“Seamus,” Ash made a gesture to notice Sledge get closer so that she could whisper to his ears, “Can you take my hand?”

“Why?” Sledge asked curiously.

“To make us look more like a normal couple.” Ash emphasised the word “normal” with a severe face.

“Alright then,” Sledge stretched his big hand to take Ash’s and held it with a little too much force.

“Too firm!” Ash complained in a low voice, “Didn’t you ever date a girl?”

“One or two in my teenage years.” Sledge answered in dry chuckles, “I barely have a chance to meet any lass since I enlisted.”

“Unlucky you.” Ash made a joke, “But I can see you make it reasonable with ‘I have too many jobs to do’.”

“Ha! You’re right.” Sledge stopped at clothing retail store to look at a mannequin in a royal blue dress. “Eliza, I think this dress might look good on you.”

“Are you nuts?” Ash lifted an eyebrow, “I don’t think I’m a dress kind of person.”

“I know. This is the reason I’d like you to try.” Sledge made a kind smile. “Come on, give it a try, it won’t hurt.”

 

Even before Ash could understand the situation, she was half-forced to the shop and put on the dress. She checked the mirror in the fitting room suspiciously – well, it might not look bad. The sleeveless midi dress fit her perfectly, with her slim arms and long legs exposed. The light-weight material provided surprising mobility for the body, either.

 

When she stepped out, Sledge was already waiting for her, “You look absolutely fabulous, my lady.” He already tried a piece of clothing in the shop as well – an aqua-coloured ombre stripe shirt. Ash was low-key amazed at how good it looked on him as the vertical stripes made him taller.

“I’m not sure.” Ash checked herself, especially at her exposed arms and waist, commented in doubt.

“You can be fabulous as a model,” Sledge kept encouraging.

“I take it as you haven’t seen any true one,” Ash made a mild sarcasm.

“Actually, I can pay for it—” Sledge took out his wallet with a grin.

“No! I don’t want it,” Ash extended her hand, tried to snatch Sledge’s wallet. “And don’t waste your money on such a silly thing.”

“Why so serious, just kidding.” Sledge chuckled while pointing at the retail clerk looking at them with an amused smile, “And the shop assistant would be upset by your comment on the shop’s dress!”

 

“Uh, don’t mind me.” The shop assistant was a joyous young girl with a stylish brown bob haircut, looked just passed twenty. “Just thinking, what a happy couple you are.”

“Well, it’s not what you see—" Sledge’s mouths were covered by Ash hilariously as soon as he intended to explain.

“Already forget that? We have to be a couple here.Ash hissed her whisper, followed by a sigh. “Never mind. Let’s change back and get out of here.”

 


 

They arrived at the place Ash appointed and found a table for two in size to seat at it.

 

“Looks delicious,” Sledge praised the chilli chicken ramen heartily as he even took out his phone to take a picture of it. “Can I take a picture of yours, too?”

“Go ahead,” Ash shifted her teriyaki lamb soba closer to the Scotsman.

“Okay,” Sledge chuckled while adjusting the angle of his phone to take the dish of soba in the scene as well, “How does Japanese say it? Well, I think it’s itadakimasu.” He began with a large mouthful consumed in his mouth.

 

Despite Los Angeles being a cultural furnace with various kinds of restaurant, like Thai, Indian, or even Japanese sushi, Ash never had a try as she wasn’t interested in any of these colourful cuisines. She would prefer to do pita or hummus on her own -- she learned all the cooking from her savta. Sometimes, Ash thought her food might be the only thing she liked about her.

 

If those weird-tasting instant noodles Thermite got from God knew where didn’t count, then this was the first time Ash had tasted Asian noodles. Nevertheless, she decided the soba was a delight, as the grilled lamb was tender, and the soy sauce perfectly balanced the meat’s flavour. The soba was cooked just right, not too hard nor too soft and featured a unique aroma.

 

“Can I have a taste of your noodles?” Sledge requested as Ash agreed and put a small amount of the soba into a plate for him. “I like the noodle. The smell reminds me of Timur’s kasha.

“Really? I’m not a fan of his kasha.” Ash sighed, “But those Russians awfully love it.”

