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Not All Who Wander

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It's cute the way she's looking so intently at the map, eyes squinting and nose scrunched in pure focus like she's trying to memorize every possible bus route listed in case she’s randomly quizzed on the street. By the way her tongue is poking out from between her thin, pink lips and the slight sigh that escapes her lips, it’s easy to tell that even though she's trying so hard and is so focused, she is frustrated and absolutely clueless. Totally lost.

The thought crosses her mind for just a brief, shining moment that she should just keep walking, ignore the obvious tourist struggling with the pretty simple bus map, in exchange for a burning hot shower and warm bed, but she knows not too long ago that she was wearing the same shoes. She was the lost one struggling to learn the language, customs and even the –what she now knows to be quite simplistic- bus routes. Even though she’s still lost in her own way, she feels a pull, a slight shift in the universe urging her to pause if only for a moment.

"Kann ich Ihnen helfen?" The blonde woman looks back at her panicked, with wide eyes like a deer caught in the headlights before ignoring her and turning back to the map, so she tries a different approach. "Can I help you?" she asks again, this time softly in English and places her hand on the other woman's shoulder to gather her attention, noting how soft and cool the leather jacket feels underneath her fingertips.

The woman pulls her tired eyes from the map and looks over her shoulder. "Thank god. Someone who speaks English," she says with a thankful sigh, like she's secretly been praying for as much for the last hour. Judging by how purple her exposed fingers are as they trace the multi-colored lines on the map that might even be the case.

She lets out a soft chuckle and looks back at the flustered blonde who obviously isn't from the area as apparent by the large duffle bag slung over her shoulder and jacket that is far too thin for a German winter -the type of winter that is unrivaled by any in America, where the wind whips through you no matter how many layers you have on, cutting straight through to your soul to leave it a crystallized mass. No, a frigid German winter is not going to be kept out by a thin leather jacket, no matter how good it looks nor a thin beanie that rivals what trendy surfer chicks wear in California.

"I do. How can I help you?" she asks with a warm, inviting smile as she pulls her striped scarf tighter around her neck to keep the chills out -though she's unsure if they’re caused from the biting wind or the shivers that get sent down her spine when the other woman offers her hand out to shake and she takes it.

"I'm Ashlyn by the way. Ashlyn Harris," she supplies with a large grin that contrasts her wind-bitten cheeks, despite the pain and exhaustion that has settled into her bones, before quickly retracting her hand. She felt the fire ignite between them too, but plays it off in her head as it just being the warm touch of a stranger. "And you are?"

"Alexandra Krieger, but mostly everyone besides my family calls me Ali," replies the shorter brunette while shyly tucking a stray hair behind her ear as she takes in the way the other woman’s hair is blowing slightly in the wind, small crystallized snowflakes landing on the waves of blonde hair that peek out from under her hat.

Ashlyn quickly looks away as she finds herself getting captivated by the woman's cinnamon irises and soft, endearing mumble that she thinks can only result from a jumble of time spent between continents. She points to the bus map with a confused expression and then just shrugs, unable to figure out what she should even be asking.

It's obvious that she's lost and Ali can't blame her one bit. She's been in Germany for almost four years and although she's fluent now, there had been many occasions during her first few months where she would stumble around town, tears staining her frost-bitten, rosy cheeks as she searched for the B Route which would take her back to her humble little apartment. So when Ashlyn looks back at her with a pleading, desperate expression like that of a child who doesn’t understand why they can’t eat all of their Halloween candy in one sitting, she can't help but take pity on her even though she's just had a grueling double session along with a pool workout and wants a burning hot shower, a warm cup of coffee and her plush bed with the cloud like down-comforter in no particular order.

"Where do you need to go?" she asks politely, trying to keep her tired eyes open for just a bit longer. From her early days, she knows how hard it can be and she always said to herself if she ever saw someone in her position, she would help them out just as her teammates had done for her. As another wave of wind rips through the intersection, she whispers a thanks to her teammates who had saved her from the numbing cold on countless occasions –often driving around town to find her based on simplistic directions of ‘I’m by a trendy looking café’ or ‘it looks like I might be by a school’ when she didn’t even have the ability to tell them where she was.

The blonde smiles -the kind of smile that lets you know she's so damn thankful someone picked up on her cluelessness and came to her rescue- and quickly brings a piece of paper up to her face, a piece of paper that shows wrinkles of frustration. She studies it for a moment before a slight blush creeps up her neck -that Ali doesn't think is purely a result of the whipping wind- clearly embarrassed by her inability to even pronounce the street names or address of wherever she was headed. "Uh, I need to get to..."

Her voice trails off and it honestly sounds so pitiful that Ali gently prods the wrinkled and partially torn piece of paper from her freezing red fingers to get a better look. "Oh I know exactly where this is. It's a couple miles up town," she says with a nod behind her as if Ashlyn would have any idea where she was referencing.

Ashlyn smiles and is immediately grateful not only that she met Ali, but that she was actually able to be of some assistance, though her eyes still house a slight apprehension. A slight shiver creeps up her spine again and finds its way back down to her toes which have become numb despite the boots she's wearing that always seem to do the trick in America. Not even the thick wool socks with little shark decorations -her favorite pair that were gifted to her by her grandmother last Christmas- stand a fighting chance. "Thank god. Can you point me to where I should go to grab the next bus? I just need to get out of this damn cold!"

Ali lets out a slight giggle that makes Ashlyn's heart jump just a beat. It's the kind of laugh that's purely innocent, but slightly contained -like Ali catches herself just in time and doesn't want Ashlyn to think she's being rude and laughing at her- and Ashlyn finds herself joining in before she knows it. "What's so funny?" she finally asks with a small, weary grin.

Ali places a hand on her lower back and gently brings her back over to the map plastered on the black metal street pole where the swinging intersection stoplight hangs from. "We're right here," she says and points while Ashlyn leans in to get a good look, "and you have to go here," she continues and drags her fingers slowly across the map while trying to ignore the freezing feeling off the pole rippling through her body and simultaneous heat on her neck from Ashlyn's breath as she leans in innocently, but still dangerously close to her. She slides over a bit -playing it off like she just wants to let Ashlyn get a better view- and even though she’s getting caught up in the intoxicating scent of her perfume, finishes with, "the walk to the closest bus route that goes there will almost be as long as the walk to your place."

Ashlyn just groans and drops her face into her palms. This is the last thing she needs, the last straw in the saga of her continuous bad day. "Either the taxi driver had no idea what I was saying when we left the airport or he just took me as an American fool and robbed me of a bunch of Euros."

Ali can easily sense the annoyance in her voice -not that she thinks the blonde is even trying to hide it- and reaches out again to touch her arm comfortingly. "My car is parked around the corner and I live just a few blocks from where you're going. Why don't you let me give you a ride?" It’s a lie, she actually lives on the other side of town, but something is keeping her there, keeping her glued to the woman that she thinks might break down and cry if she doesn’t do something.

She's exhausted and can feel her legs throbbing and burning with pain despite the cold air ripping through her team issued Adidas practice pants. She still wants her bed and a hot shower, but it's been awhile since she's had an encounter with another American and she can't deny the longing feeling she gets when she thinks about home. As patient as her teammates had been about her learning German, after a few months they'd strayed from it, leaving her to pick up on their conversations in the mother country's language. Though she’s now fluent in German, it would be nice to have an actual face to face conversation in English that didn't involve pixilated computer screens or choppy FaceTime sessions with her friends and family back in the states. The fact that the blonde standing before her is stunning doesn’t hurt either so she curls her lips into an inviting smile and shyly adds, "Maybe we can grab a coffee on the way and warm up a bit too?"

"I'm married," Ashlyn quickly stammers and holds up her left hand to show a beautiful platinum band with three inset diamonds as if she needed proof because Ali wouldn't take her at her word. She thinks to add that she's madly in love with her wife of three years who is also her college sweetheart, but quickly decides that would be overkill, partially because Ali starts laughing right away and also because she’s extremely embarrassed at her over-the-top reaction to begin with.

Another chuckle escapes Ali's lips and she shakes her head in disbelief. She had already noticed the ring on the blonde's finger -even in the overcast German weather it gleamed enough to immediately catch her attention, although she'd be lying if she said she hadn't looked for it to begin with out of curiosity- and was very amused at her flustered reaction. "And I'm just offering a ride home and friendly cup of coffee," she playfully chastises while holding her hands up in the air as a sign of innocence. "I don't make it a habit of finding cute, helpless looking Americans in the streets of Germany and going out to coffee before taking them back to my place to seduce them into having wild, crazy sex with me."

She's surprised at the words that come out of the brunette's mouth -more so the hot, crazy sex part and less about the fact that she called her cute- along with the skeptically raised eyebrow that follows them, almost like she's a bit confused as to why Ashlyn jumped to the conclusion that she had deeper intentions in the first place. She had seemed so innocent and conservative, but maybe it was the brash, frank German coming out of her. Obviously she had been in the country for quite some time, at least long enough to know what a proper winter coat looks like, that a winter hat needs to be thicker and tightly woven and that a scarf of some type is a must. The situation, as best as she can read it, does seem harmless and she can honestly use a friend at the moment instead of helplessly wandering the German streets for another few hours on her own like a sad lost puppy.

"Alright, Alexandra Krieger,” she breathes out assuredly. “I'll just have to take you up on that cup of coffee."

Chapter Text

The small cafe Ali points to across the street is a welcome sight, not just for the prospect of coffee and delicious pastries which she raved about during the five minute walk towards where her car was parked, but also for the physical warmth it offered. The latter is blatantly obvious when only a few moments have gone by since they stepped into Hoppenworth & Ploch, but both women have already shucked off their coats and hung them on the hook screwed into the stucco wall above Ali’s head.

Ali’s scarf is next to come off, when she feels her neck heating up which causes her face to flush a bit more, but both women leave their hats on. It’s not necessarily because they’re still cold, but Ali knows that after a double session of practices her hair must look like a mess so she decides keeping her wavy brown hair tucked under a hat is the best course of action.

Ashlyn looks over at Ali and smiles as the waitress comes by with two menus for them. She hands it off to Ali first who offers her a quick “danke” and then to Ashlyn who just smiles back in thanks, unable to catch what Ali said before and in no hurry to further embarrass herself with her inadequate German.

Over the brim of her thick cardstock menu, Ali takes a moment to study the woman before her, from her blonde hair, now a bit damp from the melted snowflakes, to her light rosy cheeks and furrowed brow as a result of her struggle to read the menu that had been presented to her. Over the light bustle of the coffee shop, while tracing the curve of her prominent jaw line, she can hear another frustrated sigh leave her lips and she can’t help but smile at the familiarity of it all.

“I’m pathetic, aren’t I?” Ashlyn asks in a cute whine, unaware that Ali was staring, as she drops her menu down to the coffee-ring stained tablecloth and instead looks around to take in her surroundings. The place is small, even for coffee shop standards, but definitely makes the quant vibe work for it from the rustic, reclaimed barn wood floors and the chairs with raised backs and chipping paint. The walls hold a variety of black and white photos that Ashlyn secretly prays aren’t all from Germany as they show massive snow piles and dagger-like icicles hanging from every outdoor surface possible. Her thoughts must be easily readable, or maybe it’s the way her eyes grow wide with a sense of profound terror, as Ali reaches out and gently touches her arm to bring her attention back.

“Don’t worry. That was from a huge storm about twenty years back,” Ali says with a nod to the picture that had specifically caught Ashlyn’s attention -an image of what she thought was supposed to be a parking lot, only the cars weren’t actually visible under the giant mounds of snow. “It’s not usually that bad, you just caught us in a cold snap.”

“Us?” Ashlyn asks as she picks up her menu again and pretends to be reading it to avoid making eye contact with the brunette in front of her. “Do you live here full time?” She had figured Ali was just a student from the local university, she doesn’t know why but she didn’t peg Ali as being a full-time German resident.

Ali sets her menu down -she already knows what she’s ordering and what she’ll suggest to Ashlyn who as much as she’s trying to pull it off, has absolutely no idea what she’s actually reading on the menu- and looks back at the blonde who has her eyes still locked on the German ridden menu. “I do live here,” she responds as the waitress comes back to take their orders.

Ali looks to the waitress, who looks down at her with a warm smile as she wipes her hands on her black, flour dusted apron before tucking a loose strand of dark hair behind her ear while simultaneously pulling a pen out from behind the other one. “Was möchtet ihr gerne?" she asks with her pen primed over her wrinkled pad of paper which has several pages already folded over, a strong testament to the volume of clients they already had that day.

Ali quickly places her order of Milchkaffee, the H&P specialty that she’s come to love and crave on a daily basis before looking back at a wide-eyed Ashlyn who has absolutely no idea what the waitress just asked, but surmises it’s something along the line of ‘what can I get you?’ by the way Ali easily answers. “Do you like whipped cream?” Ali asks, and though the question catches her off-guard she quickly nods in response. Ali turns her attention back to the woman who is patiently standing by their table with a smile on her face and quickly adds Ashlyn’s order and two pieces of Kuchen, quickly assuring Ashlyn as the waitress leaves to put their order in that it’s “too die for.”

“Anyways,” Ali begins as she returns to the conversation they were having, “I’ve been here about four years, since 2008,” she offers with a contemplative smile.

The information catches Ashlyn by surprise, as well as the cute smile that’s plastered on Ali’s face as she obviously thinks back fondly on her time in Germany. “Really now? And what brought you here?” she asks with genuine interest as she folds her hands on the table in front of her. Usually she’s a fiddler and needs to be shredding napkins or rolling the tablecloth to keep her occupied, but for some reason she’s in completely entranced by the woman sitting before her.

“I play futbol for FFC Frankfurt,” Ali supplies with a proud smile. “After college there weren’t a lot of options for female soccer players besides overseas so I packed my bags and here I’ve been ever since,” she says with a shrug as if there’s absolutely nothing special about what she just said.

“That’s amazing!” Ashlyn exclaims excitedly which draws the attention of several other patrons who shoot glances their way, clearly displeased with the typically loud American that’s ruining the quiet coffeehouse vibe they were seeking after a long day of work. “Sorry,” she whispers to Ali with an embarrassed expression while hoping that Ali won’t regret agreeing to helping her out. The last thing she wanted was to embarrass the woman who saved her from the streets.

Thankfully, Ali waves her off. “No worries. Everyone that visits this place thinks it’s a library by how silent they keep it, but there’s nothing wrong with showing a little excitement now and then,” she says with a reassuring grin. “So now that you know my story, why don’t you tell me yours? What brings you to the lovely city of Frankfurt?”

Ashlyn leans closer to the table, now resting her elbows on it as she leans forward. “I hardly think I’ve gotten your entire story, Alexandra Krieger, but as for me, I’m here for work and thankfully only for a short while. This freezing weather and language barrier thing isn’t quite my style,” she adds with a slight chuckle.

Ali leans back and grabs her phone off the table as the waitress brings their coffee and kuchen over and lets her place it on the white cloth in front of them. “Danke,” she says quietly as the woman retreats back to the kitchen area. “What type of work do you do?” Ali asks as she grabs the small silver spoon off the plate beneath the coffee and begins stirring her drink to cool it down, knowing from the steam rising off and past experience that it’s too hot to drink at the moment.

With her fork, Ashlyn stabs into the moist kuchen and takes a bite, too hungry to wait another moment and reply to Ali’s comment first. “God this is good,” she mumbles around a mouthful of the delicious cake, seemingly comfortable enough around the brunette that she’ll likely never see again to talk with food in her mouth.

With a slight eye roll, Ali lets out a soft giggle and then digs in to her piece. “I told you so,” she replies, her own mouth stuffed full with the warm cake, the first real food she’s had all day since she’s not counting the cold cut sandwich provided by the FFC trainers at lunch time as actual food. It’s too bland and soggy to be considered food, more so nourishment so they can keep the team running suicides and flowing through meticulous passing and shooting drills. “So what do you do for work?” Ali asks again when she’s finally managed to swallow her bite and wash it down with her slightly tempered coffee.

“I’m an architect,” Ashlyn supplies before taking a sip of her own drink, a Kaffee mit Sahne, or coffee with whipped cream as Ali better explained it to her. She quickly wipes her lip when she feels a bit of cream stowed there before continuing. “The firm I work at is based in Florida, but we have a wealthy German client that is looking to invest and build in Miami so I got sent here to go over some plans with him.”

“Sounds like you’re pretty important,” Ali states inquisitively as she settles back into her seat to get a bit more comfortable, glad with how the conversation was flowing so easily between them. She’d be lying if she said Ashlyn was the first American tourist she had picked up on the street and coerced into having coffee with her just so she could have a real, honest conversation in English, but it was definitely the easiest and most enjoyable conversation out of those encounters.

“I guess you could say that,” Ashlyn replies with a chuckle before she washes down her last bite of kuchen with a sip of coffee. She looks down at her plate, surprised it had disappeared so fast, but is put a little more at ease when she sees Ali slipping the last piece into her mouth as well, before licking her fingers clean of the sweet, cakey goodness so as not to miss a single taste. They both quickly diverts their eyes when they make eye contact, Ali’s pointer finger slowly sliding out of her mouth with her full lips wrapped around it. “Uh, yeah…” Ash continues, clearing her throat. “Still, I wish the client could have come to us. It’d be easier to show him the site along with the designs and then I wouldn’t have had to leave home.”

“And your wife?” Ali asks in an interested tone to which Ashlyn smiles and nods, still a bit shocked by the bluntness of the brunette. She’s beginning to think it has less to do with the German culture wearing off on her and more to do with the general nature of her personality. Still, it’s a pleasant surprise as Ash has always been a ‘say what you mean’ type of person which could often be misconstrued as rude back in America. Blunt honesty, what a refreshing thing, she thinks.

“Well, yes. It’s nice being able to come home after a long day of work to my beautiful wife, a homemade meal and a couch with Netflix queued up instead of wandering around the streets of Frankfurt freezing until some wonderful local takes pity on me and invites me to coffee.”

Ali lets out a genuine laugh at this, not only the image of Ashlyn coming home happily like the King of the Castle to her loving wife with dinner made and set perfectly on the table -something her wife, if she ever has one, would never be privy to not just because she isn't the best cook, but also because the whole thing seems a bit outdated to Ali- but also the image she has engrained in her mind of the shivering blonde who may have spent the night sleeping on the corner of Kasseler Ave and Hersfelder Street had she not come along. “Yes, I can imagine it is nice having that to come home to,” Ali says with a rueful smile, her tone shifting the slightest bit.

Even though Ali quickly ducks her head towards her coffee cup for another sip, Ashlyn can easily pick up on the way Ali’s smile falters just a touch along with her hopeful voice drifting off at the end of sentence. “What about you? Do you have someone to come home to after a long day of soccer practice?”

The brunette shakes her head and sets her half-empty coffee cup down on the table before leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms a bit defensively. She knows it’s only fair since she asked first and that the blonde stranger sitting before her obviously doesn’t know the full story, but she still can’t fight the slight pang in her chest and the tears that threaten to well up in her eyes at the recent pain that is brought back to life. She remembers all too vividly the phone call and the anguish and tears that followed and the house that is now empty and still on the market, the house that she’s unable to step foot in because of what had happened there. Though it had been a year, the pain was still there, still present and it kills her to know that she may never be able to truly rid herself of it no matter how hard she tries. “No. No, I don’t have anyone,” she says, her voice quieter and a bit more distant than before as her hand goes to the finger that had once held a ring which symbolized a promise, a commitment to their future that like the ring, no longer exists.

Her tone is not bitter per se, more a quiet disappointment and though Ashlyn is intrigued and knows there’s more to the story, she doesn’t think she has the right to know it. Instead of apologizing - which would only serve to make things more awkward, bringing Ashlyn’s realization of Ali’s obvious pain to the forefront which could lead to a conversation that isn’t pertinent between two passing strangers in a coffee shop - Ashlyn decides to change the topic of the conversation all together. “So how’s your team looking so far this year?”

Though still physically feeling the remnants of Ashlyn’s prior question, Ali is glad for the topic change, the topic that she could talk about endlessly with no remorse; futbol. “It’s good!” she says, mustering up more excitement than she actually feels for Ashlyn’s sake as she leans forward and plucks her mug from the table with both hands, instantly feeling the warmth spread through her body. She takes its bold scent in before taking a sip and enjoying the milky richness that’s swishing on her tongue and then down her throat. “We had a pretty good season last year and we seem to be building off it this preseason. I’m just coming back from knee surgery so really I’m just happy to be playing at all.” She finishes with a sincere smile that Ashlyn can easily read for what it is, pure relief. Relief that she made it back from injury, that she still has soccer to cling to and drown out the bad stuff with.

“Well that’s good to hear.” She swirls her coffee around in her cup for a moment, watching as the last dollops of whipped cream melt away into the dark coffee below. “I played keeper a while back at UNC actually, but never quite made it back from my second ACL surgery. Glad to hear you didn’t suffer a similar fate.” The honesty in her voice is evident, as is the pain of the reality of a dream being cut short. In another time, on another continent, a young, UNC bound Ashlyn Harris who had just captained the US U19 Team to Women’s World Cup gold dreamed of someday playing professionally, of exploring the world -sharing a kiss under the Eiffel tower in Paris, slipping her toes into the cool sand off the Portugal coast, taking in the sights of the rolling hills in Ireland and frolicking around London with giddy teammates before a big game- with soccer as her ticket out. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for her and the dream had slowly slipped through her fingers. It’s not that she was unhappy in where she was, that couldn’t be farther from the truth, she would just always wonder what could have been, where she could have gone with her raw, soon to be refined talent.

Ali takes in her statement for a moment, knowing that Ashlyn must have been a special player if she had indeed played at UNC. She likely had youth national team experience and Ali wondered if they ever would have crossed paths if Ashlyn hadn’t been injured. What a small world, she thinks musingly as she finishes off the coffee she had been nursing so that their break could last just a bit longer. “Well I’m sorry to hear that. Trust me though when I tell you the life of a female professional futbol player is far from being as glamorous as people think it is. The long bus rides and constantly changing time zones combined with always being away from home and everything we miss out on for a small salary and couple thousand fans at our games. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love being able to do what I love for a living, it just...get’s lonely sometimes. Sometimes I want to come home to a home cooked meal to the woman I love with Netflix queued up.” She finishes with a small chuckle at the last thought, and just how recently that had been a reality for her.

“I can believe it,” Ash supplies -ignoring, but noticing Ali’s proclamation of wanting a girl to come home to which proves her suspicions correct- as she thinks on how homesick she would get when she was younger on youth national team trips to other countries. She couldn’t imagine moving outright to another country where she didn’t speak the language and where all of her teammates weren’t fluent in English either. It makes her head spin, or maybe it’s the tranquil lull of the coffee shop and the intoxicating floral scent of Ali’s perfume that’s gotten more concentrated as she leans further across the table towards her.

Though she fights it, Ali lets out a yawn and Ashlyn knows from her heavy eyelids that she must be exhausted, especially after two practices and a pool session. “I should let you get home,” Ash says with a slight hint of remorse as she finishes off her drink and waves the waitress over who brings the bill with her. She grabs her wallet and quickly shakes her head when Ali tries to grab hers as well. “Don’t even think about it,” Ash says with a light laugh and shake of her head. “If it weren’t for you, I’d still be wandering the streets like a vagabond so the least I can do is buy you a coffee for coming to my rescue. My knight in shining armor,” she jokes as she stares down at the bill and pulls out some cash which she thinks is enough. She shoots another pleading look to Ali who just nods to confirm it's the right amount and then begins reaching behind her for her coat and scarf which have thankfully dried off for the most part.

“Thank you for the coffee,” Ali says sincerely as she slips the thick, Adidas coat over her shoulders and then zippers it all the way up to her chin. She then winds the thick wool scarf around her neck, pulling it tight in a preventative measure to keep the frigid German air out during her short trek to the car.

After Ashlyn finishes getting ready, which only equates to her slipping her stylish leather jacket on and throwing her duffle bag over her shoulder, they trudge back out into the snow, only this time with the warmth of coffee and good company to keep the cold winds at bay for the time being.

“A BMW?” Ashlyn asks with a raised eyebrow when she puts Ali’s hand reaching out with a black key together with the beep of the car parked fifty feet down the street, noting how it’s pulled up onto the curb a bit like she was in a rush and didn’t have time to park it properly, or maybe she’s just a terrible driver. She knows she would never leave her Jeep parked like that, but to each their own.

Ali turns to her right to meet Ashlyn’s eyes and shrugs nonchalantly. “My team is sponsored by BMW so they hooked me up,” she says like it’s no big deal.

“Right. The life of a female professional athlete is so hard," Ashlyn teases as she runs her hands over the sleek contour in awe. Maybe female professional soccer players have it better than she thought. "Nothing to complain about here."

Ali yanks open the driver’s door, putting a bit more muscle into it than normal since the door is partially frozen shut. “I guess not.” She inserts the key into the ignition and turns the car on, thankful for the heated leather seats that will soon be warming her backside that is aching from practice. As grateful as she is to be playing again, she knows her body is playing catch up when it comes to getting match fit and her sore muscles are a definite testament to that.

A few minutes later, they’ve pulled up to the front of the hotel where Ashlyn is staying. They sit for a few moments in silence while processing everything that’s happened. It feels comfortable, the silence that’s fallen between them -almost similar to friends that have known each other for years, only that isn’t the case here- and though Ali is tired and Ashlyn knows nothing can even happen between them, they still both can’t bring themselves to break the magnetic force pulling them together. It feels calm and relaxed, like they could just spend hours talking and spilling stories and laughing together like old friends, and really that’s the only thing either of them are in a position to be, friends, so it's not completely unfathomable.

“Thank you again for saving me,” Ashlyn says, finally breaking the silence as she pulls at a loose thread on her flannel sleeve which is sticking out from the bottom of her jacket a bit. “I honestly don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come along,” she adds with a chuckle as she thinks about herself literally giving up and finding a homeless person down some alley way to cuddle up with for the night, newspapers, cardboard boxes and all. “I appreciate it.”

“Oh don’t worry about it,” Ali says with a warm smile as she waves her off nonchalantly. “Thank you for the company. I honestly was going a little crazy without having an English conversation for so long,” she supplies. “So really it was you that helped me out.”

Ashlyn pulls her focus from the thread that has only grown longer from her pulling it and meets Ali’s soft brown eyes which house a sense of thankfulness, although for what she's not quite sure. “Well I guess we both lucked out then, huh?” she asks rhetorically with a wink.

“I guess so.” Ali pulls out a piece of paper and pen from her purse and quickly jots something down. “If you’re ever in Frankfurt again, or just so happen to be wandering around aimlessly and need to be rescued, here’s my number,” she says as she hands over the small slip of paper which Ashlyn takes with a smile.

“And if you ever need a friend to vent to in English, don’t hesitate to call either,” Ashlyn says with a laugh, still thinking that she ended up with the better end of the bargain in this situation.

Ali nods as Ash slides her hand to the chrome plated door handle and begins to pull it open. “Thank you for the company, Ashlyn Harris,” she says with a warm smile.

“And thank you for coming to my rescue, Alexandra Krieger,” she replies with her own grin, full dimple on display as she slips out of the car and back into the cold winter air. She grabs her duffle bag from the backseat before poking her head into the front seat one final time. “Good luck with your season and thanks again for everything. Maybe I’ll see you around again sometime.”

“Maybe you will,” Ali replies before Ashlyn shuts the door softly behind her and then waves before slinging the bag over her shoulder and turning around to walk down the shoveled pathway towards the hotel. “Hopefully you will,” she whispers to herself as she watches the blonde slip into the front door of the well-lit hotel before putting the car into drive to begin her long ride home.

Chapter Text

Ali finds herself thinking about that day a lot. More often than she should think about a random encounter with a stranger on the street who she happens to bribe into a quick coffee date so she can actually have a real face to face conversation without stumbling over words in German. She thinks back to Ashlyn’s slight southern drawl, a testament to her Florida upbringing which she spoke so fondly of, the way she became so engrossed in Ashlyn’s stories of work and soccer and life in general, and even how her dimpled grin caused a slight flush on her own cheeks once or twice, a reaction that Ali swears to herself isn’t a normal occurrence and must have just been a result of the heat in the coffee shop. Even knowing she was married, taken by another woman that wasn’t and never would be her, she couldn’t fight the pull she felt towards the blonde. She couldn’t resist the urge inside her that flowed through her veins to hold another conversation, to wander the streets of Frankfurt mindlessly, to share another cup of coffee with the blonde, no matter how platonic it had to be.

What she thinks about most though, is how one person can come into her life so suddenly, so spontaneously and then flitter out of it so quickly after leaving a lasting effect, almost like a bolt of lightning magnificently lighting up the sky only to disappear without a trace, aside from the scorched patch of earth left behind. Only this time, Ali’s heart is what’s left scorched in the aftermath, still warm from the feeling of Ashlyn’s light touch, still burning from the intense desire to see her dimpled grin light up a room again. It seems comical how fast something so impactful can be gone in an instant, like the ocean tide, able to topple the strongest men without him ever gaining a sense of redemption because he’ll never stand in the same wave ever again. So though she spends a few weeks, thinking back onto her encounter with the beautiful, charismatic blonde who had neve contacted her again, like the earth burned by the lightning strike which eventually blossoms new grass to hide the mark, Ali’s heart also scars over and it’s almost like the encounter happened. Almost.

It’s a Friday, a few weeks later, in December and that’s evident by the Christmas decorations that Ali has hung throughout her flat as a reminder that she’s not so far from home –as if the red, shiny tinsel wrapped around the door frames and the tall candlesticks placed carefully in each window sill, lit at night to portray true Christmas spirit, can replace the excitement of home, the smell of her mother’s famous Gingerbread cookies, or sharing a glass of eggnog by the stone fireplace in her father’s house in Virginia with her friends from home or the giddiness of her and Kyle racing down the stairs on Christmas morning, fighting over who gets to open what present first. Though it’s been weeks and her phone never rang with a call from Ashlyn -not that she honestly expected it too- she’s tried to push the memory from her mind and focus on the task at hand which was figuring out what she was going to do with her life, with the new choices presented to her.

Things at Frankfurt weren’t necessarily bad, but the tacky Christmas decorations were enough of a reminder that she was completely and utterly homesick. She had devoted the better part of her adult life to the team; four years, countless practices, numerous games and even a broken foot, and dedicated her heart as well, a large piece of it falling in love with the country while another piece had been lost in it forever. As she glanced at the screen of her laptop that was resting in her lap as she sat curled up on the couch, wrapped in thick wool blankets to cut some of the cold in her apartment, she reads the email one more time. The National Women's Soccer League.

It was real. It was actually going to happen this time even though the two leagues had pitifully folded before it. This time it was going to be different. Eight teams located across the country with salaries for national team players subsidized by U.S. Soccer. More real than the league was the prospect of playing in D.C. with the newly formed Washington Spirit. They wanted her to come back stateside to help sell the league, and that meant she was almost certainly guaranteed her first pick which meant she would be going home. Not just home in the sense of the United States, but home as in where she grew up. Where she played her youth soccer and shared a home with her family before it all fell apart. Home, where she had her first kiss, her first boyfriend and ultimately her first breakup, and her second and third. Home, where she met her lifelong friends and discovered herself and made a lemonade stand one summer in attempt to buy the new Backstreet Boy’s CD since her parents were holding out on her. Home. Where her heart was.

In an attempt to really process things, she clicks on her chat and sees a familiar face next to the ‘online friends’ section. She clicks on it and quickly types out a message.

 

Ali: Hey HAO. You hear about this new league they’re forming?

HAO: Yeah I did! Don’t tell me the magnificent Ali Krieger is thinking of gracing the NWSL with her presence? ;)

Ali: Haha. I’m thinking about it. I miss home and I think I need to be in the States to get noticed after coming back from my ACL. What do you think?

HAO: Well we are getting a new coach which I’m sure you know. He says that he’s going to give everyone a look, but you know how things go. Sometimes it’s better to be right in front of them, no matter how good you are so there’s no excuses.

Ali: True…

HAO: Can you even get out of your Frankfurt contract?

Ali: Yeah I signed for a year with an additional player option year so technically I just have to request it.

HAO: Well it’s obviously up to you. You know I’d love having you back in the States! Although I highly doubt you’re going to want to come play for the Jersey team with me since I see there’s a team based in D.C.

Ali: Yeah you got me there lol. Definitely not a Jersey Shore girl ;)

HAO: Ha.Ha. Funny Kriegs. Well I’ve got to head out, but I’m sure whatever you decide will work out just fine!

Ali: Thanks for the chat!

HAO: Anytime, Kriegs! Later :)

 

In the end, Ali knows there wasn’t even much of a decision to be made as she digs her iPhone out of the blankets pulled tightly around her and dials her agent’s number to request a release from her Frankfurt contract. It also wasn’t much of a decision when she replied to the email with her preferences of NWSL team.

#1: Washington Spirit.

It is the only option she sends, leaving #2 and #3 blank. Call her selfish, but after four years of missed birthdays, weddings, baby showers and family holidays, she wants to go home.

Chapter Text

It's the night before she needs to vacate her apartment, the place she's called home for the last four years and Ali is sprawled out on the bare floor of her living room with a familiar box sitting before her.

The walls of her little flat are barren and stripped of all memories, but this little Nike shoe box holds more than any wall ever could have. She debates it for a moment, whether or not she should open it, as she stares at the slightly crushed box that has taken up residence in the top back corner of her closet, squashed by shoes and pairs of sweats that were thrown on top of it. In essence the box was left to be forgotten, but the memories it holds are far from it.

Finally, she can't stand it anymore. Her apartment is packed into boxes ready to be shipped back to Washington where she has been allocated, furniture has been sold and cupboards have been emptied. The place is spotless, scrubbed clean with bleach, but the stain on her heart hasn't found a similar result, though she most certainly has tried. She pulls open the box, ready to conquer it until she sees a familiar piece of paper folded up on top.

It's tri-folded like it belonged in an envelope that Ali never managed to get. She slowly opens it and sees her cursive scrawl fill the tear stained pages that have never been read by the intended recipient.

 

November 10, 2011

Lucina,

As I sit here and try to process all of this, I'm left with more questions and less answers than when I started. The only thing I am certain of, is that I have loved you more than I ever thought possible. I have given my heart to you along with this country and for a long time, thought I held yours in return.

But now here I am, in what used to be our apartment, all alone. Germany feels too big without you and the fall nights feel too cold as I lay wrapped in the blankets where you used to hold me into the waning hours of the morning.

I often find myself wondering what happened. What went so poignantly wrong that you turned from me? What could I have possibly done to drive you into the arms of another? My love for you was pure and innocent and I strived to show you that every day you were by my side.

I remember the first day I met you, as I was wandering the streets of Frankfurt with a map and a confused expression that only a new college grad in a foreign city could have. I was trying to get back to my apartment after practice and must have looked pitiful enough for you to approach me. You were so kind in assuring me after I confessed how pathetically lost I was that, 'not all who wander are lost' which is a statement that is still engrained in my memory to this day.

Unfortunately, as I wander through the memories of the time we spent together, I am lost. So utterly and completely lost.

I remember so vividly the long strolls through Frankfurt where you would point out the places that held rich memories of your childhood. The Church your father proudly led your family into every Sunday, the schoolhouse where you had your first kiss behind the swing set, the bakery that your mother would buy your favorite pastries at and make you promise not to tell your father or brothers.

Most of all, I remember the places that we made our own memories. I came to Frankfurt ready to take on the world, but I was young and naive and didn't know the first thing about living in another country. I didn't speak the language, didn't know the customs and most certainly would have starved that first week had you not walked me into that coffee shop and ordered me a proper sandwich.

From random acquaintances, to friends, to so much more. I don't know how you did it, how you swept in so fast like the tide and stole my heart, but you did. It seemed easy, falling for you. Somewhere between the moonlight walks, the intimate conversations and the stolen kisses you captured my heart and even knowing what I know now, I still like to think that I captured yours.

I never saw it coming, never saw the cracks. Maybe they didn't exist in my eyes or maybe I was too infatuated to see them, but now I can physically feel them. I can feel them in my heart when our song comes on, in my lungs when I try to take a breath and in my tears when the nights get too lonely without you. Whatever cracks I missed before, the ones that exist now serve as a constant reminder of what I have lost.

I started writing this hoping that it would help release some of my anger towards you. I hoped it would help me heal, help me move on, but as I sit here scribbling down my feelings on a piece of paper, I realize that nothing will help because I am still so helplessly in love with you. Despite what you did, what you said, what I saw with my own eyes, my heart still aches for you, my skin crawls with a fierce need for your touch and my lungs still burn with the need to share your breath.

And as if I needed another reminder, every time I look down at my finger I am reminded by a tan line of a ring that no longer resides there.

I may never recover from this. I'd like to think I will, but right now the hurt is too real, the heartbreak too strong to truly believe that I will come out of this unscathed. Maybe one day I will finally understand why you chose to leave me here, alone with a mind full of questions that will never be answered. Maybe.

But for now all I can do is be thankful. Thankful that you came into my life when I needed someone the most. Thankful that you showed me the true meaning of being free, of being true to myself in that eternal quest for pure happiness. Thankful that you loved me for a time and showed me how I deserved to be treated now matter how fleeting. But most of all, thankful that you broke my heart. In doing so you broke the spell that love held over me, crushed the notion that true love really exists and made me feel pain that I've yet to experience in my short years on this earth. You've undoubtedly made me a stronger, tougher, more focused woman and all I can do is thank you for that.

As we go our separate ways, just know that a part of me will always love you and I hope when you think back on it all, you remember the love you held for me as well. As I keep marching through this life, trying to find my way from the darkness back into the light, I will fervently remember that not all who wander are lost.

XO Alex

 

She finishes reading the letter, running her fingers over the words covered with tears that feel like they were written a lifetime ago before setting it down on the ground to rummage through the rest of the box.

She pulls out a dried, slightly crushed rose from their first date. Followed by a small teddy bear that had been won at the fair, it's one eye missing from when it got trapped under the recliner for a month. Next out is a Goethe Frankfurt University t-shirt, the one she was unable to return and held many of her tears as she spent countless nights wrapped tightly in it as a reminder of the love she used to share.

Finally, she pulls out a small leather pouch wrapped tightly with cord to bind it shut. She knows what's in there, can feel the outline of the curved metal underneath her fingers through the thick leather fabric. Still, she can't bring herself to open it. She can't make herself stare the promise of love and commitment in the face yet another time. So she gathers the contents back into the box, walks down the block to the bridge overlooking the Nidda and tosses it as far as she can, watching as the contents sink to the bottom of the murky water.

She's moving on. She's starting over. She's going home.

Chapter Text

The first time Ali wakes up, she’s confused. Her bed is half the size of the queen she’s used to, the sheets are scratchier and at least three hundred thread counts less than before and the sunlight is streaming directly into her eyes. She picks her head up from the plush light gray pillow and looks around before realizing the reason for all of these differences –she’s home.

Not home as in the place she hopes to make hers for the long, foreseeable future, but home as in her father’s house in Virginia, in her old childhood bedroom, laying atop the twin bed she had spent the better part of 18 years sleeping in. She pulls the covers back over her head, but that only lasts for a minute before she’s too hot and the sun is too bright and she instead decides that she should make her first day back home count and actually do something productive.

She plods to the bathroom, noting how the carpeted floor feels so different than the smooth, wooden floors she had become accustomed to in her flat in Germany. As happy as she is to be home, everything feels so different and new. It should feel familiar, but instead all she can think about is how the toilets in America are too low, the sun shining through the windows is too bright and the toothpaste is too minty. Though she goes about her normal morning routine –shower, blow-dry hair, brush teeth, apply makeup- it feels different. And she’s honestly not quite sure in this moment that it’s a good thing.

***

Three months later, it still doesn't feel like a good thing.

“I’m going to go out for a bit,” Ali calls out to her father whom she was visiting for the weekend as she slips out the door with her BMW keys in hand. She’s glad she had it shipped back to the States so she didn't have to go through the frustration of shopping for a new one when she got back. He calls out after her, but the doors already closing and she misses the end of his sentence. Figuring it's something along the lines of 'have a good time', she decides to let it slide and continues out to the car.

One of the first things she realized when she came home was that the roads here are so unlike the ones in Germany. She’s used to the Autobahn, to flying down the perfectly paved asphalt with no adherence to posted speed limits, but no, even the driving is restrictive in the United States. It baffles her, how much she misses Germany after such a short time. She thought coming home had been the right choice, the smart thing to do to fill the void she's experienced, but now as she infuriatingly follows behind yet another car going well under the speed limit, she feels trapped, claustrophobic. It's like she's in a restrictive box and the walls are closing in. She misses the carefree spirit of Frankfurt, the bluntness of her teammates, the early morning coffee at her favorite little cafe on the corner of her street with a good book in her hand. This, home, is simply not measuring up.

Her phone vibrates as she makes the drive towards the city and she plucks it from the depths of the cup holder, seeing it’s from her father.

Dad: I don’t know if you got my message, but if you’re by the store can you pick up some hotdog buns for dinner tonight?

With her eyes still on the road, she taps out a reply and hits send before chucking her phone down on the passenger seat and veering into the grocery store parking lot on her left, figuring that she might as well get it out of the way before she forgets even though the last minute decision caused her to cut across three lanes of traffic and have two horns blared at her. She realizes that there’s likely nothing exciting enough to actually distract her here, she doesn’t have a lot of friends or really anything to do besides play futbol, but doesn’t want to forget and disappoint him. He had been gracious enough to welcome her back with open arms to her old bedroom for the first month until she found a place closer to where the Spirit play so it was the least she could do to not spoil their weekly dinner together, even if it was just hot dogs on the grill.

A few minutes later after she’s aimlessly wandered the store, thinking how much better stores are laid out in Germany –much more accessible and organized- she finally finds the bread aisle. Her eyes can’t help but roll at the fifteen different choices of bun so she just yanks the first one she sees off the shelf and makes her way to the cookie aisle to get herself a treat. It’s the least she can do to reward herself after the grueling preseason sessions she had struggled through that week.

Her eyes are locked on packages of Double Stuffed Oreos and Keebler Chocolate Coated Crisps, unable to decide between the two, when she hears some shuffling and cursing coming from down the aisle. Unable to fight her nosy nature, she casts a glance over her shoulder just in time to see a woman lean over her cart trying, unsuccessfully, to stop a wall of cracker boxes from falling over. Normally, she would mind her own business and pretend she didn’t see it to save the other woman from embarrassment, but she can’t help but smile as she watches the woman whose back is to her, continually curse as she frantically tries to gather the falling boxes in her arms.

Ali takes a few steps down the aisle and bends down to grab a few boxes that had tumbled onto the floor. She slowly stands up and places them back on the shelf, when she hears the other woman mutter an embarrassed “thank you” while she continued herself to stuff the Ritz Cracker and Saltine packages back into their rightful spots on the wall with a bit of aggression.

After pulling her hand back, Ali turns to her left and her lips curl up into a smirk when she sees who it is. “Why is it that you always seem so helpless when I find you?” she asks with a chuckle, startling the woman.

“Huh?” she replies in a slightly confused voice as she turns her eyes to see who was actually helping restock the boxes, her face instantly lighting up when she sees the familiar brunette from Germany. “Alexandra?” she asks in disbelief, wondering in her mind what the chances of this were. She would be lying if she said she hadn't thought about the infectiously happy brunette once or twice since then.

Ali smiles internally at the name Ashlyn uses to address her, a name that only extremely close friends and family use. She doesn’t bother to correct her though because she honestly likes the way it sounds coming off her tongue. It sounds almost natural. “Fancy seeing you here, Ashlyn,” she says, returning the blonde’s smile with a warm one of her own as she looks at the items thrown haphazardly into her cart along with the wrinkled shopping list -written in a fancy script handwriting which she would be surprised if it were Ashlyn's- crumpled in her hand with various sized check marks through certain items.

“Why aren’t you in Germany?” Ashlyn asks after stuffing the last of the mischievous boxes back into their places and setting the list down on top of the cart contents.

Ali just shrugs as she shifts the bag of hotdog buns into her other hand when Ashlyn goes to shake her hand. She wants to laugh at the formality of it, but if the blonde's flushed cheeks are any indication, she's still embarrassed from the falling box incident so she decides to let it slide and takes her hand briefly, ignoring the electric charge that shoots through her at the contact. She's married. “I actually signed with a team here. It’s where I’m originally from and as much as I loved Germany, I really just needed to come home.”

Ashlyn takes her answer with a nod as she pulls her hand back and sets it on the handle of her shopping cart which is loaded with a plethora of interesting food choices. “Well congratulations,” she says, her mind drifting back to the night they met in Frankfurt several months before.

“Thank you. And what are you doing here? Another work trip?” she asks, the curiosity evident in her shy tone as she shifts back on her heels awkwardly waiting for an answer.

The question seems to catch Ashlyn off guard a bit, or maybe it’s actually the sudden piercing voice that comes blasting through the speakers about a cleanup needed on Aisle 4 that makes her flinch, but Ali catches a visual recoil at her question and the uncomfortable silence that follows it. “Uh, sort of,” she says awkwardly, her eyes trained down on the ground as she fiddles with the well-worn platinum wedding band on her ring finger. “We uh, we moved up here for my wife actually. Her family is from the area. Luckily, my company had a satellite office here.”

The way she mumbles the last part makes it hard for Ali to hear, but she doesn’t want to ask the obviously stumbling blonde to elaborate and she can tell she isn't exactly thrilled about the move up North. “Well I hope you like it here and I hope I don’t find you cluelessly staring at the bus maps,” she says with an amused grin.

The tension seems to dissolve from Ashlyn’s shoulders as she carefully brings her eyes up to meet Ali’s. “Hey, if they’re in English I can actually figure them out!” She chuckles and shakes her head at the memory, knowing she must have looked like a sad, lost puppy. “Thanks for that, again,” she adds with an appreciative smile. “I never did properly thank you.”

“You bought me coffee!” Ali quickly retorts, setting the blonde straight as she leans back against the wall behind her. She doesn’t know why, but she feels so at ease around her which is a strange feeling for the normally closed off brunette.

Ash throws her head back and slowly nods as she recalls the events. “That’s right. I remember do remember paying for that now. Well, I’d still like to thank you properly. How about you come by for dinner some night? Emma makes a delicious pot roast,” she adds with a cautious optimism.

Emma. Her wife. Ali wants to immediately decline the offer, but the hopeful, excited glimmer in the blonde’s hazel irises and curve of her perfectly placed dimple are enough to break her resolve. Besides, she could use a friend and knows Ashlyn most likely doesn't know anyone in the area either since they just moved. “Um, you know what? Sure. I have plans with my dad tonight, but I’m free tomorrow?”

Ash nods enthusiastically at her answer, and Ali can catch the slightest hint of disbelief, as if even she thought Ali would politely decline. “Awesome!” She digs through her messy cart, finally pulling out a cell phone from underneath the taco shells and cereal boxes that are scattered throughout. “Here put your number in and I can text you the address and details,” she says casually while handing Ali her iPhone.

Ali takes the phone from the blonde, noting that it’s a bit sweaty from her palm and quickly enters her name and phone number. She thinks to mention how she had given the blonde her number once before, but decides to let it slide. Just after she clicked save, the phone’s screen lights up with a picture of Ash hugging a beautiful, dark haired, freckle faced woman tightly in her arms. “You’re getting a call,” Ali says, noting the name that came up along with the picture, right over their smiling faces.

“Shoot!” Ash says as she grabs the phone from Ali and looks at the time. “Damn it, I’m going to be late,” she says in a flustered tone as she answers the call and holds up one finger to Ali to signal that she just needs a moment. “Hey baby! I’m just finishing up at the store...Yeah, I met an old friend from Germany…Okay. I’ll tell you about it later. I’ll be by to get you in fifteen minutes, okay? Love you.”

Ali can’t help but chuckle at the fact that Ash called her an ‘old friend from Germany’ and that she was excited to tell her wife all about her. She thinks they must have a very trusting and open relationship because she knows that some of her friends wouldn’t be okay with a similar situation. She’s pulled from her thoughts by Ashlyn’s slight southern drawl offering apologies for having to rush out along with the movement of her grabbing a box of Saltine crackers of the shelf, this time without them all toppling down.

“I’ll text you later about dinner, okay?” she calls over her shoulder in a hurry as she pushes her overloaded cart towards the front of the store where the checkout lines are located.

Ali just shakes her head as the sporadic woman whips around the corner, her blonde hair flowing behind her and cart tires screeching into the turn, offering more apologies to the teenage boy she almost runs over on the way. “What am I getting myself into?” she mumbles to herself with a skeptical chuckle.

Chapter Text

Ali doesn't know what surprises her more, the fact that she agreed to dinner with Ashlyn and her wife or the fact that she's actually enjoying dinner with Ashlyn and her wife.

When she showed up to the blue, craftsman style two story home, she was quite surprised by its rustic appearance. Judging from Ashlyn's profession she would have figured it would be eccentric and modern and though the inside boasts that feeling, the outside is anything but. The ornate details of the spin- drills on the awning of the deep-set front porch along with the perfectly manicured landscaping -from the pristine weed-free grass to the intricately shaped bushes and flower beds covered with a precise amount of damp, black mulch- makes Ali wonder if it’s Ashlyn or her wife that is slightly OCD. From her time in Germany, she wouldn’t have guessed Ashlyn since she had left everything to chance, including being stuck on the streets in the middle of a Frankfurt winter with no idea how to get back to her hotel, but travel abroad can really change a person. That is something she’s definitely learned from experience.

Things started off a bit slow and with a few awkward moments where the three of them sat quietly on the couches in front of the large stone hearth, with just the crackle of the fireplace to fill the silence, but eventually everything settled in. Ali and Ashlyn reminisced about their meeting in Germany, to which Emma got quite a few laughs out of and even divulged a similar story about when they were on their honeymoon in Jamaica and Ashlyn had gotten them lost, only she refused to ask for help thinking they would be kidnapped since they were off the resort. Ali chuckled and shook her head at the blushing blonde, mumbling something along the lines of ‘how does she make it through the day?’ to which Emma laughed and Ashlyn shot her a pouty, playful glare.

“So are we ready to move into the dining room for dinner?” Emma asks about twenty minutes later as she comes back out of the kitchen in her floral patterned apron, interrupting a playful, but heated conversation Ashlyn and Ali were having about Chelsea and Barcelona.

Ashlyn turns and looks to her wife, and Ali turns to look at Ashlyn, noting how her face lights up when Emma walks into the room. She finds it cute, but simultaneously pained when she thinks to a similar reaction she would have when the love of her life -or who she thought was- would walk into the room.

“Of course! I’m starving,” Ashlyn says with a wide grin, rubbing her tummy lightly while she turns to her guest. “You ready for dinner, Ali?”

Ali’s cheeks curve into a smile as the scent of dinner wafts in from the kitchen where Emma had just opened the oven to check on it. “I am more than ready. I’ve heard a great deal about how delicious this pot roast is, Emma,” she supplies as she follows Ash through the kitchen which opens up into the immaculately decorated dining room where the table is set with white and black striped china sets, sitting atop light blue woven placemats. She smiles warmly at the sight of pink lilies sitting in a large crystal vase in the middle of the table, thankful that the flowers she had handed Ashlyn upon entering their house had so quickly found a home.

“Ashlyn, you sure know how to put the pressure on me!” Emma says with a laugh as she shoots her wife a playful glare across the candle lit table. “I’m sorry if my pot roast isn’t world class like my lovely wife makes it out to be,” she adds, turning to Ali with a wink.

Ali simply smiles in return as she watches Ash pull out Emma’s chair for her. “I’m sure it’ll be great, Emma,” she says honestly, knowing that anything would be better than her haphazard attempts at cooking while in Germany. It had been good enough for her to get by, but she knows why her teammates would often insist on bringing takeout over for movie nights instead of letting the brunette try her hand at cooking. The Nadine food poisoning incident had definitely alerted them to Ali’s substandard cooking, even though she had tried unsuccessfully to blame it on the copious amounts of beers they pounded at the bar shortly after.

“What can I get you two lovely ladies to drink?” Ash asks, sharing a look between both women.

The question makes a light go off in Ali’s brain and she quickly pops up from the table, sliding her chair back across the dark stained wooden floor. “That reminds me, I brought my favorite bottle of wine from Germany!” she calls out over her shoulder as she makes her way to the front hallway where her bag was. “Would either of you care for a glass? It pairs deliciously with beef,” she says when she returns, holding the red wine out to Ashlyn with a proud smile.

The blonde accepts the bottle from Ali with an appreciative “thank you” and turns around to grab two glasses from the wooden wine cabinet against the back wall of the dining room. Ali watches Emma’s face fall a bit and it’s obvious that she’s confused by the look the two married women share.

“As much as I would love some,” Emma begins with an apologetic look towards Ali, “I don’t think this little lady would appreciate it," she finishes, placing her hand lightly on her belly.

It takes Ali a moment, but between Ash's endearing, fulfilled look at her wife and the hand placed on Emma's stomach, she quickly catches on. "Oh my goodness! I didn't know you two were pregnant. Congratulations!" she says with genuine excitement as she looks to the two women who are positively radiant.

Ash leans over and places a soft kiss on top of her wife's head before going back to pouring wine for Ali and herself. "Thanks, Alex. We're still in the first trimester, so we haven't really told anyone besides family yet. You just happened to lure her into telling you with the draw of a delicious wine," she says with a chuckle, passing the half full glass to Ali who takes it with a smile.

"Well I'm happy for you," she states over the brim of her glass while swirling her wine around in small circles. Though caught off guard by the news, she can see from the twinkle in their eyes that this is something both of them are over the moon about and she wonders how she could have even missed it since Emma is absolutely glowing. Though she figured she was just one of those gorgeous women that had a different radiance about her. She honestly wouldn’t expect anything less from Ashlyn’s wife, seeing as the blonde could be a model herself, ranging anywhere from Hurley to Covergirl. Even in Ali’s short time around the couple she could tell they fit perfectly; where Ashlyn was tall and lanky with an athletic build, Emma was petite with curves in all the right places, where Ashlyn had light features, but tanned skin from her time in the sun at construction sites, Emma had piercing dark green eyes and black hair, but pale, freckled skin from her Irish heritage and where Ashlyn was brash and rowdy with an undeniable swagger, Emma was refined and calm with a distinct sense of confidence. They were in every sense of the term, soul mates, and Ali couldn’t help but feel that the love these two women share was infectious, intoxicating almost. "That's very exciting news," she adds with a beaming smile, making a mental note to let go of any slight romantic notions she may be harboring for the blonde.

"Indeed," Ash says as she begins carving the pot roast with a meticulous sense of determination to achieve the same thickness on each piece as it fell away from the center cut with each slice of her knife.

Dinner goes by quickly and before Ali knows it she's sprawled out on the dark gray microfiber loveseat and her and Ashlyn have plowed through the entire bottle of wine which now sits empty on the coffee table between them.

"That was absolutely delicious," she says as she leans back onto the couch. She looks over at Ashlyn and Emma who have snuggled up on the much larger couch across from her, a fleece blanket draped over Emma who has her head in the blonde's lap. "Thank you so much for dinner, Emma."

"Hey, what about me?" Ash asks with a childlike pout that gets both Ali and Emma chuckling to themselves.

"Thanks for pouring the wine?" Ali offers in a teasing tone.

Emma simply smiles and curls further into her wife as the blonde drapes her arm around her. "I like this one, Ash!" She shoots Ali a wink that the blonde can't catch, and the brunette is forced to bite back a smile.

"I see how it is," Ash groans. "You two ganging up against me!"

They settle back into a lulled conversation that never gets too lively since they're all stuffed and can't quite move or laugh too hard without being in pain.

After another half an hour or so, Emma yawns, her eyes becoming a bit tired as her head becomes heavier in Ashlyn’s lap. Ash wipes a few stray hairs out of her face and smiles down at her, her eyes tracing the round curve of her jaw and the slight pink hue in her cheeks from lying under the warmth of the blanket. “Hey, Em, why don’t you head up to bed? I’ll be up in a few, okay?” she asks sweetly, shifting a bit so she can help her sit up.

Emma sleepily nods and grabs Ash’s hand to help herself up. She turns to look at Ali with a warm smile. “It was very nice meeting you, Ali,” she says sincerely, glad that Ashlyn had found a friend in this new city. She had grown up in the area and had family and some old friends around, but she was glad that Ashlyn had found something, someone of her own. Life was often a struggle and Emma was a firm believer that everyone needed a friend to lean on, especially her wife. “Thank you for rescuing my helpless wife from the streets of Frankfurt,” she adds playfully walking over to the couch where Ali was sitting.

Ali stands up and accepts Emma’s hug. She’s surprised by how tightly she hugs her since they had just met, but she had been so welcoming since the start of the night so she didn’t think anything of it when the woman wraps her arms even tighter around her and holds her for a moment. “I hope to see you again soon,” she finally says when she leans back from the hug and pulls her cardigan around her tighter as she suddenly feels the crisp air now that she’s outside of the blanket and warm embrace. “See you soon, beautiful,” she says gently to her wife as she squeezes her arm and plants a quick kiss to her cheek before heading up the stairs towards their bedroom.

Ashlyn turns and watches her wife go up the stairs until she slips out of her sight when reaches the top and turns down the hallway that leads to the master bedroom which houses their King bed.

“She’s beautiful,” Ali says softly as she watches the smaller woman carefully make her way up the stairs, noting how Ashlyn’s eyes have not left her. She remembers a time when her eyes would never leave a hallway until her love was out of sight. That was another time and another place, but Ali can’t help the heaviness that settles in her chest when she sees Ashlyn and her wife act the way she had used to with Lucina. Though the words are meant to be spoken to herself, locked in her own thoughts, she realizes she spoke out loud when she hears Ashlyn mumble an agreement and nod.

“Thank you for coming tonight,” Ashlyn says quietly, turning her attention back to where Ali is propped up on the couch wrapped in a blanket she had pulled down from the top of the couch when she had gotten chilly after filling up on dinner. “We haven’t gotten out too much since we’ve been here, but I know Emma really enjoyed the company.”

Ali smiles and notes how the blonde’s eyes catch the flickering fire that’s roaring in the hearth and reflects it back. It transfers her back to a night of lovemaking before the fireplace in her Frankfurt flat, the fire and hunger flashing through the piercing blue eyes that hung above her, and though she tries to quickly push the thoughts away, her change in demeanor does not go unnoticed. “I had a good time tonight, too,” she replies, trying to steer herself to a better place, to remember the good things she had to be thankful for instead of being hung up on past failures. “Thank you for inviting me. It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten out as well.”

She hopes Ashlyn doesn’t catch the surprise in her voice, but when the blonde just smiles in reply she figures she’s off the hook. They stay that way for a moment, gazing at each other with small, tired smiles painted on their faces. Ali feels herself getting hot, and is unsure if it’s the fire or the fact that she doesn’t think anyone has ever looked at her so intently in such a platonic way. Ashlyn certainly isn’t checking her out, but she can feel her eyes gliding over her as if she’s searching for something in her body language that she hasn’t yet found in the brunette’s words. “I should really get going.”

Her voice is calm and a bit uncertain and it makes Ashlyn pause for a moment as she meets her eyes again. She can see something in them that wasn’t present before, but can’t put her finger on it. All she knows is that the air in the room somehow seems heavier now, almost stifling and she quickly nods before slipping off the couch. “I can walk you out to your car.”

Ali gathers her belongings while Ashlyn grabs the Tupperware container of leftovers that Emma had all but demanded she take home with her. “Thanks,” she mumbles when Ash hands her the container and pulls open the front door for her.

They shuffle awkwardly towards Ali’s car, the soft chirp of crickets and rustling of leaves from the cool, spring air filling the silence that has settled between them. When they round Ali’s car, it’s suddenly as if neither of them know how to progress. Ali can’t stop thinking about how adorable Ashlyn and Emma are and how she wishes so badly her love hadn’t been so easily thrown away and Ashlyn can’t help analyzing the situation and how Ali had become a different person since Emma left the room. She feels a bit uncomfortable, especially with the way Ali is looking up at her, as if she’s thinking about something much deeper, her brown eyes seemingly lost inside herself.

