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Until dawn

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Chapter 1: Prologue.

It wasn't every day that one got to say they had won four world cups in their lives, but from this day on, several American woman would. On this Sunday, July 7th 2019, the US Women's National Soccer Team prepared to enter the stadium of Lyon, with defender Alexandra Krieger as their captain for the first time of her national career for her final national game. The excitement was palpable between the players as they stood forming a line and hearing the roaring of their enthusiastic spectators filling-up the French stadium, making their hearts drum faster. There was, however, a hint of sadness as well, as it was Ali's last game with them, five months before she was set to become Mrs Krieger-Harris.

Her fiancée stood behind her full of pride and a bit of disbelief that they had been allowed to play at the final together. They squeezed each other's hand with discreetly nevertheless, and Ashlyn covertly kissed her shoulder, standing behind her.

“Have fun babe,” said Ashlyn simply.

The goalkeeper wasn't retiring just yet. She expected to play the rest of the NWSL season, where their home team Orlando was still surviving, and then she'd marry the love of her life during the winter and be more than ready to make her return to the National Team in 2020 with the eyes on the Olympics she had never been able to play much in. She was thirsty for a better earned gold, out of any other goalkeeper's shadow.

The past few months, particularly in the beginning of the spring, had been turbulent for the team, as they signed a long formal complaint to the American Federation complaining about their coach Jill Ellis, after far too many players had been injured due to her reckless way of moving them around all the time and having they play in wrong positions. The latest player to come down with an injury had been Alyssa Naeher, with an ACL in the beginning of the year with which she had said goodbye to the Olympics. So far, Ashlyn was doing very well as the National goalkeeper, with Adrianna French as the main substitute, but it still pissed everyone off to see their friends come down with injuries time after time after absurd rotations and overuse, when there were plenty of subs available.

Therefore, Jill Ellis had been, several months back, fired and in exchange they had gotten April Heinrichs to come back, at least for the remaining of this year, to save the World Cup, and then they'd see what happened next year, because she did have a major job outside the coaching position. The team had been refreshed and excited to have Heinrichs back, as she had been such a great coach in the past,and was a legend for them. They had subsequently played their best of the last few years.

The players lined up, but before any hymn was to be heard, the speaker announced a moment to honour Ali, as she was retiring from the national team. She knew she'd miss out on the Olympics, but she'd had one already and didn't need anything else. Now, her focus was on her future family. Because of the nature of the competition, that would be followed by the awarding ceremony, everything honouring Ali would happen before the game, and afterwards she'd celebrate with her mates before quietly leaving the stadium.

Ashlyn held a big bouquet of flowers and smiled as she saw Ali walk over to stand next to her framed National jersey for photographs, going over to give her the bouquet. As Ali thanked her with a grin, her family was, as it was routine, brought over, and Kyle Krieger run to hug her sister.

“Congratulations honey,” said Debbie, hugging her daughter Ali and kissing her cheek. The unusual part of the situation was that Ashlyn was Ali's fiancée, and therefore stood by her soon to be wife with an arm firmly wrapped about her and looking at her full of pride as the photographs were taken, both in their uniforms.

Ashlyn and Ali both benefited from the hugs Ken, Debbie and Kyle gave them, and even legend Mia Hamm appeared to hug Ali and give her some words of advice. Visibly emotional, Ali accepted the microphone she was handed for a few words as her family stepped aside for a little.

“What a legend,” Kyle whispered to Ashlyn with tears in his eyes as he put an arm around her waist. Ashlyn nodded, herself having a hard time to cope, as the stadium calmed itself to listen to Ali, and numerous photographs of her and big posters with her name or number were visible all around the stadium.

“I'll be quick,” Ali promised into the microphone, rubbing her eyes. “No matter the result today, I'm bringing the best cup home. This team has given me everything; friends, sisters, my wife,” and she smiled at Ashlyn with watery eyes, “and a backpack full of memories and lessons. Thank you for that, you guys are the best,” she looked at her teammates, and then at all the fans. “And thank each of you for all the support all over the years, through the injuries and everything else, it has been invaluable. It has been an honour to represent each and every one of you all these years.” there was a round of applause and Ali rubbed her eyes again. “I'll carry all these years for me forever, but now it's time we play having the most fun we can, because if you enjoy it, it will show in the results. As for myself, today I'll play as Krieger-Harris, because that's going to be my most important team and greatest honour from now on. Thank you again for the ride guys, see you during the next stage!”

Ali sniffled during the big applause that followed and gave the microphone back before Ashlyn and her returned to their team and the family went back to the terraces or stands.

The match started, and it was very intense. The US was playing against Brazil, so the game was going to be very intense, but Ali was happy, because she had many friends in the Brazilian team to accompany her during the last game. It really went by in a blur, and before she realized, it was the end and the US had won. Ali stood in shock with her hands on her mouth and her eyes glued to the loud fans, who stood up in a sea of blue, red and white.

“We won!” she heard Ashlyn shouting. “WE'RE WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS AGAIN!”

Suddenly, Ashlyn had flung her up in the air and was spinning and laughing, and Ali laughed and put her hands on her shoulders spinning and spinning until Ashlyn put her down on the ground and, without caring about anyone watching or anything else, kissed her full of enthusiasm for the first time in public. It was a passionate kiss, and it seemed to make everything louder around them, and soon all their teammates were throwing themselves onto them for a group hug.

They were the happiest.

. . .

It was all lips, heat, moans and kisses, arms all over each other, as they rolled over in bed after the highlight of the night. They had been in the small motel room for hours now, disappearing from their hotel where they were with the rest of the team in the middle of the night, and now they smiled tiredly at each other, Ali cupping Ashlyn's face as she hovered over her feeling like the happiest person in the world.

“We should go,” Ali whispered, breathless.

“We'll be home soon to celebrate further,” Ashlyn agreed, nodding, and raised her head for one kiss more. “Quick shower?”

At half past four, they were walking quietly and discreetly into the team hotel, murmuring 'Salut!' to the French employees before getting into the lift. One last kiss and they walked into opposite directions of a long, carpeted corridor, each into their respective room, shared with a sleeping teammate. They both knew this wasn't too professional of them, but Ali was no longer in the National Team, so what?

And besides, no one had to know.



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: The wedding.

To think that they had been engaged for over fifteen months was incredible, but to think this had been the best year of their lives and they hadn't even gotten to the best part yet, was unbelievable. Ali Krieger had, along with her fiancée won the World Cup 2019 while their families cheered like mad in the French stadium, they had celebrated together winning the National Women's Soccer League in Autumn, and now, they prepared to get married.

It was December 20th 2019, and the wedding was planned to be outstanding. They were using a Key Lago Lighthouse Beach wedding venue, and had chosen the package of Coral Beach. At first, they had refused a beach wedding, thinking that, due to Ashlyn's origins, it'd be too expected and unsurprising. But when they had seen this beach, the hotel accommodations to be there with their guests for four days partying, and had seen how beautiful and well-organized it all was, they were sold.

“May I?” Kyle had knocked on Ashlyn's bedroom door on the morning of the wedding. He was fully dressed with his best man suit, dark grey with a light grey waistcoat and a dark blue tie, white flowers on the lapel. He was more elegant than, he thought, ever before in his life, and probably the happiest he had ever been.

“Kyle, sure,” Ashlyn smiled warmly at him. She was fully dressed in her black suit with a light grey waistcoat and dark blue tie, and looked hot.

She had first thought of brushing her hair, that she had kept short but long enough to cover her ears the whole year, with some highlights, back and put on some hair spray, but then had ultimately decided against it. Ali loved when her hair was a bit of a mess, and it was the beach, so suddenly she felt like letting it fall naturally and a bit messy. She only brushed it with water so it looked a bit more elegant.

“You look chilled.”

As always, Ashlyn was calmness personified. She sat on the verge of her bed, in the neat room, staring at the ocean through the window.

“I feel pretty calm,” she admitted as he sat by her side.

“Where's Chris?”

Chris Harris, Ashlyn's big brother, was the other best man and was supposed to be there helping Ashlyn get ready.

“I told him to go keep things in order and attend the guests, coordinate things. There is a lot to do and I am fine and ready. How's Ali?” she added, looking at Kyle.

“Sexy as hell,” Kyle giggled, and Ashlyn chuckled happily.

“I'm sure!”

“But it's a mess in her room, all the bridesmaids and Ali screaming and giggling with excitement, I couldn't withstand so much noise for long.”

“Oh, we left a bunch of princesses alone, that's bound to get crazy,” Ashlyn half smiled and elbowed him gently. “You all right? I know it must be hard to be around so many drunk people for all these four days, and today is just going to get worse...”

Kyle was an ex-alcoholic. He hadn't drank a drop in years, and he vowed not to, for Ali, so they had made sure the bar was full of plenty of non-alcoholic cocktails and beverages. It was touching for Kyle, however, to see Ashlyn worry about him even when this was her big day, the day she had been waiting for, for nine years. But of course that was Ashlyn; loving, caring, always putting everyone else first, and that's why he was so happy and calm seeing her marry his sister.

“I'm fine, thank you. You don't worry about me, just enjoy, soak in this day.”

“That's what I'm doing,” Ashlyn nodded, looking around. “That's why I sent everyone away. I wanted a moment for myself to just... be present. Enjoy every moment, burn all of this in my memory.”

“Oh, I'm sorry, I'll let you...”

“No, no,” she put a hand on his knee. “It's all right. Kyle... do you think I'll be able to make Ali the happiest for the rest of our lives?”

The man blinked at her several times, surprised.

“You've done it for nine years,” he said simply. “It comes effortless for you. She just looks at you and bam, she's the happiest. I don't see why she wouldn't feel the same way for her entire life. She's so in love.” Ashlyn smiled.

“I know, it's silly... I was just thinking how all of our parents divorced, and I don't want us to end like that. Soon, there'll be no more soccer and... I know that can change us. I know we will have to figure out ourselves once again, and she may not like who I become or...”

“Nonsense. Your parents divorced because life was really bad for a while, none of them was okay and it hurt the relationship. My parents divorced because they weren't the best match. You and my sister are the best match. You have been through enough ups and downs together, including surgeries, funerals, weddings, family drama, soccer drama, injuries, homophobia... to know that you can withstand all of that and more and be all right. You've sometimes broken-up and gotten back together because it's what was meant to be. Because you knew life didn't make as much sense without the other. I don't know anyone who should be together more than you two.”

“Thanks, Kyle,” she smiled at him and nodded, checking her watch. “So maybe I should go get married...”

. . .

From her position, Ashlyn could see the Atlantic Ocean open wide in front of her, the wedding officiant, the bridesmaids and best men at each side of her, and then turning around she saw lines of seats full of their guests, the entire USWNT of the past decade, friends from all over the world, Orlando Pride team-mates, friends from outside of soccer, their families, old school friends and teachers... everyone looked happy and excited, and her parents in the front row had never looked more cheerful. The music started and everyone got up and looked back between the palm trees, and Ashlyn's heart stopped.

Ali walked towards her as if she was floating in her beautiful white dress. Her hair was a mane of waves and curls, her make-up simple, her hand on her father's arms, a bouquet of flowers in her other hand. She was grinning big, her eyes fixed on hers, and Ashlyn felt her lips move into a smile so big her face hurt, and her eyes felt damp all of the sudden.

“What a princess,” Ashlyn murmured, shaking her head in disbelief. The minute Ali was close enough, she took her hands, as the bouquet of flowers was taken by a bridesmaid, and chuckled kissing her cheek. “You are a vision.”

“You look so hot,” Ali whispered nervously with a chuckle, blushing. “I love you so much baby.”

“I love you too.”

It was a fresh beach day in December. So close to the Bahamas, it wasn't really cold, just fresh and perfect, with an ocean breeze filling their nostrils with ocean smell, and the kids who had walked with Ali, throwing flowers, ran to their parents and sat down. Ashlyn saw her nephew Jenson and her niece Raya make it to their parents in a rush, and focused on Ali and the officiant as her hand intertwined with Ali's between them.

She suddenly thought of her teenage years; of the drugs, the poverty, the family drama, the depression, how horrible her family had been, and felt a knot in her throat as her eyes dampened more. Look how better things have gotten. Look at you. She was happy. Happier than she ever thought she'd be, and it was all thanks to those tiger eyes and wonderful personality. It was thanks to her warrior princess, who stood grinning, her eyes unusually bright as well, nervous sniggering coming out at times. Their dog, Logan, was firmly held with her leash by Uncle Kyle, who was positively holding back crying.

“I, Alexandra Blaire Krieger, take you, Ashlyn Michelle Harris, as my wife, and I promise to love you every day, for the rest of our lives, come what may,” Ali was saying, taking her hands. Ashlyn bit her lip to keep herself from crying and smiled. “I will always be there for you, in sickness and in health, in richness and poverty, and I will love you and care for you, encourage you and protect you, no matter what, we'll be team-mates in life forever.”

Ashlyn gulped to control her voice and cleared her throat before speaking.

“I, Ashlyn Michelle Harris, take you, Alexandra Blaire Krieger, to be my wife. I promise I will always be your best team-mate, your right-hand, and everything you need me to be. There is no storm,” she took a deep breath to calm herself again, and saw Ali's lip quiver as she smiled bigger, “no injury, no challenge, that can keep me away from you, because I love you, and I don't ever want to leave your side for the rest of my lives. I don't care about how much money we have, about your baggage, about our future problems — you are my wife, you have been my wife for years, and there is no way I'll ever stop trying to make you the happiest person alive. No one will take that from us. Ours is a wave worth fighting to stay on top of.”

Rings were exchanged and Ashlyn stared at her ringed hands in disbelief before chuckling at Ali, knowing her dimples would be showing off.

“It is my honour to present you for the first time ever, Mrs and Mrs Krieger-Harris!” the officiant said, and Ali cupped her face with her soft hands and kissed her.

Ashlyn kissed back enthusiastically, wrapping her arms around her and smiling against her lips. At last!



 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: The honeymoon.

Jesus Christ...”

“That's not my name.”

“Smooth,” Ashlyn chuckled, turning to kiss her wife in bed. “Everything aches...!”

“Best ache?” the Virginia native inquired, stretching her right arm to wrap around her wife's hips, kissing her again as she hovered over her. They were both nude, in their hotel room in Eka Hotel in Nairobi, after a very intense night as their first of married couple.

“Oh, the best definitely...”

Smiling against each other's lips, they wrapped their arms around each other, ready to begin again, until Ashlyn's stomach growled as if there was a living being inside, and Ali broke into laughter, pulling away, while the other blushed and smiled apologetically.

“Let's go get some calories in you!”

They had lunch in bikini, sitting on the tables around the swimming pool in the patio the hotel had, alternating with baths even though one isn't supposed to swim during the digestion. Then they went back to their bedroom, after half an hour tanning, to rest a little further, feeling hungover.

They had married before noon on December 20th, partied hard all day until eight in the evening, when they had finally gone to take their flight to Nairobi, and fourteen hours later had arrived in Dubai, at ten in the morning, exhausted. And then they had taken another flight and at three PM on December 21st they were in Nairobi, finally. They had eaten and dropped asleep on the bed, barely getting to text their families they were at their destination, safe. But between going to sleep so early, the exhaustion from the wedding and the trip, and the time change, as Nairobi was seven hours ahead, they had slept until midnight, when they had unexpectedly woken-up and had sex and alcohol until they had woken up at almost lunch time.

While Ali finally phoned her overexcited brother, who was staying in Miami with Debbie, their mother, for a few days, Ashlyn opened her laptop and, with a smug smirk, googled herself. She prided herself on her humbleness, and she really didn't have much ego, but wanting to scream their love loud and proud after nine years hiding it, they had sold their wedding story to People Magazine, just like their engagement. A photographer from People had been allowed to take photographs all day, they had gotten VIP insight to the wedding, and Kyle's friend had made a film of it that Kyle would publish in his Youtube channel as a thank you to all the fans who had been a part of Krashlyn for 9 years had and respected them, supported them, encouraged them, and sent all sorts of gifs all those years, never judging them or pressuring them. Ashlyn and Ali had thought that that way, they'd somehow feel they had been at their wedding as well.

'Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger become team-mates for life!'

Ashlyn clicked on the People article and it opened in front of her eyes. She read it jumping some paragraphs.

'After nine years of relationship, Orlando Pride's and USWNT's defender and Olympian Ali Krieger, and Pride's captain and goalkeeper, Olympian and USWNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris have finally tied the knot during what was the most romantic beach wedding in Florida yesterday morning. This is just the end to a remarkable year becoming once again World Cup Champions and NWSL winners.

[…]

The now wives were accompanied by their families, Harris' parents Mike and Tammye, with her older brother Chris as one of the best men, and Krieger's parents Ken and Debbie, along Ken's second wife and step-sons, and older brother youtuber Kyle Krieger, who was another best men, and numerous extended family, plus friends. The guest list was also very long, including dozens of football stars such as Alex Morgan, the Dwyers, Abby Wambach, Heather O'Reilly, Whitney Engen, or Niki Cross, including MSL players, and non-football friends from both hometowns of Dumfries, Virginia, and Satellite Beach, Florida.

Today's the best day of my life,” stated Harris in exclusive to People during the wedding reception. “I can't believe we're married. She's the love of my life, I'm so happy!”

My brother Kyle is going to publish a film of the wedding his friend's filming right now,” announced Krieger, glass of champagne in hand, during a short interview during the party. “The reason we want to be so loud about the wedding now, and share it so much, is not out of ego or bragging, but because we've hidden it so long, and it has been so difficult, always keeping an eye to make sure no one of all these people would publish photographs or videos in which we looked too affectionate with each other, always judging whether we were being too close in public, that now we want to scream it at the top of our lungs, because we're so happy. And we want to give the fans, all of those who were always there, cheering, supporting, no matter if we were injured, in Germany, in Sweden, here... they were always there, without judging or pressuring, knowing we were together and cheering out for us, encouraging us to come out and be ourselves, we want to give them this video and the photos, share our happiness with them in exchange, because if they hadn't been so supportive, we would've never dared to be public, to do such simple things such as holding hands in public, which we were so afraid of doing... I think I wouldn't have minded losing my job as much as I would've minded if everyone gave us hate for being together, because I love her so much, and I can't think why that would be wrong. I hope we're being so loud and public about the wedding today, and these days, that everyone in the world sees this is normal, and gays can be so happy too... and that more people dare to hold the hand of the ones they love in public. For us, just being able to be there for the other, and hold her hand if she gets injured on the field, without worrying what will people say just because I caress her cheek or something... that's already giant. You all don't know how much it all means to us. So this is our thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. Enjoy the video and the photos, and hopefully you'll feel like you were here as well, because this wouldn't be happening without you.”