“Yeah, you know, they are both made of buckwheat.” Sledge commented, “It’s rich in various nutrients like iron, zinc, magnesium and niacin while relatively low in calorie.”

“Um-hmm.” Ash nodded, “It’s my turn to try your ramen.”

“Here you go,” Sledge separated some noodles and soup into a small bowl and even placed a slice of chicken over it. “You should eat more to get more muscles.”

“Thank you for the concern,” Ash replied in a playful sarcasm before eating the ramen, “It’s spicy! How could you eat it?” She exclaimed at the chilli-flavoured soup.

“Too hot to you?” Sledge chuckled.

“Oh, in fact, I love any food mixing with peppers,” Ash explained, “I just surprised that you also eat spicy food.”

“It enhances appetite, especially in such the moist weather.” Sledge answered.

“You mention that today is likely to rain.” Ash asked, “Do you bring an umbrella?”

“I do.” Sledge grinned, “You already come here for a while. Does the weather here trouble you? I know, unlike England, California usually has sunny days with a clear sky.”

“It’s not hard to get used to.” Ash pouted, “Don’t treat me like a delicate girl.”

“Yeah, I know.”

 

Then they went into minutes of awkward silence – except for the sound of sucking their noodles until there was nothing left in the bowls. Ash tried to form a word about Aidan’s death, but strangely any syllable ended up invalid in her throat. The Scotsman was already checking his phone for messages. Probably from his SAS teammates regarding his first date with her. How embarrassing.

 

“Seamus,” Ash finally determined to get it straight, “I have to apologize to you.”

“What’s it?” Sledge raised his head while putting his phone aside.

“I couldn’t bring Aidan back safe,” Ash stated in a low regretful voice, “I’m sorry. Losing him must be heartbreaking for you.”

“No, it’s not your fault.” Sledge lowered his head, “He was my closest buddy in SAS, and it should be my task to protect him, but I failed. But I know our missions have high stakes, and he already knew that anything could cost his life might happen. He accepted that with no regret.”

“But do you accept this?” Ash frowned, “I don’t like you hiding anything.”

“I…Even I say ‘no’,” Sledge started to defend, “The fact won’t change, right? We’re too busy to mourn the lost.”

 

“That’s why I’d like you to express.” Ash explained, “Listen, you have a whole team caring for you, even Jordan was thinking of how to cheer you up, you shouldn’t turn your back to them.”

Sledge felt in silence and mouth stayed to a straight line, but eyes shone regret.

“Above all, I like you… And we are meant to work together. So, I hope you might rely on us, on me, even just a little more.” Ash put her hand on Sledge’s and asked sincerely, “Isn’t it hard to you?”

“Not at all.” Sledge lowered his head, “I don’t know what to say. You really care for me so much.”

“That’s why I invited you out.” Ash explained, “I thought we should have a one-to-one talk like this, without concerning others.”

“Just that? Isn’t it supposed to be a date?” Sledge answered humorously.

“You idiot!” Ash slapped Sledge’s head, “You genuinely think this way?”

“Who suggested to pretend to be a couple today?” Sledge rubbed the aching part with a complaint.

“Oh, you’re right.” Ash gave him a hint with blinking her eyes, “Well, I’m not taken. And not against you to be my real boyfriend, either.”

“What—” Sledge’s face turned entirely red.

“Now I know why James said you are a ‘big boy’. Look at you, like a teenager that just received the confession from a girl he likes secretly.” Ash remarked in light chuckles.

“I’m just surprised,” Sledge turned his eyesight aside, “But yes, I also like you, so may we get a little…closer?”

“We can, as long as you don’t hide any feeling from me.” The corners of Ash’s mouth raised for a bit, “Oh, and I have something for you.”

 

“Valentine gift? Damn, I haven’t prepared any.”

“I didn’t prepare it myself. Jordan requested me to take it to you.” Ash took out the gift box and handed it to the Scotsman. “I don’t know what’s inside as I’ve not checked it. At least it’s not something that booms, I promise.”

“Let me see,” Sledge undid the ribbons and opened it in a second, retrieved the items from the sea of cushioning peanuts. “There are… Two bars of soap. And a jar of the candle.” He showed the glass jar containing the wax featured a delightful violent-toned colour, with a nicely fitting glass lid.