“Thanks again for coming,” Ash prods as she pulls open Ali’s door for her.

Ali is broken from her trance and quickly processes that it’s time to go. “Thanks for having me,” she says a bit shyly as she drops her gaze, suddenly hyper aware that she had been staring at Ashlyn for a bit longer than was normally acceptable. She slides into the seat and pushes her keys into the ignition, but doesn’t start the car. She doesn’t know why, but she’s desperate for every second she can get with the blonde. Being around Ashlyn reminds her that there’s hope, that true love exists and isn’t just a figment of her exhausted and stretched imagination. It’s a feeling she’s so desperate to find again, to grasp and let it’s truth fill her conscious, but she knows it’s too much to ask of her. Too deep. “Goodnight, Ashlyn,” she says softly, her voice wavering a bit.

“Goodnight, Alex,” Ashlyn replies with a smile that she’s seemingly unable to hide around the brunette. “Get home safe,” she adds before slowly shutting the door behind her. She watches for a moment as Ali fires up the engine, stepping back when she pulls away from the curb and down the street. Her eyes linger for just a moment longer, until the car slips from her view, leaving only a wispy cloud of white exhaust painted against the dark night sky.

Chapter Text

“Krieger, can I talk to you for a moment?”

Ali looks across the field where the voice had come from and sees her coach, Mark waving her over. She nods, finishes her last stretch and then jogs over the plush grass field towards her new coach. “What’s up Parsons?” she asks curiously, wiping the sweat that had pooled along her forehead after a grueling practice and fitness session with the hem of her shirt which simultaneously exposes her toned, sweaty frame and rippled abs.

The young coach ignores the fact that his player practically flashed him –something he’s used to being a male coach for a female team- and continues to meet her gaze. “Management is talking about building a new stadium on the other side of the park dedicated solely to the Spirit,” he begins.

Ali perks up a bit at this, the promise of investment in women’s futbol something that she’s not used to. “Really?” she asks with wide eyes, her disbelief obviously evident by the hearty chuckle Mark replies with.

“Really,” he clarifies with a sincere smile. He’s as excited, and honestly as surprised about it as she is.

“That’s great!” she exclaims, a giddiness she hadn’t felt in a while washing over her as her smile grows even larger, spreading across her face. She knew what she was coming into with the new league as opposed to the established club she left in Frankfurt, and this was definitely a pleasant surprise.

Mark nods and leans back against the bleacher behind him, ignoring that it's burning hot from roasting in the sun. “It really is. It’s a good thing to see, especially so early on in the league. I need your help though.”

Here it comes, thinks Ali. She figures he’s going to need her to call sponsors and beg for money from donors, using her name and spot on the National Team as the “in” to big money. She can picture it now, Yeah, that’s me. Yeah, the one who scored the PK against Brazil in the Quarterfinals,. “And how exactly can I help?” she asks a bit skeptically crossing her arms defensively as she eyes her coach with a firm gaze.

Mark leans forward a bit, peeling his eyes from the field where a few of his players were foolishly chasing each other around. He makes a mental note that he must not have worked them hard enough, or they simply didn’t push themselves enough if they still have that kind of energy before turning his gaze to the unsure brunette before him, noticing the suspicion laced in her distrustful stance. “Well, we would like you to talk to the designers about the layout of it all. You’ve been in numerous stadiums around the world with all of your teams and we really want to get a unique stadium built here that will draw fans in. It’s not going to be huge, but the main thing they would like assistance with is the locker rooms and player areas, that sort of thing.” He can tell Ali has softened, the line between her brows, relaxed and the wrinkles in her nose becoming more pronounced as she smiles larger with every word. “Is that something you’d be interested in?” he asks with a wide smile of his own, glad at that moment that he wasn’t bringing upsetting news to his star defender. He had yet to have that happen, but judging from her intense personality on the field and the piercing stare he had just gotten, it was something he wanted to avoid if at all possible.

“I would love to!” Ali shrieks her arms uncrossing slightly as she rubs her arms trying to hide the goosebumps that were popping up along them as a swift breeze blew across the field. Her excitement level is through the roof and she honestly feels like she could burst with the pure ecstasy she was feeling. Although the WPS had folded after the World Cup, she was glad to know their progress along with Olympic Gold had sparked some progress for women’s soccer. Though many players were still working several jobs, living with host families and playing for basically less than minimum wage, it was still progress. There was still a dream to be had and for the moment, that was enough. It had to be enough.

Parson’s smiles, genuinely happy to see the excitement housed in Ali’s small, but sturdy frame. “Excellent. I figured I could count you in. The company is sending someone out tomorrow. Are you free to meet with them after practice? It shouldn’t be too long.” He quickly adds the last part to gauge Ali’s reaction, not wanting to make it seem like it will be a large, time-laden task.

“I would be more than happy to meet with him,” Ali says in a soft, convincing tone to set her coach at ease. “Thanks for giving me the opportunity to give my input,” she adds, letting him know how appreciative she is. Her mind is already swirling with ideas, the plush leather couches from Frankfurt, the sound system from the FCKC locker room, the walkout hallways laden with painted quotes like at Old Trafford, and the bold Spirit logo woven into the carpet in the middle of the locker room floor, a stark reminder of who they are, who they play for. The possibilities are endless.

“Of course, Kriegs. I was thinking of letting Lori Lindsey have a crack at it, but I was at her apartment once for a team dinner and I’ll be honest when I say it was a bit frightening.”

Ali chuckles as she thinks back to the few occasions she had visited the stocky blonde’s apartment. She knew exactly what the coach meant and couldn’t fight the smile that spread across her lips. “I’m definitely the better bet,” she agrees with a wink.

“Let’s hope so!” Parson’s replies, pushing off of the stadium railing he had been leaning against. “I’ll see you tomorrow, alright?”

Ali nods before turning and jogging back over to her bag. The team had already cleared out from the practice field, leaving behind only the sound of slamming car doors as they slip into their old Chevy Impalas and Fords. Ali guiltily looks back at her all-white BMW now sitting alone in the parking lot amid the haze of dirt kicked up from her teammates pulling out, and is reminded again of just how fortunate she is.

She finishes packing up her things, cramming her sweaty Nike cleats and soaked shin guards into the drawstring bag before throwing it over her shoulders. She plucks her white, pristine iPhone from the grass next to her and then pushes up from the ground to make her way to her car after slipping on her Nike sliders.

She unlocks her phone and glances down at the text notification as she shuffles to her car, her legs burning after a grueling workout. The text inviting her to lunch comes up on her screen and even though she’s exhausted and just wants to shower and pass out in her bed, she smiles widely.

Of course!! See you there in half an hour!

***
She pulls up at the restaurant and nearly jumps out of her car before she even turns it off. After slamming her door shut, she clicks the locks and slips in the front door just as she hears her car chirp twice.

“GOD I MISSED YOU!” comes a high pitched voice from across the room.

“Hey, Em!” Ali shrieks, just before she’s enveloped in a bone-crushing hug from her best friend. She feels her friend tug her even tighter and returns the favor, wrapping her arms tightly around her waist as they stand embracing in the lobby of Woodmont Grill, unaware that several patrons are staring at them with perplexed expressions.

Finally, they break apart and before another word can be spoken, the host clears his throat. “Can I get you two a table?” the teenage boy with an awkward comb over asks, smiling widely at them to reveal his braces.

Ali nods and smiles back at him. “Yes, that would be great. Just two, please,” she supplies.

A few minutes later they’ve settled into their corner booth after having ordered their drinks –water for Ali and a glass of white peach sangria for Emily- as well as their food –salads for both.

“I can’t believe you’re back,” Emily states, staring at Ali with a sense of wonderment, like she might disappear at any minute. They’ve been friends since elementary school, but unlike Ali’s unsuccessful attempt at long distance relationships, this one has survived and even thrived. Maybe it’s because once you’ve protected each other from having your fingers stuck in warm cups of water to make you pee your pants at a sleepover or cried in each other’s arms after a first breakup or taken a last minute red-eye flight to be there when your best friend wakes up in the hospital after a severe health scare, there’s really nothing that can drive you apart.

“I know,” Ali breathes out, like she almost can’t believe it herself. It’s been a few months since she’s been back, but the first time seeing Emily since she had actually just moved back to the area for work. “It doesn’t feel real. I haven’t completely unpacked yet because it still feels like it’s just a break between seasons and I’ll need to pack up again soon.”

“You’re not though?” When Ali’s eyes dart to her, the confusion evident, she clarifies. “You’re not leaving again are you?”

Ali shakes her head and shrugs. “I’ve signed a two year deal with the Spirit and if things stay the course, I’d opt to extend. This is where I want to be.”

Through the clamor of the bustling restaurant, Emily can catch some hesitation in her voice. “Is it where you want to be? You don’t miss Germany?” she asks, taking a sip of her water as she watches Ali mull over her questions.

The question hits Ali harder than intended and she realizes that when her immediate answer isn’t an automatic ‘yes’. She’s home, isn’t that supposed to make her feel invincible, untouchable as she peruses her old stomping grounds and navigates the roads and club scene like an expert? But something feels off, she feels alone and she’s not sure if it’s the fact that her friends have grown up and moved out, that her teammates all seem so much younger than her and she can barely follow the daily gossip floating about during water breaks or after practice, or that the hole blown into her heart in Germany still hasn’t healed. And maybe that’s part of it, a sad reality that she’ll forever have to live with, the fact that maybe she never will feel whole again since a large part of her heart was forever lost in Germany, held in the hands of someone who didn’t cherish like they should have and tossed it aside with little regard.

“You okay, Al?” Emily’s soft, comforting voice pulls her from her misery.

Ali shakes her head, as if she can physically shake the haunting memories away. “Uh yeah, I’m good. Sorry just thinking about a lot,” she offers before taking a big gulp of water as an excuse to stop talking.

“About Lucina?” Emily asks, her tone hardening a bit, the memory of the night when her best friend called her from oceans away sobbing about how she didn’t think she could go on. She knows Ali, knows her strength and everything she’s fought through and honestly had never heard her distraught. What scared her most though, was the fact that Ali had never seemed to completely recover from it. She had handled injuries, setbacks, failure and family struggles with a graceful determination, but this was different. She had never seen the brunette so lost. It took a lot for Emily not to fly to Germany and hunt the women down who had betrayed and broken her best friend. Mostly, it was the prohibitive aspect of not knowing a lick of German or the layout of the land that spared Lucina.

“Just about everything,” Ali supplies, not wanting to settle on this particular subject. “I do miss Germany. Part of my heart will always be there.”

They both let the double meaning of Ali’s words pass as the waitress comes over and sets their lunches down, apologizing when she gently bumps Ali’s arm before she scurries back to the kitchen for her next guest.

“Well, I’m glad you’re back. I missed having my partner in crime around,” Emily rouses with a smile.

Ali glances up from her salad, holding her fork midway between her mouth and the plate as a smirk crosses her lips. “We did get ourselves into quite the predicaments, didn’t we?” Ali teases, thinking back to some of their crazy college nights together.

“Oh yes we did!” Emily says, a howling laugh escaping her lips as she remembers the one time that she and Ali had done tequila shots after Emily’s boyfriend dumped her and they ended up on top of the bar, dancing and singing to some Beyonce song that she can’t recall. Neither of them had believed they actually did it in the morning, but unfortunately there was photo evidence to the contrary that was revealed to them as they lay cuddling in Ali’s bed trying to stave off nasty hangovers.

“Looking so crazy in love?” Ali asks, cocking an eyebrow before shoveling her spoonful of iceberg lettuce soaked in Caesar dressing into her mouth.

“Shut up,” Emily groans, smacking her palm to her forehead. “Don’t make me bring up that time at the men’s soccer house,” she begins, a patronizing expression falling across her round face.

“Don’t. Even.” Ali warns and waves her fork at her friend.

“Sure thing, keg stand.”

Ali throws her head back, a genuine laugh escaping her throat as she thinks back to the nickname she earned junior year of college. “I said don’t, Em!” she giggles. “That is most definitely a night I don’t need to remember.”

They both chuckle for a few more moments at the memory of Ali being held above the keg by her teammates, easily out chugging the senior goalie from the men’s team who had never lived it down.

“We need a night out,” Emily surmises as she finishes off her salad, gathering the last wisps of lettuce onto her fork and plunging it into her mouth. “Maybe a welcome home party is in order?” she adds, tapping her fingers together with a mischievous grin.

Ali nods and leans back in her chair to catch the waitress’s attention for the check. “Yeah, when I get a bye week we should pick a night and invite the old crew out.” She knows it will be a while until she gets time off, but knows a rowdy night out with her closest friends could be just what she needed to get her mind off Germany.

“Definitely,” Emily agrees. “So what have you been up to since I’ve been out of town?”

“Nothing much,” Ali answers honestly, suddenly feeling a bit pitiful that she hasn’t done much besides practice and hang out with her dad. “I had dinner a couple weeks ago with a new friend,” she adds, thinking it makes her sound less pathetic and depressed since she actually went out and did something.

“Oh ya?” Emily asks, catching the slight smirk that the brunette tries to hide by quickly taking a sip of her water. “Who’s the new friend?”

“A girl I met in Germany actually,” Ali supplies, suddenly realizing her answer will only enhance the skepticism she caught from her friend.

“What kind of friend,” Emily questions with a cocked eyebrow. She knows Ali has always had two kinds of friends, friends and friends and if the smirk on her face is any evidence, she thinks this one might be the latter.

“Just a friend.” Ali immediately sets her straight, but feels a slight pang of guilt pulse through her at the thought of possibly wanting more. “I found her wandering the streets of Germany lost so I offered to drive her back to her hotel and we got coffee.”

“Finding hopeless Americans abroad?” Emily teases, still not fully believing Ali’s insistence that she’s just a friend.

Ali laughs and slips her credit card into the check before handing it back to the waitress. She ignores Emily’s scoff at not splitting the bill and turns back with a set gaze. “It wasn’t like that. She was good company and an English conversation. That’s all,” Ali says, her tone even as she tries to convey to Emily the extent of their relationship.

“So did you get her number and meet up with this ‘friend’,” she begins throwing air quotes around the word, “or did you just happen to run into her when you came back stateside?”

Ali rolls her eyes and Emily’s ongoing disbelief. She knows it’s just her friend’s wishful thinking that she finds someone new and just drops her head, shaking it side to side. “I ran into her at the market. She invited me to dinner with her and her wife,” she replies, stressing the last word.

“Hmmm,” Emily says, thinking on it for a moment. “How good do they seem?” she asks with a playfulness evident in her voice.

“Emily! Let me clarify, as gorgeous as she is...I had dinner with her and her very gorgeous, very pregnant wife and they were sickeningly adorable together.”

“That might make things a bit difficult, huh?” she finally surrenders with a chuckle.

“Just friends, Em,” she says again with a laugh at her best friend’s usual antics. “Just friends.”

Chapter Text

The smell of fresh cut grass is a scent that Ali lives for and as crazy as it sounds, she thinks it honestly lifts her mood and makes her feel safe, the unrelenting scent of nature being tamed for the benefit of man. It reminds her of chasing her brother around in their one acre backyard of their five bedroom, three bath house in Dumfries, Virginia, or settling into the large tree house nestled in the huge Maple tree along the back of their property when she was angry with the world, or her coach, or her parents for deciding to call a quits on their marriage. More than all of that, it reminds her of being on the soccer field, a real pitch with real grass where she’s free to be herself, to live out her dreams that started when she was five on a dandelion covered patch of grass in Prince William Park. It’s on that soccer field where she found her true passion, her one true love in life and thankfully –unlike the other experiences in her life- it’s a love story that will have a happy ending. Despite the injuries and the losses, it’s made her stronger, more determined and she just knows deep down that she will have her happy ending. She knows there is an Olympic Gold and a World Cup victory coming to her. There has to be. With all the heartbreak she’s experienced in her life, both mentally and physically, she knows she finally deserves a happy ending. What makes her smile even larger though, is the thought that not everyone gets the ending they deserve. But Alexandra Krieger never backs down from a challenge and she’ll be damned if she lets her happy ending pass her by. She’ll work for it, day in and day out, struggle through the hardships and make the sacrifices needed until the universe has no choice but to finally make her dreams come true.

“You’re in a good mood, Krieger,” Mark says as he passes the defender who is shoving balls into a ball bag with a smile on her face, something the rookies or even assistant coaches are usually stuck doing. He knows it isn’t unusual for her to step up and do the jobs that many national team players would think beneath them, but it’s still a pleasant surprise to witness her humility and work ethic on a daily basis. She is in every sense of the word; a true professional.

Ali shrugs as she pulls on the thick string that binds the bag closed. “It’s a beautiful day coach,” she says with a huge grin, inhaling the sweet, intoxicating smell of the fresh cut grass she was standing on, thankful for the early warm snap they were experiencing in April.

Parson’s furrows his brow a bit, thinking Ali looks a bit crazy as she breathes in and lifts her face up to soak up as much of the radiating spring sun as possible, as if it was her last change and the bright white globe was going to disappear, never to be seen again. “Whatever you say, Kriegs,” he replies with a laugh while unlacing his boots. He slips his shoes on when he sees someone walking across the field with a notebook tucked under their arm, the same person who had been nestled on the bleachers for the last ten minutes of practice patiently waiting for them to finish. He smiles brightly and quickly ties his white and navy Nike free fly’s before standing up to address them. “Welcome to our humble abode,” he says with a smile and extended hand. “I’m Mark Parsons, head coach for the Spirit. We’re very excited to work with your company on this new stadium,” he says with the excitement of a small child on Christmas morning.

“Ashlyn Harris,” the woman introduces herself and shakes the coach's hand firmly as she looks around the small stadium that currently housed the team. No wonder they need an upgrade. Can this place even fit 5,000 people? Maybe women’s soccer isn’t very popular.

Ali’s head immediately perks up at the sound of a familiar voice. A voice she hadn’t heard since dinner a few weeks ago. A voice that she hadn’t been able to get out of her head since. She quickly stands up and makes her way to stand next to her coach, completely oblivious to the fact that she was only in her sports bra and hadn’t quite finished changing. “Ashlyn?” she asks, a confused tone backed up by an equally confused expression, her forehead turning into a sea of wrinkles as she furrowed her brow and tried to process the situation.

“Alex?” she replies, confused until it all starts to click when she sees Ali standing there in her Washington Spirit shorts and gray Nike sports bra, covered in a glistening sheen of sweat that one gets after a grueling two hour practice in the Maryland sun. She did say she came back to play for a local team.

Mark stands back, processing the interaction between the two women who obviously know each other, but still seem very confused by each other’s presence. “I’m assuming introductions aren’t needed?” he asks with a smirk as he looks at the two women staring at each other with perplexed, but pleased expressions painted on their faces, not missing the fact that the woman called her ‘Alex’, a name he knows very few have earned the right to call her.

“I guess not,” Ash chuckles, trying her hardest to keep her eyes above Ali’s neck. The last thing she needs to do is get caught looking, even though her interest is certainly piqued by the large tattoo wrapped around her ribcage. She's always been a firm admirer of a good ink job and is quite surprised the brunette had such a big piece. “It’s nice to see you again,” she adds with a sincere smile that Ali finds welcoming.

“It is,” Ali replies with a shy grin, suddenly feeling very exposed standing there without a shirt on as a slight breeze ripples through the air and sends a wave of goosebumps across her sweaty, bare skin. She knows Ashlyn has a wife and isn’t interested, but she still feels slightly guilty about it for some reason. “Uh…let me...get a shirt on,” she nervously stammers before turning back to her bag and grabbing a clean, white v-neck from it. Get it together, Krieger, she thinks to herself before turning back to Mark and Ashlyn, who is doing everything in her power to not smirk at Ali’s apparent nervousness. “So what are you doing here, Ash?” she asks, her eyes flickering to the notebook tucked under Ashlyn’s tattooed arm.

“I’m here for my firm Renley and Associates to discuss the new stadium we’re building for y’all,” she states proudly. The truth was she was shocked that her company had put her on such a large project since she was so new in D.C., but figures they thought since she used to play soccer in college she would have some insider information.

“Ashlyn is the architect you’ll be working with to develop ideas for the locker room and overall stadium aesthetics,” Parson’s finally interjects, directing his words to his captain who seems to have finally put it all together judging by the slow nodding she’s currently doing. “Anyways, I actually have to get going. I need to pick my daughter up from daycare. You can show her around, right Ali?” he asks, thinking it won’t be a big deal since the women obviously already know each other, even though he’s quite sure he’s never seen his usually confident defender so flustered.

Ali nods, taking a deep breath so the reassuring scent of the gas can fill her senses. “Of course. Tell Harper I said hi,” she says with a beaming smile as she thinks to the little girl that has frequented their practices often, her dirty blonde hair flowing behind her as she sprints around in an oversized Spirit jersey chasing a ball the players teasingly kick around while playing with her.

“Will do, Kriegs,” he replies while bending down to grab his drawstring bag from the ground. Thankfully, the staff has already grabbed the ball bags and put them away in the storage shed to be kept until the next day’s practice. He turns and heads to the parking lot where his charcoal grey Audi, Ali’s white BMW and a dusty, muddy, black Jeep Wrangler sit baking under the hot sun. “See you tomorrow, Kriegs and I’m sure I’ll see you around, Ashlyn,” he says with a wave which the two women return before he turns around and walks to his car.

Ali looks across the field at the rest of the park where the rest of the fields lie, the sprinklers coating them with a slick layer of water to stave off the usually browning grass that comes with an impending Maryland summer. She doesn’t know why, but she feels some slight resentment towards the blonde who’s standing awkwardly before her, clutching her notebook like a safety blanket. It’s dumb and she knows she can’t expect anything from her since she’s married, but honestly she really could just use a friend and was a bit irked that Ashlyn had never texted her after that night. The stubborn, German side of her refused to be the first one to text. It was uncharted territory for her, trying to be friends with a married woman that she obviously had a slight attraction to and didn’t want to seem obtrusive so she put the ball in Ashlyn’s court and so far the blonde had just been sitting on the bench watching the game.

“So I guess at dinner you never got to mentioning that you play for the Washington Spirit,” Ash breaks the ice with a chuckle as she shifts on her feet uncomfortably, looking at the brunette who seems to be lost in thought.

Ali finally pries her eyes from the screaming children running through the freezing cold, albeit refreshing sprinklers to meet Ashlyn’s guarded gaze. They lock eyes for a minute and Ali immediately feels all resentment peter away as she looks at the crookedly smiling blonde, dressed in tight khakis that stop a few inches above her ankles and a navy blue button up with the sleeves rolled past her elbows with the top two buttons left undone. “Yeah,” she replies. “And I guess you forgot to mention at dinner that you were building a new stadium for the Washington Spirit.”

Ash laughs and Ali’s heart swoons as the intoxicating sound fills her. “Well I actually just found out this week I was on this job,” she counters.

“Well maybe if you actually texted me after dinner I would have known,” she replies with a bit more sass than intended. She sees Ash recoil and immediately wishes she could bring the words back in, but it’s too late, they’re already out there hanging uneasily in the space between them.

The blonde rubs the back of her neck awkwardly as she tries to come up with a response. She honestly had thought about texting Ali several times, but never knew exactly what to say. The last thing she wanted to do was lead the brunette on, especially when all she had to offer was friendship and wasn’t quite sure if that was all Ali was interested in. “I…uh…I thought phones worked both ways?” she finally gets out and internally groans at the use of the cliché line. Are you fucking kidding me, Harris? Phones work both ways? Jesus.

Ali can see the internal struggle going on behind the blonde’s eyes and finally just giggles at how awkward they’ve become in just a few minutes of being alone together. It’s so different than when they were sharing a friendly coffee in Germany or toasting to Ashlyn’s new baby at dinner. “Hey,” she says softly, cutting across the space to place a gentle hand on the blonde’s forearm. She waits for the blonde’s hazel eyes to meet her own before continuing. “Let’s just pretend these last five minutes didn’t happen, okay?” she asks with a playful smirk, hoping that the blonde will agree to a redo.

Ash smiles, sensing a new lightness in the brunette standing before her and eagerly nods. “Yeah whatever the fuck that just was, let’s forget it,” she responds. “I’m sorry I never got in touch with you after dinner,” she adds, wanting to clear the air between them that had gotten hazy with something she couldn’t quite put a finger on. “I just…I wasn’t sure…um…” Ash begins stammering again, unable to decide how to express her concerns to Ali’s intentions, as well as whether or not she even wants to bring it up and risk offending her.

“Ashlyn, I know where you’re coming from,” Ali states, a new seriousness present in her that the blonde hadn’t seen before. She thinks she’s getting a glimpse of serious Ali, the one who slide tackles girls for a living and is a bit intrigued. It’s so different than what’s she used to from her, a bubbly personality and infectious smile. “I really enjoyed dinner the other week with both you and Emma.” She lets the words sink in before she continues, holding up a hand to silence Ashlyn when she tries to respond. “I respect both you and your gorgeous wife as well as your marriage. I’ve been on the receiving end of a bad situation and in no way want to place a strain on your relationship. I mean…I understand if you don’t see a point in it, but I really could use a friend.” She finishes and pauses in anticipation of a response.

Ashlyn wants to kick herself for the doubts that had flooded her mind about Ali. She had seen nothing but kindness and compassion from the brunette and besides a few wayward or lingering glances, she had made no advances or suggested in any way that her intentions were more than platonic. Not that Ashlyn would ever stray from her wife, but she knows Ali comes from a place of honesty and though she’s not sure of the full story, can see a deeper hurt flicker through her big brown eyes that assures her the brunette means no harm. “No, Alex, I was wrong,” she starts, putting a hand up to let Ali know she had something important to get out. “I was wrong to think your intentions were untrue and I apologize for that. You’ve been nothing but kind to my wife and I. I’m sorry.”

“So,” Ali says, a smile spreading across her lips as she sticks out her hand and eyes the lanky blonde standing before her. “Friends?”

Ashlyn responds with a wide grin of her own and takes Ali’s hand in her own, noting how much smaller and softer it is than her larger, rougher hands that spend their days on construction sites and in sculpting rooms. “Friends.”

Chapter Text

“Sorry I’m late,” Ash mumbles apologetically as she slips into the seat across from Ali, slides her phone to the side and sets her blue spiral notebook down neatly in front of her. She was only five minutes late, which was almost early in her mind, but still felt bad that Ali had already been seated which meant she must have gotten there early herself. It must be that strict German time, she thinks to herself as she realizes the brunette has arrived before her every single time.

Ali finds it’s curious that Ash is always so frantic and unorganized, yet taps the corner of the notebook a few times with her finger until the edge of it is perfectly parallel to the side of the table, turning to give her phone the same treatment. “It’s okay,” she says with a smile, letting her friend’s slightly OCD behavior go without bringing any attention to it. “Do you need a few minutes to look at the menu?”

Ash looks at her with a quizzical expression, her forehead rippling with wrinkles. “Al, we’re at Panera. They have those in Florida, you know,” she teases, a slight glimmer in her eyes.

“Right,” she replies evenly before standing up and leading Ashlyn to the counter to order. “You don’t have to mean about it,” she says, turning and pretending to pout a bit at the blonde’s ribbing.

Ash throws her hands up in the air in surrender as a middle aged woman with loose black pants and the customary dark purple Panera polo walks towards them with a big smile. “You’re the one that’s supposed to be taking me out to ‘see D.C.’,” she says, throwing air quotes in there. “I guess Panera is the new national treasure, huh?”

“Alright, ass,” Ali says with a playful glare when the woman steps up to the register. “What do you want?”

Ashlyn glances up at the menu and reads it over for a moment and as she does she can feel Ali’s eyes literally burning a hole into her since she wasn’t actually ready. She hears Ali place her order and decides that a Chipotle Chicken Panini with a side of Chicken Noodle Soup sounds delicious so she turns to the woman and simply says, “make that two,” while pulling out her wallet from her back pocket. She doesn’t get the chance to pay though as Ali knocks her hand away and hands the cashier her Visa platinum card with a smile.

“Thanks,” is all Ashlyn says and Ali’ honestly glad she didn’t make a fuss about it. The last thing she wanted was to get into was an awkward, ‘no let me pay’ situation. Besides, she’s pretty sure Ashlyn bought last time so now they’re even again.

They make their way back to the table and plop down while waiting for their food. It’s their second work related meeting since Parson’s first told them they’d be working together a month ago and Ali is excited to see what Ashlyn has come up with, almost as excited as she is to just spend time with the blonde. They’ve kept in touch since they met at the Plex through texts, and had met up at different spots for lunch and Ali had even stopped by the house for dinner again one night, which prompted her to promise that she would have both of them over and cook when she actually found time to go out and buy a dining room table for her new apartment.

“How’s Emma?” Ali asks, the interest sincere, which makes Ashlyn smile. She’s glad she gave friendship with Ali a chance and didn’t write her off after some of her previous encounters where girls had less than good intentions.

“She’s doing, alright. Her morning sickness is getting bad,” she says with remorse. “I swear I wake up to her throwing up almost every morning and she almost never has any energy. I knew pregnancy was hard on the body, but I never thought it would be this bad.” Her mind wanders off to her wife, who is struggling through the pregnancy and now seriously doubts her own promise to carry their second child in a few years.

Ali’s shoulders slump a bit at the news and she sighs. “Aww, that poor thing. That little girl is really messing with her, huh?” she asks.

Ash nods and almost jumps out of her seat when the buzzer goes off, vibrating loudly to signal that their food is ready. “Jesus!” she exclaims with wide eyes as she finally locates the source of the loud, obnoxious buzzing.

Ali laughs, glad some of the tension is broken and quickly slides out of the booth. “Easy there, jumpy,” she teases and pokes Ashlyn’s shoulder before heading up to the counter. She grabs both of their trays and saunters back to the table, setting them down with a thud. Ash raises an eyebrow, but Ali just shrugs in response as she slips back into the booth. “What? They’re heavy.” She dips her head and rips a piece of bread from her baguette, dipping it into the soup before cramming the soggy bread into her mouth.

“Aren’t you supposed to strong or something?” Ash asks with a straight face. “I mean, aren’t professional athletes supposed to be strong? Or do female soccer players really not need arm strength?”

Ali stares back at her incredulously. She’s tired of the negative comments about women’s soccer players –they play a boring game, the play moves to slow, they aren’t as skilled as the men, they should wear shorter shorts and tighter tops, they aren’t real athletes, etc.- and she’s about ready to let the blonde have it, when she sees the corner of her lip curl up a bit, a slight dimple in her cheek giving her true sentiment away. “Watch it, Harris,” she chides with a glare before dunking another piece of bread into her soup. “Keep it up and I’ll tell Emma that you went ahead to the next season of Scandal when she fell asleep the other night,” she adds nonchalantly.

Ash’s eyes narrow at the good-humored threat and she sets the sandwich down that she was just about to take a large bite from. “You wouldn’t dare,” she hisses, her heart skipping a beat as she thinks to how mad Emma would actually be if she found that out. It’s the cardinal rule in their relationship behind being faithful and always appreciating the other; don’t go ahead on Netflix. She curses herself for telling Ali her secret, but when Ali had texted her the night before to complain about how her knee was hurting a bit and that she was debating whether or not to tell the trainers, she felt like she needed to even the playing field and spill a dirty secret of her own.

The brunette just shrugs as if it’s no big deal and shoves her sandwich into her mouth. It had been a long practice and she was starving. Luckily, it didn’t seem to bother Ashlyn that she always ate like she had been deprived of food for a week. She knows how grueling Ali’s practices are after stopping by to watch a few to chat with the coaching staff and run over some ideas with the owners, and she doesn’t doubt that she must always be starving after her body expends so much energy.

“If you tell her, then I won’t tell you the results of the ultrasound later today,” Ash counters. Though Emma referred to the baby as their little girl, she was just basing it on the fact that her family had a propensity to pop out baby girls.

This immediately perks Ali’s interest and she drops the sandwich to the plate with a clatter. The sandwich splits open, sending her chicken and bacon sliding off the crisp bread, but she doesn’t care as she looks into the blonde’s sparkling eyes. She can see how excited Ash is just from one look and her heart flutters at the thought. “What!? I better be your first text!” she states firmly.

“Is that so?” Ash responds with a laugh as she leans back in her chair and twists her neck side to side to crack it. “Not my parents or grandparents or brother?” she asks with a poignant glare and watches Ali’s response.

Ali shakes her head as she goes to work reconstructing her sandwich. It’s lopsided when she finally fixes the bread atop, but she doesn’t care as she takes a huge bite out of it. “Nope. Definitely text your best friend first,” Ali finally gets out around a mouthful of chicken, cheddar cheese and bread. She quickly clamps a hand over her mouth when a bread crumb flies out and lands on her plate, her cheeks turning slightly pink in embarrassment.

Ash finds the sudden shyness after her brash comment a bit endearing and shakes her head. “Best friends, huh? We’ve known each other for a few months and this may be the tenth time we’ve actually hung out,” she replies in mock disbelief. She doesn’t want to admit it, but she does feel herself becoming closer to Ali than she had with any other friends. Sure there were people that knew her longer, but in this moment, in this place, Ali was her go-to person. It scared her that they had grown close so quickly, able to banter back and forth and share things so easily, but knew it was a good thing. She knew Ali was someone she could always turn to, at least she thought so anyways.

“Twelve times,” Ali casually corrects her. “And since we're both stuck in D.C. we’re going to be best friends. You might as well get used to it, Harris,” she shrugs, her shyness gone as she dips her entire sandwich into her soup this time.

Ash leans forward, her elbows resting on the table as she eyes the woman sitting before her. “Did you just tell me that I basically have no choice but to be your best friend?” she asks, a smirk creeping across her lips at Ali's ridiculous antics.

“Yup,” Ali replies with authority before reaching a grabbing a slightly burned kettle chip from Ashlyn’s tray. “Thanks. I like the crispy ones,” she adds with a wink before cramming the oversized chip into her mouth, sending crumbs floating down onto the table.

“You are ridiculous,” Ashlyn replies with a laugh. “I’ll text you first under two conditions,” she says, her voice quieting as if she’s sharing a huge secret. Ali leans forward expectantly so she can hear Ash over the thrumming of the restaurant. “You promise never to tell Emma about me skipping ahead on Netflix and tell no one that I told you first about the sex of our baby,” she finishes with a straight face. If Emma’s reaction to her going ahead on Netflix scared her, she was absolutely petrified as to what would happen if her mother found out that she hadn’t been the first to know if she was having a granddaughter or grandson.

“I’ll take the secrets to the grave with me,” Ali whispers exaggeratedly and crosses her fingers over her heart to seal the deal before dropping her hands back to spoon on her plate which she grabs and dips into her bowl.

***

A few hours and several episodes of the Walking Dead later, Ali’s phone vibrates. She pushes the half empty bowl of popcorn off her stomach and digs around through the mess of pillows and blankets until she finally feels her fingers wrap around the cold metal of her iPhone. She squints and lets her eyes adjust to the brightness of the screen in contrast to her pitch black bedroom, courtesy of the blackout shades she had invested in, before her face lights up as bright as the picture on the screen.

Ashlyn: 5/23ultrasound.jpg Hey best friend! Meet baby boy Harris!

Chapter Text

"Hey best friend," Ali answers the phone teasingly after accepting the call on the touch screen of her BMW. She hears a laugh from the other end of the line fill her car, but there's a bit of unease behind it. She lets it slide though for the time being to better assess the situation, to see where the awkwardness might be stemming from.

"You're too much, Krieger," Ashlyn replies, using the nickname she had picked up after hanging around the team a few days to get their input on design elements, something Ali had been adamant about. Like a true leader she had wanted everyone's ideas to be heard so she invited Ash to a few practices that usually ended with them grabbing a bite to eat for lunch after and subsequently Ash getting back to work late since they would always be caught up in engaging conversations and completely lose track of time. Ash doesn’t know when it started or if it had actually been there all along, but the ease in which they banter back and forth is uncanny and she honestly could sit and just talk to the brunette for hours, which is what usually ends up happening in the end.

"Oh stop. You love it," Ali counters. Ashlyn just hums her approval before falling silent as she skims through emails and Ali immediately picks up on it. "What's up, Ash?" she asks, her tone more serious than before. Ashlyn is always happy, but this is different. Something is different, off maybe. “Why’d you call?”

The question throws Ash off. Not that they ever really need a reason to call and catch up, but the fact that Ali is for once asking for clarification catches her off guard. Why did I call? "Uh…It’s nothing," she starts, but the stern throat clearing from the other end of the line let's her know she's not getting out of it. She sighs and leans back in her office chair before continuing on. "I'm just really stressed with work and Emma and the baby coming. I'm going a little crazy right now, Al.”

Ali nods, before she realizes Ash can’t actually see her, knowing exactly how stress and expectations can weigh so heavy on one's shoulders. She's felt it before, the weight of a college, a club, a city and even at times a nation on her shoulders. Though the stress of a baby on the way and dealing with a pregnant wife doesn’t quite compare to millions of eyes on you as you step up to take a game deciding penalty kick in the World Cup, it’s still stress –everyone just has their own brand of it. "Wanna grab a drink?" she asks after glancing at the clock and seeing it’s just after 5pm. "It's happy hour so let's get you happy," she teases, hoping if she uses her cute begging voice that the blonde will give in –she usually does and that’s how Ali ends up getting to pick their lunch destinations so often. It’s an art she’s perfected -the Krieger pout is what her family members and close friends call it- and though Ashlyn’s fallen victim to it many times, Ali still suspects she’s unaware what’s actually happening to her. Just like Ashlyn thinks Ali doesn’t really know how often she fall victim to the Harris charm.

Ash rolls back in her plush leather chair for a moment before standing up and walking to the giant glass window that runs the length of her office, taking in the views of the city lying underneath her from twenty floors up. The buildings are sparkling like diamonds, reflecting the mid-May sun back in a brilliant display and for a moment she feels at peace, looking at everything so small and moving slowly beneath her. If she doesn’t go down there back to the ground floor where the bustle of the city exists, then life can’t keep happening she reasons, before shaking her head and those thoughts out with it. After just having come from a three hour meeting in which her boss was not very happy with part her team, followed up by a call from Emma about the washing machine crapping out on her along with the fact that she wasn’t able to pick up the dry cleaning because she wasn’t feeling well so Ash would have to do it after work, she definitely needs a way to de-stress for the moment. “Sure, why not,” she finally agrees, turning back to her desk to pack up her things. “How about that new place on 8th street? Inferno, is it?” she clarifies as she slips her wallet, keys and a few files she’ll need to look over that night into her leather shoulder satchel before shoving her black Ray Ban’s over her eyes.

A smile passes over Ali’s lips after Ash mentions the new bar she’s wanted to try for quite some time. It’s in the developing part of town and with the new economic growth grants being provided by the local city government, breweries and upscale bars have been popping up all over the place to take advantage of the new business clientele coming in. 8th Street seemed to be the epicenter of it all seeing as it was in the heart of the city and white collar D.C. workers could easily afford the twenty dollar high-end martinis billed on the menu. “Yes, that sounds perfect! I’ve been wanting to go there. I just got home so I have to get changed quick and I’ll meet you there in twenty. See ya!”

She hangs up the phone before Ash even has a chance to reply that it will take her more than twenty minutes to walk there. Luckily, she caught the fact that Ali has to change and knows the brunette will most likely be much longer than twenty minutes. She’s honestly unsure that Ali can even pick an outfit out in twenty minutes judging from the ribbing she always gets from her teammates about showing up late since she has to change so many times –indecision she calls it, being a Princess is what they all chalk it up to. Either way, Ash doesn’t mind. It will give her more time to get there and maybe put down a drink or two before Ali arrives.

It’s strange that even though she feels so drawn to Ali, like she could trust her with anything and tell her the deepest darkest secrets of her life –some of which she already has- there’s one subject she can’t quite seem to broach with her. She’s tried countless times to bare her soul in a way that leaves her completely vulnerable, but can’t seem to put the words together without feeling like she was letting Ali down. It’s absurd really, the thought that by discussing her true feelings she would be letting Ali down, but for some reason she doesn’t want her to think less of her, to think she’s not the person she appears to be. It’s been too long though. Too long the words have been eating away at her, the vulnerability of the thoughts she’s tried to subdue instead eeking out of her pores. Tonight will be the night though. Tonight will be the night it all comes out, whether she’s ready or not.

Chapter Text

Ashlyn’s already two drinks in when Ali arrives, at least that’s what she figures by the way the blonde’s words are slightly sticking together on her tongue when she slides off the plush bar stool to hug her and mumble, “I’m glad you’re here.”

Ali smiles before pushing herself up onto the stool next to Ashlyn that the blonde thankfully saved her, battling at least five people for it in the twenty minutes she had been there who had not only come up to steal a seat at the crowded bar, but also to try and talk her up, something she was definitely not in the mood for. “What are you drinking?” Ali asks, unable to tell from the empty martini glass sitting in a ring of condensation in front of her friend.

“Uhhh…something with purple in the name,” is all Ash is able to supply with a shrug as she looks around, patting the granite bar top for the leather bound one page menu that someone must had snagged while her eyes were glued to the front door in anticipation of seeing a familiar face to brighten her mood.

Ali notes that Ashlyn seems off, and not just off in the sense of being slightly tipsy, but off as in a completely different demeanor. She’s normally frazzled and unorganized, but there seems to be a sense of sadness laced within her hazel irises that she easily pinpoints. Ali places her hand on top of Ashlyn’s and waits until the blonde looks up, her eyes glassy either from the alcohol or emotion. “Hey,” she starts softly, pulling her hand back now that she has her attention. “Forget about the drinks for right now. What’s going on, Ash?”

The way Ali looks at her, as if she’s reading her, makes Ashlyn’s heart clinch. She knows she can’t keep anything from her and even if she tried Ali has the unique ability to read people. She picked up on her fear when she found her lost in Frankfurt, on her nervous excitement when she first met the Spirit owners and the uneasiness right before her last big pitch for work –seemingly able to pinpoint her emotion and rectify it in every situation. She’s not sure when she became so readable, but it seems like she’s a book the brunette just can’t seem to put down. She takes a deep breath in and lets it out slowly, her eyes coming into focus on the woman before her. “I can’t do this,” she says quietly. Quiet enough that she doesn’t think Ali can catch it, but when the brunette reaches out again and squeezes her hand reassuringly, she realizes she did.

“Can’t do what, Ash?” she asks cautiously, concern laced in not only her tone but also her expression.

“This,” she says exasperatedly, throwing her hands out wide. “All of this. Work. Emma. The baby. I’m freaking out and don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can live up to all of these expectations everyone seems to have of me.”

Ali can see the weight housed on Ashlyn’s shoulders and waves the bartender over with the hand that isn’t placed on Ashlyn’s palm. She talks with him for a brief moment, nodding a few times before she grabs Ashlyn and pulls her off the stool towards a corner booth in the back of the bar that had just opened up. They sit in silence for a moment until the bartender comes over setting down two glasses of water on the table between them.

“So where do you want to start?” Ali prods, nudging Ashlyn so she looks up. She’s never seen her lacking confidence, but the blonde already looks defeated. “Where is this coming from, Ash?”

Someone stumbles into the table, bumping into Ash, who just shrugs it off with a glare and slides one of the waters towards her. “I don’t know, Alex. Things have been so stressful at work and they gave me a raise which increased my workload which means longer hours at work and less at home with Emma who seems to be having a rough time with this pregnancy. I just want to be there for her emotionally, physically and financially, but I can’t stretch myself that far. You know?”

Ali nods, but she honestly doesn’t know the feeling. She’s never had to provide for someone other than herself, never had to worry about promotions or longer hours and she hasn’t had to struggle with balancing work and a relationship in a while. “Have you talked to work about cutting back a bit? I know you just got the promotion, but wouldn’t they understand?”

“I can’t do that,” Ash replies, shaking her head as she sips on the ice water brought over for her. “It’s a new job and a new boss and with Emma not working this is the only income we have right now. I’m, going to have a baby in like four months, Alex. A baby,” she breathes out, her voice shaky as she processes what it all means. She feels like a coward, having this breakdown and knows that Ali is finally going to see her for what she is. “A baby, Alex. And that baby is going to need me not just for the next eighteen years, but for the rest of their life! What if I can’t do it all? What if I’m not a good mom or a good wife? I can’t help but feeling like I’m somehow going to let both of them down. I’m in uncharted waters here and I’m struggling to keep my head above water, you know? I…I just, wish I could give her everything. I can’t though. I can’t be good enough to give her everything she needs,” she says dejectedly as if she honestly believes it, her voice cracking as her eyes drop down to the floor. She doesn’t want to look at Ali, doesn’t want to see her opinion of her chance in her eyes.

Ali stares at Ashlyn for a moment as her heart catches in her throat. Ashlyn sits before her looking broken and defeated at the thought that she’s failing her wife and baby, her tattooed arm coming up to wipe away a lone tear as it slips down her flushed cheek. She doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand how there can be such good people left in the world when most of the ones she has encountered have done nothing but leave her worse for wear. “Get it together, Harris,” she replies, her voice firm and unwavering which causes the blonde’s eyes to jerk up from the floor.

“Wh…What?” Ashlyn stammers, caught off guard by the brunette’s forceful demand and narrowed eyes.

Ali dramatically rolls her eyes and leans across the table on her elbows, letting out a deep sigh as she gathers her composure and stares intensely back at Ashlyn. “I’m not good at this stuff, Ash. I’m not good at all the emotional things, but I’m going to tell you this once and once only so listen carefully. You,” she says, jabbing her finger into the blonde’s clavicle before quickly retracting it, “are one of the best human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life. I’ve meet some wonderful people, but never someone quite like you. You're hardworking, compassionate, loyal to a fault and don’t even get me started on that fucking dimple that could make any girl in D.C. swoon." She pauses for just a moment, trying to gauge the blonde's reaction, but she simply stares at her with a slightly agape mouth so Ali forges on, thinking she might as well get it all out. "Ash, somehow in this crazy, messed up world you always manage to find the good in people, to lift them up and help them through their struggles no matter what it costs you. That's amazing. You're amazing. The love you share with Emma is unlike anything I’ve seen or had the pleasure of experiencing and I know you would do anything for that woman. She knows it too. Things may be stressful now and you might feel that you’re not giving her what she needs, but I can promise you that you’re not letting her down and you never will. She thinks you hung the goddamn moon, Ashlyn. She loves you and anyone would be lucky to have you by their side. Jesus, I would be ecstatic if I found someone half the woman you are to call mine so don’t doubt yourself for one second. Not one damn second. You’re everything she wants and so much more than she needs. Got it?”

Ashlyn stares blankly back at Ali for a few moments, blinking slowly as she processes the words that were just hurled her way. She’s unsure if Ali’s tone was angry or just firm or if it’s just her usual bluntness and the intense glare she’s receiving isn’t helping shore that answer up. It’s the first time that either of them has ventured down an emotional path, spelling out what they really thought of the other, but despite the slightly intoxicated haze filling her mind, Ali’s confession -or pep-talk or demand or whatever she wants to call it- has dissolved her worries faster than a double shot of tequila on a Friday night; things aren’t as bad as they may seem. She realizes she’s been quiet for far too long, and quite possibly looking a little too shocked when Ali’s voice softens, asking “Got it?” with less force and more concern this time. She nods feebly before dropping her eyes and taking another sip of water, suddenly feeling as sober as a Monday morning.

For a few moments, Ali isn’t sure if she approached it the right way. She’s never been the coddling type, usually settling on telling it like it is and leaving it all on the table, and maybe that’s a byproduct of her time in Germany where people cared less about feelings and more about progress, but she hopes she was able to convey what she really wanted to Ashlyn. But as she watches Ashlyn anxiously fiddle with the straw in her drink, swirling it around as she keeps her eyes trained on the ice cubes sloshing around in circles, she’s suddenly afraid that her voice was too loud, her tone to firm and eyes not kind enough to show the compassion she was feeling for the blonde. “Sorry if that…if that didn’t come out right,” Ali states weakly, her voice much softer than before as she fumbles over her apology. “I don’t want you to think that what you’re feeling…isn’t…isn’t valid?” she adds, her voice unsure as she tries a more empathetic approach, a tactic she lost touch with when she moved to Germany.

As the brunette nervously bites her cheek with apologetic eyes, Ash realizes she needs to actually say something. She reaches across the table and grabs Ali’s hand softly. “No. That was actually exactly what I needed to hear,” she says softly, her lips curling up into a small smile to reassure the mumbling woman. “I was worrying about problems that didn’t even exist. Thank you for laying it all out for me,” she adds, her eyes holding a newfound graciousness along with the usually present confidence.

A sigh of relief escapes from Ali’s lips as she leans back in her seat, glad that Ashlyn had taken it the right way. Maybe these German’s are on to something, she thinks as she waves the bartender over. “Now that I have my best friend back, can I get a drink?” she asks, as the man dressed in black slacks and a black button up with slicked black hair and a clean shaven face comes over to take their order.

“What can I get you ladies?” the man asks, pulling his notepad out of his back pocket, the pen stuffed in the spiral rings that bound it together.

Ashlyn shoots a glance to Ali who is trying to read over the fancy menu and figure out the drinks that have more ingredients than she has letters in her given name. “Uh…can I…”

“We’ll have two of those purple things,” Ash cuts in, slowly sliding the menu from Ali’s hands, her eyes pleading to trust her. Ali lets the cool leather slip through her fingers and watches Ash hand it over to the waiter with a smile, uttering a ‘thank you’ as he retreats to make their drinks. “It’s delicious. I promise,” Ash says with a grin that Ali can’t help but smile at.

Oh yeah. She’s back. “And you would know after having…”

“Two,” Ash interjects, holding up the appropriate amount of fingers as a visual reference as well. She knows exactly where Ali was heading with the question. “I needed proper lubrication for that conversation,” she says with a chuckle, hoping Ali doesn’t pick up on the slight unease behind it.

“And why do you think you can’t confess your secrets to me soberly?” Ali asks with a raised eyebrow, thanking the waiter as he sets their drinks down on the table.

For a moment Ashlyn lets the question hang in the air and studies Ali, her posture, her expression, the way her fingers are tracing along the rim of her martini glass. “Are you always so blunt?” she retorts, her own expression fixed as she leans forward to grab her glass from the center of the table.

Ali simply shrugs. “I guess I just never understood the reason to hold back what you really feel,” she replies evenly. “Life can be short enough and I’ve had enough of my time wasted by people who can’t be bothered to be honest. I don’t need those types of people in my life.”

The way she says it, from her indignant tone and tightened jaw to her white finger tips that grip the stem of the martini glass a bit too tightly, lets Ash know that there’s much more to the story. There’s pain and heartbreak housed in her cinnamon irises and she finds it so ironic that Ali is sitting before her criticizing people who hold things in when there’s obviously something she’s bottled so deep inside that she might not even realize it’s still eating away at her. “True,” Ash finally responds, deciding right now might not be the best time to push Ali on the matter. For someone so frank, if she’s keeping secrets, they must be deep wounds and Ash isn’t sure that she wants to open them at the moment. “So got any plans this weekend?”

Ali nods and sips her drink, glad for the shift in conversation. “I’ve got a game Saturday and then after I’m going out with my teammates and some friends coming in from out of town. You and Emma should come! I could get you guys free tickets if you’d like?”

Ash smiles, the thought of watching Ali on the field in an actual game amusing her greatly. Having played herself, she wonders how good her friend actually is. She knows Emma would enjoy getting out too as long as she was feeling up to it. “Let me talk to Emma and I’ll let you know, okay?” she asks, her excitement unable to be contained.

“Of course! Speaking of Emma, we should get you home,” she replies, glancing down at her Nike wristwatch and noting the time. “I’m sure she has dinner ready for you already,” she teases with a wink.

The clatter of a tray hitting the ground behind them causes Ash to glance past Ali, but the waitress quickly picks it up and rushes back into the kitchen wearing an embarrassed grimace. Ash turns her attention back to Ali who just polished off her drink. “She actually hasn’t been making dinner. All the smells make her sick,” Ash says with a frown. “I’ve actually had to cook which I think might be making her even sicker,” she chuckles, knowing her cooking skills aren’t quite up to par with her wife, especially since Emma had spent some summers in culinary school when she was younger.

“Well, remind me not to come over to dinner until after she has the baby,” Ali jokes as she slips a fifty onto the table. “Now let’s get you home to that wife of yours,” she says, tugging a tipsy Ashlyn from the booth. “I’ll drop you off on my way since you shouldn’t drive.”

Ashlyn follows Ali out of the bar and into the cool night air. She watches Ali dig through her purse for her keys and can’t help but smile when she turns around and gently grabs her elbow to help lead her to the car as if she’s too drunk to walk properly on her own. She knows she’s more than capable of walking herself, but is touched by her friends concern and gentleness.

Twenty minutes later they pull up in front of Ashlyn’s house and Ali puts the car into park, but doesn’t make a move to get out. Ash looks back at her with a perplexed expression wondering why she doesn’t stop in to say hi to Emma, but Ali quickly waves her off. “You need to spend some alone time with her,” she says evenly, unbuckling Ash’s seatbelt for her so she can jokingly push her out of the car. “Talk to her about what you’ve been feeling and just be honest, Ash. She loves you and I bet anything she doesn’t think one bad thing about you.” She stares back at Ash for a second longer before tapping her thigh impatiently. “Go.”

Ashlyn puts her handle on the door and opens it slightly, but turns back before slipping out. “You’re a great friend, Alex,” she says sincerely, causing a slight blush to creep over Ali’s cheeks. “I mean it. Thank you for tonight.”

“I’ll always be here for you, Ash,” she replies, touched by the blonde’s kind words, but trying to contain her spiking heart rate as she holds her intense gaze and feels her body getting hotter.

“Good to know,” she responds with a wink before slipping out of the car and making her way into the house.

Chapter Text

The whole world feels like it’s closing in on Ali, cutting off her air supply as she makes her way through the throngs of fans, all shoving jerseys, homemade posters and photos towards her in hopes that they’ll get the gift of her signature. And they will, they know they will because Ali Krieger is one of those individuals who values the fans, who spends countless hours after games–when she would really just like to shower and curl up in bed, or spend time with her family who venture into town for the occasional game or go out to celebrate with her teammates-interacting with fans and making sure that every last little girl or full-grown adult get’s their time with her. It’s exhausting, but it’s her duty. It’s how she gives back to the game that has given her so much. So with a smile on her face, she continues through the masses of people, Sharpie in hand as she scribbles her name on yet another game program and thanks everyone for coming to the game and cheering so loudly and waiting so patiently for her afterwards.

She’s finally at the end of the line, and she lets out a thankful sigh as she sees the crowd thinned out and heading back to their cars on the warm May evening, when she sees two more bright red Krieger jerseys get draped over the fence. Another smile gets plastered on her face for the sake of her fans as she turns to meet them, but it grows instantly larger when she sees the beaming faces that accompany the jerseys. “Hey, I didn’t know you two would be able to make it!” she says excitedly as she hugs Ashlyn and then Emma. She was definitely glad to see them out and happy, figuring Ashlyn and her had talked and things worked out alright. The sheepish, yet grateful grin Ashlyn gives her while standing slightly behind Emma let’s her know her assumptions were correct and she winks back at her, ignoring the fact that Ashlyn blushes slightly in response.

“We wouldn’t miss it! You played great, Ali! Can we get an autograph from the super star?” Emma asks with a teasing glint in her voice, breaking Ali from her eye contact with Ash as she holds her jersey out with a cute grin rivaling some of those that she received from her ten year old fan girls that Ali can’t contain her laughter at.

She lifts her marker emphatically and carefully scribbles her autograph on both jerseys, stepping back with a proud smile as she watches her friends slip the jerseys on back over the shirts they had originally worn to the game while admiring them. “You guys know I could have gotten you those for free, right?” she teases as Ashlyn endearingly helps adjust Emma’s jersey over her growing baby bump.

They just shrug and return her smile before Ash leans forward and whispers, “Maybe we can get a game worn autographed one to hang up in our house?” She keeps her voice quiet and looks around jokingly to the fans who have stopped within hearing distance just to catch a few more glimpses of the famous Ali Krieger.

Ali rolls her eyes but can’t keep the amused expression from her face as she waves to a few of her teammates who call out for her across the parking lot and tell her they’ll meet her at the bar. “Maybe I’ll even get you a game worn USA one after our next game. Or I could get a custom one made for the little guy,” she offers casually like it’s nothing while pointing to Emma’s belly, but the large grin on Ashlyn and her wife’s faces let her know it would mean the world to them.

They pause for a moment and watch the last of the crowd wander back to their vehicles, parents tugging their children’s hands to gently drag them away from the field as the cool breeze wraps around them, causing Ash to untie her button up from around her waist and drape it over her wife’s shoulders, rubbing her arms lightly to warm her up. Ali smiles at the gesture and lets the couple enjoy their little moment before speaking up again. “You feeling up for a little dinner and celebration with my teammates and friends from home?” she asks, her attention turned to Emma who would likely be the ultimate decision maker.

With one hand on her swollen stomach and the other tugging Ashlyn’s denim button up tighter around her, Emma nods. “I could definitely use a fun night out. This one keeps me locked up in the house like I could break any moment,” she jokes.

Ali casts a glance to the blonde who looks like she’s about to object, but quickly clamps her mouth shut. She knows there’s no use in arguing, especially since Ali will likely take Emma’s side against her. The two always seem to team up and though she pretends to let it bother her, she knows it’s all in good fun and it makes her happy that Emma and Ali get along so well.

“Where should we meet you?” Ash asks, her arm wrapping tighter around her wife to keep her warm as her body shudders the slightest bit.

“Um, we’re all heading to Dogfish Alehouse. They should have the back room reserved for all of us so just give them my name. You’re on the list,” she replies, leaning forward a bit to stretch out a knot in her calf complements of a Christen Press tackle during their game. Well worth the price of shutting the shifty brunette down though on the path to victory, a 3-1 victory at that.

Ashlyn and her wife share a wide-eyed look, “Oo babe, we’re on the list! We must be special, being friends with a super star and all,” Ash teases and gently pokes Emma’s side before quickly dodging Ali’s smack that comes from her. She’s too late and winds up rubbing her bare arm while Ali looks back at her with a smirk.

“You are special,” she finally counters with a playful eye roll. “Well I have to go shower and change, but I’ll meet you two there shortly, alright?” she asks, smiling back at Emma who gives her a thumbs up for shutting Ashlyn down. She’s used to the blonde’s teasing and is glad Ali doesn’t let her get away with it too much.

They nod and say quick goodbyes before parting, them to Ashlyn’s Jeep and Ali to the locker room. She quickly strips off her sweaty clothes, tossing them into the laundry bin next to her and hops into the shower, glad that her other teammates have showered and most were already cleared out. As the main attraction of the team, she was more often than not the last one out signing autographs and greeting fans and though it could often be trying, she was glad that the locker room would usually be empty after the game.

It was her moment of peace after everything where she could come down from her high after a win, or try to build herself back up after a loss. Wins and losses weren’t just part of her job, it was a part of her being and every time either result occurred, she could physically feel it. Her heart would swell with pride and excitement when the crowd erupted after and win, but she would also feel her heart clench up and her skin crawl with disappointment after a loss. The long seasons had taught her never to dwell on either too long, because the next game was always more important than the one that had just occurred. Regardless of the result, her alone time in the burning hot shower would wash it away, bring her back to reality and into balance once again.

She lets the water wash over her for a few more minutes, running down her back before dripping to the ground and swirling around the drain, unable this time to fight the smile creeping onto her face. Usually she’s gotten her emotions in check by this time, but today feels different and she can’t hold it in for some reason. With this win they’re now in first place in the league with a game in hand. Though the season is still young, it’s reaffirming yet again that she made the right decision to come home, that and the bar that is waiting for her, full of her friends and family welcoming her back.