What happens in the honeymoon will, however, be kept more privately.

'We're being quite mysterious about that,” Harris laughed talking to People. “But only because we want to surprise with the photographs... All I can say is, we'll be in the other side of the ocean for a little over a fortnight, because it takes so long to come and go... and that we will be somewhere none of us has ever been before, so we're both very excited. We wanted something completely different; we live right by the beach, have the beach life, marry in the beach, and then go to big cities a lot for many things, and have family there... so we wanted something completely different, unknown and adventurous. A complete change and a lot of magic. We'll be posting on IG for sure!'

Even though the couple sold their story to People, it was with clear purposes of making things easier for the LGBTQ+ community. They wanted to be loud and proud, and show them it was okay to marry and live the same lives as their straight friends. It doesn't mean one has to stop having a private life, but they knew if they weren't truly loud about it, it wouldn't reach their community.

An intimate wedding in the mountains was also thought of,” Ali Krieger told us months before the wedding. “We thought of being really quiet, and then coming from the honeymoon and surprising everybody with a photo of our rings online... but it felt like we were hiding again, and although we're both very private people, and will probably continue to be very private when the thrill of the wedding passes... we thought, 'just this once', you know? Let's show those gay children out there, who live afraid of being shot in a night club or being kicked out by their parents, let's show them this could easily be their future. Let's do that for them.”

And when the little Pride babies come, we will show them a little as well, because when you're so happy you can't help but want to scream it...” Ashlyn Harris added then, nodding to her then fiancée. “But for the rest, we intend to stay private, but without fighting to hide anything. If we want to hold hands in the street, we will, and if we go to a friend's wedding and there are photos of us dancing, and they go online, we won't be asking for them to be taken down. That's the big difference. Seems like little to you, but to us, life is getting way less stressing since we came out, and we have many less worries.”'

Ashlyn took her time to look at all the photographs and smiled to herself, reading the comments of everyone in Twitter and Instagram, all the support, seeing their guests' photographs in the social networks, while Ali continued to speak on the phone with Kyle. Then she saw a photograph on Kyle's IG that called her attention. It was, from left to right, Kyle, Ashlyn, Ali and Chris, arms around each other's at the wedding. The brides were kissing sweetly, and the men were laughing looking at them.

'With my new sister and brother, and my all-time Queen! I have never been SO HAPPY in all my life, still feels surreal and like I might burst of happiness!!! #TheyCantKeepThemselvesFromEachOther.'

Then Ashlyn looked in her phone for any photograph she could post, and found one they had taken after lunch that day, sitting next to each other on one of the hotel sofas, Ali's arm wrapped around her belly with her cheek on her shoulder, staring lovingly at Ashlyn, who had an arm around her and eyes closed, kissing her forehead. Ashlyn had taken the photograph with her other hand, and now she decided to post it in Instagram.

'First day of honeymoon with MY WIFE, feels like my heart's gonna explode! Can you guess where we are? Clue: we're in the coast of a country we have NEVER visited before, and it's a capital city! <3 <3'



 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: African romance.

The night in Tanzania's savannah was loud with animal noises, and Ashlyn and Ali observed the dark sky, with a million stars above them, while lying on the carpeted floor of their tent, in front of a camp fire, holding hands.

“What are you thinking?” whispered Ali at last, glueing her eyes to the beauty next to her.

It was the eighth day in Africa, and they had seen so much and had so much fun and adventure, going back to Florida to play soccer seemed like an alternative reality.

“That this has been the best trip of my life, and I don't know how I'm going to be a soccer player again,” Ashlyn chuckled. “And that my heart feels enormous from how much I love you.”

Ali smiled as they locked eyes and kissed softly. She caressed Ashlyn's jaw as they separated, taking her time to really look at her wife lovingly.

“We've done things right, right?” she asked, her voice low and soft, as if she didn't want to bother the animal life out there.

“We've done everything the best way we could have, love,” Ashlyn reassured her, squeezing her hand. “When this is over, we'll get back with our lives... and we'll have a child or two, and you'll play football for as long as you feel like, and so will I. And no more hiding under the carpet.”

“Doesn't this seem like a dream?” Ali put an arm bent under her head. “I never want to wake-up...”

“We could make this an annual trip,” Ashlyn suggested on a whim, looking at the stars.

“I'd love that!” the other smiled openly. “And we're models now... our life is so different from this.”

“We could do other stuff aside from modelling, that's why we picked that out. You could do PR for Orlando Pride or something, you're great at that. And I could do something in communications as well.”

“You could do design. You're a little artist.”

“Thanks, babe,” Ashlyn smiled at her. “You know what? I'm super relaxed, calmer than I've ever been. And I think it is because I don't care what we do afterwards or what comes, as long as you're here. Like, now that we're married... I know that I already have my main goal, and everything else is just the icing on top of the cake, you know? It'll be fine as long as we're together.” Ali grinned and moved to hover over her, taking her face between her hands and kissing her intensely. “Did I say something right?” she asked between kisses. Ali crinkled her nose and nodded, and the rest was history.

When the honeymoon ended in January, and they had internet once again, as they boarded the long flight back to first Dubai and then Orlando, they decided it was time to announce what the honeymoon had been like. They posted a photograph the photographer had taken in which you could see two black figures that were them both kissing, with the sky orange as the sun fell between the threes and the night came, and then you could see the black figures of typical savannah trees very small in the background.

Ali was the one to post the photograph with a comment: 'Time to head home with the love of my life, my outstanding WIFE, to begin the best adventure yet... I'm going to miss this jaw-dropping honeymoon though. Day 1 Eka hotel in Nairobi, days 2 and 3 Kibo Safari tented camp in Kenya, day 4, lake Naivasha Sopa resort in Kenya, days 5 to 7 Masai Mara Sopa lodge in Kenya, days 8 and 9 Serengeti Kati Kati tented camp in Tanzania, day 10 rhino lodge in Tanzania, days 11 to 14 the sands beach resort in Zanzibar, Tanzania... and the prettiest thing of all was right by my side the whole time <3.'

Ashlyn read over her shoulder and laughed.

“Smooth, Kriegs!”

. . .

Four months later, they were beginning fertility treatments and all that jazz as Ashlyn liked to say, so Ali could get pregnant with their first child. By June and at almost thirty-six, the clock was ticking for her to have children, and she was already thinking this or the next could be her last NWSL. She was enjoying each day as if it was the last, conscious that, if all went well and she got pregnant soon, she wouldn't be playing the final. She hoped that perhaps, if they had a baby around April, she could get back on track quickly enough to play the final the next year and maybe retire right then, but she wasn't sure. Ashlyn, on the other hand, was feeling young and was ready to continue playing for at least two or three more years. She hadn't completely rejected the idea of being pregnant, but with her hip and knee surgeries, and being a goalkeeper (which meant the minute she started fertility treatments she had to stop playing right away, before she got a bad ball to the stomach), she was in no hurry of carrying a person.

“God, I love you so much, you're my favourite ever,” Ashlyn was saying, her lips pressed against dark hair as she snuggled on the sofa for a bit before a game.

“Should I be jealous?” Ali joked, giggling as she observed Ashlyn and their dog Logan, while standing near the sofa, snuggled-up and kissing each other.

“Aw, you know you're our best girl!” the younger woman rushed to her wife and wrapped her arms around her, kissing her. Logan trotted to them and licked Ali's hand.

“All right, all right,” Ali laughed, shaking her head and kissing Ashlyn back. “You two... Come on, we have to kick the Reign's arse.”

Ashlyn drove them in her BMW to the stadium in Orlando, leaving their dog Logan behind in the house. As she drove, there was music in the car and Ali was humming along, her hand flying to Ashlyn's knee. To Ashlyn, it was still a surge of adrenaline to look down and see her wedding band against her own knee, feeling immensely lucky and grateful to have Ali as her wife, to have and to hold, for the rest of their lives, for what hoped would be many, many years.

Once the car was parked and they had thrown their backpacks to their shoulders, the two women interlaced hands and walked inside the stadium, smiling and happily saluting all the employees. They met with Coach Marc Skinner and the rest of the team, and changed into their Pride kits before lining up with the children to enter the stadium, that was roaring.

“I love you, good luck,” Ali said pecking her on the lips quickly as Ashlyn passed her to be the first in the line, next to Seattle Reign's captain Keelin Winters.

“You too,” Ashlyn smiled at her nervously. “Be safe uh?” she gave her a quick hand squeeze, and the doors opened, revealing a packed stadium, all the fans cheering and applauding.

The game was a rough one and in the end, Ashlyn was aching everywhere and wincing as she walked. Her sides hurt from all the jumping and acrobatics she had done, and she knew it was all good, nothing ripped, just muscular exhaustion, and that Ali and the other defenders had done a fantastic job, as they had gotten a clean sheet nevertheless, but it was still bothering her, so she got in the warm shower at the stadium facilities, and tried to see if the warm water did anything to soothe her muscles.

“Any better?” Ali asked when Ashlyn came out of the shower. By then most people had gone, and Ali had had time to shower herself and get dressed, her hair damp in a messy bum.

“Pff,” Ashlyn answered looking tired, and flopped on the bench with her towel, looking for clothes to put on. Even her arms hurt from stretching.

“Get dressed and I'll drive home, all right? We'll flop on the bed in pyjamas and I'll give you a nice full massage,” her wife offered, putting on her wedding an engagement rings, that she kept in the locker during the games, just in case.

“Ah, that sounds lovely, I so love you...” Ali snorted a laugh.

“Yeah, you do.”

Once home, it took Ashlyn five seconds to fall asleep on their bed, while Ali gently massaged her arms, legs, thighs, feet, hands and back, focusing on her neck and shoulders as well. One great thing about being an athlete herself is that she knew perfectly well how to touch delicately without hurting her wife. She caressed her bruises delicately, applied some cream for them, put pressure in her muscles, carefully rubbing over sun-kissed, freckled shoulders, until she too got tired, and let her sleep with Logan, going to make themselves some dinner.

As if called by the smell of steak, about half an hour later Ashlyn came in, looking sleepy and wearing a loose sleeveless t-shirt, and hugged her from behind, kissing her shoulder. Ali smiled and buried her face on her hair for a moment before turning her attention back on the stove.

“Feeling better?” the defender asked caringly.

“Loads,” was her reply. “Oh, that smells so good! You're such a wonderful chef, babe.”

“And you are such a grateful wife,” said Ali full of satisfaction, receiving a kiss on her cheek. “Go set the table and I'll bring this in a minute, love.”

Ashlyn obediently moved away and called Logan to be her little helper. Ali had always thought that being married wouldn't really change their day-to-day more, just give them a whole new range of rights and legal permissions about one another, but she had been wrong. In just six months, she had noticed how they were using pet names more often, as if being able to live their love more freely and openly had also made it blossom in a bigger way between them, and Ashlyn was taking very seriously what she called 'wife duties'. If before she was already the dream girlfriend, now she was the dream wife, being even more attentive to her than usual. She had a feeling that it all was related to the happiness of being married, which had made them feel so well, they were better people in general. Nothing like being reassured you can spend the rest of your life with your best friend without judgement to make you be in a better mood, like they lately were. Bad days affected them way less then usual.

“Here,” Ali put a big plate in front of Ashlyn, giggling at the way the woman's eyes widened and she smiled big at her plate.

“Thank you! Oh, Logan, if only you could enjoy Mummy's food!”

“Who wouldn't want to cook for someone so grateful? Now fill up your stomach well and let's go to bed early, uh? Can't wait for us to snuggle and sleep a little.”

“Of course babe,” Ashlyn leaned to kiss her cheek. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too.”



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: In sickness...

The next day, Ashlyn woke up with a sudden cold. She had started coughing around midnight, waking up in the middle of the night, but when the alarm clock rang, she was sneezing as well, and her head hurt. Ali frowned waking up, and pressed her lips against the freckled forehead.

“You're sick,” she stated. “You've got a bit of a fever. I'll tell Skinner you're staying in bed, see if you can be back to 100% by Portland's match next week, or else you're staying home.”

“Fuck,” Ashlyn coughed and closed her eyes, groaning. She felt so weak and hated it. Ali felt sorry for her and kissed her face, empathizing, as they both hated getting sick or seeing the other get sick. It always made them feel powerless, while they liked to be in control.

“Don't worry, I'll take care of you. Stay here, I'll bring breakfast over. Logan! Take care of Mum!”

It seemed like Ali was only gone two seconds, but when she came back she had a tray full of healthy breakfast, a small bottle of vitamin supplements, and medicine. Ashlyn ate slowly, her breathing hard as her nose was just so full, and Ali helped her. They both took medicine, one in prevention and one to get better, and even though Ali felt terrible leaving her home so sick, she knew someone had to go to work, for the team and for themselves. The fertility treatments were very expensive, and after two months of IVF attempts, someone had to make sure money kept coming into the house, no excuses.

“It's okay babe,” Ashlyn murmured from under the sheets, “I'll sleep the whole time, it'll feel like you were only gone for a second.”

“I'll be back as soon as I can though,” said Ali getting dressed. “Quick training and right back.”

“That's who you are, right back!”

Ali rolled eyes at the silly joke, and smiled, leaning to kiss her forehead.

“Call me if you feel worse, all right? I'll head right back or send someone... maybe Dom is free, or Corey can pop...”

“It's just a cold sweetie, I'm fine. Go have fun and kick some arse.”

“Okay. I love you.”

Like Ashlyn had imagined, she fell asleep right away. Training lasted about five hours, since it also included gym routine, so when she woke up after two hours of sleep, she knew Ali wouldn't be home for a while yet. She felt much better, although her nose was still stuck, but her head didn't hurt anymore, and she decided she needed some air, since the weather was pretty good.

“I should get some more medicine...” Ashlyn murmured to herself, checking the cabinets as she got dressed. “And Mama ran out of her eye drops, she's going to need more or else her eyes will start bothering her, uh? Oh, shit, and it's Uncle Kyle's birthday real soon, we haven't gotten him anything! Fuck, fuck... tissues, I need tissues as well...” she scribbled everything on a piece of paper, checking the fridge to see if anything else was needed, and blowing her nose on tissues at the same time. Logan sat near her on the floor and observed attentively.

Blowing her nose hard, Ashlyn put on her jacket even though it was June, because she felt a little shivery, and pulled her mobile to text Ali.

'Hey I feel better so I'm going to run to the pharmacy get some stuff, and then some grocery shopping. Promise to rest the rest of the day and won't drive :) Btw, Kyle's BD's real soon, have you bought something? I'll be on the look-out for something interesting! Perhaps a new camera? Love ya!'

“All right, Harris, you can do this,” she blew her nose again, and left the house.

She walked slowly, feeling herself shiver a little despite it being a hot summer day, and being the only one wearing a jacket. She walked out of the private residential area in which she lived, and towards the pharmacy, a little far away. Normally she would've driven there, but she knew if she was sneezing and coughing so much, she would be distracted on the wheel and wasn't safe, so she settled with walking slowly and keep blowing her nose every few seconds, until it was all red.

She decided to phone Kyle on her way to the pharmacy.

“Hi bro!” she saluted cheerfully.

“Hi!” Kyle answered excitedly. “You sound a bit off, all good? I saw yesterday's match, hope they weren't too rough!”

“Ugh they were, but no,” Ashlyn turned right into a narrow street between apartment buildings, “I woke up with a sudden cold, it's terrible.” Her voice sounded nasal and she blew her nose strongly.

“Aww, isn't my sis taking care of you?”

“She was, but she's got training and I convinced her to go,” she explained. “So, your birthday is close, when are you finishing those studies in London for the holidays? You could pop by and we'll throw you a party!”

Kyle chuckled, touched.

“I'm in Miami! Got here last night, I'm visiting Mum. I was going to give you a surprise visit!”

“Oh, wait, we can still surprise Ali!” Ashlyn smiled to herself. “Take Deb-Deb and come together, I'll keep the secret.”

“That'd be nice! I'll tell her right now, she's going to be thrilled to see you, it's been so long...”

Ashlyn drifted off the conversation for a moment, as she heard shouting. During her troubled childhood and teenage years, she had witnessed many street fights, many of which had involved her older brother Chris, and she knew perfectly well how that sounded like. She looked around, hearing the sounds of fighting in an adjacent small alley between two apartment blocks.

“Kyle,” she interrupted her brother-in-law. “I'm sorry, I've got to go. I think I'm hearing teens fighting, I should intervene...”

“Oh! Kay, stay careful okay? Be safe! And call the cops if it gets nasty.”

“Well there's a school nearby, I'm sure it's nothing, just kids...”

“Call me when you've fixed it so I know it went well.”

Hanging up, Ashlyn frowned, blew her nose once more, and paid more attention to the noise, trying to determine how many people were there. What during the phone call had sounded like it could be several people now sounded like a woman screaming for mercy, and Ashlyn ran, her heart drumming at the thought that it may have been worse than she had initially thought.

What she saw turning into the corner made her blood freeze. There was a bald men, wide with a small dark goatee, with his dick out and standing proud, punching a woman to the ground and straddling here. Ashlyn acted without thinking.

“HEY!” she shouted. The man looked around and scowled, putting his dick back into his trousers. “GET OFF HER!” shit, what have I done? The man was running to her now, and he pulled out a long pocket knife.