“I know Jordan likes to DIY based on his chemical knowledge. He also gave me soaps as presents before.” Ash commented, “But candle? What does he think?”

“There’s a letter attached,” Sledge discovered one more thing.

“Show it to me.” Ash requested.

“Of course.”

 

Howdy, Seamus. Several months passed since the first pub night, and I still can’t forget how you impressed us with your, well, muscles. I’ve considered how such an international team would work out, as the cultural difference is not an easy thing to come over with. You know what? Jack even mocked my Texan accent once when we just met each other. Hard to believe, isn’t it? It’s a lucky thing to us that all people in Rainbow have built the relationship over the respect and trust. I’d take that as the effort of your leadership. Primarily, your significant figure in the frontline somewhat makes me feel safer and more stable. I think others would think the same, too.

 

It’s the first time I make things for someone apart from my American teammates. The soap has the scent of cedarwood, bergamot and sandalwood, along with Shea butter, lemon verbena and oats that are all good to your skin. I promise that I won’t be jealous again even if your skin gets even smoother after the shower. Maybe.

 

The candle is specially made for you. I added lavender, patchouli and bay leaf that can be helpful to relax the mood. And a little of thistle. The symbol of your country. I personally don’t like its smell, but I believe you would love it, so I decide to give it a try. You’re free to complain if I made the wrong decision.

 

P.S. Sadly it seems like you’ve already stolen our girl’s heart away, but I can’t oppose it at all. Just promise me that you’ll take care of her well unless you want to end up beaten up by all of us!

 

Jordan

 

“How sweet,” Sledge put the stuff back to the box, “It seems like they already know what’s going on between us.”

“Indeed. All blame your over-protective eye expression to me,” Ash retorted.

“Can’t help that. You’re much smaller than me.” Sledge chuckled.

“I can still knock you down, you know that?” Ash cocked an eyebrow, “Or from now on, I don’t need to do it on my own, but ask Jordan, Miles and Jack to do it for me instead—”

“No!” Sledge shook his head, “I never do anything bad to you, do I?”

“You know I’m just kidding.” Ash gave him another smaller gift box, “And it’s actually my gift to you.”

“Oh my, you have another one for me? I feel so popular!” Sledge unwrapped the box quickly, “Brownies! You made them?” The fudgy, nicely baked chocolate dessert brightened his eyes.

“IQ and Fuze helped me. Can’t do it without them.”

“How does it taste?” Sledge took a cube into his mouth, “Fantastic!” He thumbed up.

“I’m glad that you like it,” Ash scratched her hair, blushing slightly.

“Would you mind if I share them with others?”

I would!” Ash shook her head, “I made them just for you. Moreover, IQ already took some to other teammates.”

“Fine, fine,” Sledge chuckled, “Then let’s share it with each other in our place.”

“Well, I’m curious about the candle’s smell, too. It’s time to go back.”

“Oh, it’s my treat. Don’t worry about paying,” Sledge went up too and took out his wallet.

“I would say I can pay for my own dinner,” Ash nodded, “But if you intend to do so, then why not?”

 

When Sledge drove their way back to the base, “So, where should we try the candle? I don’t feel the recreation room is a good choice. What if it smells awful?” He questioned Ash in a half-joking voice.

“Go to my room.” Ash answered confidently, “At least you can complain and deck Jordan there if it’s really so bad.”

“Is it an invitation for sleeping over, too?” Sledge made a beaming smile before received Ash’s pinching on his arm, “Ouch!”

“Already thinking this way?” Ash gave him an exploratory glance, “Well, it’s a chance to prove yourself, see if on the bed you’re as good as on the fields.”

“Oh, my,” Sledge laughed loudly, “What an exciting night we will have.”

Ash also followed him with softer laughter, until the sound of scattered drops transferred their attention. Suddenly, it became a massive sheet of rain. Sledge turned on the wiper to remove the rainwater from the windshield.

“Okay, let me tell you another truth,” Ash sighed, “I hate rainy days.”

“So, what I think so far is right.” Sledge answered positively, “But I know you’re trying to get used to it.”

“It won’t be a problem to me at all, as here I’m working along with the best in this world.” Ash smiled gently, “Especially you.