With one more shaky sigh, she reaches out and shuts the shower off, instantly missing the warmth and comfort it provided. She plods across the tiled bathroom floor onto the matted, gray carpet that lies in front of their lockers and drops her towel mindlessly to the ground when she sees she’s the only one left. It doesn’t take her long to change and once she’s slipped into her black skinny jeans and thrown on her loose, black blouse which hangs off one shoulder, she throws her hair up into a messy bun and quickly touches up her makeup before swiping her bags off the bench by her locker and heading out to her car.

Fifteen minutes she’s wandering into the bar and barely gets ten feet into the dimly, lit crowded bar before she feels a warm pair of hands on her shoulders and hears high pitched scream in her ear. “Hey, Emily!” she shrieks just as loud, knowing her best friend's shrill anywhere. She turns and wraps her arms around her before a small crowd forms around her of friends that have made it in from out of town. She hugs her old Penn State teammates soundly, thanking them from coming to the game and laughing at them recalling how she looks just as badass on the field that night as she used to at Penn State.

They all chat giddily for a few minutes until a Corona is shoved into her hand and she’s ushered towards the back room where the rest of the party has gathered. She’s excited to introduce her old friends and new teammates, knowing that many of them will hit it off. What she doesn’t expect is for her current Spirit teammates and her old Penn State teammates to get into a one-up contest of Ali’s most ridiculous moments as Captain of the team. She’s heard enough when Jess mentions the time Ali caught the freshman out drinking the night before the game and made them all stay after the game to run suicides and excuses herself from the group with a quickly uttered apology about needing another drink to get through the night.

She finds herself wedging into the bar and has been waiting patiently for at least five minutes when she feels someone bumping into her side, rubbing up against a bruise she got from a wayward tackle from a Red Star player that night. “Excuse me,” she says with a slight attitude, glancing over her shoulder, but she’s met with a pair of crystal blue eyes that make her breath catch in her throat.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” the woman quickly mumbles as she looks Ali up and down in an obvious manner before pointing behind her. “Some guy bumped into me.”

Ali smiles and waves her off. “It’s okay. I just figured it was some drunk guy and not a…uh…”

“A beautiful woman?” she quips with a raised eyebrow and now that someone across the room has shifted to block the light shining in her face, Ali can finally make out the woman’s features past her piercing baby blues. Through the dim light Ali takes in how her long, light brown, possibly strawberry blonde hair wraps around her face, cascading over her shoulders which are covered by the thin straps of a loose, striped tank top.

“Uh, yeah,” she laughs a bit shyly before she hears the bartender calling for her. She offers the woman an awkward, unsure smile and then turns to order another beer which he quickly retrieves for her and slides across the shellacked bar top towards her. She motions to put it on her group's tab and he nods before turning to the customer next to her. Ali takes her drink and slips away from the bar, mumbling, “It was…it was nice to meet you,” before brushing by the woman who simply stares back at her with an expression mixed with amusement and confusion.

Ali makes it a few steps away before she sees a familiar face staring back at her incredulously. “What the hell was that, Krieger?” Ashlyn asks, her lips curled up as she tries to bite back a laugh.

Ashlyn’s laughter is not amusing Ali who suddenly feels even more embarrassed about the awkward encounter. “Oh shut it,” she warns with a glare as she pushes by Ashlyn who is holding a beer for herself and a water for her wife and heads to the back room. For some reason, she can’t get the woman’s gaze, or forwardness out of her head as she sips on her beer, her cheeks still a bit flushed from the interaction, or maybe from the way Ashlyn had called her out on the completely awkward encounter. She sidles up next to some of her old teammates, resting her head on Emily’s shoulder while she listens to them all banter back and forth about old stories from their wild college days. She feels happy to be home and surrounded by such familiar love, content until she hears the question pour from Ashlyn’s mouth.

“Has Ali always been so awkward around attractive women?” she asks, busting into the group of women she has never met before with such confidence that Ali can't help but roll her eyes.

The women in the group suddenly silence and glance between Ashlyn and Ali who has suddenly turned several shades of red, too red to play it off on the heat of the stuffy back room, and then glance around at each other with knowing smiles.

“Uh, yes. She’s pretty terrible at picking up chicks,” Emily interjects, knowing exactly who the blonde is by the way Ali refuses to meet her eyes. “Almost as bad as when they try to pick her up,” she adds, causing several of the Penn State girls to nod and chuckle as they think back to the nights where Ali would stumble over her words so badly. They never understood how their fearless captain would be reduced to a puddle if someone showed any type of romantic notions towards her, especially when anyone would be lucky to land her.

“Alright, that’s enough!” Ali says in an embarrassed tone as she shoots them all a Krieger death glare.

It’s too late though, Ashlyn already has her hand and is pulling her over to where the woman is now standing in a small group of friends, laughing and joking with them all. Ali’s eyes grow wide and she can feel her heart rate spiking as Ashlyn gently taps the woman on the shoulder and she turns around, her eyes scrunched in confusion until she sees the brunette standing behind her. Her face lights up instantly, enough for Ashlyn to see which she deems as a good sign so she leans in to whisper something into the woman’s ear so she can hear it over the blaring music before pulling back as the woman smiles and nods and then pulls the blonde in to reply. Ash turns to Ali with a smile. “You look great tonight,” she starts with and smirks when Ali stares quizzically back at her. “She likes dry martinis,” Ash adds, pointing to the woman standing behind her. “Buy her one and try actually talking this time,” she adds with a wide, reassuring grin as she pushes Ali towards her and slips away into the crowd without another word to find her wife who has been chatting with some of the younger Spirit players about the stadium project Ash was working on.

Ali’s eyes linger on Ashlyn just a second longer until she loses her in the bustle of the crowd. She wants to chase her down and strangle her for putting her in this situation, but when she feels the woman’s warm hand tap her arm lightly and she looks up into her captivating eyes, she simultaneously wants to chase her down and hug her for making her face her fears.

“I’m Nora,” she supplies, leaning in so Ali can hear what she says, her warm breath tickling Ali’s ear.

“Ali,” the brunette replies, and takes the woman’s hand for a brief shake. Her body immediately feels warm and at this point she’s not sure if it’s the alcohol, the sweaty haze in the bar, the embarrassment, or the way the woman’s touch lingers, feeling much more than platonic. Suddenly there’s a slow burn bubbling up inside her, something she hasn’t felt since Germany and she smiles shyly back at Nora, her eyes dipping to her lips before traveling down the rest of her body.

“Want to get a drink?” the woman asks, feeling Ali’s eyes rake over her, but sensing that she is still trying to process everything that just happened. “My treat,” she adds with a smile that Ali finds absolutely gorgeous when she lifts her eyes.

“I would like that, but my treat,” she replies after quickly reigning in her composure. “I hear you like martinis,” she supplies with a warm smile when she feels Nora’s hand on the small of her back guiding her towards the bar.

“You’ve got a good friend in that one,” she says, casting her eyes behind Ali and nodding to where Ashlyn is cuddled up in a booth with Emma and some of Ali’s old friends, who are all staring over at them anxiously watching the interaction.

Ali drops her head and lets out an embarrassed groan as they slide into the bar next to each other. She hazards a glance over her shoulder and makes eye contact with the grinning blonde who gives her a wink and thumbs up. “I do, don’t I?” she quickly agrees while putting her arm around Nora and leaning across the bar to flag down the bartender.

Chapter Text

Ali blinks slowly, adjusting to the bright sunlight streaming into her eyes through a crack in the stark blackout curtains in her bedroom as she tries to remember the events from the night before. Please tell me I didn’t go home with that girl, she thinks nervously, too afraid to turn around and face the truth. While her body had definitely wanted it the night before, she wasn’t that type of girl. It was all she could do to pray the alcohol hadn’t commanded all of her decision making. She lets out a huge sigh of relief when she pats the bed next to her and finds the sheets cool and unoccupied. Her phone vibrates again against the wooden nightstand and she suddenly realizes why she was awoken in the first place, that damn phone.

After trying to ignore it for a moment, there’s a knock on the door, loud and insistent. A groan escapes her lips as she peels herself from the warmth of the bed and tosses on an oversized Penn State t-shirt that just covers her butt. She figures the elderly neighbor locked herself out again–after the third time Ali had just made a copy of her key so she would have one should the situation ever arise again, and it often did-and stumbles through her apartment over the trail of clothes she surely must have stripped off last night to the wooden front door which feels heavier than it ever has when she tugs it open.

“Well then,” comes a not so elderly voice from the other side of the door and Ali slowly glances up, her jaw dropping when she sees Ashlyn standing there. The blonde quickly averts her eyes and blushes a bit, turning around to give Ali some privacy. “Um…hey…” she begins, rubbing the back of her neck and trying to get the image of Ali’s naked, perfectly toned legs out of her mind, or the cute bed head that she could somehow still pull off effortlessly.

“What are you doing here?” Ali hisses through gritted teeth, poking her head out from behind the door that she had closed a bit to block her naked lower half. She doesn’t know why she’s suddenly so self-conscious of the fact, it’s not like her teammates don’t get the same view all the time, but she feels her cheeks flushed when her mind flicks back a few seconds to Ashlyn’s wide eyes staring at her half naked body.

“Last night we made plans to get lunch and take you to your car,” Ash supplies, finally turning around after deeming she had given Ali enough time to rectify the situation. “I tried to call a few times. Emma is in the car waiting,” she adds, awkwardly jutting her thumb towards the parking lot.

Ali sighs and tries to rub the sleep from her eyes. She feels bad for lashing out on the blonde when it was obvious that she was just trying to help. “I’m sorry. I’m struggling right now,” she finally replies with a bashful smile, her eyes still unable to meet Ashlyn’s as she keeps her lower half barricaded behind the door. “Can you give me a few minutes to get ready?”

Ash scrunches her eyebrows in confusion. “You mean you weren’t planning on wearing that?” she asks sarcastically, pointing to Ali’s bare legs in an attempt to make light of the situation in true Ashlyn fashion.

A slight smile creeps up on Ali’s face, despite the pounding headache that’s thrumming behind her crusty eyes. “You are an ass and I’m only going because I need my car and I also may need you to fill me in on what actually happened last night,” she says with a chuckle as she turns to head back to her bedroom, tugging the door open and calling, “come on in,” over her shoulder.

Ashlyn keeps her eyes locked on everything but Ali’s sashaying hips and tight ass which is partially visible under the hem of the shirt as she looks around the apartment inquisitively. It’s comforting; she feels it instantly as she looks around at the relics from all over the world that plaster the walls. It’s surprising to Ashlyn how artifacts from every corner of the earth can make a place feel so homey, but as she run her fingers over the thick wool blanket hand woven from somewhere in South America, and looks to the hand painted beer steins, capped in metal, sitting on a shelf from her time in Germany and Hungary, she feels comforted. Her eyes finally settle onto a wall with a montage of framed pictures hanging, pictures of Ali with teammates-some of which Ashlyn recognizes from her time at UNC and from watching the USWNT games- from all around the world; the Eiffel tower in France, Big Ben in London, the statue of Christ The Redeemer in Brazil and a particularly stunning picture of Ali standing on a sheer cliff overlooking the beautiful white sand beaches of Portugal, her hair flowing slightly in the breeze, arms outstretched and head tipped slightly up as if to catch every last ray of sun. Her fingers softly trace the pictures, the places she once had dreams of visiting and maybe had things been different, she would have actually been in some of those pictures with Ali.

Ash hears shuffling in the hallway and Ali calls out that she’ll only be a few more minutes. A smile graces Ashlyn’s lips as she turns to check out the other side of the room, thinking how no matter the circumstance she’s always waiting on some woman. Her eyes fall on a stack of boxes and she rolls her eyes at the fact that the brunette still hasn’t unpacked after being there for months. The boxes are wrapped in thick tape and have CUSTOMS stamped on them in thick red lettering. Most are still sealed, but the top one has been torn into and on top sits a small stack of photos which Ash gently picks up and begins paging through. The majority are pictures of her from Penn State and a few that she’s assuming are from her early days in Germany that haven’t found a home in a frame or on a wall yet. She’s about to set them down when something in a picture catches her eye, she’s not sure if it’s Ali’s magnificent smile or the way she’s looking so intensely at the other woman in the picture, but she doesn’t think she’s ever seen Ali look as happy as she did in that picture. She flips to the next one, but the stunning lake and magical sunset in the background isn’t what catches Ashlyn’s eye, it’s Ali who’s beaming brightly, mid-laugh, as a gorgeous German woman whose arms are wrapped tightly around her places a kiss on her cheek. She finally has the answer to the question she had been wondering for so long, finally knows who the woman who broke Alexandra Krieger was, and when her eyes catch something glistening under the sparkle of the sunset on Ali's finger in the photo, she knows just how deeply that hurt runs.

“Ready?” comes a tired voice from behind her. Ash drops the pictures, startled by Ali’s sudden appearance and they scatter onto the floor. She squats down and quickly gathers them up, but not before Ali gets there to help, her eyes settling on a picture that she hadn’t seen for quite some time. She doesn’t let her eyes linger there too long though and plucks them from Ashlyn’s hands without a word, hoping the blonde doesn’t read too much into them, and dumps them into a box which she emphatically shuts.

“Are you ready?” she asks again, ignoring the encounter that just occurred as she stares back at Ashlyn, biting her cheek to keep the emotions at bay.

“Uh yeah,” Ash says, trying to hide the sudden awkwardness she was feeling. She doesn’t know why, but she feels like she just saw something she shouldn’t have, almost like she was prying into a part of Ali’s life that the brunette hadn’t yet or didn’t want to share with her. “Let’s get going,” she adds, deciding to table that discussion for a more appropriate time as she pulls open the front door while Ali grabs her keys off the floor where she must have thrown them the night before. On her way out the door she crams her Gucci sunglasses over her eyes, hoping Ashlyn chalks it up to the bright sun and hangover and not that she’s trying to block the tears from a memory of love lost.

Half an hour later they’re settled into a table on the patio of Pitko, a small bistro that Ali suggested they all try and Ashlyn is halfway through the story of Ali’s endeavors the night before. Her Chicken Caesar sandwich is long forgotten as she carries on with the story, unable to stop since she has Emma and Ali both doubled over with laughter.

“You should have seen your face, Alex!” she shrieks, almost unable to get the words out through her own laughter, her lungs burning from air. “Oh my god when I pushed you towards her and booked it back to the table I swore you were going to murder me!”

Ali giggles and playfully rolls her eyes as she tries to choke down her bite of salad. “The thought definitely crossed my mind,” she chuckles, her fork pointing at the laughing blonde. “I suppose I do owe you a thank you though,” she finally offers and watches as the blonde’s smile falls into a cocky smirk.

“I mean I am the best wingman, aren’t I babe?” she asks with a glance to the side, pulling Emma back into the conversation.

“Whatever you say,” she replies with a small chuckle before turning her attention back to the chicken noodle soup that had been forgotten due to her wife’s vivid storytelling.

Ali shakes her head, her eyes dipping down to her plate as she tries unsuccessfully to stab a crouton. “So I remember talking to her for a while at the bar and introducing her to everyone and somewhere in there a lot of shots were taken and then all I remember is waking up in bed,” Ali confesses, a slight blush creeping up her neck. She’s not one to get so drunk, but she has a few days off since it’s a bye week and she decided to throw caution to the wind since everyone was in town celebrating with her.

Emma and Ashlyn share a look that she can’t quite decipher before Emma begins her version of the story. “Well you and Nora sure hit it off and pretty much couldn’t keep your hands off each other in some form or fashion,” she begins, placing a reassuring hand on Ali’s who is becoming more embarrassed by the minute. “She seemed really nice, Ali. And she wasn’t just trying to take you home and get in your pants,” she admits with a chuckle.

“What do you mean?” Ali asks, her red eyes lifting up from the table to meet Emma’s fierce green ones.

“At the end of the night she came up to me and asked me to make sure you got home,” Ash interjects with a warm smile. “She was sweet and genuinely concerned that you made it back safe.”

“Really?” Ali asks, trying as hard as possible to remember the end of the night. The last thing she remembered was a bit of playful, flirty kissing in the bathroom. Playful, flirty kissing that she definitely enjoyed.

“Yeah. And she asked me to give you this,” Ash adds with a smirk and slides a slip of paper across the table with what Ali presumes is her number on it. “You can thank me now,” she says after a moment of Ali just staring at the slip of paper. It’s the first number she’s gotten since Lucina and she’s thankful once again that they sat on the patio so she could keep her glasses on.

“Uh…thanks,” she says quietly, quieter than she intended so she quickly forces a smile on her face. “Maybe I’ll text her later,” she adds, trying to ease the tension she feels she created by her momentary silence. Ashlyn and Emma share another one of the looks that Ali really wishes she could decipher. “What?” she asks quizzically, breaking them from their stare.

“You really should text her,” Ash says softly. She can now see that there’s a part of Ali that’s been closed off to her since they first met, a part that keeps her from smiling as big as she did in that photo that’s engrained into Ashlyn’s mind for some reason. “You deserve someone.” It’s a sweet statement, and Emma leans her head onto her wife’s shoulder, grateful for her soft, compassionate personality that she first fell in love with.

“I guess,” Ali replies half-heartedly as she feels the weight of their expectant gazes on her. She can’t deny that she had fun with Nora, and it wasn’t all just a physical attraction. Sure she was beautiful-the type of beautiful that can’t quite be put into words, that only a picture and even more so seeing in person does justice-but easy to talk to and extremely intelligent seeing as she was an ER doctor at the local hospital. Something was holding her back though and judging from her reaction to seeing the photo of Lucina that had somehow avoided the trash bin that all the others had found, she knows what it is. Still, she promised herself on that cold December night in Germany when she tossed the box into the quickly moving water that she was done, that she was moving on. The hurt is still there and she realizes that she might always feel it, the pain was too big and resulting scar tissue runs deep, but maybe she can find something to overshadow the pain, to make her smile on the nights when she feels like crying. “I guess I will text her,” she says as she plucks her phone from the steel woven patio table and types out a quick text just for emphasis.

“Wonderful,” Emma says with a bright smile just as the waitress comes around to grab their dishes. “What do you have planned for the rest of the day?” she asks, shooting a glance to Ali from across the table.

She simply shrugs and is about to answer when her phone vibrates, her face lighting up at the name that comes up. “Well I will be napping for a bit to try and get rid of this hangover and then I’ll probably go for a run to get rid of the rest of it,” she chuckles while writing a reply to Nora. “What about you two? Are you off of work today?” she asks, remembering that it’s a Monday and normal people who aren’t professional athletes have work.

“We both took off and jam-packed our day with doctor appointments,” Emma supplies. “We have another OBGYN checkup and then just a regular checkup for me.”

“Yes, my favorite thing to do on my days off,” Ash adds ruefully. She receives a playful slap from her wife who just rolls her eyes at her. “What’s got you so smiley over there?” she asks with a raised eyebrow when she sees Ali smile and duck her head after reading a text.

“Maybe my plans today will also involve meeting up with Nora later,” she adds with a shy smile and casts her eyes up to the women before her to judge their reaction.

“Yes!” Ashlyn shrieks, much to the dismay of some of the other patrons on the patio. She doesn’t care though, she’s always lived loud and free and thinks everyone should do the same. “I am the best wingman ever!” she adds emphatically and reaches across the table to give Emma and then an unsuspecting Ali a high-five. “You can thank me now,” she says, cocking her head.

Ali playfully rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “Thank you,” she mumbles before quickly dipping her eyes back to the text conversation that now has her so engaged.

Chapter Text

The clock strikes 10pm and the small cuckoo clock Ali had been gifted in Germany alerts her to that fact, a bird springing out from the bottom door along with a chirping sound that Nora can’t help but smile at as Ali walks back into the room with a refill on their wine glasses and takes a seat back on the couch next to her. It had been a few hours since she had arrived and after a long, conversation filled dinner for which Ali had broken out her best recipe-and only good one according to her old Frankfurt teammates-Chicken Parmesan, they had settled onto the plush microfiber couch with the soft chords of James Bay streaming in the background along with a small fire Ali had carefully stoked in the hearth to set the mood.

“That’s cute,” she says with a small laugh as she points up to the clock where the bird has since retreated, her eyes lingering on it a moment longer as she takes in the eccentric colors of the little, handmade relic from abroad.

Suddenly, Ali feels a bit embarrassed about it. This woman is an accomplished doctor after all and she figures her apartment, or most likely house, is immaculate and modern, absent of the homey touches that are hidden in every nook of Ali’s one bedroom flat. “It was a gift,” she offers shyly as she dips her eyes back down to her wine glass, swirling it in circles to sidetrack her mind until she can force the blush from her cheeks. She feels a soft hand placed on top of hers, and cautiously lifts her eyes.

“It’s cute, Ali. Just like you,” Nora replies with a wink that finally get’s Ali smiling again and all thought of the cuckoo clock flies out the window when she feels Nora’s soft thumb rubbing careful circles on the back of her hand. As their eyes lock once again, Ali notes that it feels different this time as she stares into irises that remind her of the crystal clear waters off the Portugal coast. Maybe that’s because she’s not in a drunken lust filled state this time, or maybe it’s the fact that this beautiful, accomplished, charming woman is sitting in her apartment thus making it feel so much more real, with so many more possibilities than a random bar hookup, but she can’t fight the slightest nervous flutter she feels as Nora begins leaning in, her eyes momentarily flicking down to Ali’s full, pink lips.

In a leap of blind faith, Ali lets it happen, leaning in to close the tiniest gap that Nora left her as an out. Their lips meet softly, tentatively at first and they stay that way comfortably for a few moments until Nora parts her lips and runs her tongue gently across Ali’s. When her hand slips up Ali’s arm and entangles in the hair at the base of her neck, Ali tilts her head a bit and parts her lips, relishing the feeling of Nora’s warm tongue tenderly exploring hers. She feels her senses come alive, a familiar fire creeping through her veins urging her to lean in more, to kiss deeper. Her hands, once awkwardly sitting by her sides as Nora controlled the kiss, finally spring to action, one sliding up to cup Nora’s cheek with while the other grips her waist tightly to draw her in.

After a moment, the pull apart, both breathless and looking back at each other with bashful smiles as their hands fall to the couch in the slight gap between their legs that hadn’t been crossed. “I like you, Ali,” Nora finally says, her fingers shifting up so she’s sweetly rubbing Ali’s arm. “And as much as I like this,” she continues, leaning in to steal another quick kiss which didn’t need to be stolen since Ali would have readily given it, “I’d also really like to take you out for dinner some time.”

The confession catches Ali by surprise, though she isn’t sure why. Her heart begins to beat quickly and she has to rub her palms on her thighs because they become sticky with sweat at the thought of dating again. “I would like that too,” she finally replies cautiously, adding a soft smile to bolster the enthusiasm that her been lacking in her tone. It’s the truth, she has really enjoyed her time with Nora–she’s charming, intriguing and from their brief interactions Ali can tell she is compassionate-and would love to go out with her, but she can’t fight the way her heart clenches at the words. She wants to run to the window and throw it open not only to fill her lungs with the cool, fresh air that they are currently screaming for, but also so that she can scream–to curse Lucina for her inability to move on, to love and be loved again. But as she turns back to Nora and takes her hands in her own, tugging her closer to seal the confession with a kiss, she prays that the other woman cannot read her thoughts.

For a brief moment as they kiss-and Ali thinks it might be because a different part of her body takes over thinking-she forgets all about Lucina and her lost love, instead focusing on the way Nora’s tongue feels against her own, how her teeth dig the slightest bit into her bottom lip and how her hands are gently sliding down her back, pulling her in with a wordless need that she hungrily reciprocates. She gets lost in the kiss, in the feeling of being wanted by someone again, the fiery ache that’s overtaking her body and sends her hands sliding up the back of Nora’s shirt, pressing her nails into the soft, smooth flesh she finds there. She gets so lost that it’s Nora who pulls back and mentions that someone is knocking on the door, and Ali can only meet her smile with a perplexed expression as she pushes away from the couch and makes her way to the front door where she can now hear someone pounding.

When she pulls open the door, annoyed that her steamy session with Nora was being interrupted, her jaw drops. “Ashlyn?” she exclaims in shock as her eyes fall on the distraught blonde who’s nursing a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels. “Ash, what’s wrong?” she asks again when the blonde doesn’t reply, this time softer, her eyes unable to look away as she pulls the door open a bit further and grabs Ash’s hand as it raises the bottle to her lips again.

Ashlyn takes one look into the apartment, her eyes settling on Nora who is sitting up on the couch and the bottle of wine sitting empty between two half full wine glasses. They flick to the crackling fireplace and she registers the light hum of guitar streaming through the room and then she looks back to Ali when it all hits her. “I’m sorry. I forgot you had a date. I shouldn’t have come here,” she gets out quickly and though it’s slurred Ali is able to catch the gist of it.

She turns to cast a rueful glance to Nora who has had a first row seat to the entire interaction and she seems to sense what Ali is about to ask before she does. “It’s okay. I should get going anyways,” she says apologetically, as if she is the one cutting the evening short and quickly gets up from the couch to grab her belongings.

“It’s okay,” Ash slurs, stumbling a bit as she takes her hand off the door frame to signal for Nora to stop. “I’ll go.”

The blonde turns to leave when she feels a firm grip on her arm before she is spun around. “It’s okay. Come in, Ash,” Ali says firmly, tugging Ashlyn into the apartment and leading her to the couch. A wayward touch is all it takes to get Ash to sink down on it and Ali realizes that the missing contents from the bottle of Jack have likely all been consumed in one sitting this evening. She turns, her eyes searching for Nora before finally locating her standing patiently in the doorway with her purse and keys in hand. Ali makes her way over and pulls her out into the hallway. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” she offers, clearly in a frantic state as evidenced by her wide eyes and awkward fumbling of words.

“Hey,” Nora interjects, reaching out to break Ali from her rambling. “I understand completely. Your friend obviously needs you and it’s admirable that you want to be there for her even with what was about to go down on your couch,” she adds with a sly smirk, her tone laced with the slightest hint of suggestion.

“Well I still would love to take you up on that dinner offer,” Ali replies and closes the gap between them to give her a quick kiss, that Nora is eager to deepen. Suddenly emboldened, Ali pulls back from the kiss and adds, “and maybe some dessert after that dinner?”

A soft chuckle escapes Nora’s swollen lips and she quickly nods. “I will definitely take you up on that offer Miss. Krieger,” she replies with a wide smile. “Thanks for tonight. I really enjoyed myself. Call me tomorrow?”

“Of course. Thanks for understanding.”

“Goodnight, Ali,” the taller woman responds, ending the night with one final peck. “Good luck.”

“Goodnight, Nora,” she whispers sweetly at the other woman with a small smile before she turns to see herself out.

Ali takes one deep breath once Nora is around the corner before turning and pushing open the door of her apartment. She wishes she had taken a few more though because the sight in front of her literally shatters her heart. Ashlyn is curled up on the couch in the fetal position, shaking as tears run down her cheeks in ragged patterns caused by her trembling. “Oh, Ash,” she coos, at her friend’s side in an instant. “Ash, it’s okay. I’m right here, hun,” Ali whispers as she slips onto the couch and pulls Ash’s head into her lap. She runs her fingers through the blonde’s wavy hair, and pushes the bottle of Jack Daniels across the coffee table out of arm’s reach with her foot, noting that it’s a bit emptier than it was before she went into the hallway to speak with Nora.

Her mind is racing a million miles a minute as she tries to process everything that is happening, more so why Ashlyn is in her apartment so late at night, drunk off her ass, dissolving into a mess of tears. She’s honestly afraid, thinking the worst as she cradles Ashlyn in her arms, trying to hold her tight like she could physically absorb the pain for her. Her mind flicks to Emma and she thinks about calling her, but then a realization flickers through her mind and she becomes even more panicked. “Ash, I need you to talk to me. I need you to tell me what’s wrong,” she gets out, trying to be strong for her even though she wants to break down and cry herself at the sight of her best friend. “What’s wrong, Ash?” she tries again, prodding the blonde gently.

“It’s Emma,” she manages to get out in a keening wail before her body is wracked with another onslaught of tears.

Chapter Text

Cancer. Breast Cancer.

Those are the only words she can make out through Ashlyn’s hysterical cries and once again as she cradles the distraught woman in her arms, Ali is reminded of how hard two words can hit you. How two words can rock your entire world, instantly drain the light from your eyes, suck the air from your lungs, sap the fighting spirit from your body. Only this time it seems worse, worse than when she heard ‘it’s torn’ or ‘it’s over’ which had both sent her life spiraling down dark paths in their own right, and suddenly she feels the room spinning and she grips even tighter onto Ashlyn, trying to fight down the nausea building up in her stomach that she’s almost certain isn’t from her earlier attempt at making chicken parm. She feels it. She feels the pain and even though she’s only known the couple for a few short months, she feels it all the way to her core.

The words reverberate in her brain, bouncing off every nerve ending sending chills crawling down her spine and fire through her veins, before finally settling down in that select spot where only vivid memories that will never be forgotten come to find home. She tries to take a deep breath, but it’s all she can do to bite her lip and fight back the tears. Ash needs her. Ash needs her to be strong and she blinks back the tears for a moment longer before finally finding her words.

“I’m sorry, Ash. I’m so sorry.” It’s all she can say. She may have begun the conversation telling Ash whatever is was that was bothering her would be okay or work itself out, but that was a blind promise, a promise that she can longer make, because it’s cancer. Cancer. She doesn’t even know where to go from here.

The fire has died down to red-hot glowing coals, the James Bay record long over, and the city has fallen asleep around them leaving the only noise floating through the small, dimly lit apartment Ashlyn’s keening wails. It feels like every cell in her body is burning, every nerve ending on fire and not in a good way, but in the sense that Ashlyn literally wishes she could rip out of her skin and free herself from the pain and hurt that has become trapped inside her, wreaking havoc as it oozes into every fiber of her being. Try as she might, she cannot fill her lungs with air and she isn’t sure if it’s from the Jack or the thoughts that she is unable to scream out for fear that if she says them aloud it will make it all the more real, but her head feels like it might split into two at any moment, spilling out her fears, worries and profanities saved for whatever deity threw this her way, whatever God decided that this was something she can handle. Because she can’t. She can’t handle it. She doesn’t know how to process it, doesn’t know how to deal with the anger and hurt she’s feeling at the fact that her wife, almost five months pregnant with their precious baby boy, has cancer. She doesn’t know how she’s going to face it all when she can’t even take the full breath that her tight lungs are screaming for. She doesn’t know how she can open her eyes which are red and puffy from the salty, burning tears. She doesn’t know how to fight through the whiskey and emotional fueled haze swirling around her head, complements of half a bottle of Jack Daniels and she definitely doesn’t know how she ended up at Ali’s apartment well past the sun going down, sobbing in her arms, but for some reason her drunken mind and stumbling feet had led her there and as Ali held her and wrapped her arms tightly around her, rubbing soft circles on her back, she’s glad they had.

“What do I do, Alex?” she whispers sadly, when her tears subside to the silent ones that somehow never cease falling. She knows she shouldn’t ask, that Ali won’t have the answers she’s looking for and that it’s not fair to expect her to, but she feels so lost and the last time she felt that way it was Ali who had saved her on the streets of Frankfurt one snowy December night. She shouldn’t expect the same this time, it’s not right to put the burden on her when the brunette is obviously still dealing with her own demons, but when Ali pulls her a bit closer, gently wipes the tears from her cheeks with the soft cotton of her sleeve and whispers reassuringly into her ear, “We’ll figure this out, Ash," she realizes that maybe it doesn’t matter what’s fair and what’s right. All that matters is that she’s not going to have to face this alone.

“We’ll figure this out,” Ali repeats, but she knows deep down she’s trying to convince herself just as much as the blonde shuddering in her arms, desperately clinging to her like she’s lost at sea and Ali’s the life preserver. And in that moment, Ali realizes that’s what she is, she’s Ashlyn’s life vest, the only thing keeping her head above water and somehow amidst the heartbreaking situation and overflow of emotions, she takes some solace in that, in the fact that someone so desperately needs her again.

It grows quiet for a few minutes aside from the sniffles escaping from Ash as both sit there in silence, trying to process their thoughts, figure out their plan of action. Ali lets her fingers soothingly slide through Ashlyn’s hair and she can feel her chest return to an almost normal breathing pattern, aside from the occasional shudder that rips through her body. She knows with the mix of draining emotions and alcohol that the blonde will fall asleep soon, but there’s more she needs to know, questions that need to be answered. “Want to talk to me about it?” she finally prods in a tone that let’s Ash know there’s a choice, but not much of one.

It takes Ashlyn a moment, but she finally nods. She doesn’t want to, but she can’t expect to show up to Ali’s apartment in this state and not let the brunette in. “O…okay,” she gets out in a shaky, scratchy voice. Her breathing may have settled slightly, but she’s yet to find her words that have seemed to vacate her over the last hour.

Ali leans back a bit and helps Ash sit up so that her back is against the couch next to Ali’s, her legs still pulled into the brunette’s lap and Ali’s arm thrown around her shoulder. “Why don’t we start from the beginning, okay?” she begins softly, her voice quiet and gentle as if she’s speaking to a scared child, which in essence is half true. “Tell me what happened today,” she adds when she’s sees Ashlyn’s empty eyes looking through her to the window behind. “You said she had an appointment today?” Ashlyn nods, still struggling for her words. “Take your time, Ash,” Ali offers as she takes Ash’s trembling, sweaty hand in her own and gives it a comforting squeeze.

“She knew,” Ash begins, and bites her lip to stave off the tears. She needs to get this out. She needs to be able to say it even if she feels like it might kill her. “Today was an appointment to get results,” she continues, using the thumb of her free hand to roughly brush the tears from the corner of her eyes.

“What?” Ali asks with a mixture of shock and confusion.

Through the dim light, Ash can see the disbelief in Ali’s expression and takes a deep breath before continuing. “Apparently her blood results were a little off during her check up last time and they found a lump on her breast and did a needle biopsy on it that day. She never…she never said anything to me and then…” Her shaky voice trails off and she clamps her eyes shut, squeezing Ali’s hand tightly as if trying to absorb strength from her, strength that Ali would willingly give her at the moment if she could. “Today we got the official results and it’s malignant. She’s got breast cancer, Alex.” This time when the words leave her lips, she can’t fight off the wave of emotions that rip through her and drag her down under the water. Despite Ali, despite the life vest, she’s sucked under, trapped in her own thoughts, her own sobs as she dissolves into another mess of tears.

For a brief moment, Ali becomes angry; angry at the fact that Emma has breast cancer, but mostly because she chose to try and hide it from her wife. She wants to unleash, to tell Ashlyn how wrong that was, but she quickly realizes that Ashlyn is well aware of that and her thoughts on the matter won’t help the situation. It takes a moment, but she quickly reigns in her anger and returns to rubbing soft circles on Ashlyn’s back with her palm, her heart clenching every time she feels another tremble rip through her. “So what now?” she asks tentatively. “What happens now, Ash?”

Ashlyn shrugs in response as she nestles closer into Ali’s side and the brunette’s arm instinctively wraps around her tighter. After a moment she’s calmed herself a bit and reaches for the bottle of Jack before Ali slaps her hand away and gives her a hard glare. With a frustrated sigh, she sits back onto the couch and doesn’t fight Ali on the matter. “I don’t know what happens next,” she finally mumbles, her voice still hoarse. “We have a follow up appointment in two days, but the doctor just kept listing off all of these statistics and treatment possibilities with the baby and I just…I couldn’t even think straight, Alex. I was so mad, at Emma, at life, at everything. The only statistic I remember is 1 out of 3,000.” Ali gives her a quizzical look and she continues. “That's the probability of a pregnant woman having breast cancer. I just…I don’t get it. Why her?”

Her voice is so helpless sounding and Ali wracks her brain unsuccessfully for an answer to her heartbroken friend. “Sometimes bad things happen to good people,” she replies softly, and it’s really the only explanation in the situation. Ashlyn looks up and meets her gaze and Ali can see the vulnerability and sadness housed in the usually bright hazel irises. Absent are the flecks of gold that often catch the light just the right way and sparkle, instead replaced with a dull, foggy cloud that Ali wishes she could break through more than anything. “Sometimes things can’t be explained, Ash,” she continues, keeping their eye contact. “But what matters now is what you do going forward. Where is Emma right now?” she asks, her mind turning to her other friend and what she must be feeling at the moment. Her heart aches for both of them.

“At home sleeping,” Ash says curtly as she thinks back to how she had slipped out with a bottle of Jack in her hand and had driven to the park before cracking it open under a thick oak tree, the same tree where Emma had surprised Ash with a picnic and told her she was pregnant. “I couldn't be in that house right now so I left a little after she fell asleep,” she adds, softer this time, suddenly feeling guilty when she sees Ali’s expression shift.

“Ash, you can’t just leave her there like that! Whatever anger you’re housing towards her you need to let go of. She-“

Ashlyn pushes away from Ali and off the couch. “She fucking kept it a secret from me!” she yells, her behavior suddenly shifting to become fueled by the pent up anger housed deep within her. “She kept the fact that she might have cancer a secret for over a week!”

Ali recoils a bit, having never seen Ashlyn this worked up before. The usually upbeat blonde standing before her, eyes blaring red with her fists and jaw clenched as if she’s ready for a street fight is a stark difference to the broken women she was literally holding together on her couch moments ago. Still, she knows the root of it all; she’s been through the same wave of emotions and after the anger escapes, knows she’ll come crashing back down. “Ashlyn,” she begins softly, standing to make her way over to the blonde. She gently takes her fists and slips squeezes them, staring into Ashlyn’s eyes as she softens her grip. “I know you’re mad, but imagine how Emma is feeling right now. You need to be the bigger person here and put your anger aside. There’s no place for it here,” she says firmly, her tone serious and commanding. “Your wife and baby are going to need you there every step of the way. They’re going to need you to be strong for both of them. I need you to do that for them, Ash. Can you do that?”

The fight seems to leave Ashlyn and she releases her fists, letting Ali weave their fingers together and loosely hold them as she guides her back onto the couch. “I…I don’t know if I can,” she whispers, her voice suddenly full of hesitation as her eyes drop to the floor, her confidence nonexistent. “I don’t know how I’m going to keep it together. I could lose them, Alex. What if I can’t be strong all the time?”

Her voice cracks and the uncertainty flashes through her eyes and Ali is quick to squeeze her hands and try and instill some comfort in her. “Hey,” she says softly, letting go of Ash’s hand to lift her chin up until their eyes meet, Ali’s full of reassurance, Ashlyn’s full of doubt. The innocence in her expression sends a shockwave through Ali’s body and in that moment, that moment when Ashlyn's pain physically feels like her pain, she realizes just how deep she's in, how deep her feelings run-she’ll do anything to protect the blonde, to save her from this lost, listless state no matter what it takes, no matter what it costs her, no matter what pain she must submit her own heart to in the process. “You don’t have to be strong all the time, Ash. Let’s make a deal. You be strong for them and whenever you feel like it’s too much, whenever you feel like breaking or that you can’t handle it, you call me. No matter where you are, no matter where I am, no matter what time it is, I will show up.” She stares intently back at the blonde, willing her to understand the certainty of her commitment, the feelings and emotions behind it. “I will show up for you and hold you and you can cry and scream and beat up my car seats or couch cushions or whatever you need and we’ll get you through this. Be strong for them and I’ll be strong for you. Okay?”

Ashlyn looks down on Ali, noting how her eyes are glossy and can tell she’s holding back her own tears and biting her lower to keep it from trembling and revealing that she’s struggling too. She doesn’t know why, but she feels the slightest wave of relief wash over her as she looks into Ali's deep brown eyes and draws on the hardened strength housed in them that can only come from years of struggling herself. It's a reminder that the brunette has been through hell before and made it out the other end and maybe, just maybe, with her help Ash can too. She grips her hands tighter, hoping it shows the confidence that she’s unable to provide with words at the moment. “Okay,” she whispers shakily as she feels the weight lift of her shoulders just the slightest bit.

“Okay, then,” Ali breaths out, before pulling Ashlyn back into her chest as more tears begin to roll down her flushed cheeks. “I’ve got you,” she whispers into the blonde’s mess of hair. “I’ve got you, Ash.” I love you, Ash.

Chapter Text

Ali pads into her living room early the next morning before the sun has even risen to the soft sounds of snoring. Her usual smile drops when she sees a familiar blonde passed out on her couch and remembers why her alarm clock was set for 6am and she sluggishly wipes the sleep from her eyes and blinks them to adjust to the light. After Ashlyn had finally calmed down the night before around midnight, Ali had tried to get her down to the BMW so she could take her home, but Ashlyn was too drunk and Ali didn’t have quite the strength the drag her out there and into her house, if her house was even unlocked at such a late hour. As much as she disliked the idea of Emma possibly waking up without her wife in bed beside her, she knew things would be best if she gave Ash a few hours to sleep off the booze that she hadn’t already thrown up in her trashcan, and had texted Emma from the blonde’s phone so she wouldn’t worry. As she was about to set Ash’s phone down, she pulled out her own, deciding it was probably best if she added Emma’s number to her own phone as well.

As she stares down at the soundly sleeping body on her couch, she can't fight the slight flutter she feels throughout her body as the feelings flood into it. She doesn't know exactly what to do with the rogue feelings that are bubbling up, multiplying and seemingly crushing her chest in their attempt to escape, but she knows there's no place for them in this world. There will never be a voice put behind the thoughts. There can't be. So she takes a deep breath and pushes it all down as far as she can like the air filling her lungs and pushing on her diaphragm, hoping it stays locked there forever.

Ashlyn is curled up and for just a moment longer, Ali lets her sleep. She wants to think it's because for now Ashlyn looks so peaceful and waking her up would mean making her face the world, but in reality it gives her the opportunity to stare at her for just a bit longer, to let her eyes linger unabashedly. To note the way her stray blonde hairs lay across her chiseled jaw, framing the sharp contours of her face, the way her lips are slightly parted as she breathes deeply in her slumber, her chest rising and falling in a smooth, calm rhythm.

“Ash,” Ali whispers as she gently guides herself onto the section of couch by her midsection. “Ash, you need to get up,” she says a bit louder and softly strokes her fingers through the blonde’s hair to rouse her.

“Mmmm. Don’twanna,” she mumbles and Ali has to bite back a laugh when she just buries her face in the pillow and curls up tighter.

“Ashlyn, you have to go home,” she tries again, this time a bit firmer as she wriggles out of the grip Ash had on her from curling up tighter. She just hums and ducks her head again. “You promised, Ash. You have to face this. You have to be there for her.”

This seems to have broken through the hangover fueled haze and she slowly opens her eyes, blinking them rapidly as she looks around and tries to gather her bearings. Her hand flies to her head and she lets out a groan, but Ali is quickly there with a Gatorade and some aspirin. “Thanks,” she mumbles as she groggily tries to open the bottle until Ali takes it from her and opens it with an eye roll. “I feel like shit,” she gets out in a hoarse voice after taking a gulp, re-capping the bottle and setting in on the coffee table in front of her, her face slipping into a disgusted expression when she sees the Jack Daniel’s bottle sitting there as well. “Did I…”

“Yeah, that was all you, champ,” Ali supplies with an amused grin as she grabs the bottle and walks it to the kitchen to hide it from her view. The last thing she needs is another close encounter with Ashlyn throwing up. “Today is going to be rough for you on all fronts my friend.”

“I guess so,” she replies, solemnly and slowly sits up even though she would rather curl back up into a ball and never leave Ali’s couch. If she never leaves she never has to deal with her demons. The hard look she gets from Ali though lets her know it’s time to get up though so she slowly pushes up from the couch and makes her way to the bathroom.

“Be out in a few minutes,” Ali hears her call over her shoulder, followed by what she assumes is Ashlyn emptying the rest of the contents of her stomach into her toilet. She thinks maybe she should check on her, but before she even takes two steps hears the toilet flush and the sink water begin running and figures Ash has it covered and could probably just use a few moments of solitude before she has to face the day. A few minutes later, Ash saunters back out and despite the grimace on her face from her splitting headache, Ali does surmise that she looks more put together than the night before. Her flannel button up has been wrapped around her waist and she pulled her messy bed head hair up into a tight bun and the salty trail of tears had been washed away in the cool water. She looks nervous though as she approaches Ali and the brunette can’t get a read on her since she refuses to make eye contact.

“How you holding up?” she asks while holding out the Gatorade, hoping to get something out of her.

She takes the bottle with a soft smile before dipping her eyes back to the floor. “I uh…I honestly feel like an idiot. I embarrassed myself last night when I came here and I’m really sorry, Alex.”

Ali can sense the shakiness in her voice, this time from nervousness and not sadness and she touches Ashlyn’s arm gently until she meets her eyes. “Hey, it’s okay to need people,” she begins, and squeezes her arm tighter when Ash tries to drop her gaze again. “Ash, I meant what I said last night. You just be strong for them and I’ll be there for you whenever, wherever you need me. It’s not embarrassing to ask for help. Okay?”

“Okay,” Ash whispers with a childlike innocence that melts Ali’s already broken heart. She glances over Ali’s shoulder to the half empty bottle of Jack and shudders again. Then her eyes land on the empty wine bottle and glasses sitting next to it and a whole new wave of guilt flickers through her eyes as she realizes another consequence of her actions.“Um…I’m…I’m sorry I ruined your date last night.”

At this Ali has to let out a soft laugh, her first genuine one since Nora had left the night before. Of course Ashlyn would apologize for that even amidst the gravity of her situation. Even though she was about to get lucky for the first time in over a year, there really was no decision to be made when she had opened the door and found Ashlyn in the state she had the night before. She only wished she had someone in Germany that would have dropped it all and been there for her when she needed it most. “Ash, don’t even go there. She totally understood and even if she didn’t you’re more important anyways.”

“Well, thanks again. You think you can drive me home now?” she asks sweetly, her eyes housing a sense of hesitation as if she’s already asked too much of the women standing before her who had all but agreed to be her protector the night before.

Ali playfully rolls her eyes and turns to grab her keys and purse. “Why else do you think I’m up at 6am? Come on, let’s get you home to your wife.” She puts a hand on the small of Ashlyn’s back and gently coaxes her towards the front door after shooting Emma a text that she was bringing Ash back.

Fifteen minutes later, they pulled up in front of Ashlyn’s house and she lets out a sigh when she sees Emma sitting on the front porch steps, her arms folded and head tilted back as she catches the morning rays. She doesn’t get out, doesn’t want to break the moment her wife is having and for another minute just sits in Ali’s car looking out the window as her wife enjoys the simplest thing, the warm comfort of the fresh morning sun on her face. The light catches her just the right way and a soft glow radiates around Emma, wrapping her in beauty and Ash takes a deep breath at the innocence of her wife at the moment.

“Go to her, Ash,” Ali prods gently when she sees a small tear forming in the corner of her eye. The blonde looks back to Ali with a genuine gratitude flickering through her eyes and in that moment, Ali knows how much she truly means to her. She knows the magnitude of her friendship, especially to Ashlyn who finds herself in a new city, with no friends or family surrounding her. “Go,” she whispers again and gently puts her hand on her hip to push her out of the car towards her wife.

“Thank you,” Ashlyn whispers before pulling Ali into a tight hug, holding her tighter than she ever had as if she was trying to absorb any last remnants of strength that Ali was giving off. She pulls back and meets her gaze for just a moment, and Ali sees a renewed sense of resolve housed in her bright, hazel irises. “You have no idea what you mean to me, Alex,” she adds softly before turning and slipping out of the passenger seat of Ali’s car.

Ali watches for just a moment as Emma looks up and spots her wife and they stare at each other for just a second before Emma pushes off the porch. They run towards each other with open arms and lock in the tightest embrace Ali has ever seen before dropping to their knees and cradling each other in the soft morning glow of the sun. As she puts the car into drive and pulls away with tears rolling unchecked down her cheeks, she wonders who's going to be strong for her.

Chapter Text

“I’m so sorry I left,” Ash says through a shaky breath as she pulls back and meets Emma’s timid expression, quickly brushing the tears from her eyes before they have the chance to fall. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you woke up.”

Emma puts a finger to Ashlyn’s lips. “Shhh, don’t even, Ash. It’s me who should be apologizing for keeping it a secret from you. I just…I thought it was nothing and you were so stressed with work I didn’t want to worry you and…I’m-“

“Hey let’s go inside, sweetheart,” Ash softly interjects to quiet her wife’s stammering and nods to the front door of the house. “Let’s not do this out here, okay?” Emma nods and with an arm draped protectively over her shoulder, Ashlyn leads her wife back inside, willing herself to keep it together even though her chest feels like it's physically splitting in two.

Once inside the house, they settle onto the well-worn leather couch and Ashlyn pulls a blanket over both of their laps as Emma snuggles into her side. They sit that way for a moment, both trying to find the right words to say when Ashlyn finally realizes there are no right words to say. There’s nothing that can fix it, can make it go away or improve the outlook–all there is uncertainty, fear, and hope. That’s what Ashlyn realizes she can never lose throughout this all; hope. Hope that the cancer hasn’t spread, hope that they’ll get it all before it does spread, hope that Emma fights through it and gives them a happy, healthy baby boy in four months-with her dark hair and freckles and piercing green eyes that will undoubtedly make all the ladies swoon. Hope that they’ll watch their son take his first steps together and say his first word and step up to the plate at his first little league game where he’ll drive in a home run with the bases loaded. Hope that the cancer stays away and they’ll see their son pass his driver’s test on the first-but most likely the second try-and take his beautiful girlfriend to the prom and eventually cross the stage with a college diploma in hand-preferably from UNC, but at this point she’ll honestly settle for anything-and that one day they’ll walk him down the aisle to meet the woman he loves so dearly and watch as he starts his own family, starting the whole cycle over. She clamps her eyes shut as she thinks about her and Emma growing old and gray-haired and peacefully drifting away as they lay entangled in their bed one last time, Ashlyn with a wide grin on her face knowing that they beat the odds, that cancer didn’t win, but instead life, a full, happy and truly blessed life. She opens her eyes and offers Emma a small smile, knowing what’s at stake. “We’re going to beat this, Em,” she says confidently because honestly she can’t see any other way around it. There is no other option.

“I know, baby. I know,” she says, smiling slightly though it does little matched with her numb tone as her wife leans in and places a soft, reassuring kiss on her lips.

“We’ll go to the doctors tomorrow and listen to all the options and figure this out, okay?” she asks, her eyes full of a hopefully innocence.

Emma nods and rests her head on Ashlyn’s chest, listening to the blonde’s slowly thrumming heartbeat. “Of course,” she replies with as much confidence as she can muster. “I’m sorry again about last night,” she adds, her voice full of regret at the secret she had kept.

“Hey, it’s in the past. It doesn’t matter, Emma.” She leans back a bit and lifts her chin, meeting her forest green eyes. “All that matters to me is getting you through this.”

Emma nods before glancing down. “I bet Ali thinks I’m awful, huh?” she finally asks, fiddling with the soft wool blanket lying across their legs. In her short time knowing Ali, she’s seen their friendship grow and even though she knows she’s close with her wife, she’s come to appreciate her company and friendship as well. She was definitely embarrassed and a bit upset that Ali might think less of her or harbor bad feelings for lying to Ash.

Ashlyn lets out a soft chuckle. “Ali all but smacked me when I told her I left you here alone last night,” she says seriously, her eyes hardening a bit as the thinks back to the state she was in last night. “She set me straight and told me exactly what I needed to hear. If she was able to physically carry me I would have been dumped on the front porch late last night instead of this morning after I had some time to sober up on her couch,” she shyly admits.

Emma looks up to her and catches the regret flicker through her eyes. Ashlyn’s usually not a big drinker and knowing she had pushed her wife to drink that much made her guilt all the more heavy. Coming from a family with addiction issues, she makes a note to keep an eye on Ashlyn and their liquor cabinet. “Well I’m sorry again. After…after things settle down a bit, do you think she would maybe want to come over for dinner again? I can make the pot roast that she loved last time.”

Ashlyn’s heart melts at the prospect of her wife trying to make things up to her best friend, things that she didn’t even need to be sorry for in the first place. “I’m sure Ali would love to come over, pot roast or not, Em,” she replies with her characteristic grin as she leans to place a kiss on her wife’s forehead. “She said to send her love and that she would have come in, but knew we needed some alone time.”

“I’m glad you have her,” Emma gets out through a yawn, her tired eyes closing as it flows through her entire body. She definitely hadn’t slept last night, especially when she rolled over to find her wife’s side of the bed cold and empty.

“Why don’t we go get some sleep baby?” Ash says ignoring her last comment as she catches the sleep housed in her wife’s slow, delayed mannerisms. “I already called off of work this week while we figure things out. Let’s go get in bed.” Emma nods and as she slowly peels the blankets off of them she notes for the first time how her wife looks a bit paler than normal, something she had attributed to the pregnancy, but now thinking it had another cause. She slips her hands under Emma’s legs and when her thin arms slip around the blonde’s strong neck she carefully lifts her from the couch and carries her bridal style up the stairs to their bedroom.

She delicately lays her down and slips into the bed behind her before pulling the covers up and tucking them under both of their chins. She snakes her arms around to Emma’s sides and gently scoots forward until her front is flush against her wife’s warm back. “I love you, Em,” she whispers softly while placing soft kisses to her wife’s shoulder. She holds her there, snugly to her body almost like she’s clinging to her for dear life and in a sense she is, while her thoughts drift through the endless possibilities and circumstances that will soon come their way. After a few minutes, she feels Emma’s labored breathing shallow, her chest rising and falling with each rhythmic breath as she drifts off to sleep. “I won’t lose you,” she whispers into her wife’s neck as sleep slowly comes for her as well, “either of you,” she adds, her hands sliding forward slightly to hold her wife's stomach which is swollen with their precious gift as her eyes flutter closed and she joins her in a restless slumber.

Chapter Text

“You rang?” Ali says with a small smile as she walks up to the blonde sitting on a bench in the middle of the park.

Ashlyn returns the smile, but it doesn’t reach her eyes which seem as dull as when she drunkenly stumbled into Ali’s apartment two nights ago. “Hey,” she offers quietly and scoots over so Ali can squeeze onto the wooden park bench next to her. “Thanks for coming. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything,” she adds tentatively as she notices Ali in her practice shorts and top, her hair thrown up into a messy bun and her skin still glistening with beads of sweat.

“Not at all, Ash. I was just leaving practice,” she replies and leans back onto the bench, her arms settling on the back of it as she studies Ashlyn’s face, easily catching the uncertainty housed in her expression. “What’s up?” she asks after casting a quick glance around to make sure there aren’t people too close if the blonde has another breakdown. Luckily, it’s a little overcast out and the park is mostly deserted due to the impending threat of rain showers.

Ashlyn leans forward, her elbows resting on her knees and drops her face into her palms. She squeezes her eyes shut and her mind immediately flashes back to the doctor appointment they had left a few hours ago. “We had a follow up appointment this morning,” she beings, face still buried in her hands because she honestly doesn’t think she’ll be able to get the words out if she meets Ali’s soft, reassuring eyes. The doctor’s words, his persistent coaxing and Emma’s insistence followed by their heated exchange is a memory so vivid that she knows it will be burned into her mind until the day she leaves this earth.

 

“Hello again, Mrs. Harris. How are you feeling today?” He smiles softly at Emma as she replies that she’s feeling alright and then his eyes gloss over a bit as he drops his attention back to the file that’s clipped onto the clipboard in his hand. “Well, we have your blood test and staging results here,” he begins, and immediately Ashlyn can read it on his face. She’s always had a knack for reading people and as she looks up at the old man with a terrible comb over and thick glasses holding the clipboard which will determine her wife’s fate she can read it in his face. It’s in the way he appears confident, but won’t quite meet her eyes, in the way his voice trails off and in the way he keeps swallowing as if he is trying to wet his throat and push the guilt down for what he’s about to say. Still, she keeps her mouth clamped shut and her hand firmly wrapped around her wife’s as she prepares for the second time that week to have her entire world rocked.

“How bad is it?” Emma asks listlessly, and though Ashlyn can already feel that it’s not good news, she’s slightly upset that Emma has already decided it will be too.

“Well as you both know, the pregnancy complicates matters a bit because things like this can go unnoticed for a bit longer since there are already naturally occurring changes in the breast at this time. We’re also restricted on some of the full body scans that we would normally do to assess the cancer so we were limited to just examining the lymph nodes and blood work instead of using the usual contrast dye MRI.” Both women nods and look back at him expectantly so he continues on. “Based on the lymph node biopsies and blood work, I’m sorry to tell you that you have advanced stage three breast cancer, Mrs. Harris. The cancer has metastasis and spread to your lymph nodes and possibly even further.”

Both women suck in a deep breath and Ashlyn can feel Emma’s grip on her hand tighten and she doesn’t even know how many stages of cancer there are, but knows that calling anything an ‘advanced’ form of cancer can’t be good. She chokes back the tears, remembering her promise to Ali to be strong for Emma and looks back at the doctor while reigning in her emotions as best she can. “What can we do?” she asks pleadingly, her voice shaking under the weight of it all as she tries to process what’s happening. She can feel Emma’s hand trembling in her own and wishes more than anything she could take her pain away, take it herself and carry the burden.

“Well, as I said earlier the pregnancy makes things a bit more difficult. As far as we can tell without further scans, the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. There could be further progression into other organs, but we just don’t know yet.”

Despite his words, Ashlyn won’t let the hope go that she’s so desperately clinging to. “Okay, well where do we go from here? How do we progress?” She can feel the worry building in her chest, constricting her insides and all she’s hoping for is some good news, some silver lining in the storm cloud hanging over their heads.

“Well, Mrs. Harris, options are limited with the pregnancy. It can significantly hinder treatment. This is an advanced stage of cancer we're dealing with and the best course of action would be to start immediate treatment."

"And how would that affect the baby?" Emma demands, her face hardened and void of emotion.

"Well, Mrs. Harris, the aggressive type of treatment I would recommend could pose significant threat to the fetus," he begins, eyeing both women, "and I would recommend terminating pregnancy so we can focus on treatment." His voice trails off and as Ashlyn tenses up at his words she can hear Emma laugh, a cold, emotionless laugh.

"Absolutely not," she states harshly, her eyes burning through the doctor. "That is not even something I will consider."

The doctor sighs and nods his head, knowing there is no sense pushing the matter. "Well, as we have to consider the best course of action for both you and the baby, that limits our options. Surgery is an option, but there is a slight risk posed to the fetus with the anesthesia you would need to go under. This risk could be minimized though and I have found success with past patients. Radiation therapy is off the table due to the harmful implications it can have for the baby, but there is chemotherapy which recent studies have proven is generally safe to the fetus as long as it occurs after the first trimester and not within three weeks of delivery. A combination of the two would be the best course of action and survival rates are upwards of 75% as long as there is a positive response to chemo. This case is a little different since we can’t tell exactly how far it has spread, but I feel fairly confident.”

Ashlyn’s optimistic mind clings on to the words which offer her a glimmer of hope and she can feel herself nodding with his words, already skipping ahead to telling her boss she’ll be taking time off to be with Emma as she goes through surgery and chemotherapy. It’s still unnerving and she knows it’s going to be a stressful, trying time for them and there’s no guarantee, but she feels better knowing that there’s at least options. There’s a chance and if there’s even a slim chance, she’ll grab it and run with it.

“No.”

The softly spoken yet defiant words filter through Ashlyn’s mind and she immediately looks to her right with wide eyes. “What was that, Ems?” she asks cautiously, secretly praying that she hadn’t heard what she thought she did.

“No, Ashlyn. I’m not doing any of that. Not unless that doctor can promise me with one hundred percent certainty that there will be no risk to the baby associated with the treatment plan he recommends.” She breaks eye contact and looks back the doctor with a hardened glare.

He fumbles with his papers, shifting uncomfortably under the woman’s gaze. “Mrs. Harris, as with any pregnancy, there’s always the chance for complications. You have-“

“That’s not what I asked,” Emma states firmly, her dark green eyes locked on the doctor whose confidence has suddenly faltered. “Answer my question. Is there a treatment plan in that file that won’t pose any threat to our baby? Will I be able to carry to baby to full term without treatment?”

Her voice is cold and flat and Ashlyn feels Emma slipping away with every passing second as she watches the stare down occur.