Ashlyn quickly looked around, where there were some trash containers, and next to one there were a couple thick planks in bad shape. She didn't think twice and ran to grab one, flinging it to the man right in time to hit him on the head, hard. He cursed and fell against the container, his knife dropping. His hands flew to the bleeding gash on his head, and Ashlyn decided to try her luck and go for the knife, but he got it faster, and suddenly she felt like a punch on the stomach and she felt as if she couldn't breathe all of the sudden.

“Like that, bitch?” he locked blue eyes against her brown ones, his expression fierce. He had a mole right below his left eye, and grey eyebrows. Ashlyn's mouth opened gasping for air and she looked down, her eyes opening wide as she saw his fist against her stomach, completely soaked in dark blood, the handle of the knife a little visible. He had pushed the knife in as far as it would go. And then, he forcefully pulled the knife out, what made Ashlyn gasp in pain, and fall on her knees. He crutched and pulled her hair with one hand. “I want to see life leave your eyes.” He whispered with a sadistic smile.

She kept opening and closing her eyes, trying to breathe or make a sound, but nothing would come. She felt no pain, and her vision was becoming blurry. Then she felt a second punch to the stomach, and everything went black.



 

Chapter Text

Ali cried. She felt a pain she had never known, as if her heart had been ripped from her chest, and she curled up in a chair in the hospital waiting room, crying so hard she could barely breath, crying harder than she had cried through her injuries, ACL included, and even harder than through any break-up in her life or than when her parents divorced. She wasn't paying a single bit of attention to the voices around her. An hour and a half ago she had received a call from Orlando Regional Medical Centre, the only trauma centre in that part of Florida prepared for the most critical injuries, telling her that her wife was having surgery after a double stabbing. At the hospital, police had informed her that a teenager had called 911 explaining that a man had been about to assault her and rape her on the street, and had hit her badly -for which now she was receiving medical attention as well- and then Ashlyn had arrived and fought him, hitting him with a thick plank, but then she had been stabbed twice. The sixteen-year-old had recognized her because she was a fan of the Orlando Pride, and had made pressure on her bleeding wounds while the attacker had ran away, until the ambulance had picked them up. Luckily, Orlando Health sponsored the Orlando Pride and they had great medical insurances, so at least Ali knew Ashlyn was being truly well taken care of, but half an hour before a nurse had come to update her and ask Ashlyn's blood type, saying she needed a lot of blood, and that her liver and lung had been pierced and she was critically bad.

Since Ali had received the call as she changed with her team-mates in the locker room, everyone had seen her distress and she had told them what had happened, as they saw her shaking in fear and anxiety. Skinner had been informed immediately and had driven Ali to the hospital, and now sat next to her with an arm around her, trying to comfort her, but now that the anxiety had caught up with Ali, she had truly broken-down, as the realization that Ashlyn may not survive dawned in. Sydney sat on her other side, squeezing her hand, and Alex and other team-mates crowded around, everyone looking ashen and full of worry.

“Hey, hey!” Sydney finally stopped her, shaking her roughly from the shoulders so suddenly that she stopped crying, and sniffled looking at her through eyes full of tears. “Ali, that's it, pull yourself together. You need to be a warrior now, honour your name because your wife needs you now more than ever, understood? You have to call her parents, call Chris, get them here now, because if—,” she lost her voice for a moment, her eyes filling with tears, and continued with a lower voice. “If this all ends in hell, they need to be here. Have one last chance to see her, you understand? And if Ash needs blood, they may be compatible donors of anything she may need.”

Ali nodded and took a deep breath, closing her eyes and forcing herself to calm down.

“There you are,” Alex encouraged, kneeling in front of her with a hand on her knee as she kept taking deep breaths. “Good job, that's it, breathe.”

“I need to call Chris, he'll call the others,” Ali said hoarsely, pulling her phone out of her pocket. She rubbed her eyes with a tissue Skinner handed her, and saw Kyle had left her twelve missing calls and several texts of 'call me NOW'. Deciding it could wait, she phoned Chris Harris, Ashlyn's brother, who worked at the airport. “Hi Chris...” she said, taking more deep breaths and trying to sound normal, as Chris answered the call.

“Ali! What a lovely surprise. Are you all right? You sound upset...”

“I am upset,” Ali admitted, her voice quivering. “Oh, Chris, Ashlyn has been stabbed.”

“What? Where are you?”

“Orlando's Regional Medical Centre, level one trauma centre. She's having surgery, and the nurse told me...” she took another deep breath and bit her lip, anguished. “She said Ashlyn may not make it, that we had to be prepared.”

“I'll be right there,” sounded his voice, tight-lipped and serious.

“I haven't called anyone else, I'm here with the girls who were there when I got the call... could you...?”

“I'll call everyone else. Keep calm, I'll be right there Ali.”

The call ended and Ali took a shuddering breath and then phoned Kyle.

“Ali! Where's Ashlyn? Is she okay? She's not picking up her bloody...” Ali frowned.

“Ashlyn was stabbed,” Ali murmured. She heard Kyle hold his breath.

“What?!”

“She— one moment, how did you know something was off?” she gulped, standing up and hugging herself, trying to self-comfort.

“I was talking on the phone with her when she said she heard like a fight, she thought they were kids and wanted to stop their fighting... I thought it was just a school fight, that's how she put it, but I told her to call me afterwards and when she didn't... oh my God Ali, what happened?” he sounded full of anguish.

“A teenager was going to be raped and Ash saved her life and got stabbed in the process. She's fighting for her life, Kyle...” she sobbed out, her voice broken. She could be vulnerable with her brother.

“Fuck, fuck! Listen, I'm in Miami visiting Mum, we'll be right there, text me the address. Are you with someone?”

“Syd, Skinner, Alex and the girls are here,” she sniffled, and felt Crystal Dunn's arm around her. She had come back to the Pride this year, moving to Orlando with her husband. “Chris is coming.”

“Okay, love, try to keep yourself together, we'll be there as soon as possible. She's a warrior, she'll make it, don't you worry...”

Nearing six hours later, Ali sat on the waiting room, Kyle's arms around her as he sat next to her, his cheek pressed against the top of her head. She felt like dead, motionless, no longer crying, and Sydney sat next to her holding her hand tightly. Chris sat with Ashlyn's parents next to them, and Debbie, Ali's mother, was taking care of them, along with other team-mates. Ali had hugged them all, had tried to stay strong for Tammye, Ashlyn's mother, but she felt herself so weak, so when Corey, Ashlyn's cousin, and his parents had arrived, she had left it to them and her mother to care for the Harris family.

“Mrs Harris?” a doctor came in, looking around. Ali stood up right away, reacting out of her zombie state.

“I'm Alexandra Krieger-Harris, Ashlyn's wife,” said Ali, walking to him. “How is my wife?”

“Right,” the doctor looked serious. “Well she's in critical condition, but she's stable, holding-up remarkably well, may I add.” Ali let a breathe of relief out and Tammye came and hugged her.

“Will my daughter be all right?” Tammye asked with teary eyes, and an arm around Ali.

“She's young, healthy, remarkably fit... she's got good odds. We've seen she has the flu, so that makes things a little more difficult, and the next few hours will be key, but we've got her under tight observation in the ICU, and she's in the best place she could be to recover, so she's got the odds in her favour despite it all. The knife with which she was stabbed was, luckily, a pocket knife, so it wasn't as long as others, and it didn't penetrate through. The first stab punctured her right lung, moving right below her ribs, causing internal breathing and for air to enter her chest, so we had to perform surgery to repair the lung, correct the damage, and now she's on oxygen support to help her lung recover, and with a chest tube we'll retire in a few days if all goes well. It was open lung surgery, so she's got a long incision on her right side, aside from the stab wound,” the doctor explained trying to make the information understood for them. “The second stab wound cut her liver, and we had to remove a very insignificant section of it to stop the bleeding, we could do it with laparoscopic surgery so we didn't have to open her up any further. However, there's a big risk of infection due to all that spilled in the abdominal cavity, so she's high on antibiotics and sedatives, and we're also keeping a close eye to that flu, that could make the lung recovery slower. But overall, she's been remarkably lucky. She's made it this far when she could've died hours ago; keep your mind there and stay optimistic.”

Ali pressed her lips together and nodded, rubbing Tammye's back. She couldn't believe this was happening.



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Support team.

The news of Ashlyn's heroic action and disastrous consequence were on the front page of every newspaper and in the opening of every news show that night and again in the morning, when Ali woke up curled in her chair in the ICU, in Ashlyn's cubicle and next to her bed, and Chris showed her the news on his smartphone. Her own phone had been ringing countless times and now Kyle attended her calls and messages for her, answering representatives, agents, family, friends, anyone who came asking. Due to Ashlyn's critical state, Orlando Pride suspended all matches of the month, and the NWSL would reschedule, even if it meant the league ended a little later that year, out of respect for the injured player, who on top of all had risked her life in a heroic action. It was an understatement that the Pride couldn't play properly until they knew for sure that Ashlyn would get better.

There hadn't been changes all night, she just continued to hold onto life. Jamie Tworkowski, old friend of them, came to visit, and so did many others, but only two people were allowed by her bedside, so naturally Ali and the rest of Ashlyn's family filled those seats, in turns, making sure everyone got proper rest and food.

The goalkeeper lied nude under the sheets, with cables and tubes disappearing into the sheets, a tube down her throat, IV's here and there, and machines counting every heart beat. She had looked about to wake-up several times, but had only gotten as far as to slightly opening her eyes, before falling back into Morpheo's arms with a new dose of sedatives.

“It's better if she's sleeping for now,” said a nurse after administrating a stronger dose of sedatives and antibiotics that morning. “That way she can sleep through the worst while her body does all the work, and wake-up only when she's feeling better, won't even know she's so critical.”

“Yeah, that's better,” Ali, who was forced to disinfect her hands every time she entered the room, caressed Ashlyn's cheek lovingly. She looked so pale. Police were like crazy looking for the guy who had tried to kill her.

“She's holding up well, isn't she?” Mike, Ashlyn's father, commented, sitting on the other side of the bed with his daughter's hand between his own.

“She's very strong,” the nurse smiled warmly at them. “The younger they are the more they simply bounce back, sir. She's in way better shape than most patients around here; she's got great odds.”

“Mike...” Ali looked at her father in law as the nurse left. “I just want you to know I won't leave her side. She's my wife and I'll look after her, take the best care of her, every day of my life, no matter what. And I know her, she's going to recover from this just like she always does.”

Mike nodded, serious and tired. He had white hair, and Ashlyn's same round, kind face.

“I know,” he nodded. “I know... we just have to be patient. And if you need anything, Ali... you're my daughter too, all right? We'll look after you as well.” Ali looked touched at him and reached a hand to squeeze his.

“We'll look after each other, that's what family's for.”

The first two days were spent almost entirely at the hospital. Ali was convinced to head home and shower, eat or walk Logan to get some air every now and then, but she tried her best not to leave her wife's side. Every new day that she made it meant she was one step closer to make it out of the hospital, and in the meantime, everyone was coming over, and those who couldn't due to work, were always calling and texting, asking about her. Niki Cross, her wife Molly, Abby Wambach and her wife were some of the first to come, just like Heather O'Really or Christie Rampone, between other retired players.

“Well she's still here, isn't she?” Whitney Engen was saying on the fourth evening at the hospital, as Ashlyn had been moved to a private room and her oxygen tube had been replaced with an oxygen mask, so everyone was visiting in small groups. “That's a good sign.”

Right now, Ashlyn's family had just been convinced by Debbie and Ken, Ali's parents, to go have dinner and go to bed early so they could be here early, and Ali, Kyle, Whitney, Niki, Abby, Chris, Heather, Jamie, Corey and Sydney were the only ones in the room, and that already made it a little crowded. Ashlyn was still heavily medicated and out of it, but sometimes she opened her eyes just a little and looked at them for a moment before closing again, or she convulsed with coughs, as she still had a flu.

“She still has a fever,” Ali said caressing Ashlyn's forehead, brushing the hair away. She wore a hospital gown now, and many of her tattoos were exposed. Everyone was sitting around calmly and quietly, speaking softly and in low voices, to avoid bothering anyone and being kicked out. The friends had just arrived, after Ashlyn's family had been there all day while Ali dealt with home stuff, taking care of mail, taxes and Logan, ensuring their home life was kept intact. She had also had baby-related appointments, but she had missed one and gone this morning to another, as she was still trying to get pregnant, but now thinking of stopping until Ashlyn was all right.

“Come on, she looks better,” said Kyle, optimistic. “For someone who was this close to dying, she looks remarkably well.”

“No idea who did it yet?” Niki asked, frowning lightly.

“The girl Ash saved gave a very thorough description, and they're hoping maybe Ash remembers him as well when she wakes-up, so she can testify. They made a robot portrait and have arrested a man whose DNA matches a drop of blood found on the street where the fight happened as well as the blood on the thick plank Ash hit him with, and he has a forehead cut that matches the one the girl said Ashlyn made him,” said Ali.

“Well when she wakes up, she'll confirm it was that guy, and bye bye,” said Corey. Ashlyn's cousin, who had a very close relationship with her and was only a little older than her, had never looked as serious and worried as these days. His wife had come a couple times to visit, but was mostly caring for their two little children. Corey brushed the back of a finger up and down her tattooed arm affectionately. “When she recovers, I'm giving her a good sermon about in which problems not to get. She should've called 911, what was she thinking?”

“She wasn't,” Chris murmured, shaking his head. “You know how she's always been, if someone provokes a fight, she'll go and break their nose. Like she did to that guy in high school who insulted me once, and she was shorter than metre and a half. She doesn't think, she just... goes and... punches. I'm surprised she was quick of thought enough to use the thick plank instead, or he could've stabbed her more.”

“How's the girl Ash saved?” Niki asked, her eyes going from Ashlyn to Ali, sitting by the bed.

“She's all right,” replied Ali. “She came to show her gratitude, crying and all... told me the guy assaulted her from behind as she went to class, that they fought, and he pinned her to the ground, and that then she heard Ashlyn shout at him to get off her, and the man separated. She said next thing she knew, she couldn't see or hear the man nearby, so she stood up to leave, and that's when she saw Ash on the ground, and recognized her. She only has a slight concussion, so she should be completely fine in a few days. Told me that she's always been a fan of Ash, that she tries to come to all the games, but that now is her hero, that without her, she may have been raped and murdered there or something. And she's not wrong.”

“I didn't know the area was that dangerous...” commented Chris. “Sounds like the Bronx.”

“It isn't,” Ali assured him. “Ash found the one thing that was happening probably in the entire Orlando that day.” In that moment, Ashlyn groaned in her sleep and frowned a little, and Ali leaned forward to kiss her forehead and caress her face. “It's okay baby, it's okay...” she whispered softly, as the goalkeeper ill with the flu coughed hard and frowned deeper. Ali carefully grabbed a tissue from the night stand and moved her oxygen mask away so she could clean her nose a little, quickly. Her face was all hot from the fever and it made her heart ache for her. The patient blinked a couple times, but fell back asleep, her face relaxing once again. “That's my girl...” she kissed her face once more and leaned back, her eyes glued to her face.

“At least she married the right one,” Chris commented giving her a half smile. Ali smiled tiredly in return, appreciative.

“How are your parents doing, Chris?” Jamie asked his friend, ever caring.

“Well...” Chris sighed. “Understandably anxious and worried sick, but with the amount of times my sister and I have gotten into trouble, they're good at dealing with that. Dad's pretty angry though, he's already thinking of which lawyer to get to, in his words, 'kick the bastard's butt' for what he's done to Ash. And grandma doesn't know how bad it is. We decided to make things prettier for her, she's an old woman and might get a heart attack if she knows everything.”

“What does she think that happened?” asked Sydney out of curiosity.

“That she got a little beaten up defending a girl, and that the stabbing is a superficial cut that the news are making worse for morbidity. We'll tell her the truth in a few days, when Ash is out of the woods. Hopefully this flu will vanish quickly. How come you didn't get ill, Ali? God knows you're glued.” He dared to joke, and Kyle snorted a laugh.

“That is surprising,” Kyle admitted, nodding at his sister.

“I don't know, I guess she caught it because after the game the other day, she was exhausted and full of bruises, and probably her immune system went down... I had my vitamins the moment I noticed she was coming down with something, in prevention, and since I haven't gone back to work, I haven't crossed paths with whoever gave it to her, most likely an employee at the stadium or a fan. I don't go around making-out with my wife when she's clearly ill, thank you.” She added with a half smirk, and Chris sniggered. Kyle put an arm around his sister and kissed her shoulder, nuzzling against her.

The support team stayed there until the night fell and everyone except Ali and Chris, who were spending the night, were kicked out. Those were very anxiety-filled and worrying times for all of them, not just because Ali and Ashlyn were their sisters, their closest friends, old friends, daughters, or in-laws, and you would always worry if family got hurt, but also because it had been a stabbing. Those were major words, and they felt powerless, unable to help, and dying to see Ashlyn make it back on one piece.



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: The world is upside down.

She was staring right into beautiful brown, tiger eyes, but the face that accompanied them had an unfamiliar touch, as it was the very first time in about a decade knowing that face, that she had seen it without make-up. Even in the pool she had simply worn water-proof make-up. She blinked several times, and then her eyes closed abruptly as a coughing fit took over her. Only then did she realize that she was wearing an oxygen mask and that every time she coughed, she felt a sharp pain in the lower part of her right ribs. She felt with her hands and felt she was on a bed, lying on her back with the upper part of the bed a little bent upwards so her head and torso weren't completely horizontal. When the coughing stopped and her eyes opened again, she took a couple deep breaths for air and then started hearing voices, as she noticed a hospital room around her, with machines by her bed that sometimes beeped a little.

“Ash? Ashlyn, babe,” her eyes found the tiger ones again, and saw them full of concern. “How are you feeling love?”

“Ali,” Ashlyn croaked, her throat feeling dry. “Water.” Her voice sounded weak and hoarse, but Ali seemed to understand, and a moment later she was retiring her mask and helping her drink from a glass of water with a straw. Sighing in relief as she felt her throat hydrated once again, Ashlyn gave Ali a grateful smile, feeling drowsy and tired, and even with a headache. She raised a hand to rub the sleep out of her face and saw she had a hospital bracelet and a bandage from an IV. “What happened?” she inquired looking at Ali.

“She awake?” a male voice sounded, and suddenly Chris and some of the girls were smiling down at her. “Thank God, you gave us quite the scare sis!” Ashlyn looked confused, and looked back at Ali, who smiled warmly and kissed her forehead.

“You were stabbed, sweetie,” Ali informed her delicately. Ashlyn's eyebrows raised in surprise. “It's been five days. We almost...” she gulped. “Almost lost you.”

“What?” Ashlyn raised her head a little to look around and groaned as the effort made her side and stomach hurt, putting a hand there.

Her parents were in the room, looking worried as well, and Chris put a hand on her shoulder before she could move any further.

“Easy there, Ash,” said Abby Wambach, whom she hadn't seen in a long time.

“I don't understand...” Ashlyn murmured confused, looking at her wife. “Ali...”

“Calm down, okay? It's fine,” Ali sat on the verge of her bed and took her hand in his. “Remember the game against Seattle?” her brain felt slow and it was hard to remember it, but she nodded at last. “Well, afterwards, you got sick with the flu, you still are ill with it. So the next day I had to go to work, and I left you home to rest, but you woke up and saw there were things we needed, and because you felt better, you decided to go and get them yourself. But as you went to the store, you saw a man assault a sixteen-year-old girl to rape her, so you intervened and fought him. She's okay, and the man was arrested, but he managed to stab you twice. One went to your liver, and they had to take out a small portion of it, but it's fine now, it caused a minor infection that has already healed, but the other went to your right lung passing under your ribs, and punctured it... they had to do open lung surgery, and because you were ill with the flu, it's all very delicate, so you have to rest and put on that mask.” She added, putting the oxygen mask back in her face. “You've been very feverish and sleeping the whole time.”

Ashlyn muttered a curse under her breath and puffed, rubbing her face. She felt incredibly self-conscious and vulnerable, and the idea that she had been there for almost a week already, with her entire family and friends so worried, dropping everything and coming quickly scared that she might die, made her hate putting them in that situation. At least that girl was all right, but she didn't remember any of it.

“I don't remember,” Ashlyn admitted at last, opening her eyes. Her voice sounded lower with the mask on, and Ali leaned a bit closer to hear her better. “I only remember phoning Kyle because it's his birthday... shit, today!”

“He doesn't want to celebrate it until you're okay, he just went to get us some coffee,” said Ali with a warm smile. She was always touched when Ashlyn worried about her family, but the fact that she could remember Kyle's birthday given the situation was even more touching. “He's thirty-seven, he's a big boy and can accept the situation.”

“But we didn't gift him anything... I was going to buy him a new vlogging camera...” Ashlyn murmured, bummed, making her visitors laugh.

“What's the laugh about?” Kyle had arrived, giving coffees around, and then noticed Ashlyn was awake. “Ash!” he ran to hug her and covered her face with kisses. “I missed you!”

“Easy!” Ali chuckled, patting her brother's back so he stepped back a little. Ashlyn retired her mask and looked apologetically at her brother-in-law.

“Happy birthday Kyle, sorry about this...”

“Hey, no worries sis! Best gift is seeing you up and talking again, how do you feel?”

“Tremendous headache,” Ashlyn admitted, letting the oxygen mask fall back on her face. “And super tired and done with coughing, but otherwise fine.” She peeked under her gown to see the bandages on the side of her ribs and on her abdomen. “Can we go home?”

“I'm sorry babe, but not until the flu is completely gone, in case it causes complications like a pneumonia,” Ali said squeezing her hand. “Maybe a week or so.”

“A week?” Ashlyn groaned.

“Just like a child,” Mike chuckled, pushing Chris away so he could lean and kiss his daughter. “I can ask the doctor if he can give you something for that headache?”

“No, I think I've had enough meds, my stomach feels like... bit queasy. But thanks anyway Dad. What are you all doing here, don't you have jobs and all? I love seeing you all, but I don't want to keep you from your lives...”

“We're retired, we do whatever,” said Abby.

“And everyone got permits from work without a problem,” added Niki. “Like you'd do any different! It's just a couple weeks, mini vacation.”

“There are also special leaves for when a family member is really bad,” Chris informed her. “And the NWSL has cancelled all the matches for this month. They'll add a month to the NWSL this year.”

“What? Why would they do that?”

“Duh, because of you,” Kyle answered. “We thought you'd die, Ash. So at first the Pride asked for their matches to be postponed because the girls couldn't focus thinking you could die any second, and they were down two players with Ali here, and then the NWSL decided that with how bad things were, it was tactless to pretend everyone continued playing as if nothing had happened.”

Sensing Ashlyn was panicking upon thinking it was her sole fault that the NWSL would have to spend a lot of money into the new plan, and tons of teams were affected, Ali intervened.

“Hey, don't you dare feel guilty, okay?” she said firmly. “This isn't your fault, what you did was heroic, and the NWSL recognizes it. Besides, since you recovered so well and have been doing so much better, it's more than likely that the NWSL decides to continue playing next week or so. Skinner and I have talked and Haley will substitute you, and there are plenty of defenders to cover for me, or they'll ask a loan if necessary. I'm not going back until you're perfectly fine and home.”

“But Ali, you have to play! We had an agreement, you were supposed to be enjoying every match you could this year, especially since it may be your last league...”

“Wait, what?” Kyle looked at Ali, surprised. “You're retiring?”

The room stared at Ali in disbelief and Ashlyn gave her an apologetic expression, not having realized she was about to say too much in time to stop herself.

“I'm not,” Ali clarified. “It's just that with me retiring from the National team after the World Cup, Ashlyn and I made a decision to make the best of it and start planning for a family. We've been doing fertility treatments, and we hoped I'd be pregnant before the NWSL championship, so I'd miss a few games, and I'm not sure whether once we're Mums I'll want to keep playing or do something else. We thought these could be my last few games.”

“Which is why you need to get back on the field, you're the second captain and everything!” Ashlyn stated.

“I'm not going anywhere,” said her wife firmly, in a tone that didn't admit arguing. “When are you going to engrave in your brain that you are my life and not football? If I don't get to play anymore then fine, I don't care.”

“But I do.”

“Well you shouldn't. Babe,” Ali sighed, brushing her wife's hair with one hand, “we've always known football was temporary, I've been ready to stop for long, but I want us to be forever. Our family is my priority, football is just a game, and it'll still be there even if it's not professionally. Besides, look at Syd, I'll probably be playing for the entire first trimester,” she added, chuckling at her friend, “and I'm not even pregnant yet, and for all we know, it may not happen for another year or so.”

“I just don't want you to miss out on things because of me...”

“I'm not. Our life is my favourite match to play, the others can wait,” Ali kissed her cheek lovingly. “And it's not your fault, so don't blame yourself okay?”

“And how is the baby thing going?” asked Tammye, standing next to Debbie. She was dying to have grandchildren, and it didn't seem like unmarried Chris would be giving any soon. “Did you look for donors yet?”

Ashlyn and Ali exchanged a warm look, happy to think of something other than Ashlyn's illness for a while.

“Oh, that whole process is done with,” Ashlyn said. “We're using my eggs, and the sperm of some dude that looked a lot like a Krieger actually, and who's into sports, because those things matter. We're on attempt number three, did you get any news while I...?”

“Didn't happen,” Ali half-shrugged. “We'll go for the fourth, it's okay. We knew it wasn't going to happen right away.”

“Aw, I'm gonna be an uncle!!!” Kyle screamed excitedly, and squeezed Ali in a bone-crushing hug, making them laugh.

And regardless of how awful Ashlyn felt with her health, seeing the siblings so excited and happy made her feel a big wave of pure happiness inside. She couldn't wait for baby Krieger-Harris.



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Good days and bad days.

Everyone who's ever been badly sick, injured or simply having a truly bad time in life, knows that there are bad days and good days. Ashlyn's doctor kept saying that this was all up and downs and that sometimes in order to get better, you had to get a little worse. That was why days later, when Ashlyn had to deal with an internal infection and twice the dose of antibiotics, she tried to stay optimistic nevertheless, thinking that this was the first sign that she was getting better. Perhaps it was like healing a bone, that sometimes you had to break it further in order to heal it properly.

The goalkeeper was hardly conscious of the people coming and going, but she knew her room was never allowed to be too full each time and that everyone was really busy. The doctors had confirmed and assured that she would recover, that the worst, believe it or not, had passed, now that it had been over a week of hospital stay, so the NWSL had been given the green light to continue the matches, and it had been an applauded decision to keep playing. Ali asked for a type of sick leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition, and since she was entitled by law to twelve weeks of those, she decided to use about two or three, minus the one she had already invested, to stay with Ashlyn. But the rest of the Pride had to get out and play, which in the positive side, meant Ashlyn's room was a little quieter, mostly filled by other friends, family, and retired soccer players.

“I think she looks a little better,” Ashlyn heard Heather O'Reilly whisper.

“Yeah, the doctors have been so good,” Tammye Harris commented, her voice also low and soft.

Ashlyn's eyes opened and she sighed of tiredness, moving a hand to rub her face.

“Morning,” Ali's smile could be heard in her voice, and soon she felt a kiss press against her temple. “How are you?”

“Tired,” Ashlyn coughed, and looked around. Heather, Abby Wambach, and Whitney sat between Ali and Ashlyn's parents and Kyle. “What you doing here, HAO? Won't the Courage miss you?” she inquired with a small half smile.

“We just played yesterday, I'll fly back tonight and no problem,” Heather smiled at her. “How's it going uh? Regretting ever smoking a fag?”

“Thoroughly,” Ashlyn snorted a laugh, shaking her head. “I still am not allowed home?” she asked with a hopeful tone, looking at Ali, who gave her a sad smile and shook her head.

“Not yet babe. They won't discharge you unless there's no fever, no infections, and absolutely no need of oxygen support.”

“But the Olympics are right around the corner, I should be training...”

“Ash, love...” Ali sighed. “You won't be playing any more soccer this year, babe. Best chances are you get a comeback for the NWSL final, if the Pride can hold its ground until then, and let me tell you yesterday's match was very, very hard to watch.”

“What?” Ashlyn sat up, pressing a hand against the wound on her sat, frowning. “Come on, the Olympics are a month away, I've trained my butt off to be there, it was going to be the first time I was the starting keeper, April promised. I'm sure if I get released in a few days... it's not like a concussion or an ACL, I can for sure get my lung back in place, and besides, goalkeepers don't have to run for 90 minutes.”

“Ash, why don't you listen to the doctors, uh?” Abby gave her a sympathetic smile. “They did say, in front of me, that you shouldn't play for at least a couple months to make sure your body completely recovers, not to mention you'd have to travel all the way to Tokyo, with the huge time difference, which won't help you recover. If you force it, not only you won't do any favours to the team, but you will also just worsen yourself.”

“Alyssa has been doing very well after her ACL, and Franch's been a good sub,” said Tammye softly. “The US can still win, there's no need for you to force yourself back before you're ready.”

Ashlyn frowned and shook her head, leaning back down and staring into the ceiling. She knew there was no point on complaining with them because they didn't understand. Ali, even though she also saw the 2012 Olympics vanish before her eyes due to her ACL, had had a protagonist place in the USWNT for years, even since she had come back after two years of being ignored by Jill Ellis. Her farewell had been grand, and had so many caps, while Ashlyn didn't have so many caps, and had also seen the 2012 chances, all of them, vanish with a shoulder surgery. Same went for Abby or Heather, both incredibly popular and loved in the USWNT. Whitney was the only one who could understand, because she, like Ashlyn, had been in the shadows, brushed aside, always a second or third plate, if lucky, but it wasn't the same. Whitney hadn't lived what it was to be never developed as a number 2. If things had been done right and Hope Solo hadn't been put as the sole keeper for the USWNT unless she was so injured she definitely couldn't play, for many years, she would've become a solid number 2, and would've acquired more caps so after Solo was kicked out of the team, she would've been prepared to be starting keeper, with Alyssa, younger and less experienced, as her number two. Instead, it seemed like the world had forgotten her, and instead of fixing things, had decided to start anew with Alyssa, skipping her as if she was invisible.

“Hey,” Kyle had leaned forward to talk to her, “I know it's a bummer, but you're only thirty-four. Four years and you'll have another chance, you'll see.”

“I won't, Kyle,” Ashlyn gave him a sad smile and shook her head. “I was barely in the Tar Heels with the two ACLs and the hip, and those should've been my big years, when I was so young. I should've been able to come in strong for the National right then, if I had been healthy, and start getting prepared as Hope's sub. I could've been a formidable sub and started whenever they wanted, but I couldn't invest those years in preparing, because I was busy having a shit luck and having surgery after surgery. Shoulder injury, bye to the 2012 Olympics again. Last time, I didn't even make it to Brazil, and I was perfectly fine and ready. This was my one chance, and now it's gone.”

“Don't be so pessimist, sweetie,” Mike tried to be positive. “Look, you said it yourself, this isn't an ACL, and the new coach sees what you put into the team and wants you there, I bet she'll be more than happy to have you next time.”

“When I'm thirty-eight, Dad?” Ashlyn snorted. “That'd be a first in the USWNT. No, it'll go to Alyssa and Adrianna. And you know what? It's great for them, and they deserve it. They've worked their butts off, and they are two of the best goalkeepers in the world, I'm sick of telling them, not even I would choose me over them in four years. Maybe now, but in four years? Alyssa will have so many caps she'll easily be the next Hope Solo, if not better. And I was never going to play four more years anyway, Ali and I said one, two... maybe three, but I didn't even dream of the next World Cup, that's Alyssa's to get. No, I'm...” she shrugged. “It's over.”

Ashlyn seemed so suddenly depressed she even looked a bit sicker, and the visitors exchanged concerned glances, trying to figure out how to cheer her up a little.

“Ash, at least you're alive,” Whitney attempted. “So what if you don't get a medal in Tokyo? Like that means anything, I don't see Abby's life has been any different for getting it, or Ali's. It's just a prize, not the prize.”

“No offence, Whit,” Ashlyn sighed, closing her eyes. “But when you have to say goodbye to one of your dreams because someone decided it'd be fun to stab you...”

“We're having children,” Ali intervened softly. “At some point, it'll happen. And we're together. And you're alive. I'd say you've got plenty of reasons to feel lucky, Ash.”

“It's not about that,” Ashlyn snapped, glaring at her, “and you bloody know it, Ali! I'm not being a superficial dickhead pissed-off because I'm not going to get an Olympic gold medal, or to participate. It's about being fucking pissed off already, that things always have to be so fucking difficult for me, that I can't even enjoy myself a little for one miserable year, and the only chances I get are at the cost of someone else's misfortune!”

“What are you talking about?”

“I got the World Cup because Alyssa was injured. I got the best opportunities because Hope was kicked out. At no point as one coach ever told me Ash, you're getting this chance because you're the best goalkeeper we have, while Hope has been showered in compliments. I should never have to wish for my friends to have some issue so I can step up for them,” Ashlyn rambled furiously, her eyes damp. She felt so unbelievably frustrated now, so furious, so misunderstood, and so powerless, that, with the help of meds that kept the physical pain away, she couldn't help to explode. “You know what would help? That just for once, things would get easy because I bloody deserve it, not because someone else got unfortunate. I didn't deserve a background of drugs and shit, no offence Mum and Dad, but seriously, I would've been great without the family crap my entire fucking childhood, I didn't deserve to work my butt off to get in Uni so I could do what I dreamed off only to have three major injures and don't play most of the seasons, I didn't deserve being Hope's shadow so many years without barely chances to learn from her incredible talent, like I should've been doing, I didn't deserve to then have to stand being ignored in favour of Alyssa, I didn't deserve being made feel like I was dispensable and invisible, and I shouldn't have to wonder whether last year I got the World Cup because I deserved, or because I was the best of the shitty alternatives. And now this. That's what I'm furious about, not just one fucking medal. An entire life of shit, when at my age, I should be in an entirely different place, I expected to be in an entirely different place, you know? Having children and being with you shouldn't be the only highlight of my life along with last year, Ali! Those things should be the icing on top of a cake, a very well-deserved icing after thirty years of hard work and successes, and instead, you're the only I have, and when I retire, no one's going to call me legend or anything, they'll just be relieved Alyssa doesn't have to alternate with me anymore, I'll have no records, or rewards, or anything! I'll pass by soccer history as if nothing ever happened! Why I even try anything anymore, when we all know how it's going to end?”

The patient closed her damp eyes and clenched her teeth, refusing to cry. They all knew although her feelings were understandable, it was mostly the situation talking. That she wasn't feeling all right, that she had been stabbed and that alone was already traumatic and a lot to deal with, and that when better days came, she'd be way more optimistic, but for now, there was little to do.

Therefore, Ali sat on the verge of her bed and hugged her close, letting her cough and sob softly against her shoulder. It didn't help that crying only made her lung ache, but at least there, in Ali's arms, she felt a little better.



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Night monsters.

No one complained much when the hospital stay grew to sixteen days, because they could all agree that it was a miracle for Ashlyn to still be alive. After the first week, her lung had infected due to the flu, which had almost caused a full-blown pneumonia, which had ultimately been dodged due to the doctors' quick action, treating their patient with top quality medical attention, although the fact that Ashlyn's spirits had gone quite down didn't help her recovery, but after her break-down, she had at least pretended happiness as much as she could, as was trying to cheer up for everyone.

Since Kyle was on holiday and Ashlyn's family had to go back to their own lives, the minute it was clear Ashlyn would go back home soon, he offered to stay at the house and take care of his sister so that everyone else could go back to work without being worried sick the whole time, and that way everyone started heading home after about thirteen days since the attack. This worked nicely for Ashlyn, who felt nauseous just by thinking of having her parents baby her for weeks. She wasn't so stupid to think she didn't need for someone to watch over her either, because she still felt a little under the weather and hadn't slept well in the whole last week in the hospital, and knew she was getting depressive.

“Can't wait to squeeze Logan, I bet she's a giant now,” Ashlyn murmured sitting on the verge of her hospital bed, buttoning up her shirt. It was easier to wear shirts of t-shirts that had frontal buttons, so that Ali could easily open and change her dressings.