“Mrs. Harris, I can’t guarantee that, but with your advanced stage I would strongly advise against refusing treatment for another three to four months until the baby is born. Postponing treatment at this stage would allow for you to carry the baby to full term, but can significantly increase the chance of it spreading and reduce chances of your survival-“ he begins, but is cut off by the fiery Irish woman once again who simply doesn’t want to hear his reasoning.

“I will be delaying treatment until after I give birth,” she states resolutely, her eyes dark and jaw clenched tightly. “I will not put our baby in harm’s way.”

Ashlyn isn’t sure if it’s the definitive way she says it or the way her empty eyes have yet to fill with tears like she’s already detached herself from the situation, but she feels deep down that Emma doesn’t think this up for discussion. Her heart is racing and she asks the doctor to excuse himself so they can speak privately. Before he’s even closed the door completely, Ash pushes off the chair and drops to her knees in front of her wife, grasping her hands tightly as their eyes meet –hers full of fear and Emma’s barren of all emotion.

“Baby please don’t do this,” she begs, her voice shaking as she fights the tears back. “Please, fight this.”

Emma shakes her head and tries to lean back away from her wife, unable to look her in the eyes anymore. She feels her own heartbreak at her wife’s lost state, but knows she has to stay true to her words. “Ash, I can’t. I can’t knowingly and selfishly put our baby boy in danger. I've heard his heartbeat and seen his little body growing inside me. He is our son and I won’t do it.”

The room begins spinning and for a brief moment Ashlyn feels like she’s going to black out. It’s too overwhelming and as her brain kicks in to overload to process everything, she feels like every other organ in her body is slowly shutting down. She’s becoming numb, but fights through the fog sliding into her mind. She needs to get through to Emma, she has too. The warning of the doctor is flashing through her mind, replaying on a loop and she knows that at least one of them has to fight this. “Emma, I can’t lose you. I can’t do all of this without you. Please, baby,” she pleads again, gripping the hem of Emma’s shirt tightly in her hands, not even caring how pathetic she looks on her knees, sobbing into her wife’s lap. “I can’t live without you.” She doesn’t think she’s ever spoken truer words, aside from the times she professed her undying love to the woman sitting before her. Her heart clenches in her chest and she can physically feel her body trying to keep functioning, keep pumping the blood to her numb limbs.

Emma clamps her eyes shut. The prospect of dying might have closed off her emotions, but her wife–the strongest woman she’s ever known-on her knees pleading for her to fight for her life, finally cracks her and she drops her head onto Ashlyn’s as the tears fall from her eyes as well. “But I couldn’t live with myself knowing I hurt our little boy, Ash,” she whispers, the fear evident in every word and every tear escaping her as she desperately tries to make her wife understand. She knows she’s hurting her, causing more pain, but she can’t turn back. Her decision is made and as always she’ll stand by her morals and do what she believes to be right. “I can’t do it, Ash. I love you so much and I promise you I am going to fight this with everything I have once I give you the beautiful baby boy we’ve been waiting for. I promise I’m not giving up, baby.”

No matter what words come out of her mouth, they all feel like a lie to Ashlyn. Of course she loves her unborn son and can’t wait to watch him grow up and show him the world, but she can’t imagine doing it without Emma by her side. She’s never been so close, so in tune with another human in her entire life and even from day one she had known Emma was it. The day she had introduced herself at the local campus bar her usually cocky self after winning yet another game between the posts for UNC, throwing her name out and letting it hang there like it meant something only to be met with a perplexed expression while Emma and her friends giggled at her rapidly depleting confidence. To this day, Emma was still the only woman who could ever make her feel weak in the knees, who could make her nervously stumble over her words, who could dissolve her like putty in her hands. She finally lifts her head from her lap and wipes her shirt sleeve across her tear stained cheeks. “Promise me we’ll beat this and grow old together,” Ash whispers in a childlike innocence, her body language already showing defeat.

Emma lifts her chin so their eyes once again meet, both full of tears wrapped in sorrow. She takes a deep breath and slowly shakes her head while gripping her wife’s hands tightly, “I can promise I’ll fight, Ash, but you and I both know I can’t promise that.”

Four words. ‘I can’t promise that’. Those four words suddenly break through the walls that had encased her nerve endings and suddenly she feels everything. The hope is gone and she immediately feels the impossibly heavy weight on her shoulders, her lungs screaming for air, her heart rapidly accelerating to a level that would set monitors off, her eyes burn with redness from days of crying and her ears ringing from every slight ping of noise. She feels pain-unbearable pain that she never thought was possible, that made her ACL tears feel like paper cuts in comparison-rip through her entire body and it sends her skin reeling, so much so that she wishes she could rip out of it. She feels her dreams slip away, her happy ending slowly fading to black, her silver lining overtaken by a thunderous, unrelenting storm cloud. In the end though, she knows it’s Emma’s choice, her body, her life. It’s all she can do to lift her eyes and whisper in a defeated tone, “Well, let’s get the doctor in here so we can schedule your treatment for four months out.”

 

“Ash, I’m so sorry,” Ali whispers as she holds the now sobbing blonde in her arms. Part of her despises Emma for doing this to her, but the other part admires her stubborn protective streak. She just hopes four months won’t be too late. “At least there are options. Em is a strong woman. She’ll fight this.”

“It feels like she’s giving up,” Ash confesses. “It feels like she’s leaving me.”

Ali’s heart clenches and she pulls back a bit, urging Ash to sit up, “Hey, she’s not leaving you. She’s doing what she thinks is best for your family, for your baby boy. She’s being brave. Being a mom,” Ali says resolutely, willing the blonde to see the bigger picture.

“I know. And I know how brave she’s being, but why does it have to be one or the other?” she asks sadly, biting her bottom lip to keep it from trembling as she looks back at her friend.

Ali shrugs and pulls her eyes away to scan the park. It’s completely deserted now that a light rain has begun to fall. She doesn’t object though and turns her attention back towards Ashlyn who has flipped her snapback so it’s no longer on backwards and is protecting her face from the soft rain. “I’m not sure, Ash. Sometimes things just don’t go the way we want and we can’t do anything about it.” Her words are a bit harsh, but she knows coddling Ash through the entire thing won’t do the blonde any good.

“I guess,” Ash replies as her phone vibrates in her pocket. She pulls it out and reads the message before tucking it back in. “Emma is done with lunch with her mom so I have to go pick her up.”

“Okay,” Ali replies, putting a smile on her face even though she wished they had a bit more time together. “Tell her I said hi,” she adds, standing up from the bench to walk Ash to car.

Ash has the same intention and they bump into each other, pulling back with confused expressions.

“I…uh, was going to walk you to your car,” Ash says with a chuckle, pointing the BMW parked along the curb on the other side of the park.

“Same,” Ali giggles, amused by the small smile that creeps over Ashlyn’s face. It’s definitely a sight she’s missed. She gives in though and turns to walk to her car when Ash gives her an unrelenting look.

They walk around to the driver’s side and Ash pulls the door open for Ali with a soft smile. “Thanks again for meeting up with me,” she says shyly. “It means a lot to have you.”

“Anytime,” Ali replies. “Just maybe not when I’m about to get laid next time,” she teases, knowing the tension has dissolved enough for a light hearted joke.

Ash rolls her eyes, shaking her head at her usual terrible timing. “Some wing woman I am, huh?” she asks with a laugh, resting her arm on the top of the car door as she leans against it. “How is the good doctor?” she asks with a teasing glint in her eyes, suddenly feeling bad for not asking Ali how she’s been doing.

“Good,” Ali replies, an unmistakable grin sliding across her face. “We’re actually getting together for dinner later this week.”

The excitement in her voice in undeniable and it makes Ashlyn grin. “Good,” she says before leaning in and whispering, “It’s about time you get laid Miss. Krieger.”

Ali scoffs and smacks the blonde in the arm, throwing a hard glare her way. “Watch it, Harris,” she chastises as a blush creeps up her neck before settling into her cheeks. It has been a while.

Ashlyn laughs and then pulls the door open a bit more signaling for Ali to slip inside. “Thanks again, Al. Maybe you and doctor hotstuff can join us out for dinner one night,” she offers nonchalantly.

“I’d love that,” Ali responds honestly. “I really would like to get together with you and Emma soon,” she adds a bit cautiously, not knowing how the other woman feels with everything going on.

Ashlyn nods and begins to shut the door, pausing when it’s open just a crack. “I’ll ask her,” she says with a smile. “Thanks again, Alex.”

“Anytime,” the brunette responds sincerely before the corner of her lips curl up, “Except this Thursday from say 8pm to 8am” she jokes with a playful smirk.

“Goodbye,” Ashlyn groans, picking up on Ali’s hint as she closes the door with an eye roll. Despite the rain picking up, she watches as Ali puts the car into drive and pulls away, her eyes lingering for a moment longer until she turns onto the main road and out of sight.

Chapter Text

“I like her.”

Ali looks up from the sink to see Ashlyn stepping in from the back patio with a few empty wine glasses. She smiles and dips her attention back to the sink full of soapy water and dirty dishes. “Yeah?” she quips while setting a clean dish on the towel to dry. She flicks the droplets of water off her hands and goes to dry the dish, but Ash beats her too it, her tattooed arm slipping in to grab the plate before Ali could reach it.

“Yeah, she’s really nice, Al,” she begins, bumping Ali out of the way with her hip. “And why are you in my kitchen cleaning the dishes?” she asks with a raised eyebrow, wondering why Ali was standing before the sink cleaning the dishes from the dinner she had cooked for their double date with Ali and Nora.

Ali simply shrugs and lets Ashlyn take over drying duty as she keeps washing the dishes that had piled up in the sink. She knows the stress Ash has been under lately between work and caring for Emma and taking over a lot of the household tasks that her body wasn’t allowing her to do due to pregnancy and the cancer that was slowly deteriorating her body. “I figured you could use the help,” she starts and hands the slippery plate over to Ashlyn who has a thick, black towel held between her hands. “Besides Nora and Emma seem to be hitting it off just fine out there,” she adds with a smile, nodding to the glass sliding door where they could see both women laughing together. “I’m glad you two like her.” Her words are sincere and honestly she had breathed a sigh of relief when she saw how effortlessly Nora had fit into their usual dinners, like she had been there from the start.

“So, are you two…” Ash trails off and eyes Ali with a raised eyebrow, wanting her friend to pick up on the cue.

She hands the last dish off to Ash and pulls the drain plug out on the white ceramic sink to let the water escape. “We’re just casually dating, going out for dinner and to each other’s places when our schedules permit. It’s only been a few weeks so there are no titles or anything,” she begins, while wiping her hands dry on her dark washed skinny jeans. She leans back against the granite counter and turns her hips to face Ashlyn. “I really like her though. And…” she dips her eyes a bit shyly, and crosses her arms. “I kind of wanted your opinion on her before I took it any further,” she confesses and even though she isn’t looking at Ashlyn, she can feel the blonde smirking down at her as she pretends to be carefully drying the last plate.

“My opinion, huh?” Ash replies with a dimpled grin.

Ali nods. She wants to say more, to tell Ash that she needs someone to validate her feelings because last time no one had and she had found herself engaged to a beautiful woman in Germany who didn’t keep her promise to love her and cherish her forever, to tell her that she isn’t sure she’ll ever be able to let go of it and truly move on, to tell her that she needs someone to assure her that love still exists and that she is worthy of it even if it isn't exactly the person she wants it to be. As she thinks, she can feel Ashlyn’s gaze burning through her as if she is reading her like a book. She almost gets through, her soft hazel eyes almost see through the hard exterior shell of Alexandra Krieger to the part that is shattered, held together by a thin thread that keeps her heart beating in her chest. But where Ali is fearless on the field and in most of life’s endeavors, she is weak when it comes to love. Too broken and abused to really believe in it anymore, to put her all into it. She simply shrugs and finally lifts her eyes to meet the blonde’s. “Yeah. My best friend’s opinion,” she teases, trying to lighten the serious mood that had settled over the kitchen.

“Well I already told you that I liked her,” Ash begins, but quickly senses that there’s more to it when she sees Ali subtly bite her lip. “But if you’re asking if she’s girlfriend material, I haven’t seen anything to suggest she isn’t.” She concludes her sentence nonchalantly and then opens up the cupboard to begin stacking the dishes on the bottom shelf.

It isn’t exactly the enthusiastic ‘go for it’ that Ali was hoping for, but she knows that not how Ashlyn is. She’ll offer her advice, but ultimately leave the decision up to Ali. It’s what she’s always done when Ali’s asked her things–like how to approach the rookies on the team posting inappropriate pictures on social media, whether or not she should accept a new sponsorship deal that her agent seemed on the fence about, or if she should consider taking another loan overseas after the Spirit season ended to stay fit and improve her game even further-and Ali’s come to appreciate her stark honesty that never seems overbearing or forced. “Well that’s good to know,” she replies, smiling when Ash closes the cupboard and reaches around her to grab the bottle of wine off the counter.

“Thanks for helping with the dishes,” she says sincerely, Ali’s kind gesture not lost on her. “Now, let’s head back out to our girls,” she says with a wink, causing Ali to playfully roll her eyes as she follows the blonde outside.

“There you two are,” Emma says with a tired smile that just doesn’t quite reach her eyes as she sits basking in the June sun that has just begun its descent.

Ash smiles and places a quick kiss on her wife’s forehead before slipping into the seat next to her. “Ali decided to wanted to slip into the house and secretly clean the dishes,” Ash admits casually as she refills Nora and Ali’s wine glasses before filling hers up about halfway. “I had to fight her on it, but she reluctantly allowed me to help dry them,” she adds with a chuckle as she casts a glance across the table, immediately picking up on the playful glare she was receiving from her friend.

Nora laughs loudest of all as she nudges Ali gently with her elbow. “You should see this one when we make dinner together. She never lets me touch the dishes,” she says with a teasing glint in her eyes, chuckling when Ali lets out a groan and buries her head in Nora’s shoulder, glad that her cascading brunette locks cover the blush on her cheeks.

“Oh stop it you two,” Emma says, coming to Ali’s aid as she shushes the other women. “Ali just likes to take care of her girls,” she says honestly, the meaning of it not lost on anyone at the table who have all been witness to the lengths she will go to for the people she loves. “Now, Nora why don’t you continue telling me about that last patient you were working with,” she continues and they quickly segue back into an easy conversation.

Half an hour later, Emma has shivered at least three times even though she had a thick blanket draped around her shoulders and Ashlyn can tell that she’s quickly losing energy. She whispers in her ear that they should head upstairs, but she quickly waves her wife off.

Ali catches the interaction and can see the frustration in the blonde’s eyes, knowing how much she’s struggling to walk the fine line between taking care of Emma and letting Emma live her life. She lets out a fake yawn and stretches out her arms above her head.

“You tired, hun?” Nora asks, her arm that‘s draped around Ali’s shoulder pulls her in a bit tighter.

Ali nods. “Yeah, I had a rough practice and weight session today,” she continues with the charade and catches the thankful glint in Ashlyn’s eyes.

Nora kisses the top of her head before letting her arm drop to her side. “Well we should probably head out then since you have a big game this weekend and need your sleep,” she says, her attention directed towards Ali, but words directed to the entire table.

“Alright,” Ali whines, feigning reluctance for Emma’s sake. “Thanks so much for having us,” she says to Emma as she gets up to pull her into a tight hug, trying to ignore how thin her arms feel as they wrap around her waist.

“Of course.” Emma pulls back with a genuine smile and then turns to Nora. “It was great meeting you. I hope to see you around more often,” she adds with a wink towards Ali who can only grin, her mind flickering to the conversation she had had with Ashlyn in the kitchen earlier.

“It was great meeting you too,” Nora says with a gracious smile. “Dinner was delicious and it’s nice to finally put a name to the faces that Ali talks about all the time,” she adds with a laugh after pulling back from Ashlyn’s friendly hug.

Ali loops her arm in Nora’s and waves at the couple before walking to the gate that opens up to the front yard. She leads Nora to the driveway where her car is parked and they slip in, both with soft smiles on their face. “So what do you think?” Ali asks with baited breath as she starts up her car.

“They’re both very nice,” Nora answers honestly, ignoring the slightest pang of jealously that flares up at witnessing her and Ashlyn interact. She knows that nothing is going on, but for some reason feels a bit uneasy at how close they are. Still, they had given her no reason to suspect anything and she pushes it down and turns to Ali with a wide smile. “I really like them. Emma is such a sweetheart. It’s too bad what she’s going through.” As a doctor, she knows that Emma shouldn’t have refused treatment, but as a woman she admires her decision to put her child first. Either way though, it’s a complicated situation and she feels for the couple that are obviously very much in love.

“Yeah, I just hope it all turns out alright,” Ali confesses, letting herself show any sense of doubt for the first time. She’s already been strong and confident for Ashlyn, but with Nora in the picture now she’s able to have someone to lean on as well. It’s a strange feeling and not one that she necessarily welcomed, but seeing Emma slightly paler and skinnier than before has left Ali with an uneasy feeling in her stomach, a feeling that she’s actually glad she has someone to admit it to.

Nora’s smile falters a bit and she leans across the center console, taking Ali’s hand in her own before placing a soft kiss on her lips. “Hey, it’ll be okay. The doctors at that hospital are top notch and they’ll fight for her,” she says reassuringly.

“Thanks,” Ali mumbles, her eyes still trained on her lap. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” she divulges shyly.

“Well anytime you want to talk, I’m here,” she replies, her bright blue eyes sparkling as the catch a glint of the sun setting through the trees bordering the street.

Ali grins and lifts her eyes. “That means a lot,” she says appreciatively, a loud exhale escaping her throat. “I forgot how nice it is having someone around all the time,” she adds, cautiously.

“Aw you like having me around?” Nora teases, squeezing Ali’s hand as she steals a quick kiss.

Ali takes a deep breath, as if she’s sucking in courage. “I do,” she nods. “And I have a question for you.” Nora looks back at her expectantly, her eyes dancing in the light, and her reassuring smile is all the encouragement Ali needs to jump back in head first. “Will you be my girlfriend?”

"I would love nothing more," she replies honestly, again closing the gap between them and taking Ali's lips in a passionate kiss.

Chapter Text

Ali smiles as she steps out of the shower onto the cool tile and begins toweling herself off. She smiles despite the growing bruise that’s climbing up her legs courtesy of an English defender and despite the fact that her stomach is rumbling and the fact that she has to fly back to D.C. very early the next morning to resume practicing with the Spirit for their home playoff game the next weekend. At the end of the day though, she’s smiling because she reclaimed her starting position at right back, played the entire ninety minutes and her team came out victorious, beating England decisively in a friendly. It’s a rewarding feeling, that after the struggle, after the heartbreak and injuries, everything is slowly falling into place. She’s finding her groove again on the field and the new coaching staff has definitely not been shy in telling her how glad they’re to have her back, match fit.

Her smile grows even bigger when she hears her computer begin ringing the familiar high pitched sound that alerts her she is getting a Skype call and sees whose beaming face is on the screen. “Hey!” she says excitedly when she clicks accept after slipping a Nike sports bra over her head and settling into her bed with the thick comforter wrapped around her naked lower half.

“Hey, hun. Congrats on the win. You looked so amazing out there!” Nora says in a cheery voice with a bright smile, even though she had worked a double shift at the ER and then fought the overwhelming need to crash in bed after almost twenty four hours with no sleep so she could watch Ali’s game.

Even through the pixelated computer screen Ali can tell how proud she is by the way her thin lips spread ear to ear across her beautiful, but tired face. As she looks back at Nora, her long light brown hair cascading in waves around her chiseled face, she’s reminded even more of how things are settling into her life, as if her happy ending might actually be within reach–soccer, family, friends, romance. After dating Nora for almost three months, she’d almost let go of her fear of commitment. Almost.

There were times when it was easy; when Nora showed up at her Spirit games donning a Krieger jersey and waited ever so patiently for the throngs of fans to clear out afterwards to sneak a kiss in, often volunteering to help hold signs and take pictures to move things along for Ali, or when she would wake up and make Ali a killer breakfast on game days, complete with a bouquet of spring lilies tucked neatly in a vase on the kitchen table. It seemed easy when she would give Ali shoulder and back and leg massages after hard trainings or games and make it at least half an hour before her hands wandered to other places to give her a different kind of massage that left them both breathless and panting-and Ali cracking jokes about how the Spirit and U.S. Soccer massage therapists need to step up their games-or when she would volunteer to have Ashlyn and Emma over to her house and would cook for the four of them so they could all catch up and relax without Ali even mentioning it. Ali almost forgot about her fears when Nora would call her in the middle of a long, busy shift simply just to tell Ali she was thinking about her or to wish her goodnight or tell her a funny story to make her laugh.

It was in all the little things, from romantic dates to cute goodmorning texts that Ali found herself falling harder, but then she would get caught up. When Nora would get stuck in the ER on a busy night and didn’t slip into her apartment until late, uttering apologies as she tucked herself into bed and wrapped her arms around her with soft kisses, Ali would wonder if she had been with someone else instead. When Nora would get held up and forget to call or be running a few minutes late, she would ask herself if Nora was disappearing or planning to leave just like Lucina. So as easy as it was to fall for Nora, as easy as it was for Nora to slide into every aspect of her life almost seamlessly, sometimes it still seemed hard, felt difficult to give herself over completely. Still, Nora has never given her a reason to not trust the process and seemed just as committed, if not more so and Ali was determined to try and make it work, thinking if she just held on long enough, things would fall into place for her and Nora would finally be able to knock down the walls.

“Why thank you, doctor,” Ali replies with a wink as she lets her eyes trail down to her girlfriend’s cleavage, knowing that extra button on her blouse is undone just for her benefit. “You look pretty good there yourself, sexy,” she teases, raising her eyebrows as she takes in her square jawline and notes how her olive skin seems to rise higher than normal over her cheekbones as a smirk passes across her lips.

Nora just laughs and rolls her emerald eyes, loving the fact that Ali has always been and will always be so forward with her words. “Maybe you can get a better look when you get back tomorrow,” Nora replies, loving the teasing nature of their relationship that keeps everything light and playful. It’s a stark contrast to a lot of Ali’s other relationships and she knows keeping things light just might be the way to keep her around. She’d be a fool if she couldn’t see that Ali had been hurt badly, and though she’s not sure of the whole story, knows Ali is special and she wants to keep her around as long as possible.

Ali pouts a bit at the thought of having to wait to run her hands all over her girlfriend’s perfectly toned body, but a smirk is quick to grace her lips. She looks around and notes that her roommate is gone and vaguely remembers her mentioning she was going out with family for dinner after the game. “Can I at least get a sneak preview?” she asks suggestively, her voice dropping an octave lower as she traces the outline of her own bra to tease her girlfriend. She watches as Nora bites her lip and her hands trace up her flat stomach to the buttons of her shirt, swallowing hard when Nora undoes another button, revealing the slightest hint of her red lace bra that drives Ali absolutely crazy. “Had to be that bra, huh?” she gets out, in a frustrated whine as she watches Nora start laughing and quickly realizes that’s all she’s going to get. “Such a tease.”

“Aw, babe! Don’t be mad at me. I promise I’ll make it up to you tomorrow, okay?” she replies with a sultry tone as she watches Ali stick out her bottom lip and let out a groan. She isn’t as susceptible to the Krieger pout as everyone else seems to be.

“Fine. But I’m leaving now so you can get some sleep since you won’t be getting any tomorrow night,” Ali retorts as she reaches her hand down between her legs to relieve some of the pressure building up there. After over a year of not getting any, Ali has definitely realized how much she missed it when her and Nora first became intimate and she can’t wait to get her hands on her girlfriend when she gets home.

Nora lets out a small chuckle and nods, knowing exactly how true Ali’s words are. Her stamina on the soccer pitch definitely carries over to the bedroom and judging by the smoldering look she’s getting from Ali and the way the brunette’s hand has slipped out of view, her lips slightly parsed, she knows she’s likely in for the long night her girl just promised her. “Sounds good, champ. I’m going to head to bed. I just got off a double and then had to stay up to watch some hot girl on the U.S. National Team kick ass in soccer.”

“Hmmm, weird. What number is she? Maybe I can put in a good word for you,” Ali cheeses and just laughs when Nora is quick to flip her off. “Get some sleep. Goodnight, babe,” she says with a warm smile when she sees Nora fight back a yawn.

“Night, beautiful. I can’t wait for tomorrow,” she says seductively and just as Ali clicks ‘end’ flashes the webcam to give her some more material to work with.

“You tease!” Ali yells at the camera even though she knows Nora is long gone. With her hand still between her legs, Ali goes to close out of the Skype session and then spreads her legs and leans back on the bed to get more comfortable.

“Alex?” comes a confused, crackling voice from her computer a moment after a moan escapes her own lips and Ali’s eyes shoot wide open as she scrambles to pull the covers up around her.

“Jesus Christ!” she yells as she yanks the comforter up over her neck, flushing a bright shade of red as she wonders how much of the show her friend had just seen. “Ashlyn, what the hell!”

Ash lets out a nervous chuckle as she dips her head to hide the slight blush claiming her own face. She hadn’t really seen much since the sheets were covering the essentials, but wasn’t oblivious as to what was happening unfortunately, especially with her sound turned all the way up. A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do, she thinks with a shrug, knowing what kept her going during long business trips. Trying to make it less awkward, Ash just skims over the subject completely. “I called to tell you congrats on the win!” she says, as excitedly as possible to cut through the awkwardness of the exchange. “You looked great out there for ninety.”

“Thanks,” Ali mumbles, still reeling in embarrassment from the fact that her friend had just saw her getting herself off.

Ash shakes her head, knowing the frank woman is floored by what just happened. She decides to change her approach up, taking a page from Ali’s book. “Hey, we all do it,” she offers nonchalantly with a shrug, but the grin slips off her lips when Ali’s wide eyes flicker up to the screen.

“Jesus, Ash! Not fucking helping!” she screeches exasperatedly her hands covering her face as she wonders why she hasn’t slammed the computer screen down yet. This could potentially be the single most awkward moment of her life, more awkward than when her dad walked in on her and her first girlfriend mid-make out session in her old childhood bedroom when she was home for college break, and definitely more awkward than when she had been the unfortunate witness to her weight training coach and assistant coach secretly hooking up in the high school locker room one night. It seems to be a toss up though between this and the time she found out her brother was gay, when she walked in on him and a 'friend' when she flew into L.A. to surprise him.

“Sorry,” she chuckles. “I was just calling to let you know I watched the game and you played great. I’m guessing you accidentally accepted my call…” she continues, her voice trailing off. She’s actually kind of enjoying seeing the ever-confident Alexandra Krieger looking so bashful.

Ali just nods and slowly lets her fingers slide down her face, revealing a wide, unbelieving grin. “I cannot believe that just happened,” she finally gets out, followed by a laugh. “I’m sorry you saw that,” she offers, feeling guilty that Ash was just trying to congratulate her and got so much more than she bargained for–a half-naked, spread eagle, masturbating Ali Krieger. When Ash just stares back at her grinning she shakes her head, knowing Ash is loving watching her freak out. “So you watched the game?” she asks, finally switching up the topic and letting the awkwardness pass as quickly as it had come.

Ash nods. “And before you ask, that definitely was not a foul!”

“I know!” Ali shrieks, knowing that Ash had to be referring to the bullshit call outside the box that came along with a yellow card. She finds it a bit endearing that Ash could tell how heated she was during her brief exchange with the referee, which she assumes was on the telecast since the blonde was mentioning it. She shouldn’t expect anything different, Ash is always the most observant person which although is extremely frustrating sometimes, it’s also uplifting knowing someone cares so much about the smallest details that often go unlooked. She figures maybe that’s got something to do with her profession, an architect having to lay out every tiny detail–from aesthetics, to door positioning, to making sure everything is one hundred percent up to code-or maybe it’s just her overall nature. Either way, she loves it.

“That girl totally dove,” Ash adds, playing it up for the brunette who is obviously still upset about it.

“Right!” Ali adds, her voice still high as she recalls the play in her mind. “I definitely got all ball.”

Ash just nods. “Totally,” she says with a smirk and Ali can now pick up on the fact that she’s being teased. She sticks her tongue out in response and is about to call Ashlyn a plethora of names when she sees the blonde’s brow furrow, wrinkles flowing across her forehead. “Hold on,” she says and turns her attention towards where-Ali is assuming-is the door of her office. “Em?” her voice is tentative and troubled. “Oh my god, Em. What’s wrong?”

The seconds tick by and feel like hours as Ali watches Ashlyn push back from her desk and run out of the screen, only mumbled voices coming through the speakers of her computer. She leans forward, pawing at the computer screen as if she can physically turn the camera to see what is happening on the other end. With her heart in her throat Ali calls out for Ash and her eyes are trained on the screen, her lungs screaming for air as she waits for any insight into what’s happening. Finally, Ash comes storming back into the frame, but only to frantically yell, “I have to go, Alex. The baby is coming early!” before slamming the computer shut.

All that Ali is left with is a black screen, wide eyes and clenched heart.

Chapter Text

“It’s okay, baby. I’m right here, Ems,” Ash says, trying to contain the panic in her voice as the doctors rush into the room. After Emma had come into her office, soaking wet when her water unexpectedly broke, Ashlyn had quickly changed her into dry clothes and carried her to the car, speeding as fast, but carefully as possible the entire way to the hospital as she tried to ignore the urgent, guttural screams that were coming out of her wife. “It’s going to be okay,” she adds, reassuringly and she grips her wife’s hand as tightly as she can. She tries to ignore the fact that it feels so much thinner and the fear that comes along with that realization, but she quickly refocuses on the most immediate issue; her son is coming early whether they’re ready or not.

“Okay, Mrs. Harris you’re already seven centimeters dilated, too far along for an epidural,” their doctor says with his head between her legs as he conducts a quick exam. “It could be the cancer weakening your body a bit, but it’s a good thing you two got here so fast because things are moving quickly so let’s get this little guy out,” he says with a comforting smile when he peaks his head back up and meets a worried Ashlyn’s gaze.

“Fuck,” Emma groans at the news that she’s too far for an epidural comes simultaneously with another contraction, her hand tightening around Ashlyn’s as she looks up at her wife with a pain filled expression.

Ash bends down and places a kiss on her forehead and leans back a bit to wipe some sweaty hairs out of her face. “I’m right here, Ems,” she whispers, knowing the immense pain her wife is in if she’s openly cursing. The Irish woman would often get a bit mouthy after some drinks, but usually she was much more reserved so the curse words that continually come hurtling out of her mouth -many directed at Ashlyn for making her carry the first child or for not getting her to the hospital quick enough or for blowing through a stop sign on the way- have definitely caught her off guard and made her that much more attentive to her wife’s needs. “I love you so much and I can’t wait for us to meet our beautiful baby boy.” Her eyes are shiny with tears as she looks down adoringly at her wife whose breathing has picked up as her pain begins increasing more.

“I love you too,” she whispers, trying to fight the fatigue that is rippling through her body along with another contraction. She just wants to give Ashlyn the family she’s always wanted and deserved and tries to push the fears that she has cancer and that her son is coming almost two weeks early out of her mind.

Twenty minutes and a lot of screaming later, the doctor’s head pops back underneath the sheet, returning with a smile. “Alright, Emma. It’s time to push!” he says excitedly in a cheery voice that makes Emma want to kick him. No one should be that happy when she’s in that much pain. Still she doesn’t have long to be upset as another contraction comes and she lets out a keening wail. “Push, Emma!” the doctor orders and she obliges, wanting it all to be over as quickly as possible.

“You’ve got this, baby!” Ash says, a wide smile across her face as she squeezes Emma’s hand, her heart racing as she can see the doctor at work underneath her wife’s gown. “Keep pushing, Em!” she adds encouragingly, chuckling a bit to herself when Emma responds with “It’s easier said than fucking done, Ashlyn!” Her smirk quickly falls when Emma shoots daggers at her and lets out another scream as she tightens her grip on the blonde’s hand and for a moment Ashlyn thinks she might just shatter every bone in it.

She’s about to beg for mercy, to selfishly ask Emma to ease up on her hand or at least let her switch so she doesn’t break her writing hand, when she hears a new sound, a baby wailing, fill the room. “Oh my god,” she whispers in awe as she looks down at the tiny baby boy the doctor is holding in his hands, quickly counting in her head to make sure all ten toes and fingers are present.

“Meet your baby boy,” the doctor offers warmly as he places the baby on Emma’s abdomen. “He looks fantastic. Slightly underweight which we’ll need to monitor, but for coming almost two weeks early he seems to be doing well.”

For a brief moment, Ashlyn loses sight of him resting on her wife’s stomach when the nurses flock over to begin cleaning the baby off, instead turning her focus to Emma who is pale and exhausted looking, but with a huge smile on her face. She looks down on her in complete amazement, wondering how her wife manages to find the strength to carry on every day under the weight of all the burdens she’s been caring. She quickly leans down and places a passionate kiss on her lips, resting their sweaty foreheads together as she whispers, “You are simply amazing.”

“Would you like to cut the cord?” a nurse asks softly, prodding Ashlyn and Emma from their embrace.

A smile graces her lips and she eagerly nods. “Of course I would!” she exclaims and takes the scissors from the nurse's’ hand, following her directions as she bends over the wiggling, crying baby to carefully cut the umbilical cord. Her eyes fill with tears as the nurses scoop him off the table, promising they’ll only need a minute and she turns back to Emma with a proud smile. “Our baby boy is here,” she whispers, still in shock that this little life belongs to them.

“Here you go,” the nurse interjects after a moment and Ashlyn gently helps Emma sit up to accept the swaddled baby into her arms.

She stares down at him, noting that he has Emma's light complexion and slender nose, laughing as she sees the thick tuft of black hair slicked down to his head. Emma leans down and kisses him on his rosy, chubby cheek as Ash gently strokes his head, running her fingers over his soft baby hair while wondering how something so small can already hold her entire heart. “He’s absolutely gorgeous,” she whispers in wonderment as she slips her pointer finger into his hand which he quickly makes a tiny fist around it. “I can’t believe this,” she whispers. “I can’t believe you’re really here, handsome,” she murmurs, her heart melting at the fact that he’s tightly gripping her finger. “You did it, Ems,” she adds softly, looking down at her wife who is staring at the warm bundle of joy in her arms with complete adoration.

“We did it, baby,” she whispers in return, her eyes full of tears as she realizes just how close this moment was from slipping away from them. She had already known she was making the right decision, but seeing Ashlyn stare at their son with wide eyed astonishment made her all the more sure.

“So you think he still looks like a Noah?” Ash asks, eyeing her wife to judge her reaction.

With a tired smile Emma nods and looks from at her little boy. “Welcome to the world, Noah Christopher Harris,” she replies confidently, making Ashlyn’s smile grow even wider.

“I love you so much,” Ash says softly, breaking Emma from her trance as she leans down to kiss her wife on the lips, passionately to try and convey the mix of emotions that were flowing through her body at the moment. The lightness of the moment took away from any doubt or fear that she had previously held and in that moment as she looked down at her beautiful wife and precious baby boy, all she could feel was pure unadulterated joy. It was like her whole body surrounded by a halo of love, buzzing around her and encompassing every inch of her being.

“And you, Mr. Noah,” she continues, leaning over to kiss him gently on the forehead, “I am going to love you so much that you won’t even know what to do with it all,” she jokes. “I’m going to teach you how to kick a soccer ball and ride a bike and your mommy and I are going to come to all your games and she’s going to reluctantly allow me to teach you how to drive my Jeep one day and then I’m going to give you all my pointers on how to get the ladies, because let’s be honest, if I can land your mommy, I must have done something right?” She whispers the last part, grinning when she hears her wife chuckle. “And we’re going to send you off on your first date and then one day watch you walk down the aisle with the love of your life and you’ll be here one day and we’ll be right outside waiting to meet our grandbaby, smiling as we remember how on top of the world we felt when we met you for the first time. You’ve got a good life ahead of you little man, filled with lots of love and adventure. I can promise you that.” She finishes and looks over her shoulder when she feels Emma shaking a bit and sees the tears sliding down her cheeks.

“What baby?” she asks in a concerned tone, but is interrupted by the doctor stepping back into the room after a light knock.

“Do you two have a minute?” he asks calmly, and they both nod, Ashlyn and Emma still not relinquishing their hold on their son. “I know it’s not the ideal moment and truthfully there won’t ever be one, but we should talk about beginning treatment for Emma as soon as possible,” he begins cautiously. “I would like to get her in for a contrast dye MRI right away now that we’re post delivery. The latest blood test results we just took, they…they didn’t look too encouraging.”

And in that moment, with those words, it all came rushing back in; the emotions, doubts and fear flooding back into her body with the force of a tidal wave that knocked her off her pedestal. Her lungs felt constricted and she instinctively tightened her grip on Emma’s shoulder and her son’s hand as she tried to hold back the floodgate of tears threatening to spill at the fact that nothing was guaranteed. There was no way of knowing if Emma would be there to watch her son grow up, to hold his hands when he started walking, to watch his first soccer game, to see him graduate high school and walk down the aisle. All the promises she had just made her son weren't guaranteed. Nothing was and she hated herself for letting her walls down for that brief moment, for getting her hopes up as she pushed the doubts down. But the fight wasn’t over. It hadn’t even yet begun.

Chapter Text

The words are ringing through her head and as hard as she tries, Ashlyn can’t find a way to get them out. It’s spread. Stage four. I’m so sorry. It’s the gist of every conversation she’s heard all day after Emma’s MRI scans came back that morning and even though she’s in a hospital surrounded by people bustling around, coming in and out, she’s never felt so alone.

She thinks about how stupid she feels, that she should have known. She should have seen it in the hollowness of Emma’s cheekbones, of the blankness she often found in her eyes when she stared out into the backyard at night until the blonde would pull her gently back into the house and wrap her tightly in her arms, in the way that her body had thinned in different places despite the slight weight gain from the baby and in the way that she struggled to even get up the stairs without help. She thinks now that maybe it was wishful thinking, that it was the pregnancy draining her emotions and strength. It was the baby growing and spreading inside of her and not the cancer that was growing and spreading inside of her that caused the changes. Now she knows the faith was misplaced, and that all the hope in the world cannot produce the miracle they so desperately need.

As she holds her baby boy in her arms and looks down at her wife sleeping in a hospital bed in front of her, she can’t help but think how normal it all seems. The day after giving birth, her exhausted wife is sleeping in the hospital bed and her precious boy is asleep in her arms, nuzzled up against her and drawing on her warmth. It’s normal. It’s what other couples expect to go through. And until she looks up a bit higher and sees all of the tubes pumping drugs into her wife, she almost lets herself think that everything after this will be normal. For a brief moment she lets herself wonder what it would be like to be one of those normal couples who get discharged from the hospital, happy and smiling as their take their child home and introduce them to friends and loved ones and begin their life together as a family instead of what she knows they’re in store for; countless hospital visits, pain, heartbreak and the struggle of balancing quality of life versus fighting for life.

She feels the tears start to drip down her face and quickly wipes them away with her sleeve before it can drip onto the sleeping infant in her arms, before he can be disturbed by the pain and heartbreak that he’ll never know, that he’ll never remember or bear the scars from.

“Hey,” comes a soft voice from the doorway after a light knock and as soon as she hears it, Ashlyn feels her walls drop. It’s the one voice she knows she doesn’t have to keep up appearances around, the one voice she knows will pick her back up when she drops.

“Alex,” she breathes out in a shaky voice, carefully standing and nestling her son into his cradle before gripping the brunette in a tight, bone crushing hug. She's so glad Ali had showed up, especially after the news she had gotten about Emma earlier in the day and even though she feels bad that Ali had to cancel plans on Nora, she doesn't know who else to turn to and she’s honestly not sure that she’ll ever have someone else she can turn to. The tears are now pouring out, soaking the soft cotton of Ali’s navy blue practice tank top, but she doesn’t care and she knows Ali won’t either. They’ve been here before and it’s all Ash can do to wonder what she did to deserve such a selfless best friend.

“Shhhh, it’s okay, Ash,” Ali whispers into the blonde’s messy hair as she tugs her gently out of the room and into the hallway, carefully sliding the door shut with her foot so they don’t disturb Emma or the baby. “Let’s find somewhere to talk, yeah?” Ali asks rhetorically, pulling back as she leads the sobbing blonde to a more secluded corner of the hallway where there are two old and worn leather chairs facing each other. She guides Ash into one before sinking down in the one across from her. “What’d they say?” she asks softly, holding her breath at the answer that she knows is likely to follow as she grips her hands.

“It spread,” Ash sobs out. “It spread to her lymph nodes and liver and lungs and…there’s…there’s not much they can do.” Any resolve she had shatters when the words actually come out of her mouth, as if by saying them she’s admitting the truth to it. Admitting that the chances that she will lose her wife, that she will live her life out as a widow and her son in a single-parent household are greater than she ever imagined.

Ali sucks in a deep breath, but tries to steady her face. She knows how Ash must feel and knows she’ll need her now more than ever. “I’m so sorry,” she replies, gently, looking into Ashlyn’s hazel eyes, noting the light has left them. It breaks her resolve and a few tears slip down her cheeks as she realizes the irony of the situation, one life comes into the world, while one is barely hanging on. It’s not how this moment is supposed to go; Ashlyn should be ecstatic, glowing as she babbles on about how adorable her son is, how his nose is perfect and eyes are beautiful, and little fingers and toes are the cutest thing she’s ever seen, how he’s going to be such a ladies’ man; instead she’s left looking broken and lifeless. “How is the baby?” Ali asks as her mind comes full circle, remembering that he also came almost two weeks early.

“He’s perfect. Beautiful,” Ashlyn croaks, her hands tightening around Ali’s fingers. “So handsome, Alex,” she adds, a small, proud motherly smile breaking across her lips. “He’s got her eyes.”

Ali smiles in return, knowing how part of Ashlyn must be excited, even if it’s contained by her other emotions. “Can I meet him?” she asks cautiously. She knows she was planning on coming to the hospital to see the baby that day regardless, but things had changed when Emma's results came back so poorly.

“Of course you can,” Ash replies, wondering why Ali seemed so timid about it. “I’ll bring him out to the Solarium,” she offers, not wanting to disturb Emma. Ali nods and Ash quickly slips out of the chair and walks into the room. Emma is still sleeping so she places a soft kiss on her forehead before grabbing the baby from his cradle and wraps the blanket tightly around him. She wanders back into the hallway, and a grin slips across her lips when she sees Ali’s face light up, wondering if there was ever a time the brunette didn’t look beautiful. “Meet, Noah Christopher Harris,” she says proudly, holding her arms out for Ali to take him.

“Ash, he’s absolutely adorable,” she replies, her eyes sparkling as she holds the little boy in her arms. “And that name,” she says, raising her eyes to meet the blonde’s.

Ash reaches out and rubs her son’s head gently. “It’s Emma’s father’s and grandfather’s name and my brother’s name as the middle name,” she says, trying not to get choked up at why they settled on a family name from Emma’s side of the family. At least if he never gets to know his mother, he’ll carry her family name with him for the rest of his life.

Ali plants a small kiss on his forehead and then pulls back and simply admires him. She squeaks when his eyes open, revealing soft green orbs that she knows will darken in time to match his mother’s perfectly. “Ash, he’s looking at me!” she says excitedly and despite the circumstances Ashlyn can’t help but smile as she watches her son reach out his hand and grip Ali’s finger tightly. “He might just be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” she coos as she lets him hold her finger.

“Cuter than me?” Ash teases, feeling a bit more lighthearted due to the brunette’s calming presence.

“You’re not even close to being on this little guy’s level,” she responds sassily with a playful eye roll while still gazing down at him as she sits back down in the chair. Ashlyn follows suit and looks back at them with a warm smile. “So what now?” she asks, her eyes finally drifting up from the squirming baby in her arms.

A deep sigh escapes from Ashlyn as she rubs her face in her sweaty palms. “Now, they find the right way to manage her pain and the right drugs and we go home,” she says simply. “They monitor her and give her pain medication, but there’s so surgical point anymore with how far it’s spread and chemo might prolong her life a bit, but it won’t even be a quality life. She’ll be in pain and exhausted all the time. They…” her voice trails off until she feels Ali wrap her hand around her forearm for comfort. “They said…she might have a couple months, maybe six if she’s lucky. It all just depends on if she gets sick from the weak immune system or how her body holds up.”

Ali nods as she takes it all in, wondering how anyone so amazing could be dealt such an awful hand. “I’m so sorry, Ash,” she whispers, as if she speaks quietly enough that she won’t be admitting the truth. “You know I’ll always be here. Anything you need,” she adds in a hushed tone, her eyes providing the deeper meaning her words can't quote convey.

“I know,” Ashlyn gets out in a cracked voice, fighting to keep the tears at bay. “I know, Alex.”

Chapter Text

“Alright Ali, it’s my turn!” Nora playfully chides as she tries to convince the brunette sitting next to her to hand Noah over.

Ash laughs and joins in on Nora’s ribbing. “Yeah, you’ve had him for almost an hour, Ali! Let someone else have a shot!”

Ali glares at both of them from her spot on Ash and Emma’s microfiber couch while snuggling baby Noah tighter into her arms. She looks down on him and her heart swells as she watches him so peacefully sleeping in her arms, the adorable little boy who doesn’t yet know the struggles he will face in his life. She’s never really held a baby this long, having missed the stage for most of her cousins when she was overseas in Germany and honestly even before that she was never a big fan of it, always thinking she would do something wrong or make them cry and get embarrassed when she didn’t have the motherly touch to soothe them, but for some reason she can’t get enough of holding the small Harris baby and constantly finds herself being teased by Nora, Emma and Ash. “But he’s so damn cute,” she pouts, sticking her bottom lip out as she gently rubs his fuzzy hair which makes all three women laugh.

“Oh here comes the famous Krieger pout!” Ashlyn states, pointing at Ali from across the room where she’s cuddled up on the couch with her wife, causing Emma and Nora to both roll their eyes and giggle some more. “Does that shit work on you?” Ash asks, her attention on Nora until she gets smacked by her wife for letting a curse word slip in front of the baby.

“It’s hit or miss with me,” Nora jokes before placing a kiss on her girlfriend’s head to ease the teasing blow. “Depends if she uses those puppy dog eyes too,” she adds when she realizes Ali can’t lash out since she’s holding the baby. “That combination usually gets me to do whatever she wants.”

“Your family and friends are so nice to me, aren’t they Noah?” she rhetorically asks the little three month old boy sleeping in her arms. “I think your moms are going to regret teasing me though when I get you all sugared up every time I babysit,” she adds in a fake whisper which gets the other three women chuckling again as she stares up at them with narrowed eyes. Nora leans across the couch and is about to state how she must be off the hook when Ali sarcastically adds, “And my girlfriend is not going to be happy when she doesn’t get to touch me for the next week.”

“Alex!” Ashlyn shrieks, doubling over in laughter. Her ribs are hurting from all of the laughter they have done the last few hours and she can feel them trembling at this point. “Do not corrupt my precious baby boy!”

“Oh please, Harris,” Ali responds with a poignant glare. “I think that ship already sailed when you watched the Frankfurt Bayern game. How many times did you curse in front of your precious son during that two hour span?”

Ashlyn’s eyes immediately grow wide and she is instantly afraid to look to her left and meet her wife’s gaze that she already feels burning into her. ‘You are going to get it,’ she mouths to Ali before finally turning to meet Emma’s gaze. “It wasn’t that many times, beautiful,” she charmingly replies, smiling at her wife with full dimple on display as she tries to weasel out of getting scolded.

It doesn’t work though and Emma just rolls her eyes and drops Ashlyn’s hands. “We’ll talk about this later,” she flatly replies and Ali and Nora can’t help but ‘oooo’ like Ashlyn just got called to the principal’s office in high school. They all know she'll get off the hook though, that Emma and Ashlyn are so focused on enjoying all of the time they can get together that they don't get angry at each other for the little things.

After the playful banter and laughter dies down, Ali reluctantly turns and lets her girlfriend slip Noah out of her arms. She can’t deny that as much as she loves holding him, she loves watching Nora holding him as well. It may be from her time on the pediatric wing all those years ago, or maybe it’s just her mothering nature, but Ali can’t help but smile as she watches Nora rock the little boy in her arms while cooing at how adorable he is. Ashlyn and Emma catch their friend’s aloof gaze and smile at the sight of it.

“Geeze if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you want one of those too,” Emma states plaintively and Ali’s eyes go wide at the implications of it.

“No way!” she throws her hands up immediately and she’s not sure, but she thinks she might have seen some disappointment flicker through Nora’s eyes. Her mind is reeling at the thought. The thought of truly letting go, of moving on, of having a baby, with Nora and suddenly the room feels ten degrees hotter and she tries to backtrack when she catches Nora’s expression. “I just…I have so much stuff coming up with soccer. We have the World Cup and Olympics in a few years and I’ve got some overseas offers and I-“

She’s cut off by Nora’s hand being placed gently on her arm. “You have overseas offers?” she asks, the confusion evident in her voice.

Now Ali feels like she’s trapped and suddenly she wants to be anywhere but in that room. After almost six months of dating they haven’t talked too much about the future, but knows that she shouldn’t have kept that from Nora. Truthfully, she never expected to fall this hard for Nora and was just biding her time, waiting for when she needed the obvious escape route. That time hadn’t come yet though and she just hadn’t quite figured out how to broach the subject with her girlfriend, especially with everything that was going on. The Spirit season was over, and after falling short in the Championship game she surprised herself by not taking the first flight to Europe to get back on the grind and start fighting for another trophy to get her mind off the recent loss.

She knows she’s sat too still and too silently when she feels everyone’s gazes on her, except for the sleeping baby and she’s glad he’s not staring at her because even though it makes no sense, in her mind she feels like she has at least one ally in the situation. Her eyes come up from the floor and meet Nora’s. “I…uh…yeah I have a few contract offers,” she replies weakly. “Can we talk about this later?” she adds, not wanting to get into it right in front of Ashlyn and Emma who have their own issues to deal with which are much more significant than a few months apart in different countries.

“Sure, hun,” Nora replies with a smile that doesn’t quite meet her eyes. “Emma want to show me Noah’s room? I haven’t seen it since you brought the little cutie home and I would love to read him a story before he goes down for the night.”

Emma eagerly nods, ready to cut through the awkward tension and gets up from the couch, shrugging the blanket off her shoulders despite Ashlyn’s protests that she should keep it on so she doesn’t catch a cold. Nora stands up as well and follows Emma down the hall with Noah still cradled in her arms, not even bothering to shoot Ali a parting glance.

Ali lets out a groan and drops her face into her hands as soon as she hears the door down the hallway close.

“What the hell, Alex?” Ashlyn’s voice cuts through the silence and her tone is almost angry.

Ali’s eyes go wide, not used to hearing this tone from the blonde and she drags her eyes up from the floor. “What?” she asks, immediately on the defensive as she throws attitude back at Ashlyn.

“You haven’t told your girlfriend that you might be going back to Europe?” she asks, her voice dripping with disappointment.

Ali shrugs. “There’s a lot going on, Ash. I didn’t know that I was definitely going and I still don’t,” she states with a bit of edge. “What’s the point of bringing something up and making her worry if it might not happen?”

“Did you ever think people might want a heads up before you just disappear from their lives?”

The words cut through Ali’s protective walls and she can immediately sense where this hidden anger is coming from. She hadn’t told Ashlyn about the offers either and her heart clenches when she thinks about disappearing from their lives without any warning just as Lucina had done to her. “I…you’re right,” Ali whispers, suddenly feeling like a child being reprimanded for something they know they had no business doing in the first place. “I should have told her. I should have told you.” She meets Ashlyn’s gaze and can see some of the hurt clear from her eyes, but knows there’s still uneasiness.

“Are you going back to Germany?” Ashlyn asks, her voice small and innocent.

“Maybe,” Ali shrugs. “Sweden is the other offer,” she adds, her tone just as soft as she tries to read the blonde’s reaction. As she sees the uncertainty flicker through her eyes she understands where it’s coming from. Ashlyn is afraid of losing her, of losing her best friend, her rock. And Ali would be lying if she said that Ashlyn and everything that was going on there wasn’t part of the reason she still found herself debating the options, debating putting her already short career on hold essentially.

The blonde just nods and drops her gaze to the floor, knowing it’s too much to ask of Ali what she so desperately wants to. Emma has a month, maybe three if they’re lucky and maybe, just maybe more if a miracle occurs and Ashlyn knows that any day she can take a turn for the worse. She can see it coming though. She can see the way that Emma can’t keep any weight on, the way she barely nibbles at her food even when the blonde pleads with her, and she knows Emma can feel it coming herself when she finds her sitting beside Noah’s crib every night and every morning, holding his tiny hands and talking to him, telling him stories of her family and her childhood and how she’s always going to be looking out for him. They never address it, but it keeps her lying awake at night, her wife tangled around her as she lets all of the doubts creep in under the cover of darkness. It breaks her heart, the inevitability of it all as they walk around on eggshells, trying to make the most of their time together while not admitting they both know that time is limited.

With no family, no other friends around Ashlyn has stayed awake at night wondering what would happen when things go south. Who would she turn to? What would she do? Who would put her pieces back together? Every time, every night she laid there her thoughts would go to Ali; the woman who had become her rock, who had held her when she cried, who told her she’d always show up. How can she show up if she’s oceans away? As much as she wants reassurance, she knows it’s not hers to ask for. She’s not Ali’s girlfriend who has a real right to be upset with her, and she knows she’s not worth Ali pushing her career aside for, a career she had worked so hard to get back. She’s about to say something, to let the words slip candidly from her lips as a result of the uneven emotional state she’s in or the couple bottles of wine they’ve consumed throughout the night, but they’re interrupted by Nora and Emma wandering back into the room, giggling about how Noah had fallen asleep with his mouth wide open.

“Ready to go, babe?” Nora asks, a smile taking the sting out of her slightly biting tone.

Ali nods, knowing she’d do whatever Nora wanted at the moment. “Of course.” She slowly gets up from the couch and raises her hands in the air, stretching her legs and torso in one long movement. “Thanks so much for having us over. It was great to see you and the little guy again,” she says sincerely as she wraps her arms tightly around Emma and pulls her long embrace. Even though the night may have ended a bit awkwardly, she knows not to take these gatherings for granted, never knowing when things could take a turn.

“I’m glad you two came over too,” Emma replies with a warm, sincere smile as she pulls back from the hug, leaving her warm palms resting on Ali’s shoulders as she looks back at her intently, almost as if she was studying her as she seems to do with everything lately –like she’s trying to take in every interaction to the fullest, to memorize every detail, every last aspect of her friends, family and loved ones. Ali knows that’s part of the reason Ashlyn finds Emma sitting alert in Noah’s room almost every night just staring at him. If she only gets a short time on this Earth with him, she wants to make it count, wants his adorable, gummy smile ingrained in her mind, the way his hair sticks up on top of his head burned into her eyes, the feel of his soft, tiny fingers curled around her own leaving a lasting, tingling impression on her skin. It’s heartbreaking, but inspiring at the same time, constantly reminding Ali that moldy bread, a bad practice or a flat tire isn’t the end of the world, not even close.

They finish saying their goodbyes and after giving Ashlyn a hug that despite their slightly awkward encounter, feels nothing but warm and comforting, Ali leads Emma towards the front door which Ash pulls open for them. “See you soon,” she offers with a small wave as she watches her friends make their way towards Nora’s all black Mercedes.

It’s not even five minutes into the ride before Ali can tell just how upset Nora is. They’ve never had a big fight, both of them being pretty chill and understanding of each other’s busy schedules and hectic lives, and Nora isn’t the type to yell and scream over a tiny slip up or mindless mistake, but when she turns down Washington Ave instead of getting on the highway Ali knows this isn’t going to be small disagreement that gets swept under the rug.

“You’re taking me home?” Ali asks, not incredulously, but with a hint of sass to let Nora know she doesn’t appreciate her cold shoulder.

Nora stays silent for a moment with her eyes trained on the busy road before her. She knows she should talk to Ali, shouldn’t have just decided to drop her off at her apartment when they had plans –and Ali had a bag packed- to stay at Nora’s since they both had the next day off. Her fingers grip the leather wheel tightly as she processes her options, but when she looks to her right and see’s Ali’s helpless, pleading expression she decides against freezing her out. “I’m just upset, Ali,” she begins, her cracking voice giving Ali insight into her true feelings.

“Nora, I just didn’t know how to bring it up. I’m not even sure I’m going,” Ali begins, but even she knows how dumb it sounds. It’s a terrible excuse and they both know it.

The car settles into silence again as Ali tries to come up with a better, less insulting excuse while Nora racks up the courage to say what she really wants to. Finally, with her eyes locked on the road since she couldn’t meet Ali’s eyes, the words slip out of her mouth, “You mean you haven’t decided if I’m worth sticking around for?” she asks in a timid voice, biting her bottom lip as she studies Ali out of the corner of her eye.

The brunette’s first reaction is to immediately object, but she knows that would only make it worse because as usual, Nora’s read her like an open book, something few people have ever been able to do. “Nora, that’s not…I just don’t know what to do,” is all she offers and though they both know it’s not enough, Nora nods glad that Ali didn’t just brush her off and deny it.

“I’m not dumb, Ali,” she replies, her voice softer this time, but equally as uncertain. “I know you’re holding something back, you’re keeping a part of yourself from me and I’m not quite sure if it’s because of me or if it’s the fact that you never got that part back from whoever broke your heart. I’m not going to push you into something you don’t want or aren’t ready for, but I really like you.” She finally turns her attention from the dimly lit road to her girlfriend as they approach a red light. “I really like being with you, Ali. I’m not saying we can’t be together if you go overseas and play, but I just need you to honest with me.”

Ali dumbly nods, knowing that literally every word out of Nora’s mouth is the complete truth, the truth she had been hiding from herself since they started dating. “I’m sorry,” she whispers and though she doesn’t clarify, they both know what for. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“Are you going?” Nora asks, her tone hesitant as if she’s unsure if she really wants to know the answer.

Ali simply shrugs and slips her hand onto Nora’s thigh to give it a reassuring squeeze. “I’m honestly not sure. It’d be great for my career even though it’s only for a few months, but there’s so much going on here. For the first time I have things I’d miss if I leave.” Her voice trails off and Nora nods, releasing one hand from the steering wheel to set it on top of Ali’s.

“So it was your escape route?” she laughs softly, and though there’s some bitterness behind it, there’s also hopefulness laced through upon the realization that Ali hasn’t left because she doesn’t want to escape –yet.

With an apologetic smile, Ali nods and whispers, “Yes.” She holds her breath to wait for Nora’s reply as they pull into her driveway.

Nora puts the car into park, but doesn’t turn the car off and Ali is unable to read her expression as Nora seems to be trying to figure it all out herself. “I think you should go, Ali,” she states honestly.

Ali’s eyes go wide and she retracts her hand. “What? Nora, I…I’m sorry! I want to be with you. I do-“

Her rambling is cut off by Nora leaning across the center console and capturing her lips in a kiss. “Shut up, Ali,” she says, taking the opportunity to slip her tongue in Ali’s shocked, slightly parted mouth. “I want to be with you too,’” she whispers against Ali’s lips when the brunette finally recovers her senses and responds to the kiss she realizes isn’t a kiss goodbye. She gets lost for it in a minute, her other senses taking over and pulling her back into the kiss, before she pushes Nora back slightly to meet her eyes.

“What do you mean?”

Nora lets out a sigh, wishing Ali had picked up on it sooner and hadn’t broken their kiss. “You should go to Europe, Ali,” she replies evenly, her usually piercing blue eyes, softening to display true sincerity. “Don’t put your career on hold for me or anybody for that matter. You love it. I’ve never seen you smile bigger than when you are on that stupid field,” she says with a chuckle. “And if you want, I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

“Really?” Ali asks, her tone dripping with disbelief. She’s never had anyone besides her family be so selfless before so as to put her happiness above their own. The relationship she was in before she had gone to Germany the first time had ended for that exact reason.

Nora smiles, wanting nothing more than to kiss Ali until she gets it, but wants to settle this before they both start thinking with something other than their minds. “Really. I wasn’t upset about you possibly going away, Ali. I was upset that you kept it from me. I just want you to be happy, beautiful. You should really consider it. And besides, I love visiting Europe in the spring,” she adds with a wink.

“Pshh, you think I’m going to let you visit me there while I try to get with all of those European hotties?” Ali giggles, suddenly feeling lighter than she has in a long time as she stares back at Nora with a thankful, hungry expression. She’s still not certain it’s something she’s going to pursue, but now feels a lot better about the prospect of making a decision with her girlfriend’s support.

“Shut up, Ali,” she replies again, leaning across the console again to cut the distance between them. When Ali goes to cut through the space completely, she pulls back a bit with a teasing smile. “Are you going to invite me in or what?” she asks suggestively as she runs her fingers up Ali’s leg making the brunette shudder under her touch. “I have to show you that those European chicks have nothing on a sexy American doctor.”

“Mmmm, I like the sound of that,” Ali purrs as she reaches past Nora and turns the car off, yanking the keys out of the ignition as she sprints towards the front door of her apartment, Nora laughing as she chases after her.

Chapter Text

"Alex?" comes a soft, scared voice from the other end of the vibrating phone that she had plucked from her nightstand. Ali sits up in her bed and rubs her sleep filled eyes as she adjusts to the darkness encompassing her bedroom. "Yeah? Who is this?" she sleepily mumbles as she tries to get her bearings. A glance to the clock lets her know it's 3am and her senses start to come alive when she realizes whatever the call entails, must be important.

"It's time." Suddenly Ali's eyes are wide open and she's jumping out of bed less than a second later, tugging on her joggers and a loose gray tank. "She wants to see you too," Ash continues, easily picking up from the shuffling on the other end that Ali is currently getting herself together.

"I'll be right there, Ash," she replies shakily before hanging up the phone so she can focus on gathering up the rest of her stuff.

Her phone and wallet get thrown into her overstuffed purse and without even glancing in the mirror she sprints to the parking lot of her apartment complex and rips open the door of her BMW. Against her better judgement while speeding down the street she types out a quick text to Nora letting her know what's happening and then tosses her phone back in her purse.

Her mind is reeling as she processes it all. It's a call they know has been coming; since the slight chills became a fever and progressed to cough that wouldn't go away which led to an emergency room visit and the diagnosis of pneumonia which combined with a depleted immune system and low white blood cell counts meant a week at most. That was a five days ago and it's been three days since all of Emma's family has come into town, to say goodbye, to make their peace. It's the call that though expected, Ali has been dreading. And though it doesn't come as a surprise, she knows it won't make the hurt any less, won't mitigate the pain at all.

It takes her twenty minutes, two near accidents and five horn blares, but Ali finally gets to their house where Emma had been placed under Hospice care and whips the car into park, ignoring that she's hanging over raised cement curb as she slams the door shut and hurries into the house. The hospice nurse on site raises her eyebrows and is just about to ask her a question, but Ali frantically waves her off and slips up the stairs before the woman can even open her mouth.

When she gets to Emma and Ashlyn's bedroom she hears a soft beeping and says a thankful prayer that she wasn't too late. She knocks softly on the door and after hearing someone call her in, takes a long, deep breath to clear her head before stepping in.

It takes her a moment to take it all in, all of the people crowded around the bed. Emma's father, a large, rotund Irish man with a pockmarked face stands with his arm around a thinner, frail looking woman with dark gray hair and similar features to Emma, her mom. Another younger woman who looks exactly like Emma, but a few years older stands slightly in front of them, holding the other hand that isn't already being held by the somber looking blonde sitting next to the bed.

"Ali," Emma whispers in a tired voice as a small pained smile comes across her lips. She looks terrible, her skin a ghostly white and her usually brilliant eyes are now lightless and sunk back into her hollow face. Everyone finally looks up and she suddenly feels awkward as she sees their tear streaked faces, like she's intruding on a family matter she has no place in and freezes in the hallway. "Come in," Emma weakly adds when she notices Ali hesitate upon seeing the room filled with her family members.

Ali steps further into the room and finally meets Ashlyn's eyes, noting they're as lifeless as Emma's and she wonders if the blonde will honestly be able to survive this, if she'll actually be able to carry on in the world without her soulmate, without her true love. "Hey, Em," she whispers, pulling her eyes from Ashlyn to meet Emma's gaze. She can see from her milky irises and the shallowness of her breath that the life has almost left her.

They share eye contact for a moment, ignoring everyone else in the room and Ali can see something different flicker through the frail woman's eyes, something that she's never seen before and can't quite pinpoint.

"Can you guys give us a quick minute," she whispers, turning her attention to her family who are all witnessing the moment the two women share. They nod and follow each other out of the room, each patting Ashlyn on the shoulder as they pass by. As Ali steps towards the bed and gives Ash a tight hug, Emma's eyes flick to her wife. "You too, hun," she whispers, her voice growing softer with each passing minute. "Just for a minute. You can leave Noah," she adds, looking down to the swaddled four month old baby lying peacefully at her side.

The blonde looks between Emma and Ali quizzically but acquiesces to her wife's wish, knowing that at that moment she'd do anything her wife asked of her. She places a lingering kiss on her lips, not knowing when it'll be her last and slips out of the room through the door Emma's family has just exited from.

"Thank you for coming," Emma whispers as she struggles to lift her hand.

Ali quickly takes it when she sees Emma isn't able to lift it and sits in the seat that Ashlyn had just occupied, still feeling the warmth that had radiated from the blonde. "Of course. Ashlyn said you wanted to see me," she says softly, unsure how to handle the pain Emma seems to be in. Ashlyn had told her that Emma had refused most high strength pain medication because she wanted to be alert for her last few days, to enjoy the short time she had left with her beautiful little family and not be in a drug fueled haze the whole time.

"I just wanted to thank you, Ali," she begins before breaking into a coughing fit, her hand tightening around Ali's as she fights through it.

"For what?" Ali asks in a confused tone.

"For taking care of Ashlyn," Emma begins, her now pale green eyes lifting from the bed to meet Ali's. "I know where she went when things got hard, where she went those nights after I fell asleep when it all seemed too much."

Ali is about to pull her hand back, to assure Emma that absolutely nothing had happened between them, that she had never disrespected their marriage, but Emma grips her hands tighter and smiles softly at the brunette as she so often did.

"I'm not accusing you," she adds, her face softening, trying to convey to Ali that she had no ill will towards her, that she trusted that neither of them had ever crossed a line. "I'm so glad that she had you. You made her strong. You helped her get through this. Helped her get me through this." Her words are genuine and Ali settles back into the seat knowing it's coming from a pure gratefulness and not malice.

"Of course," Ali replies, squeezing Emma's hand reassuringly as she visibly relaxes. "You know I love both of you...and Noah."

"I know. And that's why I need you to do something for me," she whispers, her voice becoming more raspy as she carries on. "I need you to promise me something."

"Anything," Ali replies, leaning over the bed so she can hear Emma's ever quieting voice.

"I need you to take care of them, Ali. When all of this is said and done, Ashlyn is going to break. She is going to fall apart and she is going to struggle more than you've ever seen a person struggle before. I know you love her and I know that you can take care of her, of both of them."

As Ali looks down at the sickly woman her eyes grow wide. She's not sure what part of the statement catches her off guard more and she simply stares back at Emma with an open mouth as she tries to find her words.

"Promise me, Ali. I need you to promise me." Her words are desperate and for the first time Ali can hear a change in her tone, as if she's using the last of her strength to convey the importance of it, to secure her dying wish. "Promise me," she pleads.

"I promise," Ali replies confidently, wondering exactly what she was promising to do as Emma smiles back at her, seeming at peace for the first time since the brunette had gotten there.

Emma's tight grip on her hand relaxes a bit and as her eyes close Ali thinks that might be it, that might be all of the strength she had left. She starts to get up and bring her family back in for her final moments, when the grip tightens again and her eyes quickly dart back to Emma. "She loves you too you know," she whispers, her voice almost inaudible before her breathing becomes more shallow.

Ali quickly slides out of the room and signals for the rest of them to head back in. As she hears the beep from the heart rate monitor become slower, Ashlyn casts one glance back at her, her hollow eyes filled with tears and sadness that no one should ever have to endure. She can't imagine what the blonde must be feeling and though she just wants to run and wrap her up in her arms and tell her everything will be okay, she knows that Ashlyn's place is by Emma's bedside, surrounded by Emma's family -her family. With all the courage she holds in her small frame, Ali musters the most sympathetic, reassuring smile she possesses and waves the blonde on into the room before slipping out of the house, deciding to let them have their final moment together as a family as Emma's final request replays in her mind and endless tears free fall down her cheeks.

Chapter Text

Flowers make Ali think of weddings, they always have. When her older cousin got married, Ali in her white lace princess gown was sent down the aisle scattering white rose petals from a woven basket right before the bride walked down. Though she doesn’t remember much else from when she was five -besides the time she embarrassingly scored on her own net in her second soccer game, only to run around cheering until she caught on that her teammates were all but pleased- she remembers that day so well. She remembers the way her cousin walked down the aisle, tendrils of hair curled around her face while the rest was pulled into an intricate updo, with the most radiating smile Ali had ever seen. She was happy, purely at peace and as a five year old Ali with a terrible bowl cut and face peppered with light freckles stood there with a fistful of rose petals in her hand, she couldn’t wait until the day she got married, the day she became as happy as the beautiful bride standing before her.

So as Ali walks to the funeral, her black dress flowing past her knees and thick winter pea coat pulled tightly around her shoulders, she finds it ironic when she sees the orchids, the blue dendrobium orchids that she had picked out for her own wedding. The same orchids that were ironically still delivered to her on the day of her supposed wedding because Lucina, who had agreed to take on cancelling the wedding after she left, had never gotten in touch with the flower shop down on the corner of their street. She remembers coming home that afternoon to a hallway filled with the beautiful purple and blue flowers, speckled with light pink, remembers crying into them as grief rushed through her veins, remembers ripping them from the pots and throwing them out of the window when the fit of anger finally began rippling through.

So now, as she walks across the slightly snow covered lawn of the cemetery on the dreary overcast day towards the casket hovering just above the ground, she’s already filled with more emotions than she knows she can handle. She reaches out and grabs Nora’s hand and her girlfriend’s warm grip tightens when she reads Ali’s face and knows there’s more to it. Ali hasn’t said a word since the church that morning and as they take their place around the casket where Emma and Ashlyn’s family and close friends have gathered, Ali finds herself struggling to breathe.

“It’s okay, baby,” Nora whispers comfortingly as she lightly rubs Ali’s back. It doesn’t have the desired effect. Ali barely feels it through the numbness and thick coat and as she looks across the throngs of people and her eyes settle on Ashlyn she suddenly has to fight to fill her lungs with air every breath.

Their eyes both flick up from the hole in the ground and meet for just a moment as the service begins and in Ashlyn’s usually bright hazel eyes, Ali can read every emotion, every ounce of pain and heartbreak. Ashlyn, has just lost everything; her best friend, her wife, the mother of her child, her soul mate and Ali can see it all. She can see the tired, lifeless eyes that spent the night sleepless, the cracked lips from crying, the tussled hair because there’s no one to look presentable for, and the tightened jaw as she tries to keep it all locked in, tries to keep up the strong front. The pain is there though, evident in every point of her posture, the slumped shoulders, the anxiously fiddling fingers and dropped chin, and Ali can see it bubbling beneath the surface as it tries to dig its way out. That much is evident from how uncomfortable the blonde looks sandwiched between who Ali is assuming are her parents, with a slighter taller man behind her who is most likely the brother she often talked about.

She knows the feeling, the feeling of trying to be strong when you’re weak, of fighting to appear put together when you’re in pieces. She had spent months in Frankfurt at practices, games and team outings pretending that she was okay, that she wasn’t broken and dying on the inside and now as she looks across the field at her best friend, she can physically feel her pain. It’s a strange thing to be able to feel someone’s pain, but Ali knows that what she’s feeling is not just sadness at the loss of her friend. She’s lost friends before, close friends, but this hurt runs so much deeper than that. It runs deeper than she ever could have imagined, taking up residence in her blood, her bones, in every fiber of her being. It’s like she’s sharing the blonde’s anguish, trying to feel all of the pain herself in an attempt to spare Ashlyn of it. Though the burden is heavy it is one she would so willingly take for her. She promised.

It’s been three days since Emma passed and her final words have not stopped ringing through Ali’s head. The whole encounter plays over and over and the night before as she lay wrapped in Nora’s arms long after her girlfriend had succumbed to a restless sleep, she still couldn’t process it. From the safety of Nora’s warm embrace, amidst the soft snores escaping from her lips, Ali relived the moment in her mind all the way from the awkward entrance to the parting words she loves you too. It was a simple enough wish; take care of her wife and son after she had passed, but somehow it felt heavier than that. She loves you too. That’s the part that trips her up; the part that weighs heavy on her shoulders and even heavier on her mind as she looks across at the blonde, the woman she had met by complete chance on the streets of Germany over a year ago.

It seems almost absurd how things had turned out after meeting a random, married stranger that fateful night in Frankfurt. Now, fast forward a year and there’s a baby, but no wife by the same woman’s side, and it makes her remember their first meeting so vividly. She’ll never forget getting a glimpse of her ring finger flickering in the setting German son and the disappointment that eeked out of her with her next breath.

She loves you too. If not for those words, Ali would have no qualms with Emma’s last request. Aside from those words, it was a request she would have filled without being told to. She didn’t need to be asked to look out for her best friend and baby Noah because it was already a promise she had made to the blonde and to herself. But Emma did say those words, the last words before she slipped peacefully away and that’s what has kept Ali up every night since she passed. I know that you love her…She loves you too. Was it a blessing? Ali had shaken that thought quickly out of her mind, though somehow she couldn’t shake the feeling that Emma was asking more for more than the occasional stop in and dinner night from Ali. Her eyes had held a certain seriousness that the brunette honestly had never seen before. It was as if she used all of her remaining strength to tell Ali the magnitude of the request, to ensure that her family would be safe and cared for in every way possible. Her tone and gaze heavier than Ali anticipated and those piercing green eyes burning into her, begging her to promise is something she’ll never forget.

It’s a sob that breaks her from her thoughts and as she peels her eyes up she sees the taller, burly man with a light blonde scruff tightly holding Ashlyn as they watch the perfectly, polished wooden casket adorned with ribbons and blue dendrobium orchids begin to lower into the hard, frozen ground. A single sob. That’s all that escapes from Ashlyn’s lips as she holds her son tightly and watches as her wife, her best friend, her soul mate, is laid to rest six feet under. A single sob is all the squeaks out of a crack before Ashlyn stoically straightens her face and puts her walls back up. It makes Ali shudder because she knows that when those walls begin to crack, however small and insignificant at first, they’re ultimately going to crumble under the stress of it all, under the heavy burden weighing on her shoulders. And when the walls, the emotional dam that the blonde had so diligently fought to build finally came crashing down, when Ashlyn finally lets herself feel, it’s going to hit her like a waterfall. Ali just hopes she can keep her head above water.

Chapter Text

The hot water runs down her face, muddling with the tears spilling down her cheeks so it’s almost like they’re not there. Almost.

Except they are. They are there and despite the brief moments that they are hidden by the scalding shower water pouring over her head and down her body or the melting snowflakes that find their way to her face, they have been present for the past three days. During the day she’s strong, she keeps her head up, her jaw tight and her eyes dry, but when night comes it all turns. In with the darkness creeps the sadness and as the earth is blanketed in blackness, she is blanketed with grief. In the day her cheeks are dry, her smile -though forced- is still present and her mind is alert, but the moment the day ends, the moment the sun sets and everyone retires to their own room she slips into her bed and is surrounded, encompassed by her anguish with no escape route. It’s in the darkness, under the cover of night that she lets it out. She lets the tears flow and her sobs, though muffled by the pillow she angrily holds over her face to contain them, follow in tandem.

It’s been three nights. Three nights since Emma has passed, three nights since she has slept and after laying her wife to rest in the ground earlier that day, she doubts sleep will come on this night either. It’s been three nights, soon to be four, since her eyes have been able to close and her mind has been able to shut off, but somehow she carries on during the day. They can all see it. They all know she’s just being strong, but don’t push her because they’re afraid that like a vase, once she cracks, once she breaks, she’ll never be able to be put back together quite the same. There will always be fissures, always physical scars to show the damage, to highlight the pain.

It hurts. She’s not sure if it hurts worse when she’s trying to hold it all together for everyone else or when she actually lets herself feel and the emotions spill out, but every moment of every day she is in pain, in a state of mental and physical discomfort unlike anything she’s ever experienced. She can feel the piercing pain in her heart, and isn’t quite sure how it keeps beating. She can feel the anguish crawling over her skin, giving her chills every time she thinks about what might have been if she had carried and Emma could have fought it. She feels the low thrumming in her head as her mind tries to come to term with it all, but it’s a futile effort –this will never make sense, she will never be able to understand it. She feels it into her core, in her veins and deep within her bones and she wonders as she feels the pain spread if Emma felt a similar sensation, if she too could feel the darkness creep through her body and over take her.

It was peaceful. Out of the ensuing mess she at least has that to be thankful for, to mitigate the slightest amount of pain that would surely be greater if her wife had had an excruciating struggle at the end. It wasn't painful, she wasn't scared. It was almost as if she had accepted her fate, made her peace and then slipped into sleep never to wake again. Even in the face of death, in the final minutes where she wavered between this life and the next, her wife's strength and composure didn't cease to amaze her.

It was unforgettable. Ashlyn will never forget those final moments. They'll be forever engraved into her memory; the last moments in mind and body and spirit with with her wife, her rock, her better half -the woman who had made her grow up, made her a better person, a better friend, wife, lover and mother. Even with the heartbreak, with the pain that made her feel like her heart was physically splitting into two, perhaps so half could travel with her wife to another world, she wouldn't trade their short time together for anything. She’s lost -more lost than when she tore her ACL and stopped playing soccer, more lost than when she tried to figure out her real feelings for the woman that always kept her on her toes and more lost than when she had wandered the streets of Frankfurt- and she’s honestly not sure where she goes from here, what she does with a beautiful baby boy who will never know his mother, the woman he gets his eyes from and who died to give him life, but she wouldn’t trade it. She wouldn’t trade her moments with Emma, their life together no matter how short, their son, for the world.

She remembers those last seconds so vividly. Even though it was three days ago it feels like yesterday. She thinks maybe that's because she hasn't slept -she hasn't actually undergone the normal transition from day to day- but knows that's not it. It's just something she'll always remember. She remembers the way she held her wife’s frail hand so tightly, the way she kissed her pale lips so gently and the way Emma looked up at her with her soft green eyes so calmly for the last time.

She saw it happen, knew the exact moment it did. When her eyes closed, her chest stilled and her heart stopped beating. Even after that, for just split second longer, she felt Emma's tight grip on her hand, almost as if the universe had given her that extra second to remind Ash that what they had lasted outside of their bodies, transcended even death. Ashlyn will never forget that moment and she never wants to either.

She also remembers the change. She remembers the unmistakable change in her wife after Ali had slipped out of the room. It was almost as if she seemed at peace, as if she had secured her final wishes and was ready to move on, to accept the inevitable. She's not sure what Emma’s final words were to Ali and she's not quite sure she'll ever find out as it's not her place to ask, but she knows Emma's last words to her will forever be engrained in her mind, seared into her auditory nerve endings to play in an ever ending loop at a moment’s notice. Though almost inaudibly whispered with a dying woman's last ounce of strength, last breath, the words play louder in her head than anything she's ever heard.

 

"I'm here, Ems," Ashlyn gets out, trying to keep her voice from cracking as she slips back into the chair beside her bed and takes her wife’s hand. The rest of her family has stayed back a bit to let them have their final moments together. "I'm right here baby." Her grip tightens as Emma looks up at her adoringly with tired eyes, her breathing becoming more labored. "I'll always be right here."

"I love you so much, Ash," Emma whispers through her dry, cracked lips. "More than you could ever know. Thank you for letting me love you."

The tears are running unchecked now down the blonde's face as she leans down and places a light kiss on her lips. "The honor was all mine beautiful. I love you too, Ems. I promise I'll take care of our beautiful boy and I promise that he'll never go a day without knowing who his beautiful mother was and what she did for him, the sacrifice you made for him, for us."

"Tell him I love him," Emma whispers as her eyes became heavier and her grip on Ashlyn's hand tightens as if she's holding on for life. They both ignore the painful irony that she actually is.

"Everyday baby. Every day," Ash gets out in a ragged voice with her forehead resting on her wife's forehead. She pulls back and for just a moment watches her wife struggle to keep breathing, to keep her heart beating and prolong their life together. Though she's trying to be strong and not let it show, Ash can read the fear and can see the internal struggle flickering through the eyes that had captivated her so long ago. The words are the hardest thing she’s ever had to say, but she just wants mercy for the woman she loves. As her breathing becomes more troubled, Ash bends lower and places a kiss on her cheek before whispering, "It's okay to say goodbye. It's okay to let go, Ems."

Emma feebly nods as a few tears slide down her face. She knows it's time, knows trying to hold on any longer will only cause more pain, but needs go get out one last request, "Take care of...our boy,” she gets out, her voice becoming raspier as she tries to fill her lungs, the lungs riddled with cancer, with air. “And be happy one day, Ashlyn. Promise me. You both deserve the world. Promise me you'll follow your heart when you find someone who can give it to you."

"I promise," Ashlyn whispers almost silently as she sees the light slip out of her wife's eyes as they close for the last time.

 

“Damn it, Ems!” she screams after turning off the water as she slams her fist into the tiled wall of the shower at the memory. “Goddamn it!” She sobs and sinks to the floor of the shower, dropping her face into her hands. “Why’d you leave us?” she gets out in keening, pleading wail and wraps her arms around her knees as the sobs once again overtake her body along with the darkness of night.

Chapter Text

When Emma told Ali that Ashlyn would break, it was the biggest understatement that Ali had ever heard. She didn’t break; she completely shattered -pieces of her scattering in every direction. It wasn’t a matter of just putting her back together; no, she had to gather all of the pieces first.

A week after the funeral, Ashlyn’s family had left to go back to Florida since they were unable to take more time off of work and two days before that Emma’s family had flittered back to their own places around the area. For the first time since Emma’s passing she was alone and that was a dangerous place to be.

Ali rushes into Ashlyn’s house twenty minutes after receiving the desperate text -which came not even ten minutes after the blonde’s family had departed for the airport- to find her lying on the plush carpeted floor of their bedroom closet, clutching one of Emma’s old UNC hoodies to her chest, dissolving into a mess of tears as she took in the lingering scent of her wife.

“Oh, Ash,” she whispers and drops to her knees beside her best friend. “Shhhh, it’s okay,” she coos as she pulls the blonde into her arms which she wraps tightly around her, resting her chin on top of the blonde’s head as the tears continue to spill and soak the front of her shirt. Her mind is racing a million miles a minute and she honestly isn’t sure what to do. She knows she promised Emma she would take care of Ashlyn and Noah, but she feels like she’s been doing anything but.

 

“Is Ashlyn here?” Ali asks an elderly, frail woman as the front door of Ashlyn’s house. She’s still dressed in her practice gear and covered in sweat, but Ashlyn had texted her so she had let Nora know she had to cancel on their lunch plans and instead had driven right to the blonde’s house from the stadium.

“She is,” the woman, who Ali recognizes as Emma’s grandmother from the funeral, replies curtly with a nod as she eyes Ali up and down. “She’s not in the mood for visitors though.”

Ali puts her hand up when the woman goes to shut the door and gently stops it from closing in her face. “She actually asked me to stop by. I’m Ali,” Ali responds, trying to be as respectful as possible even though she’s miffed that the older woman is blowing her off. She knows the blonde needs her. She could hear it in the way her voice cracked over the phone even though she could tell Ashlyn was trying to keep it together around their families.

Just then someone else comes down the hallway and she hears a bit of hushed whispering behind the door. Emma’s grandmother relinquishes control of the thick wood and slips away down the hallway to be replaced by the blonde’s mother. “Ashlyn is with family and that’s who she should be with right now. She’s dealing with the death of her wife and needs family support,” she says evenly, though Ali can feel the woman judging her like she’s going to swoop in and take advantage of Ashlyn’s weakened state.

“She asked me t-“ Ali begins, but is cut off by the wave of Tammye’s hand and she bites her cheek from saying something she’ll regret. As much as she wants to lash out, she knows the woman must be grieving as well seeing how close their families were and how much she loved her daughter-in-law.

“I’ll tell her you stopped by Alice,” she says dismissively when Ali just stares blankly at her and then firmly closes the door behind her without another word.

 

“She’s gone. She’s really gone,” Ali hears Ashlyn whisper and it sounds so much like a frightened child that it takes everything Ali has to keep it together. She doesn’t know what to say, how to deal with it and as much as she loves Ash and Emma and Noah, she doesn’t think she’s the right person for the job. She’s still broken herself so how can she be the one to put someone else back together? She pulls the blonde tighter to her chest, ignoring the warm, wet sensation pressing into her chest as Ashlyn’s tears mix with the remnants of sweat from her training session. “I know, Ash. I know,” Ali whispers as she feels the blonde’s warm breath on her neck and the shudders rippling through her body. It almost breaks her own resolve, but she knows she needs to be strong. Later, late at night she can fall apart in Nora’s arms, but now she needs to be strong. She needs to be the rock, the protector, the caretaker she promised Emma she would be. “We’re gonna get through this,” she says softly into the blonde’s tussled hair. “Let it all out, Ash. I’m not going anywhere,” she adds, making a mental note of a particularly difficult phone call she’ll need to make later.

“I can’t do this, Ali. I can’t go on without her.”

Ashlyn’s voice is frail and housed in it is a complete innocence that Ali doesn’t ever think she’s heard. She can see her pain, feel her pain and the knot in her chest is growing tighter as her arms instinctively squeeze the blonde tighter. “You can. You will,” she responds confidently, knowing that there’s no other option. “I promise.” Ali realizes the magnitude of the words as her mind flashes back to the last time she utters those words.

Unbeknownst to her, Ashlyn’s mind is on the same track, instantly flashing to her last promise to Emma, a promise that she doesn’t think she’ll be able to keep. If she can’t even go fifteen minutes without crying, can’t even look into the closet and see her clothes, or sleep on Emma’s side of the bed for fear that her scent will fade faster, how is she supposed to move on? How is she supposed to ever love another when it feels like her entire heart floated into the afterlife intertwined with her wife’s? She had given Emma her heart and now it was gone along with her. There’s nothing left of her to give, she’s damaged goods and knows no one would want that, no one deserves to love a woman who could never fully love them back. She thinks no matter how hard she tries, it is a promise she can never fulfill and the thought breaks her even more. She can’t even fulfill her wife’s dying wish.

Just then the crying of a baby playing through the baby monitor in the room pulls her from her thoughts and she waits a moment for Ashlyn to react. When she doesn’t even flinch, doesn’t even register or process little Noah’s crying, Ali knows that this is so much worse than she could have ever anticipated. She’s torn, between Ashlyn crying and Noah crying and finally decides that the helpless baby should get her attention first. “I’ll be right back, Ash,” Ali states, making sure the blonde know she’s not leaving her. She’s already lost enough and Ali wants her to know she’s not going anywhere.

She slides out from underneath the blonde who is mostly dead weight, heavy under the burden of the emotions that have overcome her and quickly pads down the woven rug that stretches down the wooden hallway between the master bedroom and the nursery. At first sight, she thinks maybe she should have stayed with Ash because when she sees the red faced, shrieking baby, she is again at a loss for what to do. This is usually the part where she hands the babies back to their moms -to Christie or ARod or Boxxy- and she stands in the doorway just staring at the baby, afraid that once she steps into the room it’s officially her responsibility. With a deep breath, she surges ahead, sweeping into the room and carefully plucking Noah from his crib. “Hey, buddy,” she coos and begins bending her knees in an attempt to rock him. “What’s wrong little man?” she asks and immediately feels dumb for letting the thought of asking the baby what’s wrong cross her mind.

“Get it together, Krieger,” she grumbles as she begins going through a check list. She sees the changing station in front of her and decides a dirty diaper is the first option. A quick check lets her know her original assumption is correct, but after she rectifies the situation, holding her breath as she wonders how something so cute and small can make something so disgusting, the crying still hasn’t subsided. She slips him into a new onesie covered with adorable little ducks that she grabs from the dresser since there was urine on the one he was wearing with little turtles all over it and heads into the kitchen with Noah securely in her arms. “What do you eat?” she asks as her eyes search the fridge, again feeling dumb that she’s practically begging the baby to help her out.

Finally, her eyes settle on a ready-to-feed nurser bottle of formula in the fridge and she breathes a thankful sigh of relief when she sees a sticky note –presumably from Ashlyn or Emma’s parents- with instructions on how to attach the ring and nipple as well as heating directions. She shakes the bottle up and sets it in the microwave, while still desperately rocking the screaming baby. The microwave dings and she plucks the bottle from it, testing the liquid on her wrist before deciding lukewarm milk would be better than possibly giving him something that was too hot, and she puts the bottle towards his mouth. He eagerly accepts it and Ali lets out the biggest sigh she ever has when silence fills the room as Noah greedily goes at the bottle while she settles into the expensive wooden rocker in the nursery.

Her eyes never leave the little boy, but her mind is elsewhere. She’s at a loss and though she thought things were working out, that she had figured things out and made the right decision, she was realizing that was the furthest thing from the truth. She’d never seen someone so lost, so broken that the cries of their own baby don’t stir them from their trance and it makes her wonder if this is even something Ashlyn can get through. She may have been strong while their families had been in town, but Ali now thinks that was partly so they would leave quickly and she could expel her true feelings. The feelings that had been building up and eating away at her from the inside, crawling through her veins and skin as they looked for a way out.

A soft baby cry pulls her from her thoughts and she looks down to see Noah pushing the now empty bottle away. “You’re a big eater just like your momma,” she jokes and lifts Noah up so she can burp him. It’s only when he spits up all over her shoulder, the gooey, milky mixture rolling down the front of her shirt, that she realizes why people read those baby books –surely it would have told her to put a cloth there. His eyes become heavy and Ali decides putting him down for a nap would be the best course of action while she deals with the mess of an entirely different nature in the room down the hall. After a few minutes of spinning the mobile and rubbing his belly, his eyes slowly close and the squirming halts. She leans over the crib and gives him a soft kiss on the forehead, wishing he wouldn’t have to endure everything that was sure to come his way. “It’ll be okay, little guy,” she whispers encouragingly before slipping out of the room.

When she walks back into the bedroom, she sucks in a deep breath. Ashlyn is still lying on the closet floor and suddenly anger flares through the brunette. Ali realizes what Ashlyn lost, she realizes that the blonde is scared and lonely and that it feels as if there’s nothing to carry on for and she knows exactly what that feels like–it’s exactly what Ali had felt almost two years ago on a freezing November night in Frankfurt. This is different though, so different. Ashlyn does have something, someone to carry on for. There’s a piece of Emma left on this earth, possibly the best gift Emma could have ever left behind for her when her body decided it had had enough, and Ali doesn’t know why, but Ashlyn’s refusal to register that infuriates her.

“Ashlyn.” She approaches the blonde with a furrowed brow. Her voice is sharper than she really wanted, but it has the desired effect as the blonde turns to look up at expectantly her wide, red, puffy eyes. “Come here,” she continues, sticking out her hand for the blonde to grab which she reluctantly does.

Ali pulls her towards the bed which Ashlyn promptly plops down on looking broken and defeated. Before Ash can get any words out, before she can pull Ali back in and break down her resolve to knock some sense into the blonde, Ali speaks up.

“You can’t do this. You can’t do this to him,” Ali begins. She immediately feels Ashlyn tense next to her, her breath hitch and out of the corner of her eye, sees her jaw clench tightly. Ashlyn turns, her eyes meeting Ali’s with a hardened stare as she waits for her to continue. “You can’t do this to Noah. It's not what Emma would have wanted. He needs you, Ashlyn.” She knows the words sting, she can see it in the way Ashlyn recoils as if shocked that the sweet brunette could insinuate something so terrible.

“Don’t,” Ashlyn snarls, her eyes either still red from crying, or now flaring with anger. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Ali can tell she’s getting through, but Ashlyn’s not yelling in defense yet and that means she doesn’t really think Ali is serious, she doesn’t yet see the gravity of the situation. “I don’t know what I’m talking about? No? That’s strange because I’m pretty sure I was the only one who reacted when your son was crying half an hour ago. I’m pretty sure I was the one that got up to check on him, and I was the one that changed him and fed him and put him down for a nap. You promised me. You promised me that you would be strong for them.” She stares challengingly back at the blonde. She doesn’t want to push her, but when she doesn’t react and just sits at the end of the bed, shoulders slumped with lifeless eyes, she knows there isn’t a choice. “He already lost one mother, Ashlyn,” she begins, carefully testing the waters while wishing for nothing more than another way to approach this. “He doesn’t need to lose another.”

Ashlyn’s nostrils flare, anger flashes through her eyes and she pushes off the bed as if she can’t stand the thought of even being in the same space as Ali. She looks like she’s about to stomp out of the room when she whips around and storms back towards Ali, jutting a finger in her chest. “Don’t you dare,” she growls through clenched teeth. “You have no idea what I’m going through. Beautiful, perfect, super star, has-it-all Ali Krieger has no goddamn idea what I’m dealing with!” Her voice is raised now and if Ali thought Ashlyn had been mad when Emma didn’t originally tell her she had cancer then this version of Ashlyn is absolutely enraged, consumed by a fiery anger burning through her veins. Anger is an easier emotion to process than sorrow and Ashlyn feels as if she’s on fire as she presses the brunette harder. “I don’t need this from you of all people, Alex! You have no fucking idea what it’s like to lose someone!”

The accusations and the way she says it sets Ali off and carries her to a place she hasn’t been in a long time. She stands up and gets in Ashlyn’s face, not backing down when the blonde steps towards her. “And you have no idea what you’re talking about,” she growls. “I do know what it’s like to lose someone. I know exactly what it’s like to have the one person you love more than life itself slip away from you!” She steps towards Ashlyn and the blonde backs off, not realizing the brunette had this anger built up inside of her too. Unlike Ashlyn’s though, Ali’s pain and anger has been trapped, bubbling inside of her for years until the blonde unknowingly prodded it out. “I know all about pain and heartbreak and that feeling that just eats away at you and keeps you awake at night. I know what it’s like to still be crying for hours after you think there are no more tears left and I know that clenched feeling in your heart that you feel right now, Ashlyn. The only difference between you and I,” she continues as she points between them, jabbing her pointed finger into the blonde’s protruding clavicle with a maddened look in her eyes, “is that Emma didn’t chose to leave you, but Lucina chose to leave me. I wasn’t good enough for her and she chose to leave me broken and lost with a half-planned wedding. So don’t tell me that I’ve never lost anyone because you have no goddamn idea, Ashlyn.”

When her rant ends, Ali stands there, her eyes brimming with tears two years in the making, her chest rising and falling as she tries to catch her breath and reel in her emotions. They stay that way for a moment, their eyes locked on each other, both too angry and confused to really form responses, until the sound of Noah crying filters into the room after their yelling woke him up. “Are you going to go take care of your son, or should I?” Ali quips with a bite of bite, trying to get the last sting in, to get her point across to the seething blonde.

With only a hard stare, Ashlyn escapes the room and makes her way down the hall to check on her son. Left in peace, Ali drops back onto the bed and this time is unable to keep the tears at bay as she is overcome with emotion. She had never admitted it to anyone; never let her deepest darkest secret slip out. She wasn’t good enough to keep the woman she loved -the woman she envisioned having children and growing old with- and that has eaten away at her for the past two years.

Nearly twenty minutes had gone by and Ali was about to gather her purse and slip out when Ashlyn slowly entered the room, a look of uncertainty on her face as she awkwardly approaches her. “I’m sorry,” she whispers, her eyes glassy as she looks down at the brunette whose eyes are still bloodshot from her own tears.

Ali doesn’t know exactly what part she’s apologizing for, so she just looks back at her waiting for her to continue. Ashlyn can see she’ll have to explain more and she comes towards the bed and timidly points to the spot next to Ali, letting out a sigh of relief when the brunette nods and pats the seat next to her. She sinks down onto the bed close enough for their shoulders to brush together, but neither one looks at the other, instead they both stare at the soft blue wall opposite them.

“I’m sorry for what I said about you,” Ashlyn begins, cutting through the silence that had settled between them that for the first time actually felt uncomfortable. “I didn’t…I didn’t know about…” she trails off, not remembering the German name Ali had hurled during her rant. “Lucina,” Ali supplies evenly and Ashlyn just nods. She knows it’s no longer just about her when she had seen the broken look in Ali’s eyes and for the first time feels like the brunette actually needs her. “Do you want to talk about it?” she cautiously asks.

Ali shakes her head and sighs. “That’s not what I was trying to do, Ash. I wasn’t trying to make it about me.” Her voice is apologetic and although she had just been fuming after Ashlyn’s accusations, she now finds herself apologizing. She knows she got her point across.

“Stop,” Ash replies, holding her hand up in the air to silence Ali. “You have nothing to apologize for, Alex. Everything you said was spot on,” she clumsily admits. “It’s just…today is the first day with just Noah and I here. It…it hit me really hard,” she said with a voice ragged from both crying and yelling.

Ali takes it in and nods as she tries to decide between coddling and tough love. She settles on somewhere in between. “I don’t know everything you’re feeling, Ash, but I have somewhat of an idea. I know it’s hard, so hard. And I’ll be honest when I say that what you’re feeling right now never truly goes away. You’ll always wonder, always find your mind drifting to them no matter how happy you become later on. But…Emma left you a beautiful baby boy. She left you a piece of herself and I think that’s the most wonderful thing that could have resulted from all of this.” She pauses, and finally turns to meet the blonde’s eyes which are full of confusion and pain. She cuts the space between them and takes Ashlyn’s hand in her own. “You have a reason to go on, Ash. You have a reason to fight through this and that reason is lying in that room down the hall,” she says as she points her finger in the direction of the nursery. “Don’t…don’t let him down. Emma wouldn’t want that.”

The words hit hard. Ashlyn knows they’re words she needs to hear, but they still hit hard and reverberate through her mind. She realizes she has been letting Noah down and in a sense, letting Emma down. “I know. I know I have,” she gets out through a cracked voice as another wave of tears fill her eyes and she drops her head down. “I just don’t know what to do, Alex. I don’t know how to do this alone.”

“Hey,” Ali says softly and lets go of Ashlyn’s hand to lift her chin. “Who said you were alone?”

The sweetness in Ali’s voice and care in her eyes sends a wave of warmth through Ashlyn and she finds her lips instinctively curling up into the slightest smile. “I’m not, am I?”

Ali takes her hand again and gives it a light squeeze, ignoring the slight butterflies that flutter through her chest when the blonde squeezes is it back. “Never,” she whispers genuinely before opening up her arms and pulling her into a tight hug.

Chapter Text

“Ali?” calls Nora as she pushes open the front door with bags of food in her hand. They had exchanged keys since they both had such crazy schedules and she had let herself in after an exhausting shift, wanting nothing more than to curl up on the couch with some good food and wine. She kicks off her snowy boots on the rubber shoe rack and plods down the hall looking for her girlfriend. She knows Ali had gone to visit Ashlyn since her family had left that morning, but wasn’t sure if she had gotten back yet. She checks the office and bathroom and then finally hears talking through the closed bedroom door. She pauses for just a moment outside the door and when she catches onto who she’s talking to decides not to interrupt. As she turns to walk away and wait in the living room for her to finish up, she catches something Ali says that makes her let out a deep sigh.

Fifteen minutes later Ali pads into the living room after finishing up her phone call to find Nora curled up on the couch with her eyes closed. Her eyes flicker to the bags of Thai food on the coffee table and she decides to let her exhausted girlfriend sleep while she gets everything ready for dinner. After grabbing plates, napkins and silverware, she pours two big glasses of red wine and makes her way over to the living room carefully balancing everything in her hands. There’s a close call when some wine sloshes out onto the floor when she leans over to set the plates down, but Ali just shrugs and rubs the bottom of her black Nike socks over the droplets on the wooden floor to quickly soak it up.

“Hey baby,” she whispers after sinking into the couch and running her hands through her girlfriend’s soft brown waves.

Nora snuggles further into her and places a few kisses to Ali’s side before lifting her head up into her lap to see the spread Ali had put out. She wipes the sleep from her eyes even though she’d only been asleep for about twenty minutes and sits up to make room for Ali. “Hey,” she sleepily mumbles as she reaches for the wine.

“How was work, hun?” Ali asks while loading up a plate for Nora with all of her favorites. She hands the plate to her and Nora takes it with a smile after setting her wine glass down.

“Exhausting,” Nora gets out around a mouthful of pad thai. “I haven’t eaten since last night,” she grumbles before shoveling another bite into her mouth.

Ali just smiles back at her girlfriend for a minute before turning to make her owna plate. “Well I think what you do is amazing,” she says with a shrug before leaning back into the couch with her plate in her lap. She nuzzles into Nora’s side and they both enjoy their dinner for a moment before Nora breaks the sound of forks scraping against plates.

“How is Ash holding up?” she asks, the interest apparent in her voice.

Ali shakes her head and lets out a sigh. After setting her plate down and pulling Nora’s empty plate from her lap to set on top of it, she grabs her wine and settles back into Nora’s side, draping her arm around her shoulder. “Not good. It was a pretty ugly scene,” Ali confesses in a cracked voice as her mind wanders back to the state she had found the blonde in earlier that day. She tries to steel her face, but the emotions of grief and concern are all too apparent. "She’s not holding up too well.”

“I can imagine,” Nora replies sadly as she watches we girlfriend try to quell her emotions. She knows Ali is having a hard time with it all too. “I can’t comprehend what she must be feeling, especially since there’s no time to grieve properly since she has Noah to care for. Poor thing.”

Ali thinks about telling Nora how she had to step in to take care of Noah that morning before she knocked some sense into the blonde, but that was definitely opening up a lot of doors she wanted to keep closed, most notably how she used her loss of Lucina to get through to her. She’s unsure why, but she just couldn’t bring herself to approach the subject of Nora. They had talked about exes, but it was always in a casual and not ‘they broke my heart’ sense. “Yeah. I’ll definitely need to keep an eye on her,” Ali agrees. “I was pretty worried today.”

Ali’s admission stirs something in Nora and reminds her of another topic she wanted to approach. “So any word from your agent on that contract talk with Tyreso?” she asks, praying that Ali doesn’t lie about it.

“Oh,” Ali squeaks, clearly caught off guard. Her agent had been in serious talks with a Swedish club for the past few weeks and he had called that night to tell her they finally agreed on the final amendments she was requesting –a furnished apartment, a car to drive while she was there and even a clause for her to return home in case of immediate family emergencies- except the slightly higher salary she had requested. It was a no brainer, which is why she was struggling to come up with a reason to tell Nora why she had just turned them down. “Um, yeah Max actually just called before you got here,” Ali replies, clearly clueless that Nora had any idea that she had already talked to him.

“What’d he say?” Nora asks as she takes a long sip of wine and stares at Ali over the brim of her glass.

Looking down at her glass, Ali swirls the wine around to buy herself a moment. Finally, she looks up to meet Nora’s gaze. “They agreed to most everything we requested,” she begins with a smile, “but I…I turned them down.”

As glad as Nora is that Ali was honest with her, now comes the troubling conversation she had wanted to avoid. “Why?”

It’s a simple, one-word question that Ali can’t wrap her head around for the life of her. “I…there’s…I…”

“Ali,” Nora interjects sternly with a raised eyebrow. “We said we’d always be honest.”

Instantly, the brunette knows what Nora is getting at. Deep down they both know why she’s not leaving and it isn’t because she doesn’t want to do a long distance relationship with Nora. “There’s too much going on. I…I can’t leave her right now.” She holds her breath and waits for the firestorm that sure to come, the one she’s dreading.

Nora just nods, staying silent for a moment and Ali thinks it’s worse. The silence is by far worse because she can’t get a read on her, can’t figure out what she feels on the issue. All Ali can do is sit anxiously waiting for her girlfriend to reply, for her girlfriend to respond to the fact that she just said she wasn’t playing overseas because she didn’t want to leave another woman.

“Ali, this is your career we’re talking about,” she begins, before falling silent in thought again. “You…you don’t know how many more of these chances, how many more years you’ll get to do this.”

The patience and understanding of her girlfriend never ceases to amaze Ali as she watches her process her feelings, and still settles on the fact that she just wants Ali to be happy. “I know, Nora. It’s just…I promised her I’d be there. You should have seen her today, babe. She’s my…she’s my best friend and Emma was too. It’s only been a week, Nora. I can’t just abandon her for three months when she needs me the most. I can always join the team next year,” she finishes with a shrug and studies Nora’s face, watching as her features soften.

“You really are the kindest, most amazing woman. You know that right, Ali?” Nora replies, even though there’s a slight pain in her heart. She had honestly expected as much. She knew deep down that Ali wasn’t going to leave Ashlyn behind considering the circumstance and even though part of her found her girlfriend’s unwavering, selfless loyalty admirable, that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt just a bit.

Ali smiles and nods. “So you’re not mad?” she asks a bit timidly, still not sure if she was still walking into a trap.

With a shake of her head Nora sets her wine glass down and grabs her hands tightly, interweaving their fingers. “I told you before that I’d support you in whatever you chose, Ali and I meant it. I know you’re smart enough to figure out what’s best for you and the people you love and I trust your decisions.”

Ali stares back at Nora for a minute as a grin spreads across her lips while she admires the beauty of her girlfriend that runs so much deeper than she could have ever imagined. “I think you’re the amazing one here,” Ali replies with a toothy, nose crinkling grin as she leans in to steal a kiss. For a brief second, three words cross her mind, but she quickly pushes them down, not ready to admit to herself, let alone Nora how deep her feelings had become. She wasn’t sure that her heart was really a wound she was ready to open again, especially when something kept tugging on it.

Chapter Text

Ali stumbles into Ashlyn’s dimly lit house and immediately recoils at the sight she gets of the place from the front foyer. The living room is cluttered with children’s toys and there are clothes, books and papers scattered about the room, littering the floor, couch and coffee table. The kitchen hasn't found a much better fate and although it’s only been two days since Ali had last stopped by, there are take-out boxes, dishes, a plethora of beer bottles and dirty baby bottles strewn across the once pristine granite counter top. It makes her heart clench when she realizes the cause behind it and flashes back to her flat in Germany almost two years ago.

 

”Krieger?” comes a voice from the front door after the knocks had gone unanswered.

Ali looks up from the fetal position on the couch to see Nadine sweep into the room, her eyes darting around as she took in the state of the place which was, to put it nicely, a complete mess.

“Kriegs, what happened?” the German goalkeeper asks as she makes her towards the couch, kicking the dirty clothes out of her way.

“Nothing,” the brunette grumbles as she buries her tear stained face into the pillow in embarrassment. The last thing she wanted was for her teammate, the strong, brash German, to realize how weak she truly was. To realize how little it actually took to break Ali Krieger, the Ali Krieger that they had aptly nicknamed ‘warrior’ due to her last name and fighting spirit.

Her attempts to hide the evident pain is futile when Nadine takes one look and sees the note with perfect winding script on the coffee table, along with a ring. A ring that had once been on the finger of the woman who had promised to love and cherish her beautiful teammate forever.

”Oh, Ali,” she breathes out, and is at the couch by her side in an instant. “It’s okay, Kriegs,” she coos and pulls the sobbing defender into her arms. “We’ll get you through this,” she adds as she looks around the apartment and makes a mental note of everything she’ll need to do to clean up after she settles the brunette into bed.

 

“Ash?” she calls out worriedly, as she makes her way in and sets the bags down in the front entry way. She wanders through the house, checking each room until she finally finds Ash sitting in the recliner before Noah’s crib with a bottle of Corona in her hand as she watches the sleeping baby intently. “There you are,” Ali whispers as she looks at the almost empty six pack sitting beside the blonde.

“Hey,” Ash replies numbly without lifting her eyes to look at Ali.

Ali looks down at her sympathetically before walking over and grabbing the second to last beer from the six pack. “Mind if I join?” she asks, gesturing to the arm of the recliner that wasn’t occupied by the blonde’s tattooed arm.

“Not at all,” Ash replies evenly, her eyes still locked on Noah as she takes a long pull of her beer.

Ali wiggles onto the recliner and takes a sip of her beer. “Pretty exciting stuff,” she interjects, and points her bottle towards the sleeping baby in a wry attempt to get the blonde talking.

“I guess,” she replies shortly, still not in a talking mood even though she was the one who called Ali.

Knowing Ash will open up when she feels ready, Ali just leans back and lets her shoulders rest along the back of the chair, her arm brushing up against the blonde’s as they sit in silence for another twenty minutes.

“He’s all I have left,” Ash finally gets out in a whisper filled with disbelief and once she starts talking she can’t stop. “Noah’s all I have left of her. It’s like I…I feel like all my love for Emma was transported into this little body on top of the love I already had for him and I can’t even bring myself to leave the room. It’s the only room that I feel at peace with both of them. I can’t pull my eyes away from him, can’t stop holding his tiny hands, can’t stop kissing his adorable nose and rubbing his little tufts of baby hair. He’s everything, Alex. Absolutely everything.”

She doesn’t add that it scares her, that it’s absolutely petrifying to love someone so much so soon after losing Emma. She doesn’t add that she’s terrified of what would happen if she lost Noah too and that part of her wishes she could have just curled up in bed and never emerged again for fear of getting close to someone, someone that could slip out of her life just as Emma had. She also knows that she doesn’t need to say those things, because Ali already knows. Ali has already read it in her eyes, heard it in the words she didn’t say and is quick to squeeze her hand reassuringly.

The profound words coming from Ashlyn are a stark contrast to what Ali had expected when she saw the destroyed house upon entering. She figured that Ashlyn had fallen apart, was no longer to take care of herself or baby Noah, but nothing was further from the truth. It was just that nothing else mattered to her besides the bundled baby boy sleeping before them. She’s not sure if that’s exactly healthy, but it beats two days ago when Ashlyn had been a sobbing mess on the floor and she had to be the one to take care of Noah. It might not be exactly back on track, but it’s a start. “Well he’s a pretty adorable everything,” Ali replies and lightly bumps the blonde’s shoulder.

“He is, isn’t he?” Ash breathes out and finally turns to look at Ali. She catches herself staring for just a moment as the brunette keeps her eyes trained on Noah, taking in the peacefulness of it all. She sees Ali nod and then her lips wrap around the mouth of the bottle before tipping it back. She turns and Ash quickly averts her gaze back to Noah.

Ali notices out of the corner of her eye, but lets it pass. “Have you eaten?” The blonde just shakes her head and Ali knows that she shouldn’t bother trying to prod her out of the baby’s room so she finishes downing her beer and gathers up the rest of the empty bottles, plucking the half empty one from Ashlyn and finishing it off in two gulps. “I’m going to whip something up. We can eat in here,” she says with a smile so warm that Ashlyn doesn’t even argue about the stolen half a beer.

Ashlyn lets her eyes stray from Noah for just a moment as she watches Ali exit the room, so thankful for her friend’s understanding and casual attitude like eating in Noah’s room because she can’t bring herself to leave him is completely normal. It never ceases to amaze Ashlyn how Ali can read every situation so perfectly, how she can be everything she needs, when she needs it, before she even asks for it; straddling the line between tough love and compassion without seeming overbearing or crossing boundaries.

As Ali sets about making dinner, she realizes the mess is worse than she originally anticipated, when she has to clean the dishes before there’s even room to think about making dinner and she wonders if the blonde is always this messy or if it’s a situational occurrence. She hopes for the latter as she shakes open a garbage bag and throws out all of the garbage and take-out boxes that had piled up, setting the bag by the back door to take out later before turning to address the dishes situation. A quick check of the dishwasher which is empty confirms her suspicion that everything had been left on the counter or just thrown in the sink. She rolls up the sleeves of her Nike three quarter zip and starts rinsing the caked food off the plates and cups before tucking them neatly into the dishwasher.

Once she gets that running she tugs open the refrigerator and digs through it before she finds what she’s looking for. She sets a pan on the stove and starts browning some seasoned ground beef while she turns to the mess in the living room. Soon there are two baskets full of dirty Noah and Ash clothes from around the house set in front of the laundry machine and she runs back to the kitchen to check on the meat and pour the pasta sauce over it before adding some Italian seasonings and fresh garlic. She has to laugh at the domesticity of it all as she juggles cooking dinner, cleaning and doing laundry and wonders if Emma is looking down at her laughing heartily as she watches the brunette struggle to fulfill her dying wish. She knows it’s only part of it, but it’s the only part Ali is capable of fulfilling.

After tossing in a load of laundry while waiting for the pasta to finish boiling, Ali plods back into the kitchen and pulls two bowls out of the cupboard, thankful that many dinner dates with Emma and Ash had familiarized herself with the kitchen so she wasn’t quite so helpless. She loads their bowls up, making sure Ashlyn’s is extra large because she’s not sure the blonde has really been eating judging from the mostly full Styrofoam containers she had tossed out and wanders back down the hall where she finds Ashlyn has shifted and is now leaning over the crib, Noah’s tiny hand wrapped around her long finger.

“Here,” Ali gently prods, not wanting to push the blonde too hard.

Thankfully, Ash slips her fingers from Noah’s grip and after bending down to kiss his forehead, looks at her with a small grin when she sees Ali holding two bowls of piping hot pasta. “Smells delicious,” she says as she carefully takes the bowl and settles onto the floor, letting Ali sit fully on the recliner. Before taking a bite, she looks up at Ali with concern written on her face. “This isn’t going to give me food poisoning, is it?” she asks, trying to fight the sarcastic smile fighting to overtake her lips as she recalls some stories of Ali’s cooking adventures in Frankfurt.

“You want it or not, ass?” Ali asks with narrowed eyes before shoving a big bite in her mouth to prove that it’s edible as she ignores Ashlyn pointing to the baby with a furrowed brow for her slipped curse word.

Ash rolls her eyes after Ali nonchalantly shrugs before digging in herself. She’d be lying if she said it wasn’t good, but that could be because she hadn’t had real food since her family had left a few days ago. “This is pretty good,” she gets out around a mouthful of noodles and sauce and Ali just grins, thankful that someone appreciates her cooking no matter how basic it is.

“What’s even better is that the pigsty you call your house is clean,” Ali responds seriously. “And I put in a load of laundry for you.”

Ash sets her bowl down on her lap and eyes Ali for a minute, gratitude flickering through her eyes for a moment before her face scrunches in seriousness. “You touched my dirty undies?” she whispers in shock and barely has time to duck before Ali whips a giraffe from the pile of stuffed animals in the corner at her head.

“Shut it, Harris!” she giggles, her heart swelling when she hears the blonde join in. Although just for a second, it’s a sound she has so desperately missed, a sound she promises to elicit as often as possible.

“You must really like me, huh?” Ash says with a soft chuckle as she returns her attention to her food.

Ali just playfully rolls her eyes and stares back at the blonde for a moment before responding, “Something like that,” with a laugh of her own.

Chapter Text

“How did you do it?” Ashlyn asks as her and Ali lay sprawled out on the couch alternating between watching Noah sleep in his bassinet and the soccer game playing on the television.

“Do what?” Ali asks after letting an uncontained burp out. They had just finished polishing off a pizza and wings seeing as neither of them were great cooks and Ashlyn was still learning how to provide food for herself. She figured it was safer to order pizza then try to cook when Ali came over. The last thing Ali needed was food poisoning when she showed up for her work out the next morning.

“How do you deal with it. It’s been over a month and I just…I can’t stop thinking about her. Ever. Literally every minute of every day I think about her. I don't sleep, I barely eat. All my energy goes to Noah and I just...I can’t live like this forever.”

Ali can sense the sadness in her voice, the sadness that used to lace her own words as well. She sits up a bit and wraps her arm around her friend’s shoulder. “It’s not going to be easy and nothing I say will change that, Ash,” Ali responds honestly as she eyes the blonde. She sees that she does look thin, pale and worn down and decides to keep a closer eye on her. She wonders when the last time she even left the house was because Ashlyn had taken a leave of absence from work and Ali has been the one bringing over groceries each time she visits, which was at least every other day. “I’m not a good person to ask,” she adds with a cold laugh. “I still miss Lucina even though it’s been two years and she has no right to a place in my memory or heart. Sure the pain diminishes and their memories become less present in your mind, but every time I hear our song or see a German chocolate bar or walk by an outdoor wedding, the thoughts come rushing back in and overwhelm me. You just…you have to embrace the good memories. That’s what you need to hold onto.”

“Everywhere I turn in this damn house, I see her though. In the mornings she’s in the kitchen handing me my usual cup of coffee, in the afternoon I see her curled up taking a nap on the couch, and at night she’s wrapped around me in bed. It’s…it feels so real like I can just reach out and touch her. I can’t get it out of my mind, Alex. Why did she have to leave me? Leave us?” Her eyes flicker to the sleeping baby in the bassinet and she looks just as she feels; so lost, so helpless. The tears pool in the corner of her eyes as she studies her boy and the fact that he has so many of Emma’s features that it’s almost painful.

Before this, she had thought her ACL tears and injuries were the worst pain she would ever feel and that was something that she could tough out, something that she could fight through and deal with. This emotional pain though, the damage it had caused and was still causing was of a different nature. It was a completely different beast and Ashlyn hadn’t known that experiencing pain like this was even possible. She often wondered how Ali could still be so rocked by the loss of her fiancé after two years, but the moment she lost Emma she began to honestly wonder how Ali could be so put together.

It breaks Ali to see her friend like this, and she reaches for the blonde’s hand. “Ash, you know she didn’t choose to leave you. I know it doesn’t make the pain any less, but you can’t resent her. That’s not going to help you move through your grief.”

“You sound like my therapist,” Ash grumbles and Ali is caught off guard for a moment. Ashlyn definitely didn’t seem like that type that would see a therapist, especially after she all but laughed in Ali and Nora’s faces when they mentioned it when they took her out for dinner one night, but she’s glad that the blonde took her up on her suggestion. It had definitely helped her work through some of the pain when she saw one in Germany.

She nudges Ash gently with her elbow until Ash looks up from Noah. “Sounds like you have a smart therapist then, huh?”

Ash rolls her eyes in response before pushing off the couch to grab another beer, grabbing the empty pizza box and plates off the table to take with her. “You want another one?” she calls over her shoulder as she plods into the kitchen juggling the remnants from their feast.

Ali flicks her eyes to the clock and notes that she has a few more hours until Nora’s shift ends and she has to head over to her house. “Yeah, I’ll take another beer!” she yells back. A curse word slips from her lips when Noah startles and starts crying. Ashlyn runs back into the room, but Ali is already up off the couch plucking him out of the gray bassinet decorated with little turtles and waves him off. ‘I got it,’ she mouths so Ashlyn shrugs and heads back into the kitchen to finish cleaning up and grab their drinks.

Ten minutes later she wanders back into the room and smiles when she sees Ali curled up on the couch with a sleeping Noah in her arms. “You’re getting pretty good at that,” she points towards Noah sleeping and Ali just shakes her head.

“Well I’ve had plenty of practice. Your son definitely takes after you in the complaining department,” she jokes, a teasing glint in her eye picking up the flickering fireplace.

“Oh, you’ve got jokes, huh, Krieger?” Ash responds with a raised eyebrow and pulls back the beer she had been handing to her. Ali sticks out her bottom lip and Ashlyn can only laugh as she once again falls victim to the pout and extends her hand with the beer in it. “I’ll let it slide this time,” she teases before sitting back into the couch. “So what time does Doctor Nora get off tonight?”

“I think ten. She took a few hours of someone’s shift for them,” she explains while taking a sip of her beer over the sleeping baby.

Ash nods as she twists off the top of her beer, noting Ali staring at her arms in the reflection of the TV while she does it. She smirks, but doesn’t mention anything about it and pushes down the wave of guilt that creeps through her veins. “How are things going with you two? It’s been what, almost nine months?”