“Since when isn't she a giant?” Ali grinned, cupping her face and kissing her on the lips like she had missed doing so much. In just two weeks, Ashlyn had lost up to eight pounds, which was quite a lot, and she was slim and too pale, but at least she hadn't coughed or sneezed in two days, and she was breathing better, and no longer the slight yellow she had been after liver surgery.

“I'm a bit scared of the fans seeing me,” Ashlyn admitted as they separated and she stood up. “Look how boney my face is! They're going to flip and worry...”

“Kyle has been updating them for us, so they know what to expect. Look,” Ali googled in her phone for a moment, and passed it to Ashlyn so she could see Kyle's twitter page. There were several tweets about her, along with his replies to others, but she focused on his own tweets:

'June 12th: As you might've heard, Ash was stabbed today as she confronted a child rapist. She's currently in the ICU after surgery and my sister won't leave her side. We're all in Florida supporting them but please send all your love and prayers and let's hope for the best. Doctors not optimistic.

June 13th: Ash made it this far! Taking turns to be with her in the ICU. She's kept sleeping so she doesn't suffer. Sis asked me to keep you updated for her <3 keep sending positive vibes!

June 16th: Sorry I disappeared a little, things have been a little hectic, but Ashlyn's much better! She's amazing the doctors with her strength, but we're not surprised, always knew she was a tough one! Hopefully she'll be out of the ICU tomorrow for my birthday :)

June 17th: BEST BDAY EVER! Our fav keeper is awake and out of the ICU and first thing she does is worry about my lack of bday party. #Priorities #LoveHer

June 20th: Ash got up from bed for the first time today and flashed me her gorgeous butt when her gown opened a little. How's your day going? ;D

June 22nd: Bit of a set back today as Ashlyn's lung has gotten infected due to the combination of a flu & lung surgery. Feverish but cracking bad jokes nevertheless. We're showering her with love over here!

June 26th: After a few rough days, it finally looks like she will be released from hospital really soon! No fever for two days, barely coughed today, and the infection is GONE! Today she made me watch her wedding video TEN TIMES because she was feeling nostalgic. #Babe

June 27th: Ash will be released TOMORROW! 8 pounds less and with the same colour of a paper sheet, but still the most stunning girl nevertheless, and according to Ali 'America's sexiest patient'. Sis sent me home to pack her a bag 'cause I know mah girl's taste. Accidentally found the lingerie and now I don't know how to look at them in the face again. #AtLeastItWasntADildo #PrayForMyInnocence

June 28th: On my way to pick up the girls! Sis has barely moved from the hospital, but she'll be back on the field THIS WEEK! Guess who gets to babysit?? #PartyWithMyFav'

Ashlyn laughed loudly and shook her head.

“Your brother is just...”

“I know,” Ali grinned, and then Kyle opened the door and smiled happily at the women.

“Car's ready, let's go!”

They exited the hospital through the underground parking to avoid press. Kyle drove, and Ashlyn snuggled against Ali's chest in the back-seat, still a little too tired, enjoying her wife's familiar scent so close.

An hour later, Ashlyn slept on the sofa with Logan while Kyle prepared lunch, and Ali observed them, feeling her heart grow three sizes. She took a photograph of Ashlyn and Logan, because she thought they were just so cute, and updated it into Instagram, that she hadn't used in weeks, to announce the short-haired woman was back home.

'Grateful to be reunited home <3 #OurRock #LoveOfMyLife'

“This is nice,” Ashlyn commented a little later, as the three and Logan accommodated on the garden sofa near the pool to have lunch under the sun, that the younger girl so needed.

“Nothing like having you back home,” Ali grinned, putting an arm around Ashlyn and pressing their lips together. Kyle chuckled and took a photo of them with his mobile. He loved to see them so in love.

But at night, everything was harder. With the house just for them three now, they stayed watching TV on the sofa after dinner and after walking Logan around the house. Ashlyn enjoyed being snuggled between the two Krieger siblings, and even though she was tired, she wasn't looking forward to going to sleep. It wasn't like she was in much pain anymore; her external wounds had healed almost completely, leaving mere scars, and the internal wounds would heal completely in a couple weeks more. She also didn't struggle too much with her breathing. The doctors had told her that the biggest challenge would be training her lungs for the physical effort of playing again, but she was fine if she was just walking or sitting down. But she knew something was off in her mind.

She had nightmares at night, reliving the events, that now, unbeknownst to everyone, she remembered clearly, and when she was awake, she couldn't help thinking of how close it had been, feeling angry that someone in America in 2020 could still go and assault a sixteen-year-old so easily in the street and kill you with a knife, frustrated about how life could've been for Ali if suddenly she was a widow and pregnant, and she felt vulnerable and defenceless all the time. The near-death experience -and as she had recovered the doctor had confessed he hadn't expected her to survive the first night- had made her hyper aware of her weakness, her vulnerability as a human, how dangerous the world was, and how easy it was to never get another chance to tell her wife how much she loved her. And on top of things, she wanted so desperately to make peace with the man who had almost killed her, not to have so much anger and resentment in her heart... but she wasn't sure how she could do that. He had been close to taking her dreams away. Family, children, to hurt the love of her life and their family beyond repair... how could one forgive that? And even when the attack didn't occupy her thoughts, everything that had made her break down in tears days before was still there in her mind, like a disc on repeat mode, never leaving her.

“We should go to bed,” said Ali with a yawn ten minutes after Kyle had already gone to his room. “I have training in the morning.”

“You're right, you need to rest for tomorrow.”

They turned the TV off and headed to their bed, with Logan following suit and joining them on the bed. Even though normally Ashlyn was the big spoon, this time she let herself be hugged and cuddled, because she needed it, and because it seemed like Ali needed to hold her as well.

“I'm so glad you're back,” whispered Ali. “I don't even want to think of what could've happened.” Ashlyn nodded, closing her eyes and squeezing Ali's hand against her sternum.

“I love you Ali,” she said simply.

“I love you too. Goodnight,” a kiss was pressed to the back of the keeper's neck.

“Sweet dreams...”

It took Ashlyn a long time to calm her mind enough to fall asleep, while Ali, sleep-deprived for sixteen days and having slept on chairs for most of that, fell deep asleep almost instantly, even snoring lightly. The goalkeeper stayed there comforted by her warmth for three hours, before she felt like she needed to use the bathroom, and she delicately disentangled herself, although the defender didn't even flinch, too deeply asleep.

After a pee, Ashlyn, who had never smoked in her life, and had only done weed in big parties in her teenage years, as sporadic things, felt a sudden need to smoke, but knew that she couldn't, so she filled herself a good glass of her favourite whisky and walked out to the back garden, guarded by a tall wall covered entirely by bushes and ivy. She felt safe there, even if it was pitch black and once there had been a snake in her property, so she sat on the verge of the pool with her feet in the water. She wore short trousers, so there was no possibility of getting her clothes wet.

Even here, it smelled like the ocean, and it felt calm and quiet. The night was fresh and a gentle breeze messed her hair up a little while she sat in deep thought, and drank her glass.

“What a fucking cliché,” she murmured staring at her glass. “Sad and drinking. Pathetic.” The alcohol relaxed her a little, but not enough for her to feel like sleeping, and she wasn't going to take any sleeping pills one because she wasn't going to mix with alcohol, and two because her stomach was still not the same after two weeks of intense medication, and her liver wasn't appreciating meds too much. It would also not appreciate her first glass of alcohol in over two weeks, but that didn't matter so much.

And suddenly she was crying quietly. She wasn't sure why, but she imagined it had something to do with being simply overwhelmed by so many feelings, emotions, thoughts, memories and sensations, that she couldn't even pick which one bothered her the most. What did come to her mind first, however, was a clear 'I don't want to leave Ali and I'm not ready to die'.



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Unprepared.

For some reason, Ashlyn didn't want anyone to know she had sat on the pool crying and drinking, so she washed the glass and her face, and brushed her teeth before going to bed. Ali was still passed-out and she felt a wave of guilt for her. The poor woman had been in the middle of trying to get pregnant, and had dropped it all to be on a chair for sixteen days, almost never leaving, even when her back hurt, because the idea of being away from Ashlyn when she was so bad felt like torture. Now more than ever, she deserved to be let sleep. Logan was stretched out on the bed as well, and Ali had moved and was sprawled on her back, so Ashlyn carefully slid into her side and rolled to contemplate the face kissed by the moon. She looked so beautiful and calm, and Ashlyn wished more than ever that she could take her pain and ugly memories away. Instead, she settled with kissing her cheek, wrapping an arm around her belly, and closing her eyes in an attempt to fall asleep.

After numerous nightmares that kept waking her with a racing heart every couple hours, the goalkeeper finally got up at six, showered, got dressed, and put on just a little bit of make-up, almost unnoticeable, to conceal the bags under her eyes and the paleness of her face a little. Then, she started preparing what she called 'champions' breakfast' for Ali. She was just finishing the meal when the aforementioned arrived with a big sleepy smile on her face, and still in pyjamas.

“Good morning,” Ali said happily, putting her arms around her and nuzzling into her neck.

“Good morning princess,” Ashlyn smiled and kissed the top of her head. “Did you rest properly?”

“Yeah, I had one nightmare though, but I don't even remember it anymore,” she rubbed her eyes and looked at the food. “Oh, how yummy! Does this mean I'm a champion?”

“A champion, my hero... what aren't you?” Ashlyn moved to kiss her intensely, and Ali moaned into the kiss, dragging her lip between her teeth as they pulled away.

“I hope you also slept well,” Ali murmured, looking at her tired eyes. Ashlyn couldn't lie to her, so she sighed and gave her a sad half-smile. “Oh, really? Not even in your own bed?”

“I lost count of the amount of nightmares,” she admitted, filling-up the plates. “In the positive side, getting up early gives me more time to treat you like you deserve, and I'm going to be here all day, so I have time to rest more.”

“Maybe you should see a therapist or something... you went through something very rough.”

“I'll see our sports psychologist.”

“You need more than that, Ash. Bert does sports, not getting stabbed in an alley.”

“Ali,” Ashlyn sighed, turning the stove off, “please, just... I need to figure this out myself. I promise I'll seek help wherever I think I'm going to find the best one, but it has to come from myself.”

“Okay,” Ali nodded and grabbed her plate. “Thanks for the breakfast. Join me?”

“Start eating, you have to be in training soon. I'll cook myself something and join you.”

Kyle came around while Ashlyn cooked her breakfast, so she cooked him something as well and they joined Ali at the table while the brunette, who had finished eating, was texting on her phone.

“Have you thought of when to come back?” Ali asked Ashlyn. “I know the doctors said quite a few months, but maybe you've spoken more with them...”

“No, but Haley's great, she can do my job, and I'll be at the games supporting,” said Ashlyn, trying to sound happy with the idea. “I'll be back as soon as I can. Doc said I can go back to training gradually next week, starting with doing some jogging without being breathless in ten minutes, and in a couple weeks I can go back to acrobatics training, when the muscle has healed completely. And from then on, it depends... may miss the rest of the season, or play only first halves, or quarters. The Olympics is certainly off the chart, there was no way of convincing the doc.”

“Bye bye championship,” Kyle murmured. Ali gave him a stern look. “Hey, it's fine, you've already won this thing, and people know any losses this year are because a terrible thing happened and is not your fault.”

“What is clear is that for now, Ali's the captain. Orlando will be all right,” Ashlyn gave Ali a confident half smile and a nod, and got up, her plate empty. “I'm going to walk the beast.”

“If you give me a moment I can join you,” Kyle offered, knowing Ali didn't want her to go solo.

“Actually, I'd like to be by myself a little. No offence.”

“Non taken,” Kyle smiled at her. “Have fun with my niece!”

Ali followed her to their bedroom.

“You can't go alone, Logan's a lot of work and you're still recovering.”

“Logan goes to dog training weekly since she was a baby,” Ashlyn said grabbing the leash. “She's a good girl. Easy.”

“But Ash, what if you feel worse and you're alone?”

“Babe,” Ashlyn walked over and put her hands on her shoulders gently, the leash hung over a shoulder, “I know you're scared of the what ifs, and me too, but we can't be scared forever, life goes on and Logan needs me to be able to look after her on my own, because sometimes all she's going to have is her Mummy. And I need my confidence back, okay?”

“Fine,” Ali sighed. “But I don't like this.”

“You get ready for training and go kick some arse,” she kissed her cheek.

“You don't have to fight battles alone, I'm your wife, you should count on—,”

“I am counting on you, but Ali, how do you expect me to explain you the Everest when I don't know it myself? I haven't been left alone in seventeen days, which was necessary in the moment, but now I need time to focus on myself, meditate, and figure out what I need to talk about, how and with whom, because right now I wouldn't even know what to tell you.” Ali nodded and walked past her to get dressed. “Alex, don't you get mad...”

“I'm not mad,” assured Ali. “I'm just... frustrated and angry, you know? I don't want to go to training or play football, I want to be here, with you, and help you figure things out, and I want to rewind time and not go to training when you were ill, so you wouldn't have gone out that day.”

“Then that girl would've been raped and possibly murdered.”

“Or not. Or I would've seen it and called the police, or someone else would've taken care of things, I don't know.”

“Exactly. You don't know, and we will never know,” Ashlyn said gently. “Look, I don't know how we're going to do this, but I know first thing is coming to terms with the fact that things happened like they happened, and there is nothing we can do about that, and stop thinking of what could've happened. It doesn't matter what could have happened, it didn't happen, this happened, so let's take it and go on. And overall, we had a happy ending, everybody's okay and the bad guy is in prison, and you need to go back to your life Ali, because I can't feel like I'm holding people back anymore, or like a baby who needs babysitting. One thing is having Kyle here while he enjoys his holidays, another is having people stop doing what they need to do just to care for me.”

“Is football even worth it, if it's not fun?” Ali wondered out loud, putting on her jeans. “What's the point, if I'm going to be worried?”

“You need to be pushed forward before you're ready Alex, because otherwise you'll just stick in here forever. Try to have fun, okay? For me.”

Ali puffed and nodded.

“For you.”



 

Chapter Text

Later during the same day, she and Kyle were playing FIFA on the Play Station while Ali was back in training.

“I must say is a bit weird to play myself,” Ashlyn commented with a smirk. “You're not doing bad at all!”

“Thank you very much sis!” Kyle chuckled, eyes glued to the screen. It was a good way to get their thoughts out of things.

They played until Ashlyn eventually won by very little, with a goal in the last minute, and then Ashlyn got up to serve them some ice-cream. She wanted a drink, but with Kyle being an ex-alcoholic, she didn't want to tempt him.

“How long has it been since you last checked on your fans?” asked Kyle while staring at his phone screen.

“Weeks.”

“They're bombarding me with questions and stuff,” Kyle commented. “Everyone is so worried about you.”

Ashlyn bit her lip, feeling a little guilty.

“Kyle... do you think it looks like I'm hiding? Honestly.”

Her brother-in-law pursed his lips in deep thought and put his mobile away.

“I think they know you're taking your time, but they expected you to at least tweet or say something. Ali hasn't done it either, and they just let imagination flow and imagine the worst stuff.”

“That's not what I asked...”

“Look, Ash...” Kyle puffed. “I do think you're hiding, but for the best reasons. Because you're not ready, because you don't want them to see you pale and so thin, because you want to protect them and protect your privacy, and that's okay. I'm just saying, maybe you should say something in Twitter at least. Just say you're home and working on yourself. You don't have to apologize nor show yourself...”

She pressed her lips together, her ice-cream untouched, and remembered what she had told Ali about pushing yourself before you were ready. It was like learning to swim, you just had to jump there, and you'd surprise yourself being able to float. You just had to believe in yourself.

“Did you bring your vlogging camera with you?”

After they finished the ice-cream, they cleaned-up, brushed their teeth, and got the video camera ready on top of a tripod, paying attention to where the lights were better and they were most comfortable.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Kyle asked her, unsure.

“Yes,” Ashlyn nodded. “Look,” she showed him her phone, that she had opened to see all the messages from fans she had received in the social networks. There were millions, “look how much support, Kyle. And I'm just here, ignoring them, while they worry and care... I need to get my shit together and be brave. I know they won't judge me, at least not the true fans... And I want to talk about this with them. I know somehow, everyone can relate, right? Perhaps they haven't been stabbed, but look at the Pulse victims, or just people who have felt similarly through very different experiences... I think it'll do me some well to count on them, and they can count on me. These aren't just names on a screen for me... I know there are people there,” she scrolled through her phone, looking at the texts. “Loving, good people, who have also felt like this. People need people.”

“That's right,” Kyle half smiled at her. “Everybody showed up when Luna died, or in the sober anniversaries, and they're so kind... there are always a couple assholes, but I don't even look twice at those. Focus on the good.”

He turned the camera on and sat on the sofa next to Ashlyn.

“Hi everyone!” Kyle said cheerfully. “Look who's here! Tada!” Ashlyn chuckled, shaking her head.

“Hi guys!”

“So as you know I got my holidays and I came from London to see my family and be there after all the drama,” said Kyle lightly. He knew the only way of talking about such tough things was joking around and being silly, “and that means play time with my sister from another mister while Ali's training, right?”

“Right! I just kicked his ass at FIFA,” Ashlyn said cheerfully, and he laughted.

“True, for now...! And then we also thought of making a video talking about what happened.”

“The elephant in the room.”

“Exactly.”

“So uhm...” Ashlyn cleared her throat. “First of all, I just want to say I'm sorry I've been off social networks and all, but to be honest, even now that I'm home, I kind of couldn't figure out... what to say, you know? Like, I'm still coming to terms with things myself, we still have trials and stuff ahead, and I'm taking care of my wife and looking after family who have suffered so much with this as well, and I just...”

“There are just priorities, and family always comes first,” Kyle chimed in, lending a helping hand. “No one's judging.”

“Yeah...” she agreed. “And then I also want to say that I know I don't look my best, so before you comment on it, I'll let you know yes I'm thinner, eight pounds to be precise.”