Ali nods, suddenly shocked that it’s been so long. “Wow. Yeah it has,” she chuckles.

“Time flies when you’re having fun?” Ash quips with a cocked eyebrow and wide grin as she watches Ali’s face scrunch up while she shrugs.

“Something like that,” the brunette replies as her mind carries off and her eyes drop back down to the baby, which she begins rocking when he gurgles and starts to stir.

Ashlyn studies her friend for a moment, noting how cute it looks seeing Ali holding her sleeping baby. It brings up a deeper hurt that it should be Emma sitting there with her and cuddling their son, but she pushes that thought down for now to focus on Ali's slightly troubled expression. “Is something wrong with you guys?”

Fervently, Ali shakes her head. “No. Well, she got a bit upset with me last month with the whole Europe thing, but we worked through it. Things are actually really good.”

Ash throws her head back and then slowly nods in understanding. “Oh right. I remember her getting upset you didn’t tell her you had those offers,” she replies, remembering that night where they had both come over and Ash and Ali had exchanged a few choice words with each other after Nora got upset. She realizes Ali hasn't mentioned anything and suddenly feels terrified at the fact that she'll be leaving her soon.

“Actually, that’s not even what I was talking about,” Ali laughs, realizing just how much Nora had already put up with during their short time together. “I…I turned down all the offers,” she cautiously continues. She wonders if it’s a conversation she wants to get into with the blonde, but the words slip out of her mouth and it’s too late to pull them back.

“You what?” Ashlyn asks incredulously after letting the words hang in the air for a few moments. “Why would you do that? And why would Nora get mad about you not leaving?” The confusion is apparent on her face and Ali takes a deep breath followed by a long pull of her beer before answering.

“There was just…there was a lot going on,” she diplomatically states. “It wasn’t a good time to leave.” She can tell by Ashlyn’s furrowed brow and wrinkled forehead that she doesn’t approve and knows exactly why Ali turned the offers down, but doesn’t want to broach the subject because it would mean admitting something to each other that neither is ready to, or in a position to discuss.

“Huh. Well, maybe next year, right?” Ash casually replies as a wave of guilt and relief simultaneously wash over her and all Ali can do is nod as she sips her beer before turning her attention back to the adorable sleeping baby in her arms.

Chapter Text

“Thank you so much for doing this,” Ash says hurriedly when Ali slips through the front door of her house.

Ali juggles the usual bag of groceries in her hands for a moment before dropping them on the counter top and lifting her eyes. When she does, her breath catches in her throat. “Uh, no problem. Sorry I was running late,” she finally gets out as she takes in the blonde’s appearance. She’s wearing semi-tight black slacks with a crisp white dress shirt tucked in and a heather gray vest buttoned up over that. Her long blonde hair is thrown over her shoulders and even though she’s nervously fiddling with her red tie trying to get it right, Ali doesn’t think she’s ever seen the blonde that put together in the four months since Emma had passed away.

She quickly clamps her jaw shut, trying to ignore how perfectly the vest clings to her chest, the way the tattoos on her muscled arm fade into the black watch wrapped around her left wrist and the way her tongue cutely sticks out as she tries to concentrate, before approaching Ashlyn and gently prodding the tie from her shaking hands. “Let me,” she says softly as she slides the cool silk tie along the blonde’s neck until she’s satisfied with the placement and begins the process of actually tying it.

Ashlyn holds her breath as she looks down at the brunette so intently focused, yet so gentle as her fingers weave around the soft silk to form the knot that Ashlyn had been struggling to form for the last ten minutes. The light floral scent with a hint of tropical fruit from the brunette’s still damp hair fills her nostrils and the scent is so intoxicating that she has to keep herself from leaning down even more to take it in.

“There you go,” Ali finally says, still looking down while she carefully tucks it perfectly into the dark gray vest.

“How’d you learn to do that?” Ashlyn asks curiously, admiring Ali’s work while she adjusts it and pats her chest lightly.

“I used to help my brother,” Ali shrugs with her hand still on the blonde’s chest as she looks up to meet her eyes. “He was almost as bad as you,” she adds, her lips curling up into a smile and she quickly pushes away from the blonde before she can playfully smack her.

“Funny, Krieger,” Ashlyn grins, still feeling the warmth of Ali’s touch as she checks herself out in the hallway mirror, spinning around to get a full view. “How do I look?”

Ali has to bite her cheek from saying what she really wants, that she looks damn sexy, instead settling on the diplomatic, “You look great.”

Ashlyn seems to miss the way Ali’s eyes linger a bit and suddenly her face lights up as she jogs back down the hall to her bedroom just as Ali’s phone rings.

Ali fishes her phone out of her pocket and quickly answers it when she sees who it is. “Hey beautiful!” she chimes while settling into the couch. “Yeah, practice was rough. You know how exhausting preseason is. How is work going for you?” She twists some strands of hair absently around her fingers as Nora tells her about a patient she just lost and she instantly feels bad from the upset tone she catches in her voice. “Aw, well I’m sorry babe. I’ll be right over as soon as Ash gets back from her work dinner to relieve me of babysitting duties, okay?”

Ashlyn walks back into the room and the brunette holds a finger up in the air to let Ash know she needs a minute. “Yeah it shouldn’t be too late, right Ash?” she calls out, turning her attention to the blonde who shakes her head from the kitchen as she downs a bottle of water. “Yeah I already ate, but I’ll grab a nice bottle of wine for us to share, okay?” She smiles up at Ash in apology because she knows she’s cutting it close on time, but the blonde waves her off and digs around in the closet for her jacket until she hears Ali wrapping up the conversation. “Okay, hun. Yes, I’ll give Noah a kiss for you,” she giggles with a playful eye roll. “Okay, I’ll text you when I leave…I Love you too.”

“That’s new?” Ash asks with a quirked eyebrow as Ali hangs up the phone.

“What is?” Ali asks, though they both know exactly what Ashlyn is getting at and they both stare at each other a bit uncomfortably. Ali isn’t sure why, but she almost feels bad being happy around Ashlyn and tries to force a smile even though she’s sure she actually looks like she’s in pain instead.

“Oh nothing,” Ash sings as she goes to change the topic. “So…I have a question,” she begins, her voice a bit softer and uncertain.

Ali can pick up on the change in her demeanor and lifts off the couch to make her way closer. “What’s up?” she asks, her eyebrow raised in concern as she watches Ashlyn rocking back and forth on her heels.

After a moment she finally pulls her eyes up from the dark wooden floor. “Emma got me this right before she died,” Ash begins and pulls a gray fedora with a thin black band around it out from behind her back. “I haven’t worn it yet. Do you think it’s too much for tonight?” she asks, her voice full of trepidation.

This shy, vulnerable side of Ashlyn is something that Ali has become used to in the passing months, but it effects her the same every time when she contrasts it in her mind to the confident blonde she had met that was so full of swagger and life. She’s slowly coming back, but Ali knows it’s a long journey ahead and she’s not sure she’ll ever get her friend back fully. Still, as Ashlyn stands awkwardly in front of her with a timid expression, she suddenly feels a lightness spread over her. Ashlyn, the ever confident blonde, is looking to her for guidance, always looking to her for advice, help or even a shoulder to cry on and it’s a role she so readily accepts.

With a warm smile planted on her face she walks towards Ashlyn and slides the hat from her hands before settling it gently on her head. She steps back, once again pushing off her chest and admires the blonde who shifts uncomfortably under her gaze for a moment before she’s rewarded with a smile. “I like the hat,” Ali states confidently as she closes the gap again and adjusts the hat, cocking it to the side the slightest bit. “Definitely go with the hat.”

“Alright then,” Ash smiles in return and turns to admire Ali’s handiwork in the mirror. She’s taken by how domestic it feels, Ali helping her get ready, but when her phone starts vibrating her thoughts are broken and the guilt ebbs away with it. “Shit, I really have to go!” she shrieks when she checks the time. “Noah is asleep and will probably stay down for the night. You know where everything is if he gets up though,” she adds and Ali can’t help but laugh at the obvious statement.

It’s been months since Emma has passed and Ali had spent almost as much time at the Harris house with Ash and Noah than she had with her own family, friends and girlfriend. They got it, didn’t push her on it since they knew what Ashlyn was going through and that she needed help with grieving, with Noah, with the house that Emma had mainly been the prime caretaker of, but as the months passed by it seemed that they were the only two that didn’t find the ongoing arrangement strange. “I think I might know where a few things are,” Ali cheeses sarcastically as she turns to grab the blonde’s keys of the hook by the door. She hands them over and Ash takes them with a wide smile before pulling Ali into a hug.

“Thanks again,” she breathes out into the top of Ali’s hair, ignoring that it’s still wet from the shower after her grueling second session. “I’ll have my phone on so don’t hesitate to call,” she adds, patting down her pockets to check for her wallet. When her pockets feel flat under her palms she begins to pat them harder while spinning around in search of it. “Looking for this?” she hears Ali ask, and when she raises her eyes she sees a smirking brunette holding a worn, black leather wallet that she had plucked off foyer table. “Thanks,” Ash mumbles and slips it into her pocket before Ali yanks open the door and pushes her out, insisting that she and Noah will be just fine.

 

A few hours later, Ash slips back into the house and shuts the front door softly behind her. Though the main lights are all off, through the flicker of the TV and the soft yellow glow of the lamp she can see Ali curled up on the couch. She takes a few steps into the living room and pauses, just staring down at the brunette. There’s a bottle and burp cloth lying on the table next to her and she knows that Noah must have woken up. Usually the place was spotless when Ashlyn returned because Ali took the chance to do the cleaning the blonde couldn’t quite bring herself to do on her own, but from the few remnants sitting on the counter along with Noah’s bottle and cloth still being out, she knows how exhausted the brunette must have been. She had honestly been surprised that Ali had agreed to come over especially since she was in preseason and had triple days and an 8am practice the next morning, but the brunette never failed to come through for her.

Before everything had gone south, Ash had always known how compassionate and loyal Ali was, but over the last few months she had witnessed something else entirely. It was almost as if there was something behind Ali, driving her, giving her the extra strength to make a late night trip to the grocery store when Ash was too wracked with grief to bring herself to get out of bed, to pull an all night babysitting job if Ashlyn had to travel for work, or even just to show up after a long day of practices when Ashlyn needed a shoulder to lean on after a bad day.

She found herself lightly running her fingers through Ali’s hair to try and gently wake her, again wondering what she had done to deserve such an amazing friend. She often thought maybe it was the universe’s way of paying her back for the heartbreak, but whatever it was, she was thankful and only hoped one day that she could repay the favor, that if needed she could save Ali the way Ali had saved her. “Sleep tight, Alex,” she whispers, deciding not to wake the soundly sleeping defender who had not so much as stirred since she had gotten home. She pulls a thick wool blanket down off the back of the couch and gently lays it over Ali before heading down the hall to check on her son as she wonders how it was so easy for Ali to seamlessly slide into their lives.

Chapter Text

“Is Dr. Valera around?” Ali asks shyly as she shuffles on her feet. The beeps and shuffle of the hospital ring through her ears as she waits for the slender blonde women at the nurse’s station to look up.

“Oh hey, Ali!” she chimes in a perky voice as she smiles up at her. “She’s actually pretty busy and wasn’t in too great of a mood this morning,” she pauses when she sees the flowers and sheepish expression Ali s holding and continues with a knowing grin, “but I’ll go see if she’s free, okay?”

“Thanks, Jess,” Ali breathes out with a sigh of relief. She only had an hour between sessions so she was really hoping she could get in to apologize for the night before. The text messages and voice message she had woken up to had sent pangs out guilt through her, especially when she heard Nora’s disheartened voice on the other end of the line. She’s pulled from her thoughts by the sound of shuffling in front of her. Glancing up, her eyes lock on Nora. Her eyes are tired and the rest of her body mirrors them.

“We can talk in my office. I only have a few minutes though,” Nora says evenly as the rest of the nurses look at them with raised eyebrows. Ali had been a frequent visitor at the hospital, often stopping in to bring Nora lunch or meet her to go out for lunch, but the nurses had never seen them act this distant. Forgotten was the usual hug and kiss they greeted each other with, instead replaced by crossed arms and cold tones.

Ali nods and follows Nora down the maze of hallways that she had come to memorize during the last year that they had dated. She smiles when she wanders into the room and sees the children’s drawings plastering the back wall behind her desk. During her breaks Nora would often head down to the pediatric wing to visit with the children there, something Ali found completely endearing. Her thoughts are broken by the sound of Nora clearing her throat and Ali realizes that she better get to the point of her visit quickly since Nora only had a short break.

“How…how are you doing?”

Nora sighs and crosses her arms defensively across her chest as she leans back on her desk. “Fine, Ali. What are you doing here?”

Ali shudders a bit, having never seen Nora this withdrawn from her and realizes that this might be bigger than a missed sleepover. “I got you these,” she says softly and takes a few steps towards Nora, offering her the flowers with a deeply apologetic smile that falls when Nora doesn’t extend her hand for the flowers. “I’m sorry about last night,” she adds with a distressed tone. “Really sorry.”

Nora finally takes the flowers, but doesn’t return the smile. She’s hurt, and rightfully so. She needed her girlfriend and she just didn’t show up. “What the hell happened last night, Ali?”

Her tone isn’t angry and the bite in her words is mitigated by the hurt in her voice. “Nora, I was exhausted and fell asleep on the couch. Ash must not have known I had plans after and didn’t wake me up when she got in. I’m sorry,” Ali says exasperatedly, willing her girlfriend to see that it was all a misunderstanding. “I’m really sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me.” She takes a few steps towards Nora who just eyes her skeptically, her arms still crossed like she’s trying to create a physical barrier between them.

“My patient died last night, Ali. I needed you.” A single tear slides down her cheek and Ali steps towards her, unable to watch her girlfriend be upset from a distance. She takes the flowers from her hand and sets them down and wipes the tear away, thankful that Nora doesn’t fight her on it. As much as she wants to throw her arms around Nora, she knows that would be pushing her luck.

“I’m sorry, baby,” Ali whispers as she rests her hands on Nora’s warm, flexed biceps, gently rubbing her thumbs up and down. “I should have set an alarm. And you know that if Ash didn’t need me to watch Noah I would have been over the second you got off of your shift,” she adds reassuringly, but the words have the opposite effect.

“She’s not the only one who needs you, you know?”

Now her voice is cold and her tone angry and Ali draws back to meet her eyes. “What?”

Nora can’t help the guilty feeling that creeps through her veins at her prior statement. She knows Ashlyn just lost her wife and that Ali is just being a good friend, but she can’t help but feel like she’s always coming in second place to the blonde. “I know Ashlyn is going through a lot, Ali, but she’s not the only one who needs you.” She leaves it at that with a poignant glare, hoping Ali can fill in between the lines.

Ali gets it and drops her head as she realizes what Nora is insinuating. Part of her feels guilty, while the other slightly resents Nora for her comment. How could Nora be jealous of the time she spent with Ashlyn when the blonde’s wife had just died? “It’s not a contest between you two,” she grumbles defensively, finally lifting her eyes to meet Nora’s which seem a bit less bright than usual.

Nora sighs and drops her arms to her sides. She realizes she came across a bit harsh and that Ali might have misunderstood what she was implying. “I’m not saying it is, Ali. I understand you wanting to be there for her. I get that sometimes you have to cancel lunch dates and that I get to spend a bit less time with you since you’re over there helping her get through this. I know she’s your best friend and you need to be there with her, but sometimes I need that from you too. Last night was one of those nights.”

The way she rephrases it relaxes Ali and her defensive walls crumble a bit. It’s enough to let the guilt seep back in. “I’m sorry, baby. You’re right,” she sighs and rests her head on Nora’s forehead. She knows Nora has gone through a lot and been her rock as she deals with Emma’s death herself and that it isn’t fair to her. “I love you and I should have been there for you. Can I please make it up to you tonight?”

Nora pulls back a bit to read Ali’s apologetic yet hopeful expression. She knows how big Ali’s heart is and how stressed she’s been trying to juggle all of her commitments. It was the first major slipup, the first time the compassionate brunette has let her down and she knows Ali is truly sorry. “I get off at 6,” she says softly, and her heart flutters when she hears Ali breathe a thankful sigh of relief. “Did you want to go out?”

Ali catches the slightest reservation in Nora’s voice through the last question and she fervently shakes her head. “Me, your favorite entrée from El Palenque and a case of Corona’s will be making an appearance at your apartment at exactly 6:30 pm,” Ali says with a confident smirk, knowing exactly what her girl wants. “Netflix will be queued up and our Scandal marathon will commence promptly at 7 pm while we are snuggled up under that wool blanket of mine from Brazil that you love and then we will retire to your bedroom and I will hold you in my arms until you fall asleep. How does that sound pretty lady?”

Nora’s grin grows a bit wider as she looks back at Ali. “That sounds good. You’re still not off the hook yet though,” she chides with a teasing glint in her eyes.

“What if I throw some cheesecake into the mix?” she asks with a raised eyebrow as she slips her arms around Nora’s waist feeling confident that she’s broken through her girlfriend’s walls.

Nora eyes her skeptically for a moment before slowly nodding. “Make it chocolate cheesecake with strawberries and you’ve got yourself a deal Ms. Krieger.”

Ali grins, her face glowing with happiness and she leans forward to gently kiss Nora’s lips. “I really want you to know how sorry I am, baby,” she says softly when she pulls back and brushes some stray hairs out of her girlfriend’s face, wanting Nora to know that teasing aside she really does have remorse and knows she won’t always get let off the hook this easily.

“I know, Ali,” she replies with a kind smile as she cuts the gap between them to capture the brunette’s lips in a passionate kiss that begins to get deeper as Nora spreads her legs and Ali pulls herself in closer between them, her hands snaking into the hair at the base of her neck. “As much as I would love to continue this,” Nora gets out breathlessly with a hand to Ali’s chest pushing her back lightly, “I have to get back to work.”

Ali takes a step back, knowing distance is the only thing that’s going to control her libido from taking the sexy doctor right there on her desk and nods while wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Right,” she breathes out, her chest rising and falling. She takes one step forward and kisses Nora chastely for another moment. “That will be continued later tonight though,” she adds with a cocky smirk when she pulls back and meets Nora’s eyes which catch the sunlight streaming in through the cracked blinds.

“You’re going to have to work for it,” Nora replies with a wink as she fixes her hair and straightens out her clothes after standing up from the edge of her desk. “Thank you for coming.”

Ali nods in understanding as she watches Nora slip the flowers she gave her into a vase. “Of course, beautiful. I’ll get going so you can get back to work, but I’ll see you as soon as I shower and change after practice.” She goes to slip out of the room when she hears Nora call her name and quickly turns to look at her expectantly.

“Save the shower for my place,” Nora says casually as she walks up to Ali and places one last kiss on her lips.

Ali’s grin becomes devilish at Nora’s suggestive remark. “You are bad, doctor!” she whispers before tugging open the door to her office. “But I will definitely take you up on that offer.” She winks and slips down the hallway.

Just as she gets into her car her phone begins ringing and she accepts the call on her steering wheel. “Hey, Ash,” she says cheerily, feeling exuberant now that she successfully navigated the mine field of her girlfriend’s anger.

“Hey! I just wanted to thank you again for watching Noah last night,” Ash says from the other end of the line as she shuffles through some papers on her desk. “I’m sorry I missed you this morning, but I know you had early practice.”

“It’s no problem,” Ali replies as she pulls out of the parking lot.

Ash pauses on the other end of the line for a moment. “You seemed pretty exhausted so that’s why I just let you sleep,” she supplies casually. “I hope you didn’t have anywhere to be last night.”

Ali nods in her car even though she knows the blonde can’t see her. When she had woken up that morning and saw how upset Nora was, the thought had initially crossed her mind that Ashlyn knew she was supposed to meet up with Nora and still didn’t wake her up, but she quickly remembered the blonde had wandered into the kitchen during that part of the phone call. “It’s no problem. Everything worked out,” she cryptically replies, not wanting the blonde to feel guilty for something she wasn’t even aware of.

“Good! And Noah behaved for you?” she asks, her mind always on her little boy.

Ali smiles and nods. “He was a little angel as usual,” she chuckles.

“Good to hear. Well I have to get back to work, but I just wanted to call and thank you. Maybe we can all grab dinner after you preseason game this weekend?” she asks haplessly as she continues digging through folders on her desk.

“Of course. I’ll run it by Nora later tonight. Have a good day, Ash.”

“You too, Ali. Thanks again. For everything.”

Chapter Text

“Ali, did you hear me?”

“Huh?” Ali replies and lifts her eyes from her cell phone to see her girlfriend staring impatiently at her.

“Are you even listening to me?” Nora asks in a slightly annoyed tone as she looks at Ali from across the breakfast bar at her condo.

Ali sheepishly grins and has to admit she wasn’t paying attention at all. “No, sorry I was texting Ash. What were you saying?” she asks, smiling sweetly back at her girlfriend before sliding a freshly refilled cup of coffee across the granite as a peace offering.

“I asked if we were still on to look at houses later when you get out of practice,” Nora replies and takes the coffee with an appreciative smile.

Ali is about to agree, but freezes when she checks her calendar on her phone. “Oh, um...Tonight isn’t good actually. I promised Ash I would help do some shopping for Noah’s first birthday party in a couple weeks,” she says nonchalantly and turns back to the plate of eggs before her. “Can we just look at houses next week sometime after the Championship game?” She can’t see Nora’s reaction, but she can hear it when the fork clatters down to the plate and she pushes back from the counter, her barstool scraping against the acid washed concrete floor of her girlfriend's condo. “Nora?” she calls out with a hint of confusion, but her girlfriend is already down the hall, slamming their bedroom door shut.

After sitting there for a moment trying to process her usually calm girlfriend’s outburst, she slides from her chair and plods down the hall to Nora’s bedroom. When she pushes the door open she sees Nora digging through the closet for work clothes even though they both know Nora doesn’t have a shift for another few hours. “Did I do something?” she asks timidly, unsure what she did to set her girlfriend off.

Nora whips around in disbelief and throws the clothes she was holding onto the bed as she approaches the brunette. “Ali, the fact that you don’t even see what you’re doing wrong is what makes this so damn hard!”

Ali shrugs, still confused about why Nora is so upset. “I’m sorry, Nora. Is this about looking at houses? If you really want I can squeeze it in later this week.” She thinks the compromise will be enough, but when the pained look flashes through her girlfriend’s eyes, she quickly realizes there’s more to it.

“I want you to want to look, Ali,” she gripes. “You said you wanted this, but every time I bring it up, you always have an excuse to put it off another week.”

A long sigh escapes Ali’s chest and she plops down onto the bed. “Nora, there’s just a lot going on. You always pick days I have plans,” she chuckles, trying to make the situation a bit lighter.

“Right, because shopping for a party that is weeks away is more important than house searching with your girlfriend,” she retorts sarcastically before turning and going back to the closet. “I get it, Ali,” she adds, turning to face the brunette. There’s been something bothering her, something that just feels off and even though she’s kept it locked deep inside, it’s starting to eat away at her. Nora could only be patient for so long before she had to ask the question that was tearing her apart inside. “Do you really want this, Ali?” she finally asks, her arms dropping to her sides in defeat, a look mirrored in her apprehensive eyes. “I feel like something is holding you back. If you don’t want this just let me know now before it goes any further. I love you, but I don’t need a house with a big backyard for you to teach our kids how to play soccer, if you’re not going to be there with me. ”

Her words cut deep to Ali’s core and makes her heart clench, sending a wave of chills through her body. A house. Marriage. Kids. She knew that’s where they were headed. It’d been almost a year and a half and they just fit together so seamlessly. They understood the busy work schedules, knew what to do to cheer the other up –Ali when she lost a game, or Nora when she lost a patient- and above all just always had fun together no matter what they were doing. There was a lightness around when she was with Nora that she couldn’t describe. Ali knew without a doubt that she had fallen for Nora, that she loved her, but there was still something holding her back. There was something keeping her from giving herself, her heart, over completely. She was pretty sure the answer lied in Frankfurt, but whether it was the ring tossed into the river or the hapless blonde she met there, she was unsure of.

“I love you too, Nora. It’s just…” she thinks of letting the words spill out, of coming clean on the constant internal battle she’s struggling with, but she’s not sure that she’s ready to admit it just yet. She’s not certain this isn’t the life she wants; the life with the beautiful, charming, fun loving and compassionate doctor. “My schedule is really hectic right now. That’s all,” she adds, and wants to kick herself for being such a coward, for fleeing from the truth she’s slowly coming to realize. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Nora knows there’s more; she’s smart, she has a PhD and can easily read the trepidation in the brunette’s warm cinnamon irises. “Okay, Ali,” she responds, though her tone is more defeated than understanding. She feels the toll of the uphill battle -of fighting over Ali with a woman that no longer exists in her life, and one who just lost someone herself- slowly draining on her. She doesn’t know if Ali –kind, loyal, loving Ali- even realizes it, but she simply doesn’t have the energy to fight it anymore. “Maybe next week then,” she replies with a pained smile and weak shrug before turning back towards the closet to get ready for the shift that doesn’t start for three hours.

“Yeah,” Ali replies, her voice trailing off as she hears her phone ringing in the kitchen where she left it. They both know the ringtone, both know who's calling. She stands, planted in the room for a moment staring at her girlfriend before Nora sighs and turns around to meet her gaze.

“Are you going to get that?” she asks nodding towards the kitchen where the phone was still playing ‘Don’t’ Worry Be Happy’, essentially dismissing Ali from the conversation that both knew wasn’t quite over.

With her head dipped, Ali plods into the kitchen and grabs her phone on the last ring. “Hey, Ash,” she answers.

The blonde instantly picks up on her tone. “Hey. Is everything alright, Alex?” she asks, her voice laced with concern.

“Yeah,” Ali replies as she sees Nora come through the kitchen carrying a basket of laundry, half of it comprised of sweaty Spirit practice clothes and U.S. Soccer hoodies. Suddenly, she feels a wave of guilt wash over her as she realizes what she’s doing to her, what she’s putting Nora through as she battles through her indecision. It’s not fair, it’s not fair to the woman who has loved her, who has so patiently waited and held her when she cried. “I just…I just have a lot going on right now,” she finishes with as her eyes follow Nora down the hall, ultimately knowing how this conversation is going to go.

“Well maybe I can take you for ice cream tonight after our shopping adventure?” Ash tries cheerily.

Ali can feel her smiling through the phone, can imagine her dimpled grin in her mind as she sits –presumably on the recliner she holds so dear- and tickles her son’s tummy. She’s about to reply when Nora walks back into the room with an empty basket and forgiving smile and a switch flips in her mind. “Actually, I was wondering if maybe we could go another day? I actually forgot I had plans to visit some open houses with Nora tonight.” She can hear Ashlyn let out a frustrated sigh while simultaneously seeing Nora’s face light up with a wide grin.

“Oh,” Ash begins, trying to contain her disappointment. She knows it’s only a day, but she honestly thinks it’s the first time Ali’s ever blown her off last minute and for some reason it hurts much more than it should when a friend pushes plans back. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

“I get out of practice at five tomorrow and have a few hours before Nora gets off her shift, so pick me up at six?” she asks, her voice more hesitant than it should be as she feels herself being pulled in two directions.

“Yeah! I’ll see you then,” Ash replies, back to her normal self as she quells her betraying emotions. “Have fun looking for houses. And remember my offer still stands with that extra bedroom I have,” she teases, not knowing the full effect of her words.

Ali chuckles and rolls her eyes, smiling when she feels Nora come up behind her and wrap her arms tightly around her waist as she begins peppering her exposed neck with thankful kisses. “Right. I’ve gotta go, Ash. I’ll see you tomorrow!” she says before hanging up the phone and turning in Nora’s arms only to be met with the most brilliant smile she’s ever seen from her as she pushes her guilt down.

Chapter Text

After it’s all said and done, after the whistle has blown and the crowd has erupted, after the teammates have dog piled and screamed and wrapped each other up in tight embraces, after the heartfelt ‘we did it’s’ have been mumbled and the appreciative smiles have been shared, Ali’s eyes finally search the crowd. Who her eyes seek out from the crowd first, who she makes eye contact with while standing in the middle of the grass pitch at the Maryland Soccerplex as a giant, nose crinkling grin flashes from ear to ear, says everything that needs to be said.

“We fucking did it!” Ali screams as she wraps her arms tightly around Nora who gets to her first, lifting her up a bit and spinning her in the air as she takes in her familiar scent, the cold gold medal that had just been hung around her neck moments ago pressed snugly between their chests where their hearts meet.

“You did, baby!” Nora responds with a wide smile as she ignores what she just saw along with the fact that Ali is soaked in sweat, truly proud of her girlfriend for captaining her team to an NWSL championship. “I’m so proud of you,” she adds, pulling back a bit to look Ali in the eye before planting a chaste kiss on her lips.

Ali pulls back with a smile as her eyes search the crowd behind them. Her face lights up instantly when she sees a familiar pair of hazel eyes through the mass of celebrating teammates, friends and family. They share a knowing look for a moment across the sea of bodies between them, both appreciating the magnitude of this moment more than anyone who hasn’t played competitive sports can, before Ali is bulldozed into from the side.

“ALEX!” screams a voice and she feels her bones literally being crushed in a hug as she is engulfed in strong, tattooed arms.

“KYLE!” she shrieks and turns in her brother’s arms to face him and bury her head into his chest. “What are you doing here?” she asks in disbelief when she finally pulls back from the hug and eyes her brother with her hands still resting on his shoulders. He looks good and she’s thankful for that.

“You didn’t think I would miss my baby sister winning a gold medal did you?” he asks in mock offence as his eyes search the crowd and take in the boisterous ambiance created by the Spirit fans. He’d be lying if he said seeing the throngs of fans with his sister’s name on the back of their jerseys didn’t make him tear up a bit. Ali has always been his hero and to see her becoming everyone else’s as well made his heart swell with brotherly pride.

Ali shakes her head and smiles back at her brother, her rock. It feels good to have him in the same place again after not having seen him since the previous thanksgiving. “I guess not,” she gets out before she hears a throat clear behind her. “Oh, Kyle, this is my girlfriend!” she says excitedly as she pulls Nora up next to her and places a quick kiss on her cheek.

“Ah, so you’re the famous Doctor Nora I’ve heard all about?” Kyle asks charmingly, smiling as he sticks out his hand to the woman who has been dating his sister for almost a year and a half. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to finally meet you too,” Nora replies with a bright smile as she takes Kyle’s large hand and gently shakes it. She notes how similar the siblings look, a fact that although evident is pictures, is so much more apparent in person. Their smiles, their eyes, the mannerisms with which they move and speak are so alike than anyone from the outside would think they were twins; that they are so alike they had to have shared a womb together, grown inside their mother together. It’s uncanny, their similarities, and she knows how much Kyle means to her girlfriend.

“And this must be the equally as famous Ashlyn,” Kyle asks Ali, unaware of the effect of his words, with a nod to the lanky blonde, clad in her own ‘Krieger’ jersey who had finally fought her way through the crowd to come up behind them.

Ali turns and smiles before grabbing Ashlyn’s wrist and tugging her forward gently. “Ash, this is my brother Kyle,” Ali introduces them with a smile, watching with trepidation how they share a knowing look with each other.

They shake hands exchanging pleasantries and then Kyle bends down to admire the little boy sleeping in Ashlyn’s arms. He shoots Ali a glance and rolls his eyes. “Really? You have him in a Krieger jersey already?” he asks with a low chuckle as he looks at the tiny USA ‘Krieger’ jersey that was wrapped around Noah. “I mean those two have minds of their own,” he continues, pointing to Nora and Ashlyn who are both wearing alternating Spirit jerseys, “But this little guy has no chance,” he finished with a laugh.

“Hey, you have to start them young,” Ali cheeses and winks at her brother who just groans as he realizes how quickly his sister is able to wrap everyone around her finger.

“So where’s the party at tonight?” he asks Ali, changing the topic when he sees other players begin filing out after having enjoyed the celebration and signing autographs for long enough.

Ali pulls her phone out and checks the last text she had gotten from Crystal with the bar location. “It’s just a bit down the street,” she says and sends the address out to the three of them. “I’ll shower quick and meet you three there, okay?”

The three of them nod and start to head out. Ali feels bad that she didn’t really get to talk to Ash, but the blonde just shoots her a wink before slipping out of sight with Kyle and Nora. Not wanting to make them wait long Ali jogs to the locker room and quickly strips off her clothes and jumps into the shower.

Thirty minutes later she’s unable to wipe the smile off her face as she saunters into the bar with her gold medal still hanging between her breasts. Her smile grows impossibly wider as she looks through the packed bar, a swath of red, white and navy blue and sees her favorite people posted up in a corner booth laughing and joking together. “Hey you guys!” she says a bit too excitedly, suddenly aware of the effects the champagne from the after party locker room celebration had on her.

“Hey, champ!” Kyle returns with just as much enthusiasm. That’s one thing Ali loves about him, after spending so many years trying to numb his emotions, Kyle now embraces them to the fullest. If he’s sad, you’ll know it, and if he’s giddy with excitement –say over the fact that his little sister just won a gold medal- you’ll know that too. He hops out of the booth and hugs her tightly again. “What are you drinking?” he asks, noticing the fact that she’s without a drink in her hand.

“Oh um…” she looks around to see what everyone else is drinking, but still can’t decide after a moment. “I’ll just go up there and figure it out,” she finishes and then waves to Ash and kisses Nora on the temple before heading up to the bar.

Not even a minute later as she’s leaning on her elbows on the bar waiting for the bartender’s attention when she feels someone bump her shoulder. She looks to her left and grins when she sees her favorite blonde leaning next to her.

“Gold looks good on you,” Ash says with a smirk as she nods to the medal hanging around Ali’s neck.

“Why thank you,” she responds a bit bashfully, not sure why she suddenly feels shy under the blonde’s gaze. “Thank you for coming,” she adds sincerely, knowing that it’s been difficult for Ash to get herself excited about leaving the house.

“Are you kidding?” Ash asks incredulously as she studies Ali’s expression. “We wouldn’t miss it for the world! Noah’s sad he couldn’t join the after party, but it was past his bedtime so he’s at his grandma’s resting up for the big day tomorrow.”

Ali smiles and then turns her attention forward so she doesn’t swoon over the blonde’s dimple anymore. “Maybe when he’s older,” Ali teases. “He’s going to quite the ladies man though,” she adds with a teasing glint in her eyes as she thinks about Noah getting Ash’s ever charming personality and confidence combined with Emma’s dark features.

Ash proudly nods. “Just like his mama in her early days,” she agrees before chuckling as she thinks to some of the crazy nights she had. “So what can I get you to drink, champ?” Ash asks as she flags down the bartender with a confidence that Ali hasn’t seen from her in a while.

“I’ll just take a beer,” Ali finally decides. “And two shots of tequila,” she shouts as the bartender walks away nodding in understanding.

“Someone’s getting rowdy tonight,” Ash states and eyes Ali skeptically.

“One’s for you, ass,” she replies sassily as she slides a shot glass over to the blonde and lifts her up to her lips while staring at the blonde challengingly.

Ash rolls her eyes, never one to back down and quickly clinks her glass to Ali’s and downs the shot. “Whew!” she yells, having not done shots in a long time as she feels the burn down her throat.

Ali watches her face pucker and finds herself staring longer than she should be. She quickly dips her eyes and grabs the bottle of beer from the bar before suggesting that they head back to the table. Ash nods after ordering another round of shots for the table and they make their way back.

Twenty minutes later as Ali sits in the booth, snuggled into Nora’s side she can feel the effects of the alcohol thrumming through her body. The bar feels ten degrees hotter, her mind seems a bit foggy and she knows that her words are sticking together on her tongue by the way every slightly chuckles when she tries to speak. She feels loose, feels her walls coming down and she also feels herself staring too long at the blonde across the booth from her.

Ashlyn and Kyle are engaged in an engrossing discussion about their tattoos and Ali can’t help but run her eyes along Ashlyn’s forearm, following the blonde’s fingers as she traces the Zeus tattoo that she’s explaining to Kyle. It’s a beautiful tattoo, only made more beautiful by the story behind it -about her relationship with her father and how this tattoo links to the Athena one slightly farther down her arm- and Ali can’t help but bite her lip as she watches the blonde intently, listening to the way her soft voice chokes up a bit at moments, only to erupt in a laugh when she recalls a fond memory of her father. She stares, her eyes tracing the lines of the tattoo, before trailing across her chest where the jersey, her jersey, is hugging tightly and then back up to her face, noting her chiseled jaw and perfectly angled cheekbones. She’s always found the blonde attractive, but she’s never really allowed herself to look, always keeping the composure to keep herself in check. But the alcohol coursing through her veins have finally cracked through the damn and she can’t help her wandering eyes.

“Right, Ali?” comes a voice from her left and she’s pulled from her thoughts. “Huh? Oh…yeah.” Ali mumbles, agreeing to something before she knows what it is as she turns to meet Nora’s gaze. She can sense something is off and wonders what Nora said that she missed.

“We’re you even listening?” she sighs, her tone now matching the despondent look in her eyes.

“No, sorry,” she adds, her eyes glassy from the effects of the alcohol.

Nora exhales and drops her eyes to the table, knowing exactly where Ali's attention was -the same place it was when she scanned the crowd after the game. “I think I’m going to head out, Ali,” she gets out, her voice reaching a certain emotion that Ali had never heard before.

“Aw, Nora the party is just getting started,” Ali whines, oblivious to what is really happening.

Nora bites her lip and looks down at the woman she has grown to love over the last year and a half. “I think this party has been over for a while, Ali,” she replies sadly, still unable to meet the brunette’s eyes. She knows she’ll crumble if she does and this is something she needs to do for herself no matter how much it hurts both of them.

Even through her foggy mind Ali can sense there is more going on here. “Can we not do this right here?” she asks and casts a glance to Kyle and Ashlyn who are both pretending to still be discussing tattoos while watching Ali and Nora out of the corner of their eyes.

“Sure,” Nora nods and grabs Ali’s hand to pull her towards the back patio which due to the heat wave is unoccupied with everyone retreating to the air conditioned interior of the bar. It’s dark and private outside and despite the traffic on the slow moving street behind the bar, relatively quiet.

They stand there awkwardly in silence for a few moments, shuffling on their feet and doing everything possible to not meet each other’s gaze before Ali finally speaks. “Nora, what’s going on?” she asks cautiously, sensing there’s something eating away at her girlfriend. “What did you mean back there?”

Nora sighs and shakes her head wondering how someone as smart and perceptive as Ali can be so clueless sometimes. “Ali, you know I love you, but…I just can’t do this anymore.”

“Do what?” Ali hisses in a confused tone as her eyes go wide. Her heart clenches and she can feel herself floating off to that cold winter night in Frankfurt, drifting into the same state as when she heard those words uttered by the German woman who she had pledged her heart to.

Nora takes a step towards her and grabs Ali’s hands. “Ali, I think it’s time we both stopped pretending. I need to stop pretending that I believe you’ll ever truly be able to love me and you need to admit to yourself that you’ll never love me like you do her.”

“Jesus, Nora it’s been almost three years. I don’t love Lucina anymore!” she scoffs, throwing her hands up in the air and wondering where this was all coming from. "Is this about that picture of us you found when I was packing? I already told you I didn't even know it was there!"

Her admission finally hits Nora to the core and she realizes just how oblivious Ali really is. Maybe she doesn’t want to believe it, or maybe she’s conditioned herself so strongly against it, but she is unaware and it breaks Nora’s heart a little more because she knows Ali won’t understand it, that she’ll try to fight her on it. She knows Ali loves her, but not enough, not in the right way and it’d be selling them both short if she gave Ali the ring she had been planning on. Yes, Ali loves her, and she would say yes and take the ring, and she knows that she would even be excited about it and they would be happy together, but that’s not the point. She loves Ali too much to rob her of what she really wants, to pull her heart away from where it truly wants to be.

“I’m not talking about her,” she finally retorts, leveling her gaze as she gives Ali a knowing look, her piercing blue eyes telling Ali everything her words aren’t able to. She wishes she could ignore it, that she could let herself be happy with Ali, but as much as she loves Ali, she can’t share her anymore. She admired Ali for taking care of Ashlyn and Noah in their time of need, but knows it transcended farther than that whether the two of them were aware of it or not. She could see the sideways glances, the smiles that grew just a bit bigger and eyes that shined brighter when the other walked into a room, the lingering hugs that an outsider would think were shared between lovers. She loved Ali to no end, but she couldn’t do that to herself anymore, or to Ali. All she ever wanted was for her to be happy. “I’m not talking about Lucina, Ali.”

Suddenly, it hits Ali like a ton of bricks and while she struggles to grab the rough wooden porch railing, she can feel the weight of it all crushing her as she fights to stay standing, to keep her knees locked. She can hear it in Nora’s distressed tone, can read it in her dimmed blue eyes and defeated posture. It all adds up and suddenly the gravity of it all is too much to bury anymore. The missed lunch dates, the nights spent on the couch where she falls asleep babysitting, the phone calls cut short and plans cancelled last minute –Nora’s seen it all. She’s about to argue, to defend herself, but her mind keeps processing the way her heart flutters when she gets a text, how her eyes light up when she enters a room or how a smile crawls across her face when her name rolls off her tongue in that slight southern drawl. Ashlyn.

Chapter Text

“There you are!” yells a giddy Ashlyn as she sees Ali coming making her way back to the table from the back patio. “We figured you left to celebrate with Doctor Nora,” she teases, until her smile drops when she sees Ali lift her face, displaying her tear stained cheeks.

“Alex, what happened?” she demands, jumping out of the booth and rushing to her side before Kyle even has a chance.

Ali drops her head in embarrassment unable to meet the blonde’s eyes for so many reasons. She tries to shake her off, just wanting to get her things and leave, but quickly realizes there is going to be no easy escape when Kyle is by her side as well. She allows herself to be held for a moment, to absorb the warmth and love radiating off both of them until she finally has the strength to lift her head and face their probing questions.

“Where’s Nora?” Ash demands with her hands planted firmly on Ali’s biceps, going into a protective mode that Ali has never witnessed before. Kyle stands back a bit seeing the hurt, but guilty look on Ali’s face, his hand still resting on her back and watches the interaction between the two women with a raised eyebrow.

“She…she left,” Ali gets out through her sobs as she turns to put her back to the room of her celebrating teammates. The last thing she wants to do is drag everyone else down as she tries to process what just happened. It’s feels like Lucina all over again. That’s what it feels like, but Ali knows better, she knows that’s not what this is. This is all on her, but knowing that doesn’t ease the pain, doesn’t make it hurt any less.

“She did this to you?” Ash inquires as she lifts Ali’s chin to meet her eyes. “I’m gonna kill her,” she snarls when she sees the pain housed in the innocent cinnamon irises, her own eyes flashing red as she scours the bar for Nora, hoping to find her slinking out somewhere. She’s full of anger at the fact that someone hurt her Ali, jumping at the chance to be for Ali what she has so often been for her.

Ali squeezes Ash’s bicep to get her attention and when she flicks her eyes back to Ali, the brunette shakes her head. “Don’t, Ash,” she whispers weakly. She’s not sure what to say, not sure how to take the blame for everything without admitting the obvious truth that she didn’t even know until Nora dropped it on her like a ton of bricks. “It’s not her.”

“Then who?” Ash demands in full alert, her jaw clenched tightly, a stark contrast to the way she looks down at Ali gently while trying to understand that situation. Ali almost has to stifle a giggle as she thinks of what Ash is going to do to the first girl who breaks Noah’s heart, but the overwhelming sense of pain encasing her makes that thought easy to push away.

“It’s just…it’s not her fault.” Her eyes drop back down and she feels Kyle start rubbing her back softly, his first instinct since he obviously has no idea what’s happening.

“Want me to take you home, Alex?” he asks, even though he doesn’t have a car. As Ali slowly nods, he starts to pull out his phone to call a cab when Ash gently stops his hand.

“I can take you guys home,” she offers and turns back to the booth to grab Ali’s purse and her jacket with her wallet and keys. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here, Alex,” she says softly and drapes her arm around Ali to pull her close as Kyle walks behind them to the car, smirking.

It takes them an hour after they get back to Ali’s apartment, but they finally convince Ashlyn it’s okay for her to take off. “You have to get some sleep before the big day tomorrow,” Ali reminds her, after promising that she’ll still come over early to help set up for Noah’s birthday party. Really she just needs some time to process everything that just happened and she definitely can't do that with the blonde staring at her with those beautiful hazel eyes, or rubbing her back with her strong, tattooed arms.

Ash reluctantly agrees, but only because she has to be up so early to prepare for Noah’s birthday party and only after Kyle agrees to come as well since his surprise trip was supposed to involve actually spending time with Ali. She gives Ali a tight hug, promising her that she can call at any hour and then a small wave before slipping out the front door of the apartment.

Kyle and Ali sit in silence for a moment, the only noise filling the room the late night traffic flowing through the streets outside the apartment building. A hearty laugh breaks through the silence from outside the window and Ali is quickly reminded that its one am on a Saturday and everyone is out enjoying life and having fun. That’s what she should be doing, what she had been doing before the bomb dropped. From the outside it seemed like the perfect night; a championship victory, a surprise visit from her brother and spending a night celebrating with her brother, girlfriend and best friend. Ali laughs coldly at the thought now, at how quickly things had deteriorated, how she was once again alone and broken.

“What was all of that?” Kyle asks, his own intrigue getting to be too much to contain. He knows Ali keeps things close to the vest, but from his experience she can only hold it in too long before it all blows up. He has his take on the encounter at the bar, but wants to get her side of things before dishing out some brotherly advice. “You can talk to me,” he prods a bit further and gently nudges her with his elbow.

“Why does this always happen to me?” she asks, her voice laced with a cold tone as she shakes her head in disbelief. Kyle bites his tongue and just stares back at her expectantly after the rhetorical question. He knows there’s more she has to say if he waits patiently enough. “I’m in love with her,” she finally whispers,” and as the tears start falling, Kyle springs into action wrapping his arms tightly around his little sister and pulling her into his chest.

“I know, Alex. I know you loved Nora, but sometimes things just don’t work out.”

“Ashlyn. I’m in love with Ashlyn,” she gets out interspersed between sobs and moment the words actually leave her mouth, the moment she puts a voice to the thoughts that unbeknownst to her have been over a year in the making she cracks. Her spine loses all strength and she slumps over into Kyle’s arms as the weight of her confession hits her. She’s not sure what hurts worse, that Nora just ended things, or that she’s in love with a woman who openly confessed she could never love again. In typical Ali Krieger fashion she always goes after the unobtainable, this time being no different.

“Ohhh,” Kyle says in a surprised voice. He could tell his sister adored Nora from the look in her eye, but he also knew from the moment he met Ashlyn that the two had a special bond. Originally he thought it was the kind of bond that forged as Ali became Ashlyn’s rock during her time of need, but after Ali’s confession he’s only just realizing how deep this all runs. “Alex, it’ll be okay,” he whispers and begins running his hands softly through her hair as everything becomes much clearer to him.

“She’ll never love me back the way I love her,” she sobs, the tears running freely down her face as she tries frantically to catch her breath. “Just like I could never love Nora back the way she loved me.” Her heart is breaking, being pried apart by the stress of the emotions seeping in through the existing cracks. She can’t get the image of Nora out of her mind, the feeling of her soft lips as she kissed her goodbye for the last time and it breaks her to know she was the reason for the sadness behind those crystal blue eyes that she so tirelessly worked to put the light in for so long. It was a selfless act of love on Nora’s part and though Ali knows it will be hard for her, she knows it’s going to be even worse for Nora. “I’m toxic, Kyle.”

The self-deprecating words set Kyle off and not because he thinks Ali is doing it for attention, but because he knows she actually believes that. “Hey,” he begins, his voice firm and unwavering as he pulls Ali up to meet his eyes which are hardened. “You are the furthest thing from toxic, Alex,” he states sternly as he squeezes her arms tightly to reinforce his words. “You are kind and compassionate and selfless so don’t you dare think like that.”

Ali almost smiles at the similar tough love she had so often instilled in Ashlyn, before groaning when she realizes Ashlyn is everything, every thought runs to the blonde and now that she’s realized it, now that she truly understands the intensity of her feelings, she’s not sure she can survive them. “What do I do?” she asks weakly. “How can I even face her anymore?”

Kyle sighs as he looks down on Ali. He hasn’t seen her this upset in nearly three years since the last breakup and even then it was only through Skype which can never do true pain justice. It’s agonizing for him to see her like this, to see her distraught and being tortured by so many different emotions. He knows the feeling, he knows how hard it is to be pulled in so many different directions and it had taken him the better part of his life and a few close calls to realize that life is too short to be anything but happy, to do things you don’t want to, to half ass love. Maybe that’s why he’s still single, but he knows the right person is out there and if he found them he would do whatever it took to get them; whether it be patience, assertion, compassion or unwavering loyalty. A thought crosses his mind and he smirks the slightest bit before stilling his face. “She loves you too, Alex,” he whispers.

It’s quiet, almost quiet enough that Ali doesn’t hear it, but those words have become so ingrained in her mind that she thinks she could hear them being whispered a mile away. “What did you say?” she demands, her face jerking up from Kyle’s embrace to meet his eyes that are so alike to her own.

“She loves you too. I can tell,” he shrugs, the power of his words lost on him completely. She loves you too. The last words Emma spoke to Ali are instilled so deeply into her after so many months of being played over and over in her head and Kyle can see a shift in his sister as if she’s not really present. “Ali?” he asks, staring intently back at his sister, before nudging her with his elbow to bring her back down to earth.

She snaps out of her trance when Kyle’s confused tone registers in her ears over the reverberating words that Emma had whispered to her so many months ago. “She told me to take care of Ashlyn after she passed, that she knew I loved her. ‘She loves you too.’ Those were the last words Emma spoke to me,” she says weakly before looking up at her brother with a dumbfounded expression. “Of course I loved her, she’s my best friend. But…it was like Emma could see it was deeper than that. Why does everyone see it, but me?”

Ali’s honest confession is the last thing Kyle expected to hear and he pulls back a bit. She had told him about their friendship and the hardship that the couple had faced and all about Noah and how she had helped Ashlyn through her hard time, but never did she mention the secret request she had locked deep down. The secret that she likes to think drove her to be Ashlyn’s savior and protector the last eight months, but she knows better. She didn’t need to be asked or told. Her heart was attached to Ashlyn’s, almost as if their nerve endings twisted when they had hugged goodbye in Frankfurt. She felt what the blonde felt, happy or sad and last request or not she knows deep down that they would have ended up in the same place. It was always Ashlyn and the thought terrifies her to no end. She can’t handle another heartbreak.

Kyle ponders Ali’s question for a moment before leaning back towards her. “I don’t think she’ll break your heart,” Kyle supplies evenly. “It may take time for her to realize it, accept it and be ready to act on it, but she loves you too, Alex. It’s in the way she looks at you, the way she watches intently with that goofy grin when you hold her son, the way she jumped up to protect you tonight, to be by your side before I even got there. It’s there. I promise.”

His words weigh heavy on Ali’s shoulders as she takes it in. Is it really there? “I don’t know, Kyle,” she mumbles haphazardly, as if she wants to believe it, but isn’t sure she can. Her life has been a series of heartbreaks and just when she finally thought her happy ending was coming, she was thrown another curveball.

“Trust me,” Kyle interjects as he pulls her back down into his arms and gives her a reassuring squeeze. “She loves you too.”

Chapter Text

Ali knocks on the door, her arms full of presents and waits anxiously for the blonde to open the door. Her body is overwhelmed with emotions, but after promising Ash she would help set up for Noah’s birthday there’s little time to process it all. She’s nervous, admittedly so after the sudden realization of her true feelings for the blonde, something that had been bubbling underneath the surface without her awareness. She’s also upset, her gut twisting in guilt and remorse over yet another intense, but failed relationship. This time, she knows she’s to blame and aside from the shame she feels for hurting Nora, who had been nothing short of amazing, she’s also selfishly going to miss her. The love she felt was real and although it was a different type of love than what she felt for Ashlyn, their memories together are not something that are quickly going to fade.

So as she stands there patiently waiting, carefully juggling the boxes in her sweaty palms, she wonders just how to approach the blonde. Is it going to be awkward? Is she going to stutter and stumble over her words? Will Ashlyn notice something is wrong? Thoughts are flying through her mind, but as soon as the door is tugged open, they dissipate, swept away with the warm summer breeze that flows past her and into the house.

“Alex!” the blonde says cheerily, her excitement uncontained as she grabs the boxes and sets them down before pulling Ali into a tight hug. “How are you doing today?” she asks, concern evident as she pulls the brunette in and shuts the door behind them, letting her eyes trace the brunette for signs of trouble.

“I’m alright,” Ali sighs as she plucks the boxes from the ground and carries them into the dining room to start the present pile. “It’s been a long night,” she groans, dropping her face into her palms as she remembers the hurt look on Nora’s face when she had pulled back from kissing her goodbye. The look which told Ali that as much as she wanted to stay and fight for her, she knew it was a futile battle. As painful as it was to admit, she knew Ali wasn’t hers to have.

“Want to talk about it?” she asks while leaning back against the table. Her eyes search Ali for some sort of sign to how she’s really feeling about the breakup, but aside from the puffy, red eyes and slumped shoulders, the brunette is for the first time, unreadable. “What did she even say?”

The blunt question catches Ali off guard and she quickly realizes that she should have come up with a good excuse to give Ashlyn. One that sounds better than ‘oh she just realized that I’m in love with you’ which would only make the situation worse. “She just said that she can tell I wasn’t one hundred percent in it.”

Ash studies her again and can catch the slight nervousness in her voice, a feeling that doesn’t fit with the brunette’s demeanor. “Why would she think that?” Ash asks as she plods into the kitchen with Ali in tow. She grabs two beers from the fridge and opens them before handing one to Ali who takes it with a smile.

A shrug is all Ali can manage as she tries to fight back the tears she knows are coming. She thought she had gotten them all out last night with Kyle, but her mind is in overdrive and she simply can’t process it all. Before she can take a sip of her drink she is forced to set it down seconds before she collapses into the blonde’s arms.

Instinctively, Ashlyn catches her and wraps her up tightly before she slips to the floor. “Shhh. It’s okay, Alex,” she whispers into the tussle of hair pulled up into a messy bun on the top of her head. “I’m right here,” she adds as she begins stroking her back, suddenly struck by how the tables have turned. So often she has been the one in Ali’s position and at the thought of it, the thought of Ali being her protector, her rock, her driving force through the dark nights, her arms wrap just a bit tighter around the shaking brunette.

Ali’s not exactly sure what’s more upsetting, the fact that she hurt Nora, the fact that she misses Nora even though she doesn’t have the right to, or the fact that she knows she has to lie to Ashlyn about it all. She knows the blonde isn’t ready, isn’t capable of being in a relationship and to put the burden of her true feelings on Ashlyn would be asking too much of her. She’s torn between her feelings and the blonde’s and as usual, Ashlyn comes first. Ashlyn always comes first.

“It’s okay. Let it all out, Al,” she coos as she moves them towards the counter. She leans back onto it and feels Ali lean into her with all of her warm weight. Her back is being dug into by the beveled edge of the granite counter, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters now, but Ali. She wonders for a moment, what she’s truly feeling. As easily as she can read Ali, she can’t tell where her mind is at right now. She hasn’t admitted that she’s angry with Nora, or hurt by her or even suggested why Nora would think Ali wasn’t all in. As usual though, the answers will come when Ali is ready so she just stands and waits patiently while the brunette clutches a first full of her shirt and sobs into her chest.

A few minutes later, Ali has calmed down for the most part and reluctantly pries herself from Ashlyn’s arms. She immediately misses the warmth of her embrace, but knows the blonde is seeking answers, especially after never having seen Ali this upset before. She takes in Ashlyn’s patient expression before her eyes dip down to her t-shirt which is soaked with tears and lets out a groan. “I’m sorry,” she mumbles, embarrassed by her outbreak. Ashlyn is quick to wave her off and just stares at her expectantly waiting for more. “I loved her…” she begins before her voice trails off, unable to form the right words.

“But…” Ashlyn prods her, knowing there’s more to the story than the brunette is letting on.

“I just…I don’t know,” Ali shrugs, dumbfounded as to how she should approach this conversation. “Once we started looking for houses I guess she felt like I kept putting it off.”

Ashlyn thinks for a moment before slowly nodding. “Were you?”

Ali can feel her gaze bearing into her and knows the blonde is sizing her up, reading her every move for answers. “I guess,” she breathes out. “I’m such an asshole,” she adds through shaky breaths and the tears come again when she realizes that she can fill Ashlyn in on why she feels that way. She wants her best friend, she wants to tell her everything, but she can’t. It’s not a burden Ashlyn can handle so it’s a secret she’ll have to keep inside.

“Shhhh. No you’re not, Alex,” Ashlyn replies and pulls her into her arms again.

Ali shifts her weight so that Ashlyn is again holding all of it and she lets herself melt into the blonde, knowing that this is as far as she’ll get for the foreseeable future. She cries and lets Ashlyn hold her for what feels like hours even though it’s only minutes. Every second in the blonde’s arms feels like a lifetime to her and if she could, she would stay housed in them forever.

Unfortunately, the sound of a baby crying rings through the monitor and Ali quickly pulls back, not giving Ashlyn a choice as to which crying human she gives her attention to. “Go check on Noah,” she says simply while quickly wiping her tears away. “I’m going to clean myself up and then we can start getting set up.” She pushes up from the couch when she feels a slight tug on her arm.

“Are you sure you’re okay, Alex?” Ashlyn asks sincerely, her eyes holding a concerned glimmer that Ali finds strange considering their usual roles.

She sniffles a few more times before nodding. “I’ll be okay, Ash. Now go get me the birthday boy so I can shower him with kisses and presents,” she says with a smile that’s no longer forced when she thinks about getting her hands on the giggly baby.

 

***

 

It’s gone. The playful banter, the joking and teasing, the constant checking up, the lingering hugs and meaningful looks across the room; it’s all gone. Ali doesn’t know why, but for the entire party she feels ignored. She tries to help bring out the presents, tries to prepare the cake, tries to pass out the utensils and napkins to the thirty or so guests that have gathered in Ashlyn’s back yard and when Noah cries she volunteers to hold him, or change him or feed him. Every time, every single time, she’s waved off. Ash shoots her a blank look and scoops Noah up instead or hurries past her to grab the utensils from her hands and distribute them.

The entire party Ashlyn has barely even looked her way, let alone spoken to her and Ali’s mind is reeling as she tries to figure out what happened in the hour between Ashlyn holding her and telling her she’ll always be there, that she’ll cheer her up during the party and teasing her how she’s going to smash cake in her face if she doesn’t smile, and now, when she can’t even be bothered to glance in her direction.

“You alright, Alex?” Kyle asks, noticing that she seems off. He knows she’s upset about the breakup, but could sense there was something deeper going on.

She shrugs him off and nods. “I’ll be fine,” she says unconvincingly and Kyle just holds his tongue for the moment when he sees her staring at the blonde who is talking with Emma’s mother who has Noah snuggled in her arms.

 

***

 

“Who was that?”

Ashlyn whips around in the kitchen to see Emma’s mother standing there with an armful of presents. The blonde turns and sees Ali who is outside, waving goofily at her with Noah curled up in her arms and offers a weak wave in return as she looks back to the older Irish woman with a stern expression. “Oh. Uh, she’s a good friend,” Ashlyn supplies as she grabs the presents from her old mother-in-law and carries them to the dining room table. As her mind flashes back to how she had just been holding Ali tightly in her arms, comforting her one final time before the guests began to arrive, she realizes the woman must have seen it all. She hopes Emma’s mother would have found somewhere else to wander, but when she turns around from setting the gifts down she sees her still standing there with pursed lips.

“She seems pretty comfortable around you and your son,” she supplies indignantly with a glance out the window where Ali is gently tossing Noah in the air and catching the giggling one year old, a smile plastered on her own face as well as she begins tickling his stomach. The sight that makes Ashlyn’s heart swell apparently makes the older woman more cross as she eyes the blonde.