“She started preparing for the beach ahead of time,” Kyle joked, and she snorted a laugh.

“It's your sister, she's got these abs and makes me self-conscious,” she followed the joke, making him snigger.

“She's got better abs than both of us altogether...” Kyle continued. “But also, you've just been sixteen days in the hospital, hidden from the light of the sun and on a special diet.”

“Yes, that's true,” she nodded. “Where should we start?”

“We could tell them what happened?”

“Right...” Ashlyn nodded. “Well I don't know what any of you have seen on the news or anything, but this is the truth, plain and simple, without decoration. That's why I wanted to make this video and asked for Kyle's help. I have always been very open with my own past, my issues, my mental health... I know depression and anxiety and addiction, and you know I work with To Write Love On Her Arms and am good friends with Jamie Tworkowski, and we help each other constantly. And what we always say, and what he's told me these days, is, we need people, and we need to talk about things. Pretending it didn't happen doesn't make it go away.”

“Stronger together.”

“Exactly. So here it comes. The day after the game against Seattle, I woke up with a sudden flu and Ali and I agreed that it was better for me to stay home before I got worse. The flu is very contagious, and although we thought it could just be a cold back then, we knew it was still not recommended to do a lot of exercise sick and to risk making everybody else sick. So Ali went to training, and I was home alone. Thing is at one point, I went out to do some grocery shopping, and this part I don't remember,” Ashlyn admitted, although in reality she did remember. She was almost completely sure what she saw in her nightmares were her true memories, “but they have told me what happened. I saw a sixteen-year-old girl on the ground in the street, and a man was about to rape her,” she said calmly, keeping her cool, “so I interceded and managed for him to run away, but not without getting stabbed twice.”

“The girl's okay, by the way. He didn't get to rape her, it was just a very close call,” Kyle added, giving her time to work on staying calm.

“Thankfully, yeah. And you know what happened in the hospital, because this one updated you,” said Ashlyn then. “I have two stabbing scars, one of those wounds was also used to remove a small part of my liver that was pierced, and then I have one big scar over here,” she drew a line below her armpit, over the lowest ribs, “from open lung surgery, and a small scar above it from a chest tube. Good thing it didn't ruin my tattoos though.”

“Oh, that's good luck.”

“Yeah!” Ashlyn half smiled, relaxing a little. “But uhm, I was very, very bad at first, because I had lost a bunch of blood, my liver could cause a huge abdominal infection, which could've ended in sepsis and death in a matter of hours, and I couldn't breathe, my right lung had had hair from outside penetrate and blood inside and all... I was a mess, and the risk of a sepsis was huge, like, the doctors were pretty sure it would happen. Add the flu, that makes the risk grow even more and can even form pneumonia.”

“We were told it'd be weird if you made it out of surgery, and extraordinary if you made it to the next day,” Kyle commented. “I genuinely have never seen my sister so hysterical and broken in my whole life.” He said very serious. “But we just kept saying, it's Ashlyn like, she's a brick wall, she has to make it. And here she is, against the odds.” Ashlyn smiled sadly.

“Miraculously,” she agreed with a nod. “All I remember is waking up five days later and just staring into Ali's eyes and thinking 'wow'.” Kyle laughed.

“Staaap!”

“No, seriously!” she snorted a laugh as he giggled. “I was so high on meds, so drowsy, and my brain was like, super slow and funny, and I didn't feel anything, so the only thought I could make out was 'wow'. She still takes my breath away... a little literally in this occasion.” They laughed together.

“Now you have one more thing in common, almost dying,” Kyle commented as the laughter subsided, brushing laughter tears from his eyes with a finger.

“Yeah... God she truly is the love of my fucking life.”

“Cheesy.”

“No, but it's true, and you know after these things you give less of a shit about what people might say or thing, because I was given a second chance at life, not going to waste it, and... after this I truly think, am I wasting my life, am I doing what I truly want? But then I look at Ali and I know I'm so bloody lucky to be her wife. She's the best decision I ever made, and absolutely, and now I say it with more knowledge, the love of my life. That's one thing I'm sure of, if I had died, she would've had my whole heart.”

“You're so cute, and it makes my gay heart so happy...” Kyle and her exchanged a teary smile, looking sweetly at each other.

“And look how fast it could've ended. Widow six months post marriage,” Ashlyn rubbed one eye and took a deep breath. “We truly never think the last kiss will be the last kiss, or the last I love you or anything. I'm so happy at least I'm very vocal about those things and if I had died, I know last I told her was I love you. Because I had texted her that day, telling her I was going out, and I said love you and put a heart emoji. And you were the last person I called.”

“We were talking when you saw them. I did think, when you were in the ICU, what if that's the last we speak of? We were planning for me to come and surprise Ali, I remember that, and then... you were supposed to call me, to let me know the fight you told me were hearing was over with, and you never called. That's when I knew something was really, really wrong.”

They sat in silence for a moment, taking reality in. It felt a little like hearing about 9/11 again. There were many stories alike. Hundreds of people expected to do something, but had never gotten to do it. And you heard these stories from the families about what could've happened, about how it was like until they knew what had occurred, and understood that a tragedy doesn't happen just to the victim, but to those around them who felt the anguish, terror, pain... not for a few hours, but for days and weeks, and had to go on with the feeling forever.

In that moment, they heard the front door open and heard Logan running to it before hearing Ali excitedly greeting her with the baby voice she often used with the dog. A few minutes later she appeared, finding them as they were, sitting in front of the camera. She was dressed in normal clothes, and her hair was loose and still damp from the shower she had taken at the stadium. She leaned to kiss Ashlyn and pointed at the camera.

“Making a video for Kyle's channel?”

“We're using the video for therapeutic purposes, to get us to talk about everything that happened,” Kyle commented. “I can always edit out what ends up feeling too personal. And we're reading and answering comments fans sent me.”

“Oh, so that's why you look so serious,” Ali nodded, looking at them.

“Want to join?” Ashlyn tapped the space on her other side. “It's your perfect opportunity to get me to talk like you wanted.” She said with a wink.

“All right,” Ali sat next to her, putting her hand on her knee. “I'm free for the day anyway.”

“Hi guys, look who's joined us!” Kyle pointed at Ali with his hands, excitedly.

“Hi everyone! It's been a while since I was in one of these,” Ali smiled and waved at the camera, ever the charmer. “So I hear you're talking about the most terrible experience of our lifetime?”

“Wanna share your experience?” Ashlyn offered, pointing at the camera with her hand and putting an arm around her shoulders.

“Okay, well, sorry in advance if I get emotional.”

“That's no problem sis!”

“I think that for me it was less about the event in itself like... we've both visited each other in the hospital a bunch of times, between concussions, ACLs, etc., so we've already lived many times having the other be in the OR and that,” Ali commented. “But... all those times we knew things would go all right and worst it could happen was not getting a full athletic recovery, but we never feared for the other's life I think. And it was the first time I genuinely thought, 'shit, after ten years, this person may genuinely just vanish from my life in the worst of ways.'”

“That's true...” Ashlyn murmured, nodding.

“And it's like, we met in March 2010, and started dating just months later, which most people don't know, when we were twenty-five and twenty-four, and we always sat together everywhere, we chatted a ton, we shared room at times in hotels, we've played together thousands of times in Washington, Tyresso, Orlando... so I'm so used, for ten years, to seen you every day. Even if you weren't my wife, you're still my best friend, the goalkeeper I'm the most used to working with, and even now not hearing you shouting at everybody in the field is odd,” Ali half smiled sadly. “And now you've just become my wife, and we have so many plans together. Krieger-Harris children, Logan, jobs outside soccer, growing old together, and it was absolutely terrifying to even think of the possibility of not just saying goodbye to all of that, but no longer seeing someone who's always been there since I was twenty-five, for a whole decade. The loss would have been tremendous, I would suddenly be a widow five months after coming from our honeymoon, I'd suddenly be living without you in a house we bought and decorated together and that has pieces of you everywhere, I don't even know how...” her lip quivered and Ashlyn squeezed her shoulder, contemplating her sadly. “I don't know how I'd even play soccer again without you. I don't know how to do life without...” she couldn't contain a sniffle, her eyes filled with tears, and she pressed her face against Ashlyn's shoulder, hiding from the camera.

“That's okay,” Ashlyn kissed the top of her head, gulping the know that had formed in her throat. Ali took a heavy breathe soundly and hugged onto her, and Ashlyn simply held her.

“It's normal to get emotional,” said Kyle. “Nothing to feel bad about.”

“It's good that this has happened, because, not just she's getting it all out,” Ashlyn said hugging her wife close as she cried silently into her shoulder. “But it does bring something I've been thinking a lot about, that these huge events affect more everyone around you than you. Because it would've been easy for me to die. It happened very fast, I'm sure, and then I was unconscious, so if I had died I wouldn't have even felt it. It's Ali who would have to deal with it, bury me, tell my heartbroken parents and all. And somehow, I'd be at peace, at least half at peace, because I don't leave things unsaid. I'm always very clear about my feelings and I tell Ali I love her at least a hundred times a day, so I know she would've known all the important things, and that if it turns out I leave this world the first, when we're old and grey, she'll know all that matters, that I love her and our family, and that the years with her have been the best of my life. I wouldn't leave unfinished business, you know? But is the one who stays here who has to deal with all the pain, that may last your whole life. Like 9/11 families.”

Ali separated rubbing her eyes and sniffling a little as she took deep breaths to calm herself, looking away from the camera, and got up for a moment to blow her nose. When she came back, her eyes were a little wet, but she looked better, and she snuggled against Ashlyn.

“You know what I found very shocking though?” Ali commented hoarsely. Ashlyn raised eyebrows inquiringly. “How your family reacted. Because your Dad and brother are always so stoic, and they were still stoic but you could tell they were overwhelmed inside, and they were keeping it together for your Mum and I, and I found it both sweet and hard to watch. I'd rather they cried.”

“I think I've seen my Dad cry... once in life, maybe,” Ashlyn half smiled. “I think we should focus on the positive side of all of this.”

“A rapist is in prison for now,” Kyle nodded.

“Yes, but not just that,” said Ashlyn. “The very first thing I remember was when I woke up, and I saw a room full of people who proved right there how much they care and how loving they are, because they dropped everything and came. Like Whitney, Abby, our families, even yours coming all the way from Virginia... and for me the most touching wasn't to see them be there for me, but to see you all take care of each other. I saw your Dad hugging my Mum, I saw your Mum making food for my family, my friends looking after everyone, all of you having each other's backs... and that was beautiful to watch, and comforted me a lot to know that if anything ever happens, my wife is not alone in a hospital waiting room suffering, and neither are my parents or anyone else. That there's going to be a big support team, and that's what matters. That's also the main thing about injuries on the field, not the fact that it hurts and you're injured, but to see who's there with you. Because in my experience, it's very hard to be there for all the good, but not for the bad. In my family we had drugs, alcoholism, depression, and all sorts of things, and a lot of people just vanished... but I think it was a miracle to see dozens of people now, who under the worst of circumstances, didn't go anywhere, but came running to see what they could help. Those who could help with house cleaning or cooking did so, others walked Logan, others cared for the family... it really made my heart feel ten times bigger. Maybe that's why I recovered so well.”

“People need people,” Ali murmured.

They nodded. People need people.



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: On the edge.

The lack of sleep plus her pessimistic thoughts and her anger towards life, started affecting Ashlyn not even a week after being back home from the hospital. She soon became irritable, moody, was yawning all the time, always tired, forgetful, clumsy, and it was difficult to focus. She bought over the counter sleeping medicine, but then she still had nightmares, so she started researching online and found out that people who suffered from PTSD nightmares often benefited from reimagining their dreams, so she started writing down what she wanted to dream every night, and as she was in bed, she would imagine the dream with detail. It was often the same dream, something peaceful and romantic with Ali, but it never worked.

“I'm so tired,” she sobbed one morning, feeling like she was losing her mind over the lack of sleep. She was exhausted to the point of despair, and Ali just held her tightly.

“You need to see a therapist, Ash. This is too much baby.”

Ali decided to call in sick to work, and prepared a warm relaxing herbal tea for Ashlyn, that she took along with sleeping pills. Ali tucked her in bed and lied there holding her. The minute she felt there was a nightmare, she tried to soothe her so she wouldn't wake-up. It worked, but she knew if the sleep was restless it'll be worthless. And still, it was better than nothing, she supposed.

In the morning, Kyle went to take Logan running and doing some exercise, and Ali sat on the sofa with her laptop on her knees, browsing for any information that might help Ashlyn. The younger woman emerged from the bedroom two hours later, looking tired, and flopped on the sofa next to her wife, snuggling against her and closing her eyes against her shoulder.

“We need to find a solution to this, right now,” said Ali with a gentle voice, kissing the top of her head. “If you don't recover some rest, it's only going to get worse.”

“They can't help me Alex,” Ashlyn murmured against her shoulder. “I already got books from the library and looked online and tried every technique they said. Doesn't work.”

“Perhaps you're not doing them completely right, or they don't work on their own. The only way to know for sure is seeing a professional. Look,” Ali pointed at the screen. “Doctor Jane Scarlett. She's a psychotherapist in Orlando, and she specializes in patients with Post Traumatic Stress-Disorder or PTSD. She's written a dozen self-help books, very popular, and she's studied PTSD for over a decade.”

“I'm not going to waste a ridiculous amount of money in someone that will probably not help, I know how they are...”

“You have no choice but to try this Ash, or I'll put you to sleep on the sofa.”

“What?” Ashlyn looked up at her, separating and furrowing her eyebrows. “Are you going to punish me for—?”

“For refusing help, yes,” Ali nodded, firmly. “Look, Ashlyn, we are married, this is not just your problem, and I refuse to have you get stuck in life just because you're stubborn. Besides, how do you expect us to have children with you in this state?”

“We won't be able to try for the fourth time until July or August, and then we still won't have a baby for nine more months, so...”

“You're wrong,” Ali bit her lip, putting her laptop away.

“Am I?” Ashlyn looked at her, surprised.

“The IVF we did in May worked, Ashlyn,” Ali murmured, and Ashlyn's eyes widened. “I got the embryo in while you were still in the hospital. We'll have a baby early next year.”

“What? But you said it failed.”

“I didn't think saying it in front of our entire families was right,” said Ali, defensive. “You were the first one I wanted to tell, and not when you were in the hospital. I wasn't even sure when they called me, that I wanted to have it put inside me just yet, because you were still unconscious and I thought, what sense does it make? But then I thought... we used your eggs. That baby is a part of you, and even though I wanted to do it with you there, I wasn't sure that would ever happen, and the doctor said that we had to do it quickly anyway, that it was time, so...” she shrugged. “I wanted to have it, even if it was alone, so I'd have a part of you still.” Her eyes were full of tears and Ashlyn sighed, grabbing her hands.

“Who cares if I wasn't there? Ali, you're pregnant,” Ashlyn grinned. “We did it! We're having a baby!” Ali looked at her and smiled, relieved to see she was happy with it.

“We're having a baby!”

“Come here, you silly...” Ashlyn kissed her intensely and hugged her close. They kissed and kissed until they were out of breath, and Ashly put her hand on her belly in disbelief. “I can't believe it! We're going to have a baby.”

“Actually,” Ali chuckled, “we're having babies. They're fraternal twins.”

Ashlyn's eyes widened in shock.

“Twins? How? I thought we only used one!”

“No, remember how, because the two previous times failed, we decided to try using double, see if we got luckier?”

“Oh you're right! And they're both a success?” Ali grinned and nodded.

“I couldn't believe it when they told me, but then I thought, well, who am I to disapprove? It's perfect!” Ashlyn couldn't smile any bigger, and kissed her again.

“All right,” Ashlyn nodded. “I'll go to that doctor. My family deserves the best Mummy there is.” Ali looked at her in absolute glee, and by all answer, just kissed her. “Do we have to keep it in secret for longer?” Ashlyn whispered when they pulled apart.

“Yes,” Ali caressed her lip with her thumb. “But just a couple months more and if there's no miscarriage, then we tell...”

“But how are we going to explain it when you stop playing?”

“I'll play for now, I'll be super careful and risk it less,” said Ali. “And I'll tell Marc to alternate me with another defender so I'm not doing every minute, tell the fans we're working on giving experience to younger players so everyone can improve, for the benefit of the club, and then when we can announce it, I don't mind doing it in big like we announced our engagement.”

Ashlyn grinned, moving a lock of dark hair behind her ear.

“I love you so much, and I can't wait to tell Kyle!”

While Ali showered, Ashlyn phoned Dr Jane Scarlett and spoke with her for a while about her symptoms and everything, so they could see when she could get an appointment. Because she was already in the point in which she hadn't slept in many days and it was becoming an emergency, Dr Scarlett invited her to come right away to her office for a session, even though it wasn't the typical hour in which she attended people, so Ali drove her there, in down-town Orlando.

“Be open, and don't be untrustworthy,” Ali kissed her in the car. “I'll pick you up in an hour.”

“Don't ravish the store baby sections without me,” Ashlyn petitioned, and patted her belly. “See you in a bit little ones!”

Ali chuckled and rolled eyes, and Ashlyn confidently marched into the building.

Doctor Scarlett turned out to be quite a cool person. She was less than a decade older than Ashlyn, and had dark hair with bright blue locks, matching her bright blue eyes. She had a tattooed arm sleeve, which called Ashlyn's attention right away, and was a great listener.

“I just want to sleep again,” Ashlyn said simply, sitting on her comfortable sofa. “My wife needs me. I can't be moody and tired all the time.”

“What you're experiencing is PTSD,” said Jane, as she preferred to be called. “You're describing to me jumpiness, fear, anxiety, stress, and an increasing amount of nightmares. What do you dream with?”

“Well... the dreams are often odd, as if I was drunk, the voices aren't too clear and it feels like everything moves so much. I don't always remember them, and I tell everyone I don't remember them at all, because I don't want to make them feel so powerless seeing me hurt and unable to do anything,” she sighed. “In the dreams, I can never see myself, I'm inside of them, not watching from outside. And I feel in great danger, so I run and run, and in the end either something I can't see causes me enormous pain where I was stabbed and I wake up, or I find someone I love dead in a pool of blood, more often my wife. The most recurrent dream however, is the one that I think is memories of what happened, because it matches what people say that happened. I see a girl being assaulted by a man, I intervene, I fight with a man, but the image moves a lot, is very foggy... and then I hear clearly a man's voice say 'I want to see life leave your eyes'. It's just a whisper, but it's crystal clear. And that's what I dream of the most. Sometimes that sentence will sound in other nightmares, in the background, as well.”

Jane nodded, listening intently, and made some notes in her notebook.

“And how do you feel in those nightmares?”

“Afraid, anxious... my heart is racing, and when I wake up, it's still racing and I'm breathless. Sometimes it causes what my doctor told me it's called ghost pain, when a wound is healed but suddenly hurts.”

“Yes, it can happen,” she nodded. “The reason you're dreaming this, Ashlyn, is because you're brain is trying to assimilate a traumatic event. It brings back the memories, time and time again, and tries to process them and the overwhelming feelings that they caused. It's similar to the therapies in which one recounts time and time again an event until it no longer causes an emotional physical response.”

“Like when someone dies, and at first it hurts so much you can't talk about it without crying, but over time the more you talk about it, the easiest it gets?”

“Exactly. Like all things in life, the more you do them, the easiest it gets. And I think you also may be troubled because in your own kindness, you cannot understand why would anyone do what that man did. I think the sentence you hear is the last you heard him say to you, so you know his intention was to murder you, not to injure you or protect himself. It's human nature to be afraid of the things that we can't understand, or that we associate with bad moments, and what we normally do is confront it. A person who had a car accident may find it hard to drive again, until it's slowly accustomed back into a car, and then can start tagging along with someone else in a drive, until they can finally drive. A child afraid of the monsters under their bed, may benefit from looking and checking for themselves there's nothing to fear.”

“That reminds me,” said Ashlyn. “Years ago, surfing, I encountered a shark. At first, I couldn't get in the water for weeks... but then I started watching everything on sharks and reading about them, until I understood I didn't have to fear them, that they were just half-blind and thought I was a seal. And I could surf again, I'm even obsessed about sharks now. How would I do that in this situation?”

“First, you go back to the place where it all happened, and see it's just a place, with nothing inherently dangerous. It's not a concentration camp, it's not a pool full of piranhas, it's just a street. You can break it into smaller things easier to process like, this is just ground, this is just a wall, this is just trash. You can do the same with knives, if you're wary around them. You observe them. This is just a piece of wood making a handle, and this is just a cutting surface just like a shaving razor, and it's not dangerous in itself. It cannot move without you, and it's your decision what happens with it.”

“That shouldn't be too hard.”

“Work on it for a few weeks. We'll eventually deal with the fear to being attacked, to uncontrollable events that may be life-threatening, but we start by small things and go on baby steps. At some point, I'd also advice you met your attacker.”

“I'm supposed to see him and try to identify him this week,” Ashlyn murmured, unsure. “There will be trials and all.”

“Every time you see him then, you need to remind yourself he's just a person, nothing else, no different than you, me or a baby. Break him in simple pieces. These are just hands, just eyes, just hair. None of those things can hurt you. And when you can finally talk to him, visiting in prison or something, you can attempt to get him to explain himself. In any case, doesn't matter if you talk or not, every time you see him you should tell yourself how what he did came out of hate, was a hate product, no different than the hate you may feel for him or something else. We all feel hate, it's a human emotion, and he just lost control of it. You don't excuse it, but this way you understand it has nothing to do with the fact that it was you. It wasn't that he wanted to kill you, he wanted to hurt someone, probably because he was feeling a lot of negative things, perhaps because his own life was rough. Maybe there you can find a way to empathize with him, and see him as nothing more than a big example of the worst of humankind, and move on.”

Finding the psychotherapist's advice helpful, and with a receipt of anti anxiety medication, Ashlyn met up with Ali and Kyle for afternoon ice-cream in the street, as the siblings sat at a park watching Logan run like crazy. The smile on her face was the first indicator that it was going well.

“I take you love her?” Kyle asked with an amused expression.

“I think life's about to get better.”



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Just a place.

Encouraged by Jane to pursue creative projects in order to soothe her mind, and after a semi-restful night, Ashlyn decided to start preparing the nursery for the twins, under the excuse, to Kyle, that they were planning to have a baby eventually, and she could use busying herself with the amount of free time she had at hand, so she took measures of the room and carefully drew it down on a big A2 paper sheet. She had bought several, so she used one to draw the room eagle view, and the others to draw each wall from the front.

“I'm going to make the cutest room for my babies,” Ashlyn told Kyle as she sat to draw on the table, under his curious eyes.

“Babies? Are you going for more at once?”

“No, but we want more than one child, so...” she shrugged. “I guess the nursery will be used by all of them, and we'll get them into another room as they grow up. The nursery is small for a teen.”

Kyle laughed and shook his head.

“All right, cute.”

She drew the lines using a permanent pen, so she could draw the things that went on top, such as furniture, with a pencil, and erase easily without erasing the room shape.

“I'm going to have to convince Ali not to do it pink,” said Ashlyn as she drew. “We need a more neutral colour. Oh, I know! We'll find a pale shade of purple, and it'll be a Pride room, uh?”

“Look at this,” Kyle showed her a photo of a nursery on his phone, “two walls are pale purple, looks almost grey, and the other two are the same grey as your living room. That way the room is quite neutral.”

“I love it! I think I could make a white crib...”

“Ashlyn Michelle Harris, didn't know you were such a handywoman!”

“Are you kidding? Most of the house was decorated by yours truly while Ali played for the Spirit. I designed our swimming pool myself, and when I was younger, I was a beast at school crafts. I built my grandma the most perfect bird house before I had even tasted alcohol.”

“And you think you can make a safe crib that won't collapse with your baby inside?”

“I'm sure. I'll get Corey to help me, he's great at these things. Built my nephew and niece's crib from scratch with his Dad.”

“What's so wrong with buying it?”

“Nothing, is just...” Ashlyn shrugged, putting the pencil down for a second. “I'm craving doing things with my hands for this baby, you know? Ali's done so much work, with hormonal injections, and all the attempts, and the appointments, and then carrying nine months... I want to make it harder for me than just going to Walmart. And I want for those kids to grow, look at that crib, and know their Mummy loved them so much she made it from scratch for them.”

“You're such a sweet person, and such a good Mum already...”

“Thanks, Ky. Now come on, you have to help, Uncle.”

The two siblings worked hard until Ali arrived from work. Kyle and her then got on with lunch, and Ashlyn said she was going to go on a small stroll to keep her lung a little active. Ali was still uneasy about letting her go out alone, but under the promise that she'll be back before they had finished lunch, Ashlyn was allowed out without discussion. She took deep breaths time after time as she walked the same route she knew she had walked on the day she got injured. She crossed the same streets using the same crossings, and eventually saw the street where she had almost died about three weeks before.

She stopped in her tracks and took a particularly deep breath, feeling suddenly uneasy. This was the same place she had seen in her dream. Everything was the same, so much that she felt the need to look around and reassure herself no one was around, save for a few kids walking home from school in their uniforms.

“It's just a place, Ash,” she told herself, murmuring. “Look at the ground. Is just grey ground, which is basically sand and gravel put together, and cement... and those things don't stab people to death. And they're just walls, homes of happy families who don't want to kill you. You're safe. Ali's safe. The twins are safe.”

Nodding for herself, Ashlyn walked determined in the same way she often did in her nightmares, walking around the corner to the skip against which she had collided during her fight. She squatted down and touched the ground with her palm.

“It's just ground,” she repeated for herself. “Just ground, Ash. See? It doesn't hurt. No one can hurt you now.”

Suddenly, with the hard light of the sun, she noticed there was a big circular mark on the dark pavement that seemed slightly reddish, and she understood it was her blood, that hadn't completely been erased. It hadn't rained in three weeks, and the cleaning service could only do so much. It was mostly clean, but the reddish tone could be appreciated under the intense sunlight of noon. She lied on the ground, carefully, right in the middle of the circular mark, and put her hands over her scars underneath her t-shirt. She stared at the blue sky and the clouds while breathing deeply.

“Just a place,” she told herself. “Just the alley where I got stabbed so badly I almost died. But look at hospitals, I was saved there, and they see plenty of death. Good and bad things can happen here, and I will fucking get over this right now right here.”

Ashlyn closed her eyes on instinct, and focused on the nightmares. She could see them so clearly in her head, and it took her a moment to realize she wasn't remembering her nightmares, but her actual memories. She could remember clearly what had happened here. The fight, crashing against the skip, punching, and feeling like a punch to the stomach, looking down and seeing the blood, thinking of Ali.

Her eyes opened again and she sat up, looking around. Now, this place looked completely different, she told herself. There was no scared girl on the ground nearby, no aggressive man, no blood and no knives. It was just a place, like Jane had said it would be.

Slowly, she got up and looked around one last time. It wasn't a scary place. It was, if anything, anodyne. It wasn't the alley of scary films, dark and full of graffiti, but a narrow street in a family suburb, clean and nice. There were even a couple trees. And she wasn't about to let one jerk make it an awful place, when it wasn't. She took a photograph of the place with her phone, trying to show its beauty, and turned around.

The stroll home felt relaxed and unhurried. She took her time back home, enjoying the sunlight and competing with herself on how long could she be without looking all around her with anxiety, looking for a murderer. Ten seconds, twenty... she tried to improve her mark every time, make it a game. When she finally reached her doorstep, she had a forty second mark, and allowed herself a self high five.

“I'm home!” Ashlyn happily pet Logan, who always welcomed them as if they had been gone eighty years, and walked over to the kitchen, where the Kriegers were working hard. “Smells good in here! How's my favourite princess?” she wrapped her arms around Ali's hips and kissed her soundly on the cheek from behind.

Ali smirked and leaned back against her.

“Very well, how was that walk?”

“Perfect.”

Once they had lunch, Ali and Kyle sat to watch some TV show they were hyped about and Ashlyn and Logan went into the back garden, where Ashlyn sat to draw. In a few minutes, she had drawn the street she had just visited, and in the middle she wrote, in big letters, 'COURAGE'.

She coloured her drawing in bright, colourful, saturated colours, with bright blues, reds and greens, and finally took a photo of her masterpiece and opened her laptop, moving the photo into it and setting to write an Instagram post. She had an app in her computer that allowed her to use the social network there, which was great, because she hated writing with two thumbs.

'Three weeks ago in this place me and a 16-yo girl almost lost our lives. Since then, this place became no longer a street to me, but hell, where horrible things happened, a place to avoid like the plague, full of negative connotations like a war zone.

Today I decided to go back to it, and strip it off that negative meaning, and I wanted to show you my work in case it helps other people suffering PTSD do the same. For weeks, I've had nightmare after nightmare with this place. It wasn't easy to go back, and even less alone, but I needed to, because I'm just as alone in my nightmares, and I needed to check for myself that it was just a street and nothing more, without needing others to feel safe.

I sat there for a long time until I saw its beauty. I realized it's a perfect spot to look at the sky, that it has two of the prettiest trees I've ever seen, and that you can hear there the laughter of children playing in the houses at each side. It's a good place where bad stuff happened, and I'm a good person who's lived bad stuff.

And it's a place of courage. It's the place where I showed myself how far I can go for a complete stranger's well-being, the place where that young girl found out just how tough she is, the place where the bad guy lost, because not only didn't he get what he wanted, but now two girls are kicking his butt straight into prison.

And it won't scare me again.'



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Feels almost normal.

“Look at that...”

“She's out like a light.”

“Is that drool?”

“Okay, let's go before she wakes up,” Ali shushed her brother with a finger against her lips and walked over to her wife, who slept like the dead on their bed. She didn't even flinch when Ali tucked her in with a blanket. “Sleep well, love.” Ali kissed her forehead, and they left.

When Ashlyn finally emerged from their bedroom, 16h and a whole night of sleep later, Ali and Kyle even applauded as she joined the world of the living in the pool, where they were bathing.

“Sleeping beauty!” Kyle laughed, and Ashlyn half smiled, sleepy.

“It was so good you guys,” Ashlyn unceremoniously took off her t-shirt, her bathing trunks and bathing bra already on, and Ali looked away from her scarred torso as she entered the pool.

Although it had a large area just to lie on the pool floor and be fresh in the hot days, there was also an area that had two and a half metres of depth, where Ali and Kyle lounged. Ashlyn swam to them and wrapped her arms around her wife, kissing her before nuzzling into her neck.

“Feeling better?” Ali grinned happily, burying her fingers in the short hair.

“It was better than shark week Ali.”

“Oh that must be really awesome then!”

The three and Logan played on the pool for a long time before deciding to go out and join Sydney, Alex, Crystal, and Alana Kennedy for a dinner at the beach. Alex would be bringing her dog Blue and they'd bring Logan, and Sydney was leaving her young children with their Daddy for one night, so it was a much needed girls' night plus Kyle.

“It's going to be so hard not to tell them,” Ashlyn chuckled at Ali as they both got ready in their bathroom, and she cupped Ali's belly with one big goalkeeper hand.

“Just two months,” Ali pecked her lips. “Let's party!”

First thing the group did once they arrived to the beach was make a bonfire. It took its time, but it was so fun to make and they all had a laugh, working on it while catching up.

“So how's the baby making going?” Alana asked as they ate pasta salad, because it didn't require warming-up, and they sat on the sand by the fire cuddled with blankets.

“Well, so far we've stopped using condoms,” Ali joked, making them all laugh. “'Kay but for real, we're waiting for the right time for fourth attempt.”

“What procedure are you using, IUI?” Crystal asked, curious. They all had some drinks with themselves, but no alcohol, in respect to Kyle, who was an ex-alcoholic, and Ashlyn, who couldn't mix medication and alcohol.

“IVF,” Ashlyn replied. “My eggs, a donor's sperm, and Ali's body. That way the kid is biologically of both of us.”

“I just wanted for the baby to have Ashlyn's dimples, being honest...”

“Can't blame you gurl, between the dimples and the brick face...” Kyle winked at Ashlyn, who snorted a laugh.

“Okay, stop, that's my kid we're talking about,” Ashlyn giggled, an arm thrown over Ali's shoulders.

“And how're you doing Ash? Saw your post in IG,” Alex Morgan asked her long time friend, sitting next to her.

“I'm with this awesome psychotherapist and finally today I had sixteen hours of sleep,” she earned whistling in admiration. “I feel like reborn.”

. . .

A week later, Ali and Ashlyn drove Kyle to the airport, as he was going to Los Angeles for a few days now that Ashlyn had assured him time and time again she was okay to be on her own. There were agreements to meet in Miami in a few weeks for Ali's birthday, hugs, and kisses, and then the two women stood together as they watched Kyle go through security and disappear inside the airport.

“Now,” said Ashlyn with a smile on her face, wrapping an arm around her wife. “Should we go see our babies?”

They had the very first ultrasound that day, about a couple months now from the day the egg and sperm had been put together in the lab, and a month after Ashlyn's attack. They were already thinking of announcing the pregnancy either on Ali's birthday, or about a couple weeks afterwards, but if the doctor thought it was a good idea to do it today, they might as well.

“I'm so excited,” said Ali getting into the driver's seat with a grin on her face. “I swear the trousers are starting to feel a little tight. And you've had such a good week, right?”

“Yeah, Jane is great,” Ashlyn squeezed her thigh as she started driving out of the parking lot. “Let's meet our kiddos.”

There had only been one previous ultrasound a few weeks before, before Ashlyn had known, but it had only been to check everything was going on well and confirm pregnancy and, like Ali said, the twins had been pretty much unrecognizable, so she didn't consider that as valid as this time around.

They drove to the clinic listening to music in the car and humming along, and then Ali parked and they walked hand-in-hand into the clinic. Ali knew the way, so Ashlyn just held onto her hand and let her lead the way.

“Hi,” Ali opened a door after knocking and smiled at a blonde, middle-aged doctor.

“Hello Mrs Krieger-Harris! Come in, is this your wife?”

“Yes, this is my wife Ashlyn, Ash this is Doctor Huffington.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ashlyn shook hands with her, smiling politely. “You can just call me Ashlyn...”

They sat to chat a little and then got prepared for a vaginal ultrasound to get better quality of picture. Ali changed into a gown and lied on the bed for such purpose, and Ashlyn sat on a chair by her side and held her hand between hers, while the doctor positioned between Ali's bent legs.

“Is it uncomfortable?” Ashlyn asked Ali as the little wand was introduced inside of her.

“Not much, is like a finger,” Ali shrugged, and Ashlyn chuckled, shaking her head.

Soon, they heard two strong heartbeats, fast and energetic, and Ashlyn felt her eyes filled with tears, overwhelmed. Ali's eyes got damp and she grinned big looking at the screen.

“And that's fetus A... and fetus B right here,” the doctor pointed in the screen. “Those are the heads, the arms and legs, those will become hands in a few weeks, when the fingers completely develop...”

“Pinch me,” Ashlyn murmured, her eyes glued to the screen. “They're perfect.”

“They are,” Ali grinned at her and squeezed her hand. “Look what we've done!” Ashlyn sniffled quietly and shook her head, speechless, as she took in the babies' features.

“I won't be able to tell you the gender until about three months more,” said the doctor, smiling at them. “But those are very nice heartbeats, and everything looks quite well for what I can see.”

“Can we announce it already?” Ali asked greedily.

“You can, but I'd wait until you're three months pregnant, which will be in just a few weeks. It's when the risk of miscarrying drops a lot, so you can announce it knowing the chances of you losing it the next day are almost none.”

They sat there looking at the babies for a while, until they decided it was enough, had a bit of a chat, Ali changed, and the couple left holding hands.

“We should think of names,” said Ashlyn as they sat back inside the car. “I want to veto all family first names like Michael, Kenneth, Kyle and Christopher, for a boy, and Deborah, Tammye, Alexandra and Ashlyn for a girl.”