“She uh…she’s helped me out a lot with him. Helped me through a lot the past year,” Ash sighs as she remembers some of her darker moments since Emma had passed. Moments that Ali had made just a bit brighter with her warm smile and nurturing personality.

The woman eyes her skeptically, noting how the blonde’s eyes linger a bit on the brunette and her son. “Hmmm…I bet she has,” she adds sarcastically with an eye roll, not appreciating the look the blonde is giving the woman holding her grandson. “It’s strange how it hasn’t even been a year since Emma passed,” the woman reminds her, as if Ashlyn wasn’t aware of exactly how long it had been. She glares at Ashlyn, her displeasure of Ali clearly evident in the fiery gaze. “Now can I go see my grandson before the party starts or is your friend going to hold him all night?”

 

***

 

The party is finally drawing to a close and for the first time, Ali can’t wait to leave the blonde’s house. The plan was originally for Kyle to take her car home and for her to help clean up and stay for a few drinks, but after a night of being ignored she has a large bottle of wine and Netflix calling her name at home. The last of the guests have slipped out as Ali walks up to Ash, mainly to say goodbye to Noah who is wiggling in her arms.

“Hey. We’re going to take off,” she says, her tone a bit harsher than intended as she reaches out her arms for Noah.

Ashlyn’s smile drops and she stares back at her with a confused expression and lets Ali pull her son from her arms and start kissing his face making him erupt in a fit of giggles. “But I…I thought you were going to stay?” she asks, and then looks over Ali’s shoulder to Kyle for an explanation. “Is Kyle okay? Is he not feeling well?”

Ali rolls her eyes at the blonde’s obliviousness. “I didn’t think you wanted me to stay,” she states crossly, staring at the blonde with a bemused expression. First Ashlyn ignores her and now she wants her to stay. Her own emotions have already taken enough of a toll on her, she doesn’t need to try and decipher the blonde’s as well.

It doesn’t take long for Ashlyn to realize what Ali is getting at and suddenly she feels another wave of guilt as she looks at Ali who is innocently smiling down at Noah, mindlessly imitating his incoherent babbling. “Please stay,” she pleads quietly, her tone almost reaching the level of begging. She knows it’s going to be a rough night and she’ll need Ali as much as Ali needed her that morning.

Ali sighs, knowing she’s helpless under the blonde’s spell, before turning around to Kyle. “You can take the car, Kyle.” He looks at her with narrowed eyes, but Ali just nods to him and he knows he’ll get the explanation later. “I’ll see you at home later.”

After a quick goodbye to Ash and Noah, Kyle grabs his sister’s keys off the kitchen counter and makes his way out the front door leaving Ali and Ash standing awkwardly in the front foyer. The sun is just beginning to set and Ali wordlessly makes her way past Ashlyn out to the back porch and sinks down on a step while admiring how the glowing orange globe has painted the sky a magnificent swath of colors. She cuddles Noah closer to her, needing all the comfort she can get as she takes a deep, settling breath. After a minute she feels something cold drip on her leg and looks to see the blonde holding a beer out to her with an apologetic expression. She takes the peace offering with a sigh and turns her attention back to the sunset without a word as she feels the blonde sink onto the step next to her.

“I wish Emma was here,” Ash whispers quietly, admitting the thoughts that have been trapped in her head all day. The thoughts had stayed trapped, locked behind her fake smile and forced excitement, but she finally feels safe enough to admit it, knowing Ali understands her pain in a way no one else quite can.

“I know,” she breathes out, her thoughts completely selfless. As hard as it is to admit, she wishes Emma was there as well. It should be Emma sitting where she is now, holding Noah and cuddled up into the blonde as they share a drink and retell funny stories from their son’s first birthday party. She knows it isn’t supposed to be her, this wasn’t her life to live, but as she finds herself sitting on the steps, sharing a beer and reminiscing, she still can’t fight how natural it feels –almost like she belongs there. Almost. “Me too,” she whispers in affirmation, and can hear Ash let out a deep sigh next to her. They settle into a silence for a few minutes, both admiring the setting sun.

“There’s nothing weird about our relationship is there?” Ashlyn asks shyly after a moment and Ali’s eyes go wide at the implications of her question.

“What?” she asks incredulously as she whips around to meet her eyes.

“Emma’s mom…she uh…she didn’t seem too pleased with you and…how you are around Noah and I…” her voice trails off and Ali can see her nervously fiddling with the label of her beer, unable to meet the brunette’s eyes.

Suddenly, it all makes sense and Ali nods silently in understanding. “That’s why you acted like I didn’t exist today, huh?”

Ashlyn finally looks up and feebly nods. “I’m sorry,” she says softly, her voice riddled with guilt. “I know you needed me today,” she adds in a pained voice when she realizes what she did to Ali, the same Ali who had always showed up for her. It was her chance to repay the compassion and she had failed.

“Ash,” she breathes out and places a hand on her forearm. “It’s okay. I know she put you in a bad position. I get it.”

“Still. You’re more important to me than that,” Ash says with an ashamed expression. “I shouldn’t let what she says affect me. It’s just…” she drops her head, unable to continue the statement.

Ali takes a long pull of her beer waiting for the blonde to continue, but when she doesn’t she nudges the blonde gently with her shoulder. “What is it, Ash?”

With her eyes trained on the ground and her toe digging nervously into the wooden step below, Ash lets out a long, shaky sigh. “I feel guilty,” she whispers. “It made me feel guilty.”

The words hang heavy between them for a moment and Ali knows she was right to hold off on telling Ashlyn the truth about her feelings earlier. “You shouldn’t let her make you feel like that,” Ali replies cautiously, unsure how far she should wade out into those waters.

“It’s not just her,” Ash replies before taking a few gulps of her drink. “I can’t even look at someone else without feeling guilty. Like the thought of moving on, of being with someone other than Emma? That terrifies me. I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to be with someone else physically, let alone emotionally. I don’t think it was her mom making feel guilty as much as it was my own thoughts.”

The more Ashlyn shares, the deeper Ali feels the dagger digging into her heart. She should have known as much, but it doesn’t make it any easier hearing it from Ashlyn that she’s not ready to move on. She bites her lip and drops her head to look at the sleeping baby in her arms to hide the emotions that are surely written all over her face.

“Will I ever be able to move on?” she asks, turning her attention to Ali who is biting her bottom lip trying to contain the tears from slipping out.

“I hope so, Ash,” she replies honestly, the reason behind her sincere words lost on the blonde looking back at her. “You deserve to be happy again, you know?”

Ash lets out a cold laugh at Ali’s rhetorical question. “As if that’ll ever happen,” she says with an eye roll. “At least I got you though,” she adds and lightly elbows Ali to get her attention. "We don't need anybody else as long as we have each other, right?" she asks and Ali face lights up until Ash raises her glass in the air and utters her next statement. “Cheers to forever being single,” she says with a smirk that sends chills through Ali’s spine.

Chapter Text

It’s been over an hour. They’ve been sitting in the car for an hour, going on two and Ashlyn still can’t bring herself to open up the door and step out onto the snow covered ground. Her mind is frozen, body paralyzed and suddenly the thing that felt like ‘the right thing’ now feels like anything but.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Ashlyn whispers almost inaudibly, twisting the bouquet of flowers in her hands as she tries to come up with a good enough reason to leave.

Ali watches the blonde intently, studying her mannerisms and knows how tortured she must be feeling. She had been good, slowly getting back to normal, but as they sit in the long winding driveway on the eerie property, Ali can see the same scared, vulnerable Ashlyn that had collapsed in her arms a year ago. She cuts through the space between them and gently places her hand on Ashlyn’s to spare the flowers from their likely demise if only for a moment. “Ash,” she starts softly and the blonde turns to look up at her. “If you don’t want to do this, we don’t have to.” She looks deep into the blonde’s eyes and senses the nervousness housed in her orbs. “Whatever you decide to do, I’ll support you,” she finishes and gives the blonde’s hand a light squeeze for reassurance.

For a moment they sit in a silence that is only broken by the winter wind whipping against the car. Ali shivers a bit, the chill settling into the car evident by the frost that has slowly crept up the windows. She thinks to turn the car back on to warm it up a bit, especially since Noah is in his car seat in the back, but after having started and stopped the car five different times, she thinks this may be the time Ash gives up all together. With a quick glance to the clock, Ali decides to give her five more minutes before she turns the car on.

Four minutes and forty-eight seconds later, as Ali’s hand goes to her keys in the ignition, Ashlyn’s goes to the door handle. “Okay let’s do this,” she murmurs and quickly pushes open the car door before giving herself the chance to back out. Ali nods, taking in a deep breath of her own before opening her door and shoving her keys into her pocket.

The December wind is biting at their necks and when Ashlyn pulls Noah from the back seat after handing the flowers over to Ali to hold, she takes the scarf off of her own neck and wraps another layer around her son’s. Snuggling him closer into her chest, partially to keep him warm but more so for her own comfort, she shoots Ali a pained smile before turning and heading away from the car.

With each step, their feet sink into the snow which rides up their calves and makes a crunching noise sounding similar to a death march in Ashlyn’s mind. Each step, followed by a crunch and the ensuing cold around her ankles reminds Ashlyn that physical pain is nothing to the emotional and mental pain she’s felt over the last year. Sure the snow is cold and the jagged ice is cutting into her ankles and scraping her calves, but she’s numb to it all. For the last year she may have worn a smile and seemed okay on the outside to those that knew her, but inside she was dead, numb. Each step through the cemetery towards her wife’s grave is a reminder of that.

“Here it is, Ash,” Ali says quietly and nods towards the thick gray stone that rises three feet out of the ground. She stands back and lets Ashlyn approach it first, knowing the blonde needs to take her time and have her moment alone.

As soon as Ashlyn sees it, sees the name Emma Quinn Harris inscribed into the thick stone, she freezes. Her heart catches in her chest and her throat becomes instantly dry as she sees her wife’s grave for the first time since she was laid to rest in it, exactly one year ago to the day. She wills herself, forces herself to take the next few steps, concentrating like a toddler learning to walk as she lifts each foot and propels herself forward with a singular focus. Taking one hand off of Noah’s back, she reaches out and runs her fingers over the words, the name, the date and as her fingers trace the curve of the letters and numbers she feels the tears begin to run down her cheeks. It takes everything she has and if she wasn’t holding Noah, she knows she would sink down to her knees.

“Hey, Ems,” she whispers, her voice cracking under the weight of her heavy emotions. With her sleeve she wipes the top of the stone clean, ignoring the sensation of the wet snow soaking into her sleeve. “I finally made it,” she croaks, biting her bottom lip so she doesn’t fall apart in front of her son. “Look who I brought.” She turns Noah in her arms so he’s facing grave and squats down a bit so he’s eye level with it. “Look, Noah, it’s your mommy,” she says softly and points to the stone that her wife lies beneath.

“Mama!” coos the little boy as he claps excitedly not knowing the significance of the day or situation. He wiggles in Ashlyn’s arms until she sets him down carefully in the snow which comes up past his knees. Once free he takes a few wobbly steps with Ashlyn’s hand on his back and places his hands on the cool stone, running his tiny fingers through the grooves that swallow them. “Mama,” he mumbles, quieter this time as his face scrunches up in confusion and he begins to smack the stone like he would a toy that’s supposed to light up or make a noise or interact with him in some way.

As Ashlyn looks down at her little boy resting his palms on the frozen headstone of his mother’s grave, the mother than he’ll never know, never remember, with a bewildered expression, she feels herself losing it. “Please take him, Ali,” she gets out, feeling her resolve cracking more with each passing second. “Please,” she begs, her voice shaky and Ali quickly plucks the little boy off the ground and cradles him in her arms as she trudges back to the car parked twenty yards away.

“Ali, mama!” he cries, pointing to where he had just been standing, where his mother is now slumped over the gravestone, and Ali just curls him tighter to her chest to keep the cold from nipping at his already rosy cheeks, but more so to keep him from seeing his mother completely shatter. It’s something his innocent eyes should never have to see.

“Your mama will be right back, buddy,” she says reassuringly as she grabs the keys from her pocket and unlocks the car before yanking open the back door. She scoots into the backseat with Noah still wrapped in her arms. “It’s okay, handsome,” she coos as she looks down at the puzzled boy and tucks some dark strands of hair back underneath the hat he was wearing, but it’s too late. She can already see the tears welling up in his eyes along with the confusion written all over his face.

“Mama!” he shrieks after a few deep breaths and Ali knows this is going to be a big one from the amount of wind up breaths he took.

“It’s okay baby,” she coos, and wraps him tightly in her arms, slowly rocking him back and forth in an attempt to calm the flailing boy. He’s writhing against her, screaming and fighting with all of his strength. Usually a sweet, calm little boy, this is a stark contrast and Ali knows that seeing Ashlyn upset is what got to him.

“I WAN MAMA!”

His voice is growing louder and for a moment Ali thinks she should call Ashlyn over, but a glance out the window tells her that Ashlyn is in no place to deal with a crying Noah at the moment as she squats before Emma’s grave, her forehead resting on the cold stone. “Shhhh,” Ali whispers as she rubs small circles on his back and she plasters his little head with soft kisses. “I’ve got you, little man.”

It takes about fifteen minutes and she feels like she had just gotten another workout in after holding him so tightly, but Ali finally feels his tense body relax in her arms. The fight has left him, but the tears have not. She pulls back a bit to meet his rosy, tear stained cheeks and the way he looks up at her so innocently, so confused, nearly shatters Ali’s heart. She wants nothing more than to make him smile, to make him laugh to assure him that no harm will come to him in this world. Her connection with the little boy in her arms has always run deeper than anyone knew and she feels tied to him just as she is with Ashlyn.

“Are you okay, handsome?” Ali asks softly with a reassuring smile as she uses her thumb to wipe some streaming tears away from his puffy cheeks. “Can you be a big, tough guy for me now?”

“Mhmm,” he gets out through some more shuddering breaths as he roughly wipes the rest of his tears away.

“Good boy,” Ali rewards him with a warm smile and places a kiss on his head as she wraps him tightly in her arms again. “I love you so much, Noah,” she whispers quietly, not thinking he can hear her with his head buried into her chest until she hears a tired, broken little voice whisper, “love you,” back to her.

She stays there for a moment, wrapped tightly around the boy she’s come to love as her own until her racing heart slows down and she pulls back to meet his still glassy eyes. “Mama?” he says softly and points out the car window.

“Want me to go get your mama?” she asks, easily deciphering the fact that tired boy was ready to be cuddled by his mother. He nods, sniffling a bit and after turning the car on to start heating it, Ali quickly buckles him into his car seat before slipping back outside, locking the door behind her.

The first few steps she’s looking down at the ground, trying to follow their prior path so she doesn’t have to break through the layers of snow and ice again, but when she glances up, she feels her insides twist into knots.

Ashlyn is lying on the frozen, snow covered ground before Emma’s grave. Her hand is resting on one side of it while the other clutches the flowers tightly. Though it’s well below freezing, Ali can tell that the shaking blonde isn’t cold, but that she’s crying. She takes a few steps closer, trying to decide between getting Ash up or not, but when she gets closer and hears her talking she freezes, knowing it’s best to let the situation play out.

“I got you these flowers,” she starts, waving the flowers around in the air a bit since she’s unsure what else to do with them. She pauses for a moment, taking in the silence surrounding her before continuing. “I miss you so much, Ems. Every day. I miss you every day, think of you every day, wish you were here every day. It’s so hard without you. So hard, baby.” Her head lifts a bit and she watches her own fingers trace the date, the date her wife had been taken from her too soon. “There were days where I couldn’t move, where I couldn’t get out of bed. I could feel you there, I could smell you on the pillows and I know how mad you would be at me if you had seen me like that, but I just...I couldn’t bear to think of going on in this life without you. I couldn’t bring myself to think it was possible, because you were everything to me, Ems. Absolutely everything. Ali saved me, you know? I don’t know what you said to her that day, but you must have bribed her to take care of me because I don’t think anyone deserves a friend as amazing as her. You’d be proud of her if you saw the way she whipped me into shape. Believe it or not, I’m a good mom.” She chuckles a bit and Ali’s heart swells when she hears it, the same laugh she would hear when she would visit their house for dinner and Ash and Emma would be teasing each other about something insignificant, but Ashlyn’s chuckle would fill the room and no one could contain their own smiles when they heard it.

“It took me a while, but I kind of have the hang of it now. I wish you could see him, Emma. He’s so big and he’s so damn handsome. He’s got your eyes, and your hair and your nose and I honestly could just stare at him forever. I do that sometimes, ya know? For about the first six months every free second I had I would just sit in his room and watch him sleep. You would be so proud of him. He’s such a smart little boy. Such a kind hearted, adorable little boy and I have you to thank for that.” Her voice cracks a bit as she lays her head back down into the snow, continuing with her rambling as she thanks her wife for her sacrifice, for giving her life to give Ashlyn the most precious gift the world can offer. “I can’t ever thank you enough for giving me this beautiful little boy, Ems,” she gets out in shaky voice, her breath ragged as she tries to keep it together, tries to get out what she really needs to tell her wife. “I kept my promise to you, baby. I tell him about you every day. And every night when I kiss him goodnight I tell him that his mommy loves him very very much.” She wipes her tears with her sleeve and though it’s already soaked through from the wet snow, she doesn’t care. She’s still numb, full of emotion, but numb as she lies on her wife's grave, wishing nothing more that to be cuddling with her in bed again as they had spent so many lazy Sunday mornings before she had passed.

Ali watches as Ash lays there and she’s torn between pulling the blonde from the ground before she gets sick and letting her get it all out, get out the emotions that have been trapped deep within her for the last year.

“I kept my promises to you,” she whispers, her voice quieting as she realizes she has to admit something to her wife. “All but one,” she admits, guilt creeping through her veins. “And it’s one I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fulfill.” Her fingers anxiously play with the bouquet of flowers, plucking the deep red petals off the roses that stick out higher than the rest. “I want to, Ems. I want to honor my promises to you and find someone for me for Noah, to feel like I’m able to move on, but I just can’t yet. You have my heart, you and Noah. You told me to follow my heart, but you have it. How can I give something to someone that I don’t even have, anymore?” she asks, her voice scared and confused at the prospect of being alone forever, of Noah not knowing the love of another woman. “I know it’s only been a year, but I’m struggling with it, Ems. I just...I don’t even know if I would know I was ready again, ya know? What makes me ready? Is it when I can go a day without thinking of you? Because I don’t know if that will ever happen. Maybe I just need some damn sign from above?,” she laughs coldly at the cliché thought, before shaking her head. “I promise you I’ll try though,” she trails off as she mindlessly continues to tear the petals off the flowers. “I’ll try, Ems.”

Ali hears it all, the confession, the truth, the blatant honesty that eeks out of the vulnerable blonde and she feels her heart slow with each passing second. She had always known it was an uphill battle, always knew there was a possibility that it wouldn’t work out how it was supposed to, how she wanted it to, but hearing Ashlyn mumble the words sincerely to Emma’s headstone, she feels the darkness again seeping into her veins. She’s about to walk over and pry Ash from the snow when a gust of wind rips through the graveyard, picking up the torn rose petals from the frozen ground in front of Emma’s grave and carrying them through the air.

Ashlyn picks up her head with a curious expression, following the petals fluttering about with the wind until they land, at Ali’s feet. She casts a glance to the headstone, running her fingers over the jagged edges that outline her name, and then back to Ali who is staring at her, petals draped over her feet, nearly in tears herself while she wonders if it’s all just a coincidence as her eyes go wide.

“Ash,” Ali whispers, taking a few steps towards the blonde. She squats down and gently places her hand on the blonde’s thigh, trying her best to be strong and not let her true emotions show. “You’re going to get sick if you stay out here much longer,” she adds in a concerned tone as she notes the shivering blonde lying before her. “It’s getting dark and Noah is asking for you too.”

Ashlyn looks back to the stone again and then lets her eyes follow the line of snow until the white becomes dotted with red petals where Ali had just been standing. Her mind is still reeling, but suddenly she’s cold, freezing cold. She feels again; the cold of the ground, the wetness of the snow seeping through her layers of clothes, the cuts on her legs from the jagged ice slicing her as she walked, the pain in her head and the splitting feeling in her chest. As she looks up into the brunette’s warm cinnamon eyes filled with a timid hope, she feels everything and suddenly she’s wondering if she was better off numb. Ali.

Chapter Text

“I know, mom,” Ash says in a frustrated tone. She knows she’s right, that her mother is making valid points and that much is evident from the half empty bottle of Johnny Walker sitting beside her on the couch, but it doesn’t make it easier to accept. “Today was just a rough day,” she slurs and takes another sip from the bottle, ignoring a bit of it that sloshes out of the bottle and onto her shirt. Truth be told, every day was a rough day since she had visited Emma’s grave a few weeks ago and she hasn’t been able to wrap her head around the emotions ebbing and flowing through her veins. “I haven’t had that much,” she defends herself as her mom calls her out on the way she’s just slightly slurring her words. It’s a half truth. Only part of the bottle is empty from that night, but the increasing number of bottles in the recycling bin are definitely a worrying concern that she tucks away. “Yeah they already okayed it. I meet with the other guy tomorrow morning,” she groans. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, it’s the right thing to do for both her and Noah, especially for Noah.

A scream from the other room interrupts her call and she murmurs a curse word under her breath. “Noah just woke up. I have to go check on him,” she mumbles into the phone, sighing when her mother continues to ramble on about her decision and how ‘it’s the right thing’. “Yes, mom. I know it’s going to be a good thing for us. I know that,” she insists before telling her goodbye and hanging up the phone.

After slipping her cell phone into her pocket she caps the bottle of Johnny Walker before trudging down the hall towards her son’s room. When she flicks on the light she sees him hovering in the corner of his crib with his blankie clutched tightly to his chest, the same blankie that Emma would hold him in every night as she rocked him to sleep. Tears are running down his cheeks and she stumbles her way over to the crib in a hurry to get to his side.

“What’s wrong, handsome?” she asks, scooping him out of the crib as the droplets roll down his cheeks and his little body convulses with sobs. No words leave his lips, only more cries and for a moment, Ash thinks he might actually be in pain. She holds him out and checks for any obvious injuries, but when she sees none, just cuddles him tighter into her chest and rubs his back soothingly. “Shhhh, it’s okay baby,” she whispers, dipping her knees to rock him a bit in an attempt to soothe him. “Want to come sleep with me?” she asks in a last ditch effort when his tears aren’t subsiding after another ten minutes. Usually his nighttime tantrums are quickly quelled when she carries him back to her bed and clutches him tightly in her arms, but this time he fervently shakes his head.

“Ali!” he shrieks, the decibel of his voice piercing Ashlyn’s ears as the word pierce into her heart.

Ali. Her son is calling out for another woman; someone who isn’t her, or her wife. “Ali’s not here, Noah,” she quickly asserts, trying to cut this off before it gets any worse.

Her attempts are futile and she can feel his body begin shaking even more. “I WAN ALI!” he yells again, this time reaching a whole other octave and Ashlyn can feel herself reaching her breaking point already with the shrieking little boy. With one hand cradling her son, the other digs her phone from her pocket. She hits the button on the main screen and even though it’s almost eleven pm, there’s an instant answer.

“Ash? Is everything okay?” Ali asks, her voice tired, but full of concern. She can hear Noah screaming from the other end of the line and is suddenly overcome with worry.

“It’s Noah,” Ash replies, slurring just a bit. The crying boy has done wonders to sober her mind, but the rest of her body is lagging a bit behind.

Form the other end of the line, Ali sighs. “I got that, Ash. What’s wrong? What do you need me to do?” She’s already up and putting clothes on and Ashlyn knows that without having to hear the shuffling from the other end. It’s just what Ali always does.

“He won’t go back to sleep. He…he wants you, Ali,” she says over his screams and she swears she can see Ali’s eyes going wide from miles away.

“Wh…what?” she asks in disbelief, suddenly feeling the need to tug her pants on a bit quicker, especially when she hears the ways Ashlyn’s words are smearing together. “I’ll be right there,” she gets out hurriedly and then slams down the phone before gathering all of her things.

It takes her fifteen minutes to get there after she figures she could charm her way out of any speeding ticket from a male or female cop and throws the car into park before running into the house. She rushes over to Ash who still has the crying boy in her arms and the second his forest green eyes catch sight of her, he turns in Ashlyn’s arms and sticks his arms out towards the brunette who greets him with a concerned smile.

“ALI!” he yells, his voice a mixture of sadness and excitement as he wiggles in his mother’s arms.

“Hey, handsome,” Ali coos as she plucks the boy from Ashlyn’s arms, trying to ignore the flutter in her heart when he throws his little arms tightly around her neck and buries his face in her chest, the tears still rolling down his cheeks. “Shhh, it’s okay.” She runs her hand through his black hair while shooting a quizzical glance to Ashlyn who just shrugs from the edge of her bed as she watches her son cling to another woman.

Watching Noah snuggle into Ali and hearing his sobs quiet should make her upset. It should make her feel guilty that she’s not enough for her son, that she can’t settle him down on her own, but it doesn’t. As she watches Ali rock him in her arms, whisper encouragingly into his ear and pepper his head with kisses, Ashlyn feels something that she can quite put a finger on. She stares at the brunette, seeing the love she has for her little boy with her furrowed eyebrows and her forehead wrinkled in concern and it somehow feels natural. She rocks him, whispers to him, soothes him and for a second it feels right. The hurt seems a bit less and all she wants to do is reach out and wrap Ali in her arms.

“I’m going to try and put him to bed, okay?” Ali asks with a raised eyebrow and breaks Ashlyn from her stupor with a gentle hand on her bicep.

Ashlyn nods unable to form words, and just watches as Ali makes her way down the hall with Noah in her arms, a sight that has become so regular over the last year and a half that she almost didn’t realize how significant it was. Her arm is still warm where Ali’s hand just touched and suddenly it doesn’t feel like enough. She’s not sure if it’s the alcohol, the realization that she’s slowly coming to or the way Ali has just so tenderly cared for her son, but when the brunette walks back into her room with a sweet smile on her lips fifteen minutes later, Ashlyn can’t stop the thoughts that are reverberating through her.

Ashlyn pushes off the bed and meets Ali by the doorway. “He’s down for the count,” she hears Ali say with a chuckle, her soft brown eyes catching the light just the way to make the specks of gold flicker. “Ash?” she hears and then feels Ali grab her arm to break her trance. Warmth spreads throughout her, a feeling of tranquility and for the first time in over a year, she feels a wave of calmness wash over her as she looks deep into Ali’s eyes, catching all of the emotions housed in them.

“Ash?” Ali prods, her voice almost as quiet as a whisper when the blonde steps towards her, a hand sliding to Ali’s wrist to pull her closer. She sees something in Ashlyn’s expression that has never been present before, and the way her eyes are boring into her makes the room feel ten degrees hotter. “What’s wrong, Ashlyn?” she tries again, biting her bottom lip while she waits for an answer, hoping it’s the answer she’s been so desperately looking for.

The light shining in from the hallway catches Ali just the right way, casting a glow around her and Ashlyn swears she looks just like an angel. Really that’s what she’s been for her since Emma’s passing, but she’s never really allowed herself to look. Her eyes are tired with bags under them, her hair is thrown into a messy bun with tendrils of hair spilling out into her face, she’s dressed in black Nike leggings with a loose gray t-shirt that hangs off her left shoulder, and there’s not a trace of makeup on her face, but Ashlyn still can’t peel her eyes away from Ali. She’s gorgeous, absolutely beautiful in every sense of the word and before she knows it, her hand is on Ali’s cheek, gently brushing the stray hairs out of her face with the pad of her thumb.

Ali feels her heart swell before catching in her throat, leaving her speechless. She freezes at the initial contact, unsure how to act -it’s everything she’s wanted, everything she’s been dreaming of- but the second she feels Ashlyn’s soft fingers graze her cheek and brush her hair back behind her ear, she sinks into the contact, closing her eyes with a deep sigh and letting herself feel every sensation to the fullest. “Ash,” she whispers, as she leans into the blonde’s touch, a touch she’s been longing for without even knowing it.

Ashlyn hesitates for a moment and pulls her hand away, unsure of what Ali really wants, until her eyes slowly open and she catches the hopeful glint in them. Her hand goes back to Ali’s cheek, immediately feeling the warm sensation flow through her again as she caresses it and she closes the gap between them, leaving only inches between their flushed faces as she lets out a sigh. For a moment, they stay there, their eyes locked through the heavy air that’s settled between them as they search each other for permission, affirmation or hesitation and Ali honestly thinks they could stay that way all night until she sees the blonde’s eyes flick down to her lips and she runs her tongue over them in anticipation.

It’s only a second, but it feels like a lifetime as Ashlyn slowly leans forward and presses a kiss to her lips, just light enough to feel their warmth. It’s everything Ali had imagined and more as heat spreads through her body, flowing down to her toes and out to her fingertips which have made their way to the blonde’s chest, gently gripping the fabric of her t-shirt that she finds pooled between her breasts.

The intimate contact sends shivers down the blonde’s spine and she pulls back just slightly, so that they’re still sharing the same breath, searching Ali’s eyes for any sign of trepidation, but there’s none to be found as the brunette’s fist clenches tighter around the front of her shirt.

Unable to wait anymore, to deny herself of what she’s wanted for so long –before she even knew she wanted it- Ali slides her hands around Ashlyn’s neck, feeling the blonde’s steady pulse against her arm and leans forward, taking her bottom lip between her own. The blonde’s pulse point begins beating faster, harder against Ali’s arm and even though she knows they should talk about this before it goes any farther, before it becomes too late, for once she’s just letting her body control her. And her body, without a single shred of doubt, wants Ashlyn Harris.

What’s first soft and gentle, quickly becomes more as Ashlyn runs her tongue along Ali’s lip and the second her lips part, Ashlyn’s arms snake around her waist as her tongue smoothly dips into the brunette’s mouth. Ali lets out a soft sigh at the contact and can feel Ashlyn pull their bodies closer together. She senses Ashlyn’s hands tighten around her waist, feeling each individual finger digging into her hips as the kiss heats up, both women fueled with a hungry desire that they’ve been staving off for too long.

Ali’s hands grip tightly in the hair at the back of Ashlyn’s neck as she feels her knees going weak, her body crumbling under the blonde’s touch and she presses her hips into the blonde, begging for more contact which Ashlyn is quick to give as her hands slide from Ali’s waist, settling just below the small of her back while pulling the brunette in tighter. Her body is on fire with their hips pressed firmly together and she thinks surely Ali must feel her fingertips burning through her shirt, but all she can think about is that she wants more, needs more and before she can even process a coherent thought -not that she’s had one since Ali had walked back into the room to begin with- she’s walking backward and pulling Ali from the hall into the bedroom with her.

Ali’s heart is racing -almost reaching dangerous levels- and all lucid thoughts are long gone when she feels Ashlyn speed up the kiss with a desperate urgency, her tongue exploring her mouth with a heated passion. The breath about to escape catches in her chest when she feels the blonde’s fingers slip underneath the hem of her shirt and gently graze the skin of her lower back, and then suddenly it comes tumbling out in a husky moan that seems to only ignite the fire between them even more.

When Ashlyn’s knees hit the back of the bed she quickly turns and lays Ali down, not breaking contact while she follows the brunette up the bed as she settles into pillows there. Her hips press Ali into the mattress and she can feel the brunette writhing underneath her, a sensation she been remiss to feel. Her body is burning with the need to feel more and her mind has gone blank, a singular focus on the woman she’s pressing into the bed.

“Ash,” Ali whispers followed by a moan when she feels the blonde’s hip put pressure where she needs it the most, and suddenly she feels Ashlyn jerks upwards, ignoring her groan at the loss of contact.

Looking into Ali’s eyes, she sees a darkness housed there. It’s a darkness, hunger combined with a certain tenderness, that doesn’t just come from a moment of weakness or sudden urge that needs to be filled. The second their eyes meet, she knows the feelings behind it –the love, loyalty, and endless devotion- and can only imagine how long they’ve been brimming under the surface. Her eyes grow wide and a terrified look spreads across her face as she looks down at Ali, lying on the bed, her bed, the bed she had shared with her wife. She feels the guilt seeping in, pumping through her body, coursing through her veins with each heartbeat that’s quicker than before and suddenly she can’t get far enough away from Ali. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers in shock as she pushes off the bed and runs out of the room, grabbing her coat off the couch before slamming the front door behind her.

Chapter Text

“FUCK!” Ash screams when she’s down the block, her fists clenched as the tears roll down her cheeks. She’s tormented, wracked with guilt as she sinks down onto a park bench and lets the emotions spill out of her, wishing the guilt would seep out with them and slip away into the brisk winter’s night air.

She loves Ali. She’s in love with Ali if she really lets her walls down long enough to actually consider it. It’s a fact that she’s been aware of for quite some time and though she had accepted that she would always have feelings for the brunette, it wasn’t the right time and truthfully she didn't know if it ever would be. Her insides were twisting, wrapping around themselves as if causing her physical pain would take Ali’s away. It’s the last thing she ever wanted to do, to hurt Ali, but the look of anguish on the brunette’s face as she had rushed out of the room made her well aware of the fact that she had failed.

She wishes she had the courage to stay, wishes she could have explained, but the words had left her and the flight response had kicked in when she saw the brunette’s hungry eyes. Ali loves me too. That’s the part of this that trips her up. It wasn’t one sided, it wasn’t just her holding back feelings and the thought that it could actually be something, that they could become something terrifies her. She’s not ready as evident by the running and the guilt pumping through her veins and the decision she made a week ago that she has yet to tell Ali about, and as much as she wants to love Ali, to give her everything she needs and want just as Ali had done for her, it wouldn’t be fair.

Thinking back on it now she realizes that she should have known how Ali felt. All the nights she stayed up wondering how she got such an amazing best friend should have led her to the realization that Ali’s feelings ran deeper than that. She catches her mind drifting to the nights that had felt so natural, the nights where their unnatural level of domesticity almost felt normal. She recalls the one night where Noah was sick and Ali had ran out and gotten medicine and they spent the night sitting on the cool, tiled bathroom floor passing Noah back and forth in their arms when he wasn’t leaning over the toilet throwing up. And the day where Ali had hurt her ankle at practice and spent the night at her house with Ashlyn catering to her every need. She remembers the night where Ashlyn got sick and Ali whipped the house into shape, took care of Noah, and even made her homemade chicken noodle soup. Then there was the night where Ali had fallen asleep on the couch and Ashlyn had carried her into the guest bedroom so she could get a good night’s sleep before her game the next day. It is in all the little things, the Netflix binging nights, the failed attempts to make cookies where Ali set the smoke detectors off and the nights just sitting talking and laughing about everything and nothing. They should have seen it coming and maybe they both did, but now that it had hit them both smack in the face, Ashlyn couldn’t fight back the guilt. This should be her life with Emma and the fact that it felt so comfortable and natural with Ali in her place made her heart clench even tighter.

As the tears slowly subside, Ashlyn glances down at her watch and notices that she’s been gone for over half an hour already. She knows Ali won’t come looking for her, that she wouldn’t leave Noah alone in the house and lets out a deep sigh watching as her breath fogs into the night air before pushing off the bench. She doesn’t want to face the facts, to admit the truth, to break Ali’s heart with what she has to confess, but hiding from the truth isn’t going to get her anywhere either.

Though the wind is soft, the temperature is already well below freezing and Ashlyn curses under her breath for not grabbing a scarf and gloves on her way out. Her whole body is frozen, chilled to the bone when she makes it back to the front porch of the two story colonial home, but she stays out there for just a few minutes more trying to collect her thoughts, trying to figure out how to say the words she know will crush Ali. From the small window in the front porch door, she can spot Ali illuminated in the living room and her breath hitches as she sees how distraught she looks. Her face is dropped into her palms while her feet anxiously tap on the floor, alternating in nervousness as she lifts her head to glance at the clock across the room. Unable to take it anymore, to cause Ali more pain, Ashlyn slowly opens the front door and slips inside.

She expects Ali to yell, to scream at her for disappearing without a word when she sees her push off the couch and storms towards her, but suddenly the brunette’s arms are around her neck and she’s wrapped in a tight hug.

“I’m sorry, Ash,” Ali breathes out. She knows she pushed Ashlyn too far, that they should have talked instead of rushing into things and for a moment she just breathes deeply and clutches Ashlyn to her chest, taking in the smell of the crisp winter air that’s clung to her coat.

Finally, Ashlyn has had enough and as Ali’s warm breath tickles her neck, making her hair stand on end she peels herself from her warm embrace. “Ali, I…I’m sorry,” she whispers, her voice almost sounding ashamed.

“No, Ash. You did nothing wrong,” Ali assures her with glistening eyes as she fights back the tears from the rejection she knows is coming. She could read it in Ashlyn’s eyes and knew that she would go back to waiting patiently as she had been doing since she realized her true feelings. She could see that Ashlyn wasn’t ready for it, but it turns out that really she wasn’t ready for what came out of Ashlyn’s mouth next.

“I’m moving back to Florida, Ali.”

The words are soft, barely even a whisper, but Ali catches them. “What?!” her eyes snap up from the ground and suddenly she feels like she can’t breathe. She pushes away and stumbles backwards a bit as her knees buckle under the weight of it all. She catches herself just in time and looks back at Ashlyn with the most pained look the blonde has ever seen. “Wh..what are you talking about? When?” she demands, and suddenly she goes from shocked to angry.

“I met with my boss about a transfer a week ago. Meet with the realtor tomorrow,” she deadpans. She’s so ashamed of herself that she can’t even bear to look Ali in the eyes. “We’re leaving sometime next week. I wanted to tell you, I just…I didn’t know how.”

Ali drops her head to the ground as well, unable to believe how this is all unfolding. The rollercoaster of emotions is taking its toll on her and she makes her way to the kitchen and grabs the bottle of Johnny Walker from the counter, hoping to numb the pain. “A week?” she finally whispers, her voice cutting through the silence and into Ashlyn like a dagger.

She can feel the brunette’s pain through her voice and bites the inside of her cheek to keep herself from crying. “You have to understand Ali,” she begs, willing the brunette to listen to her reasoning. “I just…my mom…she thinks Noah should be around his family. And my friends are all back in Satellite Beach too,” she continues, her voice growing weaker when she senses how pitiful her excuse sounds. “I moved here for Emma and now…”

“And now you have nothing here because Emma is gone, right?” Ali deadpans, her hardened eyes lifting to meet Ashlyn’s , daring her to admit that she has nothing, no one left to keep her in D.C. anymore.

“Alex,” she breathes out, eluding the question and she can see Ali roll her eyes in frustration at her avoidance of it. “It’s…it’s not like that.”

Ali takes another chug from the bottle and slams it back down onto the counter, her eyes closed as she feels the smooth scotch slide down her throat. “Then what is it, Ash?” she challenges, fueled on by the emotions running unchecked in her mind, scattered around after the night’s events. “You’re just going to up and leave? To take Noah away too?” she asks, her heart breaking at the thought of saying goodbye to them both; the little boy who had just cried for her in his sleep and the woman she loved, that she had just shared an intimate moment with.

“I can’t be here anymore, Alex!” she finally screams, her anger fueled by Ali’s incredulous attitude towards it all, as if it must be some big fucking joke. “I can’t be in this house, in this town, in this fucking state without thinking of Emma! Do you think it’s easy?” she demands through clenched teeth as she storms towards the kitchen and rips the bottle away from Ali before tossing it into the garbage can where it clatters with the other empty bottles, a noise that makes Ali cringe when she realizes how bad it really has become lately.

“Huh? Do you think it’s easy to be in this house? The house where I made a home with Emma, made love to my wife, where I held her after she got diagnosed with cancer, where I watched Emma spend every night staring at Noah because she never know when it would be her last chance, where I…where I held my wife’s hand as she took her last breath? Do you think that’s easy? If that’s not bad enough, let’s throw the fact that this is the house where I fell in love with someone who’s not my wife, where I almost made love to a woman who isn’t my wife, who isn’t the mother of my son in the bed I shared with her. Do you think that’s fucking easy to handle, Alex? DO YOU!” Her voice is raspy as she tries to choke down the sobs that are now interspersed with her words. She doesn’t give Ali a chance to answer, and continues on as the brunette stands there with her jaw dropped, her knuckles turning white as she grips onto the counter top for support.

“You and I both know that I’m still in the same spot I was a year ago, Alex. I may smile more and act normal, but I’m still just as tortured and broken and I know you see it. I know you’ve been checking the liquor cabinet lately; you see the bottles piling up. It’s just…it’s too much, Alex,” her voice quiets as she finally admits how troubled she’s become.

“So you’re just going to leave, Ash?” Ali asks, her voice soft as she tries to search for some type of understanding. “You’re going to kiss me like that and admit all these feelings to me and then you’re just going to take Noah and run because things are hard?” Her eyes narrow as she stares back at the blonde, searching her for some type of explanation, anything to explain why she would have kissed her if she knew she was leaving. “We can get through this, Ash,” she whispers, already feeling defeated; like she’s about to lose everything she loves. “You don’t have to leave. Please.” Her voice is pleading and her glassy eyes match that sentiment as she looks up at the blonde.

Ashlyn can feel her resolve breaking, but she knows she needs to stay strong. She needs to keep her resolve and stay true to her decision. It’s the right thing to do, to get away and get a fresh start for her and Noah. To clear her head in the salty Florida air and change up the scenery. But when she looks across the room, her eyes connecting with Ali’s soft brown eyes and hears the brunette pleading with her not to leave, something inside breaks. “I can’t stay here. I can’t. I’m so sorry, Alex!” she says with a sense of finality before pushing off the corner and marching down the hall to her bedroom.

Ali waits until she hears the bedroom door slam in finality before rushing out the front door and into her car. Once safely in the confines of her BMW, the floodgates of emotions burst open and she’s left sobbing into her palms wondering just how she’s going to survive as Ashlyn, hugging her knees to her chest in bed, wonders the same.

Chapter Text

“Hold on, someone wants to say hi,” Ashlyn says with a dimpled grin as she grabs Noah and sets him on her lap.

“ALI!” shrieks the little boy, clapping his hands wildly like he does every time he sees the brunette on the computer screen.

Ali’s lips curl up into a smile at the sight. Noah is wearing a navy blue button up and khaki shorts with his hair combed over and a polka dot bow tie to polish off the look. “You look so handsome, Noah!” she cheers, clapping her hands along with him, her megawatt smile stretching ear to ear.

“He wanted to get dressed up for you,” the blonde chuckles as she looks down endearingly at her son who is incoherently babbling to Ali who just nods and smiles, occasionally replying with a ‘wow’ or ‘no way’. The love between them is evident and it makes Ashlyn’s heart flutter, while simultaneously sending a wave of guilt through her.

“Well he is quite the looker. He must not get that from you,” Ali teases, her eyes finally leaving Noah to meet the blonde’s. Even through the screen she can feel the blonde’s look all the way to her core as they share a knowing grin.

Ash leans back in her recliner for a moment, letting Noah continue to talk as she smiles back at the brunette. Finally, Noah quiets down and she shifts him on her lap so she can get most of her face back into the frame. “How’s camp going? Are you excited?”

Ali nods, and swallows water she had just sipped from her plastic bottle before responding. “Yeah I got the start versus New Zealand tomorrow!” she whispers as if it’s top secret information.

“That’s great!” Ash says, her sincerity evident by the dimpled grin spread across her face. “Congrats, Alex. I know you’ll do great and you know we’ll both be glued to the TV in our jerseys,” she adds with a goofy smirk.

It’s moments like these which make Ali realize that maybe Florida was a good move for Ash. Her face is no longer pale, but sun-kissed in just the right places to give her a soft beach girl glow and make her already pronounced cheek bones and jaw line seem just a bit stronger. Though Ali pretends she’s not looking she also can’t help but notice that she fills out her shirts a bit more, which could be from the morning surf workouts or the fact that she’s eating more and drinking less. Most noticeable though, is that she seems lighter. She looks like the weight of the world isn’t sitting on her shoulders anymore and Ali doesn’t know if that’s because she has so much more help with Noah since she’s at her parent’s house for the meantime, the warm Florida sun which is in stark contrast to the snow covered Northeast, or if she just needed to get away, to escape the heaviness of memories hanging over her head at every turn. As much as it hurts to not be near Ash and hold Noah in her arms every day like she used to, to see the blonde smile like that again is everything. It may not be exactly what she wants at the moment, but maybe it’s a step in the right direction.

“Thank you, Ash,” she says softer, her voice more serious than it had been through the rest of the conversation. She brings her eyes up to meet Ashlyn’s and holds her gaze for a moment. “I miss you guys,” she shyly admits. It’s been almost three weeks since Ashlyn and Noah had moved back to Satellite Beach and she can’t ignore the split feeling in her chest as she looks at her two loves through a computer screen.

Ashlyn is about to open her mouth and respond when Noah yells, “Miss you!” breaking them from their spell. Both women giggle when Ali hears someone yelling for Ashlyn in the background.

“Dinner’s ready,” Ash says a bit sadly, her smile quickly fading. “Say goodbye to Ali and go have grandma help you wash up, buddy,” she tells her little boy, giving him a kiss on his head.

“Bye! Love you!” Noah says happily, kissing his palm before pressing it onto the computer screen where Ali’s cheek is.

“Love you too!” she says mustering up excitement even though she’s sad the call is ending. She watches as Noah scoots off Ashlyn’s lap and sprints into the kitchen screaming something that no one can understand and chuckles a bit to herself.

“I’ve got to get going too,” Ash declares with a reluctant expression. “Good luck tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” Ali replies softly as her eyes trace the blonde’s face, trying to memorize every feature as she tends to do every night. A computer screen just doesn’t do her justice. “I’ll talk to you later, Ash. Goodnight.”

After they finish up their goodbye, which is a bit too rushed for either of their likings, Ali closes her lap top with a sigh and leans back against the headboard with her eyes shut just as her roommate walks in. “You alright there, Kriegs,” she hears and Ali opens one eye to see HAO standing in front of her bed wearing a perplexed expression along with her team issued U.S. Soccer gear. She simply nods and lifts her head up from the wooden support behind her.

“I miss them,” she admits, knowing HAO is privilege to her personal life more so than anyone else on the team. They had played on youth teams together and the national team and their ‘right side, strong side’ bond was something unrivaled by anyone else on the team. She remembers when she had first been talking about Ashlyn and everything that she was going through and then Noah when he came around that HAO had been supportive, but that grew even stronger when she found who Ashlyn actually was.

 

“Ashlyn and Noah get me every time,” Ali groans as she looks at a picture that Ashlyn had sent of her and Noah with chocolate smeared over both of their faces. It was two months after Emma had passed and Ali thinks it might be the first time she had seen the blonde honestly smile without her around.

“He is a pretty cute little boy,” HAO agrees nonchalantly, remembering the pictures Ali always showed him that she snapped of Noah.

“Those damn Harris’s,” she agrees with a chuckle, rolling her eyes when she gets another picture.

“Harris? Wait…Ashlyn as in Ashlyn Harris?” HAO asks, her eyes wide as she finally puts it all together. She’s at Ali’s side in a minute and pries the phone from the bunette. “Holy shit!” she exclaims when she sees Ali nod along with a picture with Ashlyn in it for the first time. “I played with her at UNC for a year.”

“Really?” Ali asks, her brown eyes shooting open as well. She hadn’t even put two and two together knowing that Ashlyn was a few years younger.

HAO nods and sits on the edge of her own bed while she scrolls through her own phone. Her face lights up when she finds what she’s looking for and extends the phone out to Ali. “Far left. She was one hell of a keeper even as a Freshman.”

Ali takes the phone from her best friend and studies. She can’t help but smile at how care free Ashlyn looks as she holds the ACC Championship trophy above her head, a huge dimpled smile stretched across her tanned face. She wonders how things would have been different had the blonde not been injured, had she went on to play with the National Team instead of settling down in Florida with Emma. Most of all though, she thinks of what she would give to see the blonde look that carefree again. “Small world,” she hums before handing the phone back to HAO.

 

“I know you do, Kriegs.” HAO sinks down onto the bed next to her and pulls the brunette into her arms before the tears begin to fall. “I know you miss them.” She rubs the younger defender’s back while holding her tightly in her arms, ignoring the wet sensation from the tears pooling on the front of her shirt. “She’ll come around,” she whispers, hoping for Ali’s sake that the words are true. “This is a good thing, right?”

“Right,” Ali breathes out softly through her quiet sobs, but doesn’t sound too convincing.

HAO leans back a bit to meet Ali’s eyes with a concerned expression and and with the soft pad of her thumb wipes her friend’s tears away. “She just needs to get her mind right, Ali. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Ali knows HAO’s words are the truth, even if it’s hard to admit that she can’t be enough to fix Ashlyn as she so desperately wants to. The mantra time heals all wounds is resonating in her head. “What if she never comes back? What if…it never works out?” she asks timidly, her mind not even able to wrap itself around that possibility. She’s not quite sure she would survive.

HAO levels her gaze and looks intensely into Ali’s. “Do you honestly think that will happen? Do you really think it’s over, Ali?”

Ali doesn’t even hesitate for a moment before the answer comes to her mind. There’s a pull between them, she felt it in Frankfurt, felt it in D.C. and even now from thousands of miles away she can still feel it. She could read it in Ashlyn’s eyes before she had left D.C., it wasn’t a goodbye. She could still hear the assurance in her voice when they had talked the night after their fight, that she was doing this for all of them, that she was getting herself put back together and that it would give Ali the chance to focus on the World Cup like she should be. Even though she was upset with Ashlyn for lying and for leaving her, even though her mind couldn’t help but flash to the worst possibilities and negative outcomes, she knew this wasn’t it. She’s not sure if it’s possible for someone to have two soul mates in one lifetime, but for her, all signs point to Ashlyn. “No. It’s not over.”

Chapter Text

Goodbyes are always hard for Ashlyn and in the last two years she’s had too many of them. Saying goodbye to her family and friends in Florida when she and Emma moved to D.C. after they found out she was pregnant. Saying goodbye to Emma as she finally succumbed to the cancer relentlessly attacking her body. And Ali. Saying goodbye to Ali as they held each other, both crying with Noah cradled in Ali’s arms so she could get every last second with him.

“You don’t have to do this,” Ali whispers, not even bothering to wipe the tears as she looks into the blonde’s eyes. She clutches Noah tightly to her chest so he can’t see the tears and just hopes that he can’t feel her heart racing through the Washington Spirit sweater that’s pulled over athletic frame.

“I do,” Ash breathes out as she wraps her arms tighter around the brunette, placing a kiss into the messy hair wrapped on top of her head, and they both know it’s true. They both know Ash will never be able to move on or heal if she’s trapped in the house, the city, the state where she lost her life, her love, her soul mate. She needs the salty Florida air, the all encompassing warmth from the laughter and love of her family, to hear the waves lapping over the white sandy beaches, to pull her hand through the barrel of the perfect wave in Cocoa Beach.

“I’m going to miss you two,” Ali says, trying to contain the shakiness of her voice when she feels Noah burrow his head further into the crook of her neck, his fingers gripping the soft, gray fabric of her hoodie tighter.

Ash lets out a deep sigh as she tries to keep it together. What seemed like the right decision, what she thought was the right decision, was suddenly seeming so much more difficult. While she had always known she needed this, she couldn’t bear to talk to Ali about it because she knew she would crumble, would break under the Krieger pout and they’d stay stuck in their awkward limbo forever. “We’re going to miss you too, Alex. So much,” she confesses, the words dripping with honesty as she prays that this move to Florida gives her what she needs; a breath of fresh air, a new sense of light, a chance to process her grief and accept the fact that she’s capable of loving and being loved again.

“I love you.” It’s so quiet, below even a whisper, but Ash hears it echo through her head. She feels the heaviness of the words settle into her chest, the weight of the words pumping through her veins with each beat of her heart. It feels like a goodbye, but she needs Ali to know that this isn’t the end. This isn’t over.

“Hey,” she whispers, her voice soft and calm as she pulls Ali’s chin up with her pointer finger, leveling the brunette’s eyes with her own. “This isn’t goodbye, Alex,” she states as confidently as she can. She needs to believe it herself or she won’t be able to force herself to get into the Jeep, to start the long drive South to her family and away from Ali. “Far from it, okay?”

“Okay.” She nods feebly and tries to convince herself that this is for the better. It’s almost April and that means a month until residency camp in Los Angeles before the World Cup. She tells herself that she won’t even be around for the next four months between NWSL games, national team camp and her journey through Canada slated to start in June and end, hopefully on July 5th with a gold medal draped around her neck. The distance was always going to be there this summer and this way at least Ashlyn will have her family, her friends and the comfort of her hometown surrounding her, supporting her. She’ll be loved and Noah will be cared for and that’s what Ali keeps repeating in her head as she tries to convince herself that this is a good thing, the right thing.

“We love you too,” Ash breathes out. It takes everything in her to break from the hug and her heart clenches when she has to pull Noah from Ali’s arms as well, especially when the boy starts crying and reaching his arms back out frantically for the brunette.

“It’s the right thing,” Ali says softly, breaking through the chaos of a screaming Noah and letting Ashlyn know that she gets it, that she understands this is something that the blonde needs.

Ashlyn nods as she gives Ali one final smile before buckling a screaming Noah into his car seat and then slipping into the driver’s seat of the Jeep. “It is,” Ash weakly agrees, giving Ali’s hand a final squeeze before turning on the car and pulling out of the driveway of the colonial house that had become a home, before becoming a prison.

 

“What are you so mopey about?”

Chris’s voice pulls Ashlyn from her thoughts and she looks up just in time to dodge a pillow that’s flying at her face. “Nothing,” she grumbles, grabbing the pillow off the floor as she leans back in the recliner and cuddles it to her chest.

“Aren’t you supposed to be excited? Your girl’s about to be on tv,” he teases and watches with a raised eyebrow as Ashlyn’s eyes go wide and she chucks the pillow back at him. “Your son sure is excited about it,” he chuckles, listening to Noah babble about Ali and soccer from his bedroom.

“Shut it,” she growls defensively. “She’s not my girl.”

A silence falls between the siblings as Chris watches Ashlyn’s demeanor. He knows his sister well enough to know when she’s holding back and this is definitely one of those situations. “It’s okay you know,” he says softly, much softer than one would think possible coming from a burly six foot six man with a week old scruff.

“What is?” she asks with a sigh, her eyes still trained on the TV hoping to catch a glimpse of Ali as the teams begin their walkouts onto the field.

Chris rolls his eyes at his sister’s obliviousness. “It’s okay to fall in love again, Ash. That’s what Emma would have wanted.”

She lets the words settle, let’s them hang in the air for a moment while trying to decide how much to let her brother in on. She’s still deciding when she sees the huddle break and Ali jog onto the field, her hair wrapped in a tight bun, her white jersey clinging tightly to her muscled frame, and the words just come tumbling out of her mouth. “I kissed her.”

“What?” Chris’s eyes go wide as he jerks his head from the TV screen to Ashlyn whose eyes are still glued on Ali.

“I kissed her and maybe it got a bit farther than that,” she says quietly, glad that Noah is still in the bedroom digging through her drawers to find his Washington Spirit Krieger jersey.

As much as Chris does not want to hear about his sister rounding the bases with the brunette on their TV screen, he can tell there’s more to it. “And…”

A deep sigh escapes the blonde’s lips as she leans back in the recliner and closes her eyes. “It was…uh…getting heated,” she begins and sees her brother trying to hold back his grimace, but continues anyways. “And we were in my bed when I suddenly realized that was mine and… Emma’s bed. I freaked out and grabbed my coat and left.”

“You get the girl in your bed and just leave her like that?” Chris asks in disbelief, knowing the emotional torture his sister must have been going through to actually be able to do that to Ali.

She weakly nods the guilt creeping back in. “I felt guilty. Loving her makes me feel guilty Chris,” she admits, finally letting her true feelings out. It hurts to admit that she feels guilty loving Ali, the woman who has been compassionate, selfless and loyal to a fault. “I just…I couldn’t be in D.C. anymore. It was eating me from the inside out.”

“Does she know you love her?” Ashlyn nods and he ponders the situation for a moment, his attention no longer on the game that has begun. “You know Emma loved Ali too, Ash. She would want you to be happy. She would want someone to love and care for you and Noah.”

“I know that,” Ash concurs as her eyes go back to the screen where Ali’s team is taking on the Houston Dash in their NWSL season opener. “I just…I can’t get over the fact that I feel like I’m betraying Emma, that I’m pushing her aside and forgetting her memory to make room for memories with another woman.” She hangs her head a bit, unable to meet her brother’s eyes.

“Does Ali know all of this?”

Ash mumbles, “Kind of,” as she glances back up to the TV. “It’s just…it’s not fair to her Chris. I can’t love her like she deserves and like I so desperately want to. I wish I could…but I just…I’m not ready yet.”

“So you think the right thing was to bolt back to Florida?” he asks honestly as Noah finally runs into the room donning his oversized Spirit jersey with KRIEGER plastered across the back shrieking in a high pitched squeal as he sees Ali run across the screen to clear a ball.

As cute as Ashlyn thinks it is that Noah is so excited to watch Ali play, all she can do is try to keep convincing herself that this was the right thing. It’s been a month and instead of missing one person, she now misses two. Noah asks for Ali, looks for her and she knows that Skype dates and phone calls aren’t enough for the boy. He doesn’t understand the process and she knows he misses Ali just as much as she does. But on the other hand, she’s not ready to move on. She’s not ready or able to give herself over to Ali completely and she loves her too much to fake it, to start something that will end in heartbreak. It makes sense. Coming to Florida for some time away, to process her feelings and get back to her old self makes sense. It was the right idea.

That’s what she keep telling herself, keeps repeating in her mind. Coming to Florida was a good decision. Time away from D.C., out of that house, out of that city, was the right call.

At least that’s what she tells herself, until she looks up to the screen just in time to see Ali drop to the ground after a hard challenge, completely lifeless. She pushes up from the reclining chair, making her way over to the TV with wide eyes, Noah right by her side as she watches everyone crowd around a stark still Ali. She feels like she can’t breathe, the demons, the haunting memories of her past come rushing back in as her walls crumble. The trainers rush onto the field, followed by the paramedics with the stretcher as players from both teams frantically signal them onto the field. Her lungs are screaming for air and she hasn’t even thought about breathing, hasn’t thought about herself because all that matters is that Ali hasn’t moved. Hasn’t moved.

“Come on. Be okay, Alex,” Ashlyn pleads while slumped over just as she was before Emma’s grave, her fingers tracing the TV screen where Ali lies, eyes closed on the ground. It hits her like a ton of bricks when she feels helpless looking at Ali lying there motionless and suddenly distance is the last thing she wants from the brunette. She can’t imagine losing her. She can’t imagine her life without Ali and all she wants is to be there, be by her side just like those paramedics are, holding her hands and whispering that everything will be okay in her ear. She might not be ready to give Ali everything, but that doesn’t mean she can’t give her something. That fact resonates even deeper as her pleading whispers of “Get up, Alex,” are suddenly washed out by Noah’s panicked cries of “Up, mommy!” as he smacks the TV screen where Ali is lying on the ground.

With one arm she pulls her frantically crying son into her arms, using the other to type out a text through her own watery eyes.

Alex, please tell me you’re okay. I can’t lose you. Booking my flight home right now.

Chapter Text

Ashlyn doesn’t knock, truthfully she can’t stand that thought of waiting another second and she uses the key Ali had given her before the move to unlock the front door of her apartment. “Alex?” she whispers softly, not sure how the brunette was feeling. The last she had heard the prior night when a teammate returned her text from the hospital was that she was ordered to rest and stay off of her phone for the near future.

She expects to find the apartment dark and silent and thus is surprised when she enters to find the lights on, TV playing and an older gentleman, Ali’s father, sitting on the couch. Her body stiffens at the sudden awkwardness as her eyes trace the apartment for any sign of Ali. “Uhh…hi, Ken,” she begins stammers while uneasily shifting in the doorway.