“I agree, we shouldn't be repeating names in the family, so they have their own personality,” Ali started driving. “What about James for a boy?”

“Jamie Tworkowski,” Ashlyn answered. “He's a close friend and every time we say Jamie at home, it'll generate confussion.”

“So Sydney, Crystal, Heather, Julie, Abigail, Alana... no?”

“I'd rather...”

“Okay, well that doesn't leave that many options... we could go and buy some books of odd names, or names of mythological origin, those are cool,” Ali suggested.

“What about Bruno for a boy?” Ashlyn asked. “It's not that odd, and I don't know any Brunos. Or Hugo.”

“I like the sound of Bruno more. Bruno Krieger-Harris... it's nice, although I'm not completely convinced, but it's a possibility. Maybe I'll grow more fond of it,” Ali smirked as she drove.

“I like Aiden,” said Ashlyn, thoughtful. “It was the Ghost Whisperer's son's name, and at first I didn't like it, but now I think it sounds cool, and works for both genders.”

“You watched the Ghost Whisperer?”

“There are badass ghosts!”

Ali laughed out loud, amazed.

“Well you never go to bed without learning something new...” she nodded. “Okay, Aiden could work. We should write down the maybes, Bruno, Aiden... what about Mackenzie? We could call her Kenz.”

“And we call your Dad Ken, Ali,” Ashlyn half smiled. “Don't you think if someone doesn't hear it right, they might misunderstand?”

“Fuck, you're right... and... Michelle?” she winked at her.

“Oh, please, something less ultra feminine...” Ali laughed.

“It's your name!”

“Yes, taken,” Ashlyn chuckled, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

“What about... Robin?” asked Ali. “It's uncommon and sounds badass, not too girly... Aiden and Robin. Works if they're two girls, two boys, and boy and girl.”

“Aiden Krieger-Harris and Robin Krieger-Harris,” Ashlyn grinned. “It has a nice ring to it! And we certainly know no one called like that.”

“I like it!” Ali was very satisfied, eyes on the road as she drove. “We should look at the meanings at home! Oh and we need to decide middle names.”

“Are we putting middle names?”

“Yes, of course, that way if they hate their names they have two to choose how to be called,” Ali reasoned, ever logical.

At the book store, the pair acquired a couple books about names with their meanings, and once they were home, they had a quick dip on the pool before lounging on the sofa with Logan.

“Logan, Aiden, Robin... I like that the three end in 'n' and have five letters,” Ashlyn commented while going through one of the books, her head on a pillow on Ali's nap.

“Me too. We never gave Logan a middle name though...”

“She's Princess Logan Krieger-Harris of the Southern Peninsula, that's good enough,” Ashlyn joked, making her laugh strongly.

“I love you so much, my little joker,” Ali caressed her face with one hand while holding another book with the other.

They read in silence for a while, just enjoying their company. About a couple hours later, when Logan was already passed-out on the sofa next to them, Ali made a suggestion.

“If they're boys,” Ali said, “we could name them Aiden Ryan and Robin James, after your brother and mine.” Ashlyn smiled.

“Sounds good love. What about if they're girls?”

“Uhm...” Ali shrugged. “Aiden Tammye and Robin Deborah, after our mothers.”

“All right... and if they're a girl and a boy, we have either Aiden Ryan and Robin Deborah or Robin James and Aiden Tammye, which is good because whatever we choose, each will be named after one side of the family.”

“Is it a deal then?” Ali asked excitedly, putting her book aside.

“We have a deal!” Ashlyn high-fived her cheerfully. “So we bought these books for the next round of children then.” Ali giggled, taking both books and throwing them to one side of the sofa.

“I love you so much,” Ali cupped her face, kissing her intently. Ashlyn cupped her head with one hand, her fingers entangled in her hair, and kissed her back passionately.

“We're going to be the best family Al.”



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: The enemy.

Rowan Davies had been arrested and accused of one count of sexual assault and two counts of attempted murder. In the US, it could be a maximum of twenty years in prison for sexual assault, and life imprisonment for attempted murder. Given the fact that it was double attempted murder and that one of the victims, the one he had tried to rape, was under-age, which was an aggravating factor, Ashlyn and the girl's lawyers had spoken and agreed on going for life imprisonment.

“You just go there and tell them what happened,” Ali said calmly on the morning of the trial, buttoning-up Ashlyn's shirt. “Don't let his lawyer make you feel like you're the bad person here. Everyone is on your side, do not worry.”

Both dressed smart, they walked over to the car and Ali drove them to court. Ashlyn was a little nervous, but less when she thought of how terrible the other victim must be feeling. Her name was Renée Spaughton-Jones, and Ashlyn had spoken to her a few times. They had gone over to visit her several times, and she knew that although Renée was still shaken-up, she was a good girl and was deeply grateful to Ashlyn. She hadn't been raped just because of her, and although her body had been touched and fondled, she was going to therapy and she would be okay.

“Ready, warrior?” Ashlyn smiled at Renée as they met in a corridor of the court and high-fived. The teenager was accompanied by her parents, and wearing a discreet dress, and she smiled at Ashlyn.

“Ready, let's kick that asshole's arse.”

The trial was slow. Davies told the jury how he hadn't been at the scene of the crime, how his arrest was a mistake, that they had the wrong man, even when there was DNI confirmation and Renée had identified him. Ashlyn had also identified him once that, with Jane's help, she had been able to remember his face clearly.

Next, Renée testified, and bravely, with only tearing-up a little, told the jury how she had just been walking by the street when she had heard running and then immediately had been thrown to the ground by a heavy weight. That she found herself trapped between the man and the floor, and could see his face pretty well, that he touched her under her clothes, and never stopped as much as she told him to stop, and that he had almost chocked her to death. Then, she explained how she felt him go, and when she didn't hear him, but she had heard Ashlyn, got up, and saw the goalkeeper bleeding, unconscious and pale, so she tried to help with her own hands, took her mobile and called 911.

And then it was, eventually, Ashlyn's turn.

“I was just walking to the supermarket when I heard Renée screaming for help,” said Ashlyn, frequently looking at Ali's tiger eyes to feel braver. “It sounded like a school fight, so I knew I had to intervene, thinking they were just kids fighting and getting into trouble. I was going to give them a warning, tell them to disperse, and check if a kid was being bullied, that sort of thing. And then I saw Davis pinning Renée to the ground, and I knew I couldn't just go. I was going to call the police, but when I saw he was a second away from raping her, I couldn't waste a second, and I just... I shouted at him to leave her, I couldn't help it. He stood up, put his... his erection back in his trousers, and faced me with a knife in his hand, and then he came over to me, trying to stab me. We fought, and...” she gulped. She knew she had never said so much to Ali, and that her words would impact her tremendously. “I felt the stab and looked up at him in the eyes. He was right here,” she motioned with her hand to a really short distance, “I could feel his breath against my face. And he said he wanted to see the life leave my eyes. That told me he truly wanted to kill me, that it wasn't an accident, and there was no regret. He smiled. He was happy with what he was doing. And that's the last I can remember.”

During the break for the jury to make a decision, Ali and Ashlyn walked in silence a couple storeys above, looking for a quiet place away from everybody, and found a bench by a window in a large corridor. Seeing Ali's troubled expression, the goalkeeper took her hand in her lap and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“I don't get it,” Ali murmured, shaking her head. “How can someone be so... cold-blooded?”

“He's a monster. That's how.” Ashlyn had attempted visiting him in prison once, as Jane had recommended, but it hadn't been possible. And now, as she had seen him in the courtroom, she found herself unable to do any of what Jane had asked her to do with him. She couldn't empathize or anything.

“He told you. He fucking went and told you he wanted to see you die. He fucking enjoyed it.”

Ashlyn blinked, surprised by her cursing.

“Look,” she rubbed soothing circles with her thumb on the back of her hand, “Jane was telling me how perhaps I'd feel better if I understood his motivation, or him, a little. That understanding could help me cope with it and leave it in the past. At first, I thought that would definitely help, but now... seeing him today, I realized we will never understand how someone can be such a vicious sadistic jerk, but I realized we don't need to understand, Ali.”

“Don't we?”

“No. 'Cause what does that change? Nothing. Put it this way, we don't understand religion that well either, do we? And some things in science. There are a billion things we don't understand properly, and that still happen, and don't keep us awake at night. This is the same thing. He doesn't need a reason to be evil, he did what he did, period. Wondering why is as useless as wondering why a family member died in a plane accident, or why we couldn't win the Rio Olympics. It just happened, that's it. Take it, and go on.”

“It just makes me so fucking angry,” Ali shook her head. “You should be playing in the Olympics, in Rio. You've never had that chance. You should be... training and having fun and doing all the things you love, and just because of that man...”

“I get to be with my wife and go to the ultrasounds, while otherwise, I'd be in Japan,” Ashlyn half smiled. “Al... I think I understand you now. There are things bigger than the Olympics, than the World Cup, the NWSL, the Algarve Cup or the Tournament of the Nations. You are bigger. Robin and Aiden are bigger. Logan's bigger. If I had gone to the Olympics, that doesn't mean the US would've won, and even if it had, then what? I come home with a pretty medal in August, to a family that's had to miss me for a month because I had to play footy. The gold isn't half as valuable as you are, and, quite honestly... I'm starting not to give a shit about football anymore. I almost died. I don't want to waste time I could be investing in the love of my life.”

Ali looked tearful at her, and also surprised, and stared at her intently.

“Are you saying this... this whole thing has made you reconsider soccer?”

“It's made me reconsider many things,” Ashlyn shrugged. “All I'm saying is, don't be angry about the things I didn't do because of him, because I lost one thing, but won a hundred. I'm saying I didn't even think about Tokyo until now, that... look, in the National Team, I'm not always the first choice. Sometimes I'm second or third. In Rio, I didn't even get to go to Brazil. And then I have to be there, drop my whole life, whenever they want to, when I'm almost always the second plate? No. With you I'm the only choice, the first plate, and I get to always tag along and maybe, just maybe, now it means more than I ever realized it did. So be angry at him because he almost killed me, but not for Rio. He gave me the fucking best excuse to stay with you, although I will never thank him for that.”

Ali side smiled and kissed her softly, putting her arms around her and nuzzling against her neck.

“You're so sweet,” she admitted. “Although don't say those things too loud, or people might think you don't think is an honour to play for your country.”

“All I know is that it's not a bigger honour than being your wife and Aiden and Robin's Mummy. I love you.”

“I love you too,” the defender moved to kiss her, feeling her chest so full of real love for this woman, she felt she might cry from how overwhelming it was. She always had such beautiful words for her and their future family, and she made her feel like the queen of the world. “I'm so lucky with you...”

They sat hugging for a while, just cuddled on the bench, until eventually it was time to head back downstairs and see what the judge had to say. They all stood there and listened as the guy was declared guilty on all three charges. Ashlyn breathed out in relief and smiled at Renée, enveloping her in a hug. It seemed like now things would be better.



 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: Scars that don't heal.

Ashlyn woke up startled, breathing hard into the night. Her nightmares had dramatically reduced, and many nights went by with none, while others may have one or, on rare occasions, two. This time, she had excitedly entered a hospital room where her wife awaited with their newborn twins, only to find all three bleeding out on the bed and cribs, after Rowan Davis had stabbed them to death.

“Ash?” Ali's voice sounded distant, as Ashlyn sat up in bed, recovering her breath. Logan was on the feet of their bed and lifted her eyebrows at Ashlyn, waking up. “Babe, it's okay,” she heard movement, and Ali sat up, putting an arm around her body, “you're okay sweetie. It's just a nightmare.” She kissed her temple.

“It wasn't me who was in danger,” said the younger woman, putting her hand softly on top of Ali's, that rested on her shoulder. “It was about you, Aiden and Robin. I dreamt he killed you.”

Ali furrowed her brows and sighed.

“Come here babe,” she pulled her to lie back on the bed, putting her arms around her and letting Ash snuggle into her embrace. “We're all right, and he will never touch anyone again. It's life, and in any case, he's been taken to that high security prison in Montana, he's far, very far from this family.”

“I know, it's just my head messing up with me.”

“Yeah...” the defender kissed her forehead soundly and closed her eyes. “Let's go back to sleep, tomorrow will be a better day.”

The next day, the Orlando Pride had a game against Chicago Red Stars, which meant some of their friends from the USWNT were in Florida for the game, as the Pride, Ali included, had travelled to Houston three days before. Ali woke up early, left Ashlyn and the dog snuggled on the bed, and jumped into the shower. As she washed herself, she noticed her belly felt slightly curvy. She didn't expect to show any time soon, partially because she was only a week from her birthday, not in the third month mark yet, and partially because athletes tended to show later, as they had abdominal muscles very developed and a very little amount of fat, but there she was. She grinned, and as soon as she finished in the shower and dressed, jumped on the bed.

“Ash, Ash, wake up!”

“W-at?” Ashlyn blinked herself awake. “You 'kay?”

“I'm great! Look!” Ali lifted up her shirt. Ashlyn blinked several times and sat up.

“Yes, great abs love...”

“No, here!” Ali took her hand and brusquely put it open on her belly. Ashlyn looked confused for a moment, and then her eyes opened in realization as she felt the swell. She could even see it now, if she paid closer attention.

“You're showing!”

“Yes! Our babies are growing in there!”

They grinned at each other and Ashlyn crawled to her and kissed her.

“You're going to be the most gorgeous pregnant woman in the world, and I'm very lucky I don't have a dick.”

“You'd get aroused in public?” Ali asked amused.

“I have, and I will,” Ashlyn winked at her, and got up. “I'm going to get ready myself, and after we have breakfast, we could get on with painting the nursery, uh? The game is late.”

“Good idea!”

Ali had loved Ashlyn's ideas and designs for the nursery. Ashlyn had designed some furniture and they had already seen some decorations online, and bought a big rug for the room, as well as paint, that were lately putting on the walls and ceiling, with the room otherwise empty.

The two set out to work after breakfast, continuing the work they had started a few days before. Now they just had to finish a wall, which was easy.

“I find this so relaxing,” said Ali while painting.

“Really?” Ashlyn side smiled. “Well we better take advantage of any relaxing moments now, because in a few months, this house is going to become a wild mess.”

Ali chuckled at her. They both felt it, the excitement, the cheerfulness, the sensation that time didn't past fast enough and that at the same time wouldn't slow down. They wanted to enjoy every minute.

“Promise me something?” Ali said, as they finished the wall and stood contemplating the room.

“Anything Princess.”

“That no matter how hard and busy life gets, with the twins and all... we'll have at least one date, just you and I, every week, for the rest of your lives.”

The goalkeeper was surprised by this request, and flattered at the same time. She looked at Ali lovingly and smiled, nodding.

“That's a deal. We'll keep romanticism alive.”

As they stood there, Ashlyn felt it was a good moment to bring up something that she had been noticing a lot. Ever since her attack, Ali would avoid looking at her scars to the point that, if she walked around naked, shirtless or just in underwear, which happened often, she'd do very obvious and exaggerated movements to avoid looking at the scars, she'd sometimes request she'd keep her shirt on in bed, even when it was a hot summer night (under the excuse that she loved her pyjama's smell), and when they were in the pool, Ashlyn realized she went through great lengths to avoid looking at the scars. On some occasions that she hadn't been able to avoid her gaze quick enough, Ali had visibly flinched, or her expression had changed abruptly to one of slight disgust. Ashlyn didn't know if she was disgusted by them, or what was the thing, but thing was they hadn't intimated in a month and a half.

“Hey Al...” Ashlyn started, unsure. “Do you...” she bit her lip and half-shrugged. “Do you think my scars make me disgusting, physically?”

Her wife was visibly surprised at the unexpected question.

“Ashlyn, you're a gorgeous woman, inside and out,” Ali said matter-of-factly. “Your scars aren't the prettiest, okay, but they are battle wounds, symbol of survival and bravery, and besides, they're 1% of your whole you, so... hardly make any difference.”

“All right, good...” Ashlyn nodded. “Then why do you always insist that I hide them?”

“I've never done that, Ash.” Ali frowned, confused.

“Haven't you? You're always asking me to put my shirt on, even the other night when even you were sweating your eyes out, you avert your gaze every time I'm shirtless, or wince... I've noticed, Al, for weeks. Before the attack, it was common for the both of us to walk around without much clothing whatsoever, and you always liked seeing me shirtless and sleeping skin-to-skin. I can't help but think you don't find me attractive anymore.”

“Oh, Ash, that's not it...” the defender puffed and passed a hand through her long dark hair, nervous. “I'm sorry I've made you think that, but I swear I find you as attractive as always, nothing's changed.”

“Then what's the deal, Alex?”

“It's just...” Ali had a troubled expression and was having a hard time finding the right words. Ashlyn was very sensitive, and she didn't want to hurt her. “I hate seeing your scars, but not because I think they make you any less good, it's just... every time I look at them I remember so clearly those weeks in the hospital, and how bad you were, and how terrible the wounds were... and they make me sad, and they make me angry and frustrated,” Ashlyn stood, staring in disbelief. She hadn't expected that. Ali was now looking down. “Besides, they're a reminder of my greatest failure.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I know we shouldn't think of the what ifs, and I don't really, but... I should've been there. Either fighting with you or keeping you home, taking care of you, not playing footy, and I wasn't. I left you alone, ill, and there's no excuse, Ash. Work isn't good enough of a excuse for me, all right? When I had my ACL, or concussions, you were always there. You even came to Frankfurt, nothing was a excuse for you. And I should've gone out of my way for you because I'm your wife, and that's what you do for those you love, and nothing matters more for me. I don't know what would've happened if I hadn't left, and I don't care, all I know for sure is that if I had been there, you wouldn't have gone out, and you'd be okay. I promise I'll get over it, you don't have to hide anything, it's just that it's still too recent, okay? Too soon.”

Ashlyn let a long breath out. Of course her loving, perfect wife, had perfectly good reasons for her behaviour, and she couldn't help but walking over and wrapping her in her arms for a good, tight hug.

“Come with me to see Jane next time.” Ashlyn whispered, pressing her lips against Ali's temple.

She felt her nod against her shoulder, and it was settled.