“Hey, Ashlyn. Ali’s in her bedroom,” Ken says with a nod towards the closed door down the hallway. “You can come in,” he says with a smirk as he watches her shuffle uncomfortably that makes the blonde wonder just how much information he’s privy two regarding her relationship with his daughter.

“Are you…are you sure?” she gets out before clumsily taking a few steps into the room and closing the door behind her when Ken nods with an amused grin still plastered on his face.

The older man stands up and stretches his hands over his head. “I actually have some errands to run so I’ll let you two have some time to catch up,” he supplies casually before grabbing his keys off the counter. He’s just about to pull the door open when Ashlyn calls out to him.

“How is she?” she asks, her quiet voice alerting him to the fact that she’s terrified of the answer.

Ken sighs, his shoulders sagging a bit as he exhales. “She’s confused and in pain, but more so scared. Scared she won’t make it back in time,” he offers, alluding to the fact that the team reports for World Cup residency camp in less than a month. The last concussion she had gotten had kept her down about that long.

“I’ll take care of her,” Ashlyn replies sincerely, her eyes meeting Ken’s as the older man nods in understanding.

“I know you will,” he assures her. “Just don’t…don’t leave her like that again,” he states firmly with narrowed eyes before slipping out of the apartment. His statement makes the blonde well aware of the fact that he was the likely candidate for putting Ali back together when she had moved back to Florida and she quickly swallows down the guilt knowing that this time will be different.

Ashlyn takes a few deep breaths before plodding down the hall. It’s been over a month since she’s seen Ali and her nerves have gotten the best of her. Sure they had talked on the phone and Skyped, often with Noah sneaking into the conversation much to Ali’s amusement, but it’s different. With her realization, the acceptance of her feelings and what they could mean, Ashlyn knows this time is different. With a final sigh, she twists the cool metal knob and pushes the door open.

“Hey you,” she whispers, unable to ignore the way her heart flutters when Ali looks at her with an expression muddled with confusion, her tousled hair and squinty eyes only exaggerating the adorableness.

“Ash?” Ali whispers, unable to believe the blonde is standing in her room, in her apartment, in D.C. at the moment.

Ashlyn flashes Ali a dimpled grin as she makes her way over the bed, nudging Ali gently so she can sit down in the space between her knees and toned arms. “You must have taken a pretty hard knock there, Krieger,” she says in a soft voice as she gently brushes some stray hairs out of Ali’s face which is still twisted in confusion, or pain. She knew they had only spoken on the phone for a minute the night before, and only because Ash wouldn’t stop blowing up her phone, but she figured the defender would at least remember that she was flying out to see her.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Ali says, her eyes still squinted as she turns her cheek to rest it on Ashlyn’s warm palm. “Thank you for coming,” she says, closing her eyes as she relishes the contact, her jumbled mind not forgetting what had happened the last time they had been in this position, what had happened after Ashlyn had laid her hand so gently on her cheek. She couldn’t remember the tackle, the flight home or the call with Jill about her roster spot, but that memory with Ashlyn was so deeply ingrained, twisted into her synapses that she feels her heart rate spiking and wonders if having the blonde around is actually a good thing for her health at the moment.

Ashlyn can sense the change. She can see the way Ali’s eyes close, but then tighten at the contact and begins to withdraw her hand when Ali’s hand stops her. “Leave it,” she hears the brunette whisper and a smile creeps across Ashlyn’s face. “How are you feeling?”

“Been better,” Ali mumbles, finally opening her eyes again. Though the room is still pitch black, her eyes have adjusted after being there for hours and she can make out the soft features in Ashlyn’s face, most notably the dimple that makes her heart flutter. “When do you go back?” she asks quietly, needing to know exactly how much time she has with the blonde before she returns to Florida.

“When do you leave for camp?” the blonde replies with a cheesy grin and she can feel Ali’s smile against the palm of her hand.

The brunette sits up a bit, supporting herself on her elbows as she looks deep into the blonde’s eyes for any hint of teasing. “Are you serious?” Her smile grows wider when the blonde nods. “What about-“

“Noah’s with his grandparents right now,” she cuts Ali off, already reading where the brunette’s mind was going as her eyes searched the space behind her. “He’s going to be rambunctious to see you and I thought I should see how you were before I brought an excited, screaming toddler to your apartment,” she supplies with a chuckle, remembering how Noah wouldn’t stop babbling about how happy he was to see Ali and all of the fun things they were going to do together.

“I would have rather seen him than you,” Ali deadpans and for a moment Ashlyn’s heart clenches at Ali’s honest confession until she sees a smirk creep across the brunette’s lips.

“I could leave and have him take care of you for the next couple weeks,” Ash replies, equally as serious as she pretends to slip off the bed. “I hear he makes a mean glass of water,” she adds for effect, laughing when she feels Ali tugging on her arm. The blonde falls back onto the bed trying to contain her laughter when Ali playfully slaps her, but her laughter quickly stops when she sees the serious glimmer in Ali’s eyes despite the raging concussion. “What?” she asks, her own eyes narrowing in confusion.

“You’re seriously staying? I thought…I thought you sold the house?”

“Well, I was…I was going to stay here, with you if that’s okay? Noah can stay at Emma’s parent’s house. I know how wild he can get, especially around you,” she chuckles, remembering the countless nights she would come home and find Ali and Noah crawling around the living room on all fours roaring while pretending they were dinosaurs or dogs or whatever Noah had cooked up in his imagination for them.

Ali shakes her head gently. “I want him here with us…if that’s okay,” she quickly adds, not sure what Ashlyn being there actually meant for them. Part of her felt it was just Ashlyn repaying her for the last year, but something told her there was more too it.

“Yeah?” Ashlyn asks with a smile. “I think he would love that too,” she says as her hands go to Ali’s hair and begin stroking it, loving the cool, silky feeling flowing through her fingers.

As much as Ali wants to stay up, to fight through the pain and exhaustion that’s running rampant in her body, the soothing sensation of Ashlyn’s fingers running through her hair and the blonde’s calming demeanor is doing wonders to give her the sleep she has been so desperately seeking. She tries to fight it, tries to bury a yawn in her sleeve, but Ashlyn is quick to catch it and knows exactly what the brunette is trying to do.

“I’m not going anywhere, Alex,” she whispers. “We can talk when you get up, okay?”

“Mmkay,” she mumbles while rolling over so her back is to the blonde, sleep coming to her quickly with the peaceful tone of the her voice resonating through the soft lull of the room. She murmurs something else into the pillow and Ashlyn isn’t quite sure she hears it correctly until feels Ali tug on her wrist. “Hold me,” she mumbles again and this time Ashlyn catches it and complies, slipping into bed behind the brunette before wrapping her tightly in her arms.

“Sleep tight, Alex,” she whispers, smiling with the brunette in her arms as sleep slowly overcomes her nerve-wracked as well.

Chapter Text

“Where’s my dad?” Ali asks through a yawn as she saunters into the living room after a long nap and finds Ashlyn curled up on the couch wrapped in blankets.

Ashlyn’s eyes are quick to find Ali and she shifts to reveal a sleeping boy curled into her midsection as a warning to keep quiet. “I sent him home. I…I hope that was okay,” Ash replies with a sheepish grin as she sits up farther and makes room for Ali. She meant what she said about taking care of her, but she didn’t know how Ali felt about it all.

Ali waves her off and scoots onto the couch, pulling Noah’s head into her lap so she can run her fingers through his jet black hair. “He’s getting so big,” she pouts as she slips a finger into his balled up fist.

Ashlyn just nods and watches the interaction. Even through the pain, and confusion of her concussion she can tell how much Ali missed Noah. It’s a fact that makes her heart sink and she knows she has some explaining to do, especially when she had seen the extent of Noah’s love for Ali the night before. “Can…can we talk?” she asks cautiously. “Are you feeling up for that?” She waits with baited breath for an answer. As much as she wants to make sure Ali feels well enough to talk, she think she might explode if she has to keep her feelings in any longer.

“It’s always best right after I wake up,” she points to her head with a soft smile to give the blonde permission to continue.

She lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding as her hand finds Ali’s from underneath the blanket. “I’ve been thinking a lot,” she begins, her eyes already becoming glassy with emotion. “And as much as Florida was a good thing for Noah and I, it still felt wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I was struggling here, but in running from the darkness I was also running from the light. You didn’t deserve that and I’m so sorry that I kept that from you. I just…I didn’t know how to deal with it all. The constant pull, the feelings of guilt and remorse. It was so hard and when my mom began to talk about me coming home and being with family, I thought that might be the right move.”

Ali holds up a finger to silence her. “I get why you left, Ash. I really do. And as much as I hated you for it at the time, I can see with my own eyes that it was the right thing for you. You seem happier, lighter and that’s all I want for you. You know that.”

They sit in silence for a moment as both women process what the other has said. Ashlyn is racking her brain trying to come up with a tactful way to say what she’s been remiss to admit, but the words quickly come stumbling out without any grace, unable to be pent up for another moment. “I wish I could love you the way you deserve to be loved.” Her breath catches in her throat and she can’t believe she actually said the words, especially when she sees Ali’s face scrunch in confusion. She knows there’s no going back, she can’t blame it on the concussion or hope that Ali forgets her confession. It’s time to stop running and fight for what she wants even if it’s going to be a long battle.

“Let me try that again,” she begins with a nervous chuckle and lets out a sigh of relief when she sees Ali’s hardened expression soften. “I love you, Alex. The thought terrifies me, like it actually petrifies me, but I can’t ignore it anymore. You have been so amazing through everything and I can’t pinpoint when it happened because I think I was trying so hard to convince myself it wasn’t real. I want nothing more than to give you everything you deserve, to shower you with love, but…I can’t, Alex.” She sees Ali’s face drop again, her hand stroking Noah’s back still and she quickly continues before she gets the wrong idea. “Yet. I can’t be that for you yet. It’s going to take time and I know there’s going to be times when I freak out, but I want to get there with you. I don’t want to start something if I can’t give my all because that’s what you deserve, Alex. You deserve the sun, the moon and the stars and until I can be that for you, until I can commit like that, I don’t think it’s fair to you.”

Ali’s eyes narrow a bit as she tries to hold back the tears while squeezing Ashlyn’s hand. She thinks she knows what Ashlyn is saying, but the blonde just keeps rambling on and suddenly she’s not so sure. “What are you telling me, Ash?” She drops her eyes to the sleeping boy in lap, wondering if he’s going to be taken away from her again. It was painful the first time and she’s not quite sure she can handle a second.

“Time. I just need some time,” Ashlyn whispers as if she feels guilty even asking. “We need to take it slow. Does that make sense?”

When Ali sees the blonde’s hopeful, but guilty expression she knows exactly what she’s asking for. “Ash, I would never push you into something you’re not ready for. I love you and I love Noah and I want you both in my life.” The blonde’s face lights up and as much as Ali just wants to wrap her up in her arms, she knows she needs to lay down the law. It’s all been on Ashlyn’s terms so far and she wouldn’t have had it any other way with the grief she was trying to work through. It’s different this time though. The feelings are all out there, nothing left unsaid and Ali just needs some assurance before she puts herself all in, before she agrees to wait for the woman she knows she would wait her entire life for. “I just…I need to know that this is going somewhere, Ash. I understand it will take time and that sometimes it’s going to be hard for us and there’s going to be fights and tears and times when we just don’t understand, but I need to know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t…I can’t have you leave and take Noah away again without so much as a warning. It broke me when you did that and I won’t survive it another time.”

Her voice is firm as is her expression, but Ashlyn can sense the fear behind it and she knows she’s not the only one who’s walking into unchartered waters. She squeezes Ali’s hand tightly. “Alex, I want this. I promise I do. And I know it’s not fair to ask you to wait because you’ve already been nothing short of amazing, but I just want to be able to give you all of me. I-“

Ali playfully rolls her eyes and places a finger on the blonde’s lips to silence her. Ash looks up at her quizzically until she sees the brunette crack into a smile, the type of smile she hasn’t seen since before she left for Florida. “Okay,” Ali whispers and leans over Noah to rest her forehead on the blonde’s chest, feeling calmed by the rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing. “I want this too,” she adds, her breath blowing down the collar of the blonde’s shirt. “I want you. Both of you,” she adds, pulling back to meet Ashlyn’s eyes with her hand still resting softly on Noah’s back.

“We’re yours,” Ashlyn breathes out before leaning and placing a light kiss on Ali’s cheek. “We’re all yours.”

“Doesn’t he get a say in this?” Ali teases, flicking her eyes down to Noah as she giggles at the small pile of drool pooling on her pant leg.

With a smirk Ashlyn pulls back the blanket resting over her son to reveal him in a USA jersey, with KRIEGER sprawled across his shoulders. “I think he made his decision already,” she says with a wink, deciding to table the fact that he called Ali mommy when she was hurt, before pulling the brunette into a tight embrace.

Chapter Text

“Morning!” comes a squeal from the doorway and when Ali’s eyes shoot open from being startled her hand immediately goes to her head which is pounding. She hears Ashlyn tell her son that he was supposed to be quiet, followed by another “good morning,” in a loud, drawn out whisper.

“Morning,” she grumbles and when she opens up one eye to see Noah standing in the doorway concentrating on holding a tray with some cut up fruit and a plate of pancakes and Ashlyn standing behind him with a cup of orange juice, suddenly the headache doesn’t seem so bad. She wonders what’s keeping Noah from bounding into the room since he hadn't seen her in almost a month, but through the dim light cast into the room from the hallway she can see the blonde’s hand holding onto his shoulder tightly. “Come here,” she says, pulling the covers back a bit so Noah can snuggle in with her.

He shoots an impatient look to his mother and Ashlyn nods and releases him from her grip, grabbing the tray from his hands just before he hops up onto the bed and into Ali’s arms. “Missed ya!” he whisper yells and all Ali can do is playfully roll her eyes at his attempt to be quiet. She knows he’s excited to see her and wraps him up tightly in her arms as Ashlyn rearranges everything on the tray and sets it carefully on her lap.

“Room for one more?” she asks cautiously with a glance to the bed when she sees her son already snuggled up in Ali’s arms adorably, his head resting on the brunette’s chest.

“You’re already trying to get into my bed?” Ali asks with a raised eyebrow and narrowed eyes. “What happened to taking it slow?” she asks indignantly.

The teasing glint in her eyes lets Ashlyn know she’s joking and the blonde just quietly makes her way to the other side of the bed and sinks down onto it. “Gross. My son is in the room,” she deadpans and nods towards Noah who is now sitting up in Ali’s lap, but her lips quickly curl up into a smile when Ali looks at her with a highly skeptical expression.

Noah is quick to break through the playful banner as he gently pokes Ali’s cheek and points to the food that he was so excited about delivering. “Want to help me eat this delicious food?” she asks and he quickly nods while she pulls the tray closer to her and begins cutting up the food.

They share a quick breakfast together, Ali and Ash taking turns feeding Noah while softly making animal, airplane and train noises as they zoomed the fork towards him and as Ashlyn goes to slip out of the bed to take it back to the kitchen to clean up, she feels a light tug on her flannel shirt sleeve.

“Thank you for this,” Ali says when she turns to meet her gaze expectantly. “I really appreciate it.”

The blonde offers her a soft smile in return as she slides off the bed and plucks the tray from Ali’s lap. “Word on the street is that there’s some big soccer tournament coming up and the USA really needs this star defender to get healthy or something like that. I’m just doing my patriotic duty,” Ash says with a playful wink before walking out of the room with the tray of dirty dishes in her hand.

 

The next week drags on, each day similar to the last. Ali shuts herself in her darkened room, sometimes sleeping, sometimes inviting Ash and Noah to lay with her as they sit in the dark and slowly she begins to return to her old self. The mood swings, which Ashlyn expertly navigated -without mentioning that she had a lot of practice after dealing with a toddler- had disappeared, her headaches were less frequent and when they did occur they weren’t as much a piercing, throbbing pain as they were a light dull pulse, and her memory had seemed to settle which meant Ashlyn was no longer finding the almond milk in the cupboard and cereal boxes in the fridge.

Ashlyn had been there for a week sleeping on the couch before Ali finally broke the silence on the matter when she wandered into the living room to find the blonde massaging her neck. “You know you can sleep in my bed, right?” she asks her voice serious, yet timid as if she didn’t know if she was stepping over some boundary. Ashlyn wanted time and she was more than willing to give that to her, but she felt bad that the blonde kept waking up with neck cramps since she was taller than the couch was long. “I’m not going to jump you in the middle of the night,” she adds with a chuckle to break any tension that might build up.

With a deep sigh Ashlyn nods. “I know, Alex. I just…I think it’s better for now if I stay out on the couch,” she admits weakly.

Respecting her wishes, Ali nods as she comes up behind the blonde. “I get it. Just thought I’d offer,” she says with genuine understanding as her fingers go to Ashlyn’s shoulders, finding the knots that had built up there after a week on the couch. She spends a few minutes working her fingers over the blonde’s taut muscles, trying to keep her hands from wandering anywhere else. The last thing she wanted was to scare Ashlyn off. Sure they cuddled while watching movies and held hands occasionally, but the boundary had been set regarding intimacy and Ali wasn’t going to be the one to cross the line. “Is Noah with his grandparents?” she asks, finally pulling her hands off the blonde’s warm shoulders as she makes her way to the kitchen to grab a glass of water.

“Yeah she should be dropping him off soon actually,” she replies, letting out a curse word when her eyes lift to see the time. She grabs her phone from her pocket and clicks the power button only to find that it’s dead just as there’s a knock on the door. “That’s probably them,” she adds, trying to hop up from the couch to grab the door before Ali can.

She’s too late and as soon as Ali pulls it open, there’s a little boy wrapped around her legs shrieking her name. “Hey handsome,” Ali says with a warm smile as she squats down and pulls Noah into her arms, planting a kiss on his cheek. A throat clears and Ali looks up into the eyes of Emma’s mother. “Hey,” she weakly offers, remembering what this woman had made Ashlyn feel regarding their relationship before they had even realized the nature of it themselves.

“How was he?” Ashlyn asks as she makes her way to the door and hugs Emma’s mom to cut through some of the tension.

“Good. Always wonderful although he couldn’t stop babbling about soccer,” she replies, adding a laugh that seems forced at the end of it.

Ali awkwardly shuffles on her feet and sets Noah down when he begins to wriggle in her arms. “Gotta pee!” he squeals and Ashlyn shoots Ali an apologetic smile for what she’s about to do before tearing down the hall after Noah before he can make a mess of the bathroom.

“Thanks for…uh…thanks for bringing Noah back,” she says, her confidence faltering under the woman’s intense gaze.

The other woman, thirty years her senior, places a hand on Ali’s arm until she looks up. “I don’t know what’s going on between you and Ashlyn, but I can tell that my grandson loves you very much.”

Her voice is much softer than Ali would have anticipated considering the nature of the conversation and she’s about to come to her own defense when the woman continues. “I have done quite a bit of grieving myself the last year and a half and I have come to realize that just because Ashlyn loves someone else, doesn’t mean that she loved my daughter any less. Emma would want her to be happy, both of them to be happy and I can see that you care for both of them. That’s all my daughter would want, the best for those two and that’s all I want.”

It’s strange, that getting Emma’s mother’s blessing would feel so liberating, but for some reason Ali breathes out a sigh of relief. Maybe it’s because she realizes she’s not about to be chastised by the woman or maybe it’s because being accepted by Emma’s family, Noah’s family, is just as important to her as being accepted by Ashlyn’s family. “I really appreciate you saying that,” Ali begins with a smile, uncrossing her arms from in front of her chest. “I…I never wanted to take your daughter’s place,” she adds honestly, getting choked up at the thought of it all. “I wish she was here and I’m forever haunted by the fact that this isn’t my life to live, that it should be her here. But I’m here and I won’t take it for granted for one second. I love both of them so much and I really do think there’s some space left in their hearts to love me too. I promise I won’t let them down. I won’t let Emma down.”

The older woman breaks into a crooked smile and looks into the apartment past Ali before nodding her head and slipping out of the doorway and back down the hall. “Oh yeah?” she hears from behind her and turns around to see a grinning Ashlyn standing there holding Noah in her arms.

“Yeah,” Ali replies with a bashful grin as she throws her arms around the two Harris's.

Chapter Text

“Alex,” Ash whispers as she sinks down onto Ali’s bed and gently strokes her hair. She smiles when Ali just grumbles and curls up tighter around her and as much as she wishes she could just curl up in bed with her she knows they have places to be and Ali would kill her if she decided not to wake her up for it. “You need to wake up, Alex,” she tries again and with the hand not in Ali’s hair, gently jostles her arm.

“Mmmm, five more minutes,” Ali mumbles with her words sticking together, her head pounding at the moment.

With a deep sigh, Ashlyn gives in to the adorableness and leans back against the headboard and continues running her fingers gently through Ali’s hair as she waits for a few more minutes to pass. It’s been a week and a half since the concussion and though Ali appears recovered to everyone on the outside –she’s attending Spirit practices, doing event signings and keeping up with her friends and family- Ashlyn knows how she’s really feeling. Only Ashlyn is privy to the late night headaches and early morning nausea that occasionally creeps up. Even thought they both know there’s still time, that Ali doesn’t report to camp for over two weeks, Ashlyn can tell the doubt is starting to seep up. She hadn’t been around when Ali missed the Olympics after tearing her ACL, but from the way the brunette got choked up whenever talking about the missed opportunity, she can tell where Ali’s mind is at.

After another couple minutes, she knows she can’t afford to let Ali sleep any longer. If Ashlyn thought she took long to get ready before, having a concussion slowed the process down considerably. She wasn’t sure how many times she had heard, ‘where’d I leave my mascara?’ that week, so much so that Ash had gone out and bought five so there was one in every room and Ali didn’t have to strain herself thinking about it or looking for them. “Alex, you really need to get up,” she says softly and jostles the brunette with a little more force. Ali was usually an easy riser, the type to throw the covers off and hop out of bed to welcome the day, the morning person type to get up and have coffee before the sun had risen, so even though this was late afternoon Ash could tell the struggle was concussion related.

Ali slowly opens her eyes, but quickly clamps them back shut and lets out a groan when the soft daylight glow sneaking in from the living room seeps into her eyes. “Go away,” she grumbles and rolls over so her back is towards Ashlyn. Her head is throbbing and the last thing she wants to do is move from her bed.

“Can I get you anything? How is your head feeling?” Ashlyn tries. She knows if she can actually get Ali talking, the chances of her getting out of bed are higher.

“It hurts,” she murmurs and Ashlyn barely makes it out through the plethora of pillows and blankets Ali utters it through. “Bad.”

“Is this just a ploy to get out of meeting your parents for dinner?” Ashlyn says with a chuckle to lighten the mood. “I know your mom is coming in from Miami so I promise I’ll be on my best behavior if that helps.” She doesn’t even have time to react before a pillow is plowing into her ribs and she smiles despite it when she hears the slightest giggle escape from Ali’s lips. It’s a sound she thinks she would honestly do anything to hear.

“What time is it?” Ali asks when she finally rolls over and opens one eye a bit to see the blonde sitting on the side of her bed. Her heart skips a beat when she sees that Ash is already ready for dinner in tight, dark gray pants and a navy blue three quarter button up shirt. Her hair is thrown in loose waves over her shoulders with the gold watch Ali had gotten her last Christmas proudly displayed on her wrist.

“Almost 5,” Ashlyn begins, but doesn’t get further before she gets smacked with a pillow again.

Ali sits up, her hand immediately going to her head as she glares at Ashlyn from in between the fingers wrapped around her face. “Dinner's at six,” she hisses, her voice not able to rise above that at the moment due to the pulsing headache. “That’s not enough time.”

Ashlyn just shrugs and gently brushes some hair out of Ali’s face. “I tried,” she supplies casually, trying not to laugh when the brunette with adorable bed head and pillow marks on her face tries to give her a death stare. She plants a kiss on Ali’s cheek and pulls her tightly into her arms. “I’ll go get the shower ready for you, okay?” she supplies and she feels Ali nod against her chest. Showers have been Ali’s saving grace when it comes to her headaches. With another kiss to Ali’s cheek, Ash slips off the bed and makes her way to the bathroom to prep it for Ali before sauntering back into the living room where her son is occupied with an Avengers coloring book.

A few hours later, Ali and Ashlyn are sprawled out on the large gray sectional in the middle of the living room after dinner watching Ken play with Noah and his cars on the floor when Ken gets an idea. “Want to see something neat?” he asks, and watches Noah lift his head in confusion. “Want to see the soccer field where I taught Ali to be a superstar?” he asks referring to their backyard with a wide grin and shoots a wink to his daughter when Noah’s eyes light up and he begins clapping excitedly.

Noah jumps up from the floor and grabs Ali’s hand. “C’mon, Ali!” he says exaggeratedly and tries to tug her off the couch.

Ashlyn gently grabs her son's hand and pulls him over to her to fix his bowtie. “Noah, remember we have to be careful with Ali’s ouchie,” she says softly and points to the brunette’s head, and it makes Ali giggle at how Ashlyn can still look so sexy while saying the word ‘ouchie’ to her son. “She’s not feeling too good today, buddy.”

The adults in the room watch the interaction for a moment before Ali pulls her head off of the pillow in Ashlyn’s lap and places her hand on the blonde’s arm. “It’s okay, Ash. I’m feeling a bit better.” She looks at her for approval and Ashlyn reluctantly nods, but still keeps a grip on Noah’s arm.

“Alright,” she sighs, hoping Noah’s happy squeals won’t pierce Ali’s head too much once outside. “But try to keep your voice down, okay?” she says sternly to her son who just nods quickly in an attempt to be released quicker.

Ali gets up off the couch and puts her hand on Noah’s bank to guide him outside to the backyard. “You coming old man?” she asks her dad who is still laying on the floor and gently nudges him in the ribs with her foot.

“Coming, mama?” Noah asks, but Ashlyn shakes her head as she sees Deb slip off the couch and head into the kitchen.

“You get started, handsome. I’m going to help clean up dinner and then I’ll be out okay?” She smiles when Noah barely registers that she said no, just caring that Ali is holding his hand and walking him outside with Ali’s dad following behind him. “Take it easy on them, Noah!” she teases, laughing when Ali turns around and sticks her tongue out.

After watching them make their way out the back door Ashlyn turns and walks into the kitchen where Deb has begun stacking the dishes from the table beside the sink. She takes her place next to the older woman who is a spitting image of Ali plus twenty some years and begins to rinse the dishes before setting them in the dishwasher to the right of her.

“You don’t have to do that, dear,” Deb says softly as she takes her place next to Ashlyn again and sets down a large, dirty glass baking dish which had held a turkey. “I may not live here anymore, but I still know my way around the kitchen,” she says with a wink, alluding to the fact that she had done most of the cooking when she and Ken had still been together.

Ashlyn just shrugs and keeps stacking the dishes in the dishwasher. “I don’t mind. You shouldn’t have to be stuck in here by yourself,” she offers and Deb smiles warmly back at her.

They stand there in silence for a few moments, Deb rinsing the dishes and Ash placing them in the dishwasher before Deb finally breaks through the silence. “My daughter loves that little boy of yours,” she supplies with a chuckle. “He’s all she talks about on the phone.”

“The feeling is definitely mutual,” she replies with a laugh of her own, thinking to how Noah often refuses to listen to her when Ali is around and only takes orders from the brunette.

“And you’re okay with that?” Deb asks plainly, not beating around the bush. She hasn’t ever had a conversation alone with the blonde before and wants to know that her daughter isn’t going to have her heartbroken.

With a sigh, Ash turns so that her back is resting on the granite counter. Her arms cross over her chest and she levels her eyes with the older woman. “Are you asking if I’m okay with having my son attached to a woman who isn’t his mother?” Deb nods and Ashlyn lets out a long exhale. “Surprisingly, it’s never really bothered me,” she replies evenly while thinking about the magnitude of Noah’s love for Ali. “He uh…he called her mommy to the TV the other day when he was upset that she got hurt in the Houston game.”

Deb’s eyes go wide and she realizes from the blonde’s troubled expression that this isn’t information her daughter is privy to. “I’m guessing you didn’t tell her?” she asks for clarification.

Ashlyn shakes her head and uncrosses her arms, letting them dangle at her sides. “No, ma’am. And he hasn’t said it to her face or anything either. It’s probably only a matter of time though,” she reasons, knowing that kids Noah’s age just let things slip out of their mouths without knowing the impact of their words.

“How does that make you feel?” Deb asks, her face serious as she tries to get a read on the blonde. She’d heard things from Ali about how their progressing and working on things, but wants to hear it straight from the blonde. It wouldn’t be the first time her daughter was blinded by love and she can only hope this isn’t a similar situation to Germany.

With a shrug Ash turns back to the counter and rests on her elbows when she feels herself getting choked up. The last thing she wants is for Ali’s mother to see her getting upset. “I…I guess I’m alright with it. I know it’s not like he’s not meaning it disrespectfully to Emma. He’s too young to understand it all and all I want is for him to be happy,” she adds as if that’s really all that matters in the situation. “My son loving your daughter isn’t the issue,” she chuckles.

“If it’s okay for your son to love my daughter like that, then why can’t you?” Deb asks pointedly, wanting the blonde to understand both sides of it.

Ashlyn’s eyes go wide at the blunt question and suddenly she realizes Ali’s personality might not all be from her time in Germany as she levels her eyes with Deb. “I uhh…um…” she stutters, trying to find the right words. She does love Ali, but that’s not the issue.

Deb puts her hands up in surrender as she takes in the stammering blonde before her, knowing she drove her point home. “I don’t mean to pressure you,” Deb supplies and sets her hand gently on Ashlyn’s arm to calm her. “I can’t imagine what you went through, Ashlyn and only you will ever know what’s going on up there,” she says and gently points to the blonde’s head. “I just want you to understand that it’s okay. It’s okay to let yourself love and be loved again, just as your son has. He may be young and not understand all the feelings involved, but look at how happy he is,” she reasons and points out the kitchen window which overlooks the backyard, where Noah is riding Ali’s back with a beaming grin as they chase Ken around and try to steal the ball back. “Maybe if you let yourself be free, you could be that happy too,” she adds with a shrug as if it’s the simplest thing in the world.

“Maybe,” Ash replies with a soft smile, her mind churning as she watches her son play with the Kriegers, pure joy written across his adorable face. She can see her son play and love with reckless abandon and thinks that maybe Deb is right, maybe she does need to be a bit more like her son.

“Go out there with them,” Deb says, pulling Ashlyn from her thoughts with a light nudge towards the door. Ashlyn just looks back at her like she’s about to object, but Deb puts a hand up to silence her. “This might not be my house anymore, but I can still make the rules,” she reasons, her eyes housing seriousness that makes Ashlyn wonder how Ali and her brother ever survived pissing this woman off during their childhood. “Go,” she orders and points to the door, her face softening a bit when Ashlyn dumbly nods.

She’s about to step outside, when she turns around and calls out to Deb to get her attention. The older woman looks up from the dish she’s scrubbing with an expectant gaze. “I just want you to know that I do love your daughter very much,” she says unwaveringly, her eyes locked with Deb’s to convey how serious she is. Her love for Ali has never been in question and she wants Ali’s mother to understand that.

Deb’s face softens and she smiles while gently nodding. “I know you do, sweetheart. And If and when you are ready for that next step, Ken and I will be more than happy to welcome you and your son into our family.”

“Thank you,” Ashlyn replies sincerely, fighting back the tears caused by the woman’s warm welcome before she slips outside to help Ken survive Noah and Ali’s tag team.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you’re leaving tomorrow already,” Ash says solemnly as she holds a sleeping Noah in her arms, his head resting on her chest. They had spent the last day exploring D.C. together and Ashlyn had the task of carrying the exhausted boy back once his legs had finally tired. After a long day of adventures, they had finally settled into Ali’s apartment on the microfiber couch that had become a bit dirtier after having a toddler in the house for several weeks.

Ali just nods and snuggles into the blonde closer. “I know,” she agrees sadly, knowing she has to broach a subject she’s been avoiding. “Ash, I need to talk to you about something,” she begins, and looks up to see the blonde’s eyes full of trepidation.

“What is it, Alex?” she asks in concern, shifting Noah so that she can sit up a bit.

“What happens now? I go travel around North America, you two go back to Florida and then what? These last three weeks having you two around, though stressful at times,” she says with a chuckle to break through the tension, “has still been amazing. I…I know we’re not together, but where do we go from here?” There was more that she wanted to say, but she wanted to feel Ashlyn out first. Although they had been a lot more openly affectionate in terms of cuddling, hugs and the occasional hand holding, there was a distinct line that they hadn’t crossed. Ashlyn had said she needed time and Ali respected that, but if they weren’t actually together she didn’t know what that meant when they stopped playing house and had to carry on with their lives.

The question catches Ashlyn off guard a bit, though she knows she should have seen it coming as soon as the words leave Ali’s mouth. “I don’t know,” she confesses, her eyes dropping down to her sleeping son. She hadn’t thought too much about their future besides the fact that she wants Ali in it, and she knows her son feels the same way. “Can I tell you something without freaking you out?”

Ali’s eyes narrow a bit as she adjusts on the couch, scooting out of Ashlyn’s hold so she can face the blonde. She nods and bites her bottom lip as she waits for whatever blow the blonde is sure to deliver.

“Last month when you got hurt in that game, we were watching it on TV…” She sees Ali slowly nod, encouraging her to go on. “And I was kneeling before the TV begging you to get up.” Ali tenses a bit at the thought of Ashlyn having to go through that terrifying ordeal again, of thinking she might lose someone else she loves, but the blonde catches her remorse and gives her hand a reassuring squeeze and smile. “Well…Noah was by my side and he started hitting the TV like he was trying to wake you up and he…he kept saying ‘get up, mommy’.” She finishes weakly and watches as the white’s of Ali’s eyes nearly double in an instant.

“Ash, I never-“ she starts but is cut off by Ashlyn who already knows where the brunette’s mind is going. She can see the pride flicker through Ali's eyes and knows how deeply touched she is that Noah could think of her in that type of capacity.

“Ali, it’s okay,” she quickly gets out, holding her hand in the air to calm her and she smiles when she sees Ali relax, her shoulders sinking a bit as she settles back down. “I didn’t want to freak you out. I’m only telling you this because…” her voice trails off as she tries to find the right way to express her feelings. She knows what she needs to say, what she wants to say, but just isn’t quite sure how to word it. Looking up to meet Ali’s eyes, she quickly realizes it doesn’t matter how she says it, just that it’s said. “I told you that because I want you to know how important you are to him…and to me. I don’t know where we go after this, but I know that me and him just aren’t quite the same when you’re not around. So whatever comes after the World Cup, we’ll figure it out, okay?”

Ali nods and bites her bottom lip, hoping Ashlyn can’t see the hesitation, but when the blonde’s eyes narrow she knows it’s time to come clean. “I’m pretty deep in talks with a team from Sweden, Ash,” she says quietly. “The same team that had an offer for me last year.” She expects Ashlyn to react wildly, but the blonde just looks back at her expectantly waiting for her to continue. “After you left for Florida I just needed a fresh start too so I had my agent contact some teams. I…I didn’t want to stay in D.C. and couldn’t go back to Germany because of the memories. I needed something new.”

“Really?” she asks, her voice a bit tentative, but she quickly tries to still her face before Ali can get a read on it.

The brunette nods and slips her hand into Ashlyn’s. As she tells her she might be going away, the only comfort she can find is that she has Ashlyn before her now. “Yeah. I haven’t signed anything, but they’re counting on the World Cup boost and the salary is huge. Tyreso is willing to pay three times what I get here and they’re top of the Swedish league and just qualified for the Champions League which is an amazing opportunity for me.”

“Sweden, huh?” Ash asks, her heart beginning to beat a bit faster at the prospect of Ali leaving again. She knows Ali being an ocean away is going to be tough, but who is she to hold a grudge when she did the same thing for her fresh start. After all Ali has done, it’s time for her to support her unequivocally. “You think you could get this little guy a custom jersey?” she asks, her eyes twinkling a bit in the dimly lit apartment. “He has quite the collection growing and I’m sure he’ll want the latest Tyreso one to add when we watch your games.”

“You’re not…mad?” Ali asks in perplexed tone, trying to fight back the smile forming on her lips when she heard Ashlyn try and fail miserably to pronounce the Swedish team’s name.

Ashlyn lets out a chuckle and brings Ali’s fingers to her lips to kiss. “It’s a great opportunity for you, Alex. Athletic careers don’t have a long shelf-life so you need to take the opportunities when you can,” she says with a shrug. It’s amazing that telling Ali to go play soccer on another continent can make her feel so bubbly, but she assumes that’s the love talking, the need to put Ali before herself. “Besides, I think we both know you already blew off Europe for me once,” she adds with narrowed eyes and a knowing look.

Ali bites her lip and nods, finally admitting something that neither of them had addressed. “I couldn’t leave you,” she says nonchalantly as if it isn’t a big deal that she turned down almost six figures for the blonde the prior year.

“You should sign with them,” Ashlyn counters, her voice confident and firm. She wants Ali to know she’s serious, that this isn’t something she can afford to pass up again. “If that’s what you want to do, you should sign, Alex. Like I said, we’ll figure it out as we go. I’ll support you in whatever you decide.”

Ali lets go of her hand and places her palm on Ashlyn’s cheek, holding her head steady as she studies the blonde’s face. She sees the assurance, the confidence that had been missing for so long and she can’t help but smile. She wants nothing more than to lean in and kiss the blonde on her lips, but settles for her cheek instead. “I’ll think about it,” she says with nose crinkling grin. “Oh that reminds me, I have presents for you two!” she says excitedly, clapping her hands loud enough that Noah jerks awake, smacking Ash in the nose with his head.

“Aw, shit!” the blonde groans, her hand flying up to her nose which is throbbing in pain.

“Aw, shit!” Noah repeats emphatically like a parrot and both Ali and Ashlyn’s eyes go wide as they try to contain their shocked laughter. “Awwww shit!” he says again, louder this time, egged on by their wide grins and erupting laughter.

Ashlyn shoots Ali a glare with a clenched jaw, her hand still on her nose which thankfully hasn’t started bleeding. She knows that Noah is a heavy sleeper, but is easily startled when he wakes up abruptly. The brunette slips off the couch with a sheepish grin leaving Ash to deal with Noah’s first curse word and digs through her bedroom closet to pull out two gift wrapped boxes. She plods back into the living room with a smile, hoping the present will take Noah’s attention off his new favorite word. Ashlyn is holding his arms tightly with him standing in her lap facing her, warning him not to use that word, when his eyes light up at the sight of the gifts in Ali’s arms. He wiggles from his mother’s grasp and sprints to Ali.

“PRESENTS!” he shrieks, and Ali just laughs as she shrugs and shoots a fuming Ashlyn an apologetic grin.

“There’s one here for you too, grumpy,” she says sweetly and places a larger box in the blonde’s lap.

Ash just groans in response and pulls Ali back down onto the couch with them as Noah starts tearing through the paper around his box. “COOL!” he yells, his eyes going wide when he pulls out two brand new jerseys, one blue and one white, which mirror the ones Ali and her teammates will be wearing in Canada, FIFA Women’s World Cup Patch and all, as they represent the United States against the rest of the world.

Ashlyn’s irritated expression slips off her face when she pulls out her own adult sized jerseys. “These are sick, Ali,” she says with a smile as she runs her fingers over the cool fabric, smiling when she sees the brunette’s name reaching shoulder to shoulder, something she’ll wear proudly each game and probably most days in between as well.

Ali notices her smile drop a bit after a moment and nudges Ashlyn. “Hey, what’s wrong?” she asks seriously, holding in the laughter bubbling up as she sees Noah trying to get the new jersey over his head on top of the sweater he was already wearing.

“These are really nice, but next time, can you maybe get me my favorite player’s jersey?” Ali eyes her skeptically for a moment so she continues. “That Alex Morgan chick is pretty hot,” she adds with a cocky smirk, and immediately sees Ali’s eyes go wide.

“Watch it, Harris,” she grumbles, though the teasing glint in her eyes takes the sting out of her warning.

Ashlyn sits back on the couch, folding her hands behind her head. “Or what?” she replies smugly.

It only takes one glance to Noah to get the boy’s attention and Ali just smiles wickedly at the blonde. She looks back at Noah and yells, “Tickle attack!” before they both launch into a full on assault on the blonde who is soon breathless and begging for mercy.

Chapter Text

“Hey you!” Ali exclaims after accepting the call from her favorite blonde. Her excitement level was already pretty high for their semi-final game versus Germany the next day, but any chance she got to talk with Ashlyn made her heart soar.

“Hey there!” Ashlyn replies, her voice equally as giddy. “How are you feeling?” she asks, knowing the brunette always got an excited energy that could occasionally border on nervousness. Ali was always fiercely confident of herself, her teammates and the game plan going into matches, but Ashlyn had been privy to the occasional nerves that would seep in. Doubt that they could completely shut down Sweden’s impressive tandem attacking duo, slight jitters at the fact that their offense hadn’t been firing on all cylinders throughout group stage, worrying about missing two key players for the quarter finals against China.

Ali lets out a deep breath that isn’t shaky, but solid and unwavering. She’s ready for this game, ready to battle her old teammates, her friends for a chance at the biggest game of her career, for redemption, gold and glory. “Good. I’m feeling really good,” she says confidently and Ashlyn can tell that this time there are no worries, Ali is in the zone, focused and ready and it makes Ash pause and falter just a bit on her next move until she hears Ali add, “I just wish I could see my two favorites.”

Ali hears a noise at the door and quickly tosses a shirt over her black Nike sports bra before padding over to it. “Hold on, Ash. Someone is at the-”

“ALI!” shrieks Noah as he jumps from his mother’s grip and throws his arms around the brunette’s neck.

“Hey handsome!” she squeals in an excited confusion as she wraps the little boy up in a tight hug, watching as the blonde shrugs and mouths ‘surprise’ with a goofy grin and twinkling eyes. “Come in, come in,” she finally says as she pulls Ashlyn into the room and slides into her arms as well. They stay that way, holding each other and relishing the time together after nearly two months apart until Ali finally pulls back and sets Noah down. “What are you guys doing here?” she asks, her smile still stretching ear to ear as the blonde plops down on the edge of the bed next to her.

Ash just shrugs and watches as Noah runs around the room checking out all of the soccer gear Ali has strew about. “We missed you,” she says casually as if it’s not a big deal that they flew six hours to surprise her.

“Well…who...who told you where I was?” she asks, her mind still trying to process the fact that every time she had talked to the blonde that day they had been on their way to surprise her. She’s not quite sure how Noah managed to keep the secret, but know there must have been cookies involved if he actually kept quiet.

“Your parents. I’ve been texting your mom,” she supplies casually as she shoots Ali a smirk and throws her arm around the brunette’s shoulder. “I just...I…we really missed you and wanted to be here to support you.”

Ali feels her insides swelling as she leans into the blonde’s embrace. “I missed you guys too. I can’t believe how big this whole thing has gotten,” she confesses, knowing that win or lose the fame they’ve claimed this world cup is going to be far-reaching.

“I know,” Ash chuckles and leans forward to grab Noah by the back of his shirt as he runs by. She pulls him up into her arms and then passes him off to Ali who gives him a big kiss on top of his head. “It’s like I know this huge super star now,” she teases and gently nudges Ali in the ribs. “How are we ever going to go anywhere public after you win this thing?” she quips, her eyes sparkling in the light of the lamp which dimly lights the hotel suite Ali has occupied with Sydney Leroux for the last few days.

The teasing question sets a light off in Ali’s mind and her face becomes a bit more serious. “I think I’m going to do it, Ash,” she begins shifting Noah so that she can turn and meet Ashlyn’s eyes, noting the confusion that glasses over them. “I think I’m going to sign with Tyreso,” she clarifies while trying desperately to get a read on the blonde.

Ashlyn though, doesn’t even flinch. She had prepared herself for the prospect and knew that she couldn’t ask Ali to stay. She couldn’t ask Ali to give up on her dreams just because she would miss her. Maybe if they were actually dating or engaged or married she would have a bit more of a say, but even then she would still probably tell her to go, to do what she loves and make her dreams come true. It’s not like she couldn’t hold down the fort with Noah for the months Ali would be gone. Realistically, they had the rest of their lives together so what was a few months? “I think you should,” she finally replies confidently, her eyes not betraying any other sentiment. “I don’t think you should pass this up, Ali. This is a wave that only comes around once in a lifetime.”

Ali knows it’s true. She can see the support this tournament more so than any other that she’s been a part of and knows that every game the fan base grows and grows. Sponsors have been calling her agent nonstop, as have other teams wanting to get a foot in the door with the U.S. National Team players before they get swooped up with other contracts. “It’s not definite yet, but I just...I wanted to keep you informed. No more surprises,” she adds evenly, her mind flashing back to the night Ashlyn had dropped the Florida bomb on her.

“Yeah. Sorry about that,” Ash bemuses, biting her bottom lip as she remembers all too well the guilt she felt for telling Ali like that after she had ambushed her in her bed. “Won’t happen again,” she promises, though they both know it’s nothing she needs to promise. The guilt that ate away at her was enough of a deterrent to never keep something like that from Ali again. As much as Florida had done wonders for her psyche and emotional state, she wishes she could go back and have a redo at the month preceding it.

Ali can sense that her muscles have stiffened and sets Noah down on the floor to turn to the blonde. Her fingers intertwine with Ashlyn’s and she gives her a sweet smile that melts away the guilt she was harboring. “Ash, it’s okay. We’re past that. We’re here now, okay? We’re here and we’re making steps every day to get to where we want to be, right?”

“Right,” she replies confidently as she looks into Ali’s sparkling eyes. She tries to ignore the way her hand is resting on her upper thigh, but when Ali gives it a light squeeze her breath catches in her throat and she awkwardly glances away, hoping her cheeks aren’t too flushed.

Ali notices, but besides giving the blonde a smirk, decides not to call her out on her body’s response to the touch. They’ve been dancing a fine line and though they haven’t been in the same location over the last few months, Ali can tell the blonde is getting flustered. She knows Ashlyn can only take Skype calls where she answers in just her sports bra and low hanging shorts so many times before her body is going to make her do something about it. After their talk she had promised Ashlyn time, but she figured speeding up the clock a bit wasn’t going to do any harm.

With a glance to the clock, Ali notes what time it is and lets out a groan. She only has an hour until curfew and as much as she wants to spend more time with Ashlyn and Noah, she knows her job at the moment is more important. “I have an hour before I have to be in for the night. What do you guys want to do?” she asks, knowing from prior phone conversations that Ash had never been to Montreal before. She had spent the better part of two days Facetiming her whenever she passed by something cool or historical so Ashlyn could join in on the experience with her. It wasn’t the same as her being there, but it made Ali feel closer to her as they occasionally explored Canada together through the screen of her iPhone.

Before she gets a chance to open her mouth, Noah stands up in her lap, narrows his eyes and says, “Ice cream!” through a huge grin.

“You got it! There’s a great place right around the corner.” Ali replies, unable to deny the boy anything. She would secretly buy him a puppy without Ashlyn knowing if that’s what he really wanted. Out of the corner of her eye she catches Ashlyn’s stern expression and her pointing to her black, diamond studded watch which Ali knows tells her it’s already past his bedtime, but she just shrugs.”He’s on vacation,” she counters as Noah drapes his arms around her neck and stares back at his mother. He’s old enough to know, as is Ali, that ice cream this close to bed is usually a no-go, but hopes Ali will come through for him.

“You two are impossible,” Ashlyn groans as her resolve reluctantly crumbles while looking back at her two pouting loves. “Come on, let’s go,” she says through a smile, racking her brain for ways to get Ali back for her devious plan. “You owe me,” she whispers in Ali’s ear as she slips by with Noah in her arms, her hot breath sending shivers shooting down the brunette’s spine.

After grabbing her purse off the table and slipping on her sandals, Ali has regained her confidence and turns to meet the blonde’s gaze with a sultry expression. “Whatever you want, Harris,” she says with a flirty wink before shifting Noah higher up on her hip and tugging the door of her hotel room open.

Chapter Text

It all came down to this. After a 2-0 victory over powerhouse Germany that was dominated by the United States more than the score line let on, they found themselves once again face to face with Japan. The same Japan team that broke their hearts four years ago and snatched a victory away from the hungry Americans. Vivid memories of 2011 ran through Ali’s mind as she sat on the patio looking out at the sleepy city of Vancouver beneath her. The light hum of slowly moving traffic on the main street below her was somewhat calming and Ali let her eyes trace the movement of the cars from right to left, smiling as she saw so many license plates from the United States.

She wasn’t clueless. Even though the team was locked away from the distractions, withdrawn in their media bubble that kept away the naysayers, Ali knew this game was going to be something special. The support had already been huge and she could feel the American pride coursing through her veins when her brother would send her pictures from packed watch parties all over the United States. They were on the cusp of something truly amazing and she knew that this time would be different. This time needed to be different. Americans loved winning, supported winners and she knew they wouldn’t be so well received if they didn’t claim their redemption on a humble, but equally hungry Japanese team.

Her thoughts drift off to the bone chilling despair she had felt after that 2011 final and as she looked up into the stars, she could only hope that a different fate was written in them this time around. So locked in her thoughts was Ali, that she didn’t hear the sliding glass open and wasn’t aware that she was no longer alone until she felt warm hands wrap gently around her shoulders. She leaned back into the touch and let out a long exhale.

“What are you thinking about out here all alone?” Ash asks as she slides around Ali and plops down onto the bench next to her. Her eyes follow Ali’s and she smiles when she realizes that she’s simply staring up at the stars, most likely taking in some calming celestial presence before the biggest game of her life.

Ali snaps out of trance and looks at Ashlyn out of the corner of her eye. She’s dressed in mid thigh black shorts and a white tee, and Ali knows she must have fought pretty hard to get Noah down to sleep. The boy had been too excited with Ali in the room to go to sleep so she had slipped out onto the balcony to help and even that wasn’t enough as Ash had to pretend that she was getting into bed too for the little boy to finally settle. She lets out a small chuckle at the sight of the blonde in her sleep clothes and turns her attention back to the sky. “Just thinking about the game,” she finally supplies, but knows Ashlyn is well aware of that fact, especially when she feels a water bottle placed into her palm.

“Hydration,” the blonde says with a small shrug, but no matter how small the gesture, Ali truly appreciates it. It’s in all the small things which others would overlook that Ali can see how much Ashlyn truly loves her.

“Thanks,” she replies with an uncharacteristically shy smile and uncaps the bottle. She takes a small sip before holding the bottle over to the blonde who takes a sip herself and hands it back to Ali.

“Are you nervous?”

Ali just shrugs, unable to put a name to what she was actually feeling. There were so many emotions coursing through her veins at the moment and she couldn’t get a read on all of them. All she knew was that she felt confident, strong and ready. Ready to claim victory, to get some vengeance for the heartbreak suffered four years ago. “I’m ready,” she says firmly. “It feels different this time,” she adds, trying to better explain herself partly for Ashlyn’s sake, but also in an attempt to understand her own feelings.

“You girls look great,” Ashlyn supplies as she remembers how solid the team had looked in their victory against Germany. Besides the PK on an ill-advised tackle, Germany barely registered any strong chances.

“Any girl in particular look better than the others out there?” Ali quips, her eyes meeting Ashlyn’s as a sly smile creeps across her lips.

Ashlyn throws her head back with a soft chuckle and drapes her arm around Ali to pull her in tighter to her side. She’s glad that Ali isn’t so nervous that she can’t even crack jokes like her normal self, especially because Ashlyn loves a self-assured girl with confidence. “There’s this one defender that’s been pretty solid,” she responds, not giving in to Ali completely.

“Is that so? Better be that Krieger chick you’re talking about,” Ali replies as she rests her head on the blonde’s shoulder, relishing the feeling of Ashlyn holding her so close. As much as she enjoys her time with Ashlyn and Noah together, it’s in these reserved moments between just the two of them that Ali feels the most progress in their relationship. She can tell that Ashlyn is staring at her by the way her warm breath is tickling her ear and making her tiny hairs stand on end. A smile splits across her face as they sit in silence for a few minutes, just taking in the low hum of the Canadian city beneath them.

From down the street Ali can hear a base pumping and figures it’s probably from the U.S. Soccer Fan HQ located a few streets down. She had enjoyed sitting out there watching tipsy and outright drunk Americans stumbling their way past the hotel to the celebration, unbeknownst to them that the players they were going to celebrate were merely a hundred feet away. She only hopes that tomorrow that bar will be full of their family and friends celebrating a gold medal.

“What’s going on in that head of yours?” Ash prods again, after Ali lets out a deep sigh. She holds back a yawn knowing that Ali will send her into bed if she sees it. She’s not sure why, but she just wants this moment to stand still, to last forever. She knows tomorrow win or lose will be crazy and for some reason she just wants Ali to herself before they blow up and become sensations overnight. After the last World Cup even though they lost the team was splashed all over magazines and newspaper covers and on almost every talk show.

“I just can’t believe it’s here,” she replies evenly and lifts her head from Ashlyn’s shoulder while still keeping herself tucked under the blonde’s arm. It’s hot and she’s starting to sweat, but there’s nowhere else she would rather be than wrapped up in the blonde’s comforting embrace. “I mean the whole three star thing put so much pressure on us and now it’s really here. It’s within reach and I honestly don’t want to wait anymore. I want to go play right now.”

Ash can sense the sincerity in her voice and knows the feeling all too well. Game days at UNC always seemed to drag on and she remembers going to bed super early some nights just to make game day come faster. “You guys are going to take it to them, Alex,” she replies confidently. “I just know it.”

“Yeah?” Ali asks, turning to meet the blonde’s eyes which catch the light of moon and sparkle a bit like the stars dotting the crisp night sky.

“Hell yeah! I hear the USA has this super hot fullback that plays shut down defense. Krieger I think her name is?” she quips, raising her eyebrow as she boosts her favorite defender’s ego. “My son is pretty much her biggest fan,” she continues with a smirk, “but I think I might have him beat,” finishing with a wink.

“You’re too much,” Ali giggles and drops her eyes down to her lap. She feels so content and the warmth from Ashlyn’s arm draped around her and body pressed into her side is spreading heat throughout her entire body.

“It’s true,” Ash says genuinely and squeezes the defender’s hand. She’s about to add something else when a yawn ripples up from her chest and she’s forced to cover it with her arm.

Ali rolls her eyes and knows exactly what Ashlyn is trying to pull. “You need to get some sleep,” she says with a hint of regret. “And so do I,” she adds after clicking on her phone and noting that she only has half an hour until curfew.

“Fine,” Ash groans. She knows Ali is right since Noah will be up at 6am whether she likes it or not and that Ali needs to get her rest as well, but still wishes they could stay out there all night talking and enjoying the beautiful night. “I’ll walk you to the door,” she says while pushing off the bench and extending her hand to help Ali up.

They walk hand in hand to the door of Ashlyn’s hotel room, stopping only for Ali to place a quick kiss on Noah’s cheek. Ashlyn gently pulls the door open hoping not to wake her sleeping son and slips out behind Ali, setting the deadbolt out so she doesn’t get locked out.

“Come here,” she says softly when Ali looks at her hesitantly and pulls the defender into her. Her strong, tattooed arms wrap tightly around the brunette as she cradles her to her chest and breathes in the scent of her floral shampoo. It’s the calm before the storm and they both know it. Tomorrow win or lose is going to start a whirlwind and for a few more moments they just enjoy the peacefulness that the empty hotel hallway has to offer them.

After a minute, Ali reluctantly pulls back in the blonde’s arms and meets her eyes. “Thank you for tonight,” she whispers, their eyes locked in a knowing gaze. Both of them know what daylight brings.

“Good luck, Alex,” Ash says softly with her hands gripping Ali’s forearms firmly. “You’re going to be great.”

Ali dips her eyes to the floor before bringing them back up to meet Ashlyn’s, catching her lips on the way up. She feels safe in Ashlyn’s arms and knows that she likely wouldn’t be at this point without the blonde’s love and support. Whatever the next day brought she knows everything will truly be alright with Ashlyn by her side. It’s a love unlike she’s ever known, stronger than her love for Lucina and even soccer itself and in that moment she can’t help herself, raising to her tiptoes to place a light kiss to her lips. It’s barely even a kiss, their flesh barely touches, but it’s warm, soft and simple and all Ali needs to convey how she feels about the blonde. “Goodnight, Ashlyn,” she whispers, suddenly feeling bashful as the blonde smiles down at her warmly with the slightest hint of shock in her expression.

“Goodnight, Alex,” Ashlyn breathes out as she watches the brunette slip from her grasp and into the elevator, her hand lifting to her lips which are still tingling with the sensation of Ali’s lips on her own.

Chapter Text

When the whistle blows three times to signal the end of the game, Ali can’t believe it. She drops to her knees as a champion on the same field that her Olympic dreams had been torn to shreds in the form of her ACL. It doesn’t feel real, doesn’t feel like the dream she’s been chasing since she was fifteen watching Brandi Chastain rip her shirt off have actually been achieved. But the roar of the crowd chanting USA, the vibration of the hands clapping and feet stomping reverberating through her thumping heart, and the shrill cries of her exuberant teammates finally seep in and she realizes it is real. They beat Japan 5-2. She’s a World Cup Champion.

Hope get’s to her first, slapping her on the back as she runs by to jump into the arms of her goalie coach who had not only helped her game, but helped her get her head on straight when she had taken a wrong turn. Then HAO is there, pulling her up onto her feet and throwing her arms tightly around her. “WE FUCKING DID IT, KRIEGS!” she screams over the roar of the stadium squeezing the brunette who had been through so much with her over the years. “RIGHT SIDE, STRONG SIDE!” she adds as they are engulfed by the rest of the defenders who all slap Ali on the back, knowing how hard she had worked and the injuries she had fought through to get to that point.

When everyone breaks apart, Ali turns and takes in the atmosphere. Through the slight smog that crept into the Vancouver Stadium from the nearby forest fires, she sees the American flags being waved, the signs claiming USA dominance or proposing to players, and the screaming fans with their faces painted ranging from five year old girls to eighty year old men. It’s amazing how far women’s soccer has come and she can’t believe the beautiful game that she loves so much can bring together so many people. Really though, she only cares about a select few and her eyes scan the crowd until she finds them settled in the far corner of the stadium. She waves and wants to rush over to her family, but she feels a tug on her arm and turns to meet a beaming and crying Leroux.

“Medal ceremony,” she nods towards the podium that Ali assumes must have been quickly erected when she was busy weeping on her knees. She throws and arm around Syd and they quickly wipe their tears away while making their way over to center field where their teammates have assembled.

If Ali thought the stadium was loud when the game ended, the moment Rampone and Abby lift the glimmering World Cup trophy into the air sends the place into complete pandemonium. It’s a victory, glory, gold and redemption and the crowd absolutely eats it up as the confetti explodes from the cannons, showering them in a sparkling, golden haze. In that moment as she stands on the podium with her teammates, her closest friends, her family, in front of 55,000 screaming fans and millions more watching from around the world, she feels everything slip away. All the doubts, the worries and heartbreak disappears, replaced by the liberating feeling of achieving a dream she’s worked tirelessly for her entire life to accomplish. She’s never felt higher than in that moment and knows there’s likely only one thing in the world that could make the moment any better.

The girls begin leaping off the podium, some taking pictures with the trophy, others dancing around and doing confetti angels in the shimmering paper lying on the ground, while others run to embrace their families and loved ones that have made the journey to support them. Ali falls soundly into the latter category and she follows her teammates, Alex, Syd, Abby and Arod as they run to the family section on the packed stadium.

Kyle is first to greet her, bending down in the first row to pull her into the air with his strong, tattooed arms, and wrap her in a tight hug, tighter than any he’s ever given –more so than when their parents had told them they were getting a divorce, than when she had visited him in rehab after he overdosed, than when he flew out to Germany after Lucina had left her shattered in pieces. They’ve been through so much, struggle, heartbreak and fear together and Ali knows that no matter what comes he will always be her number one fan and supporter. “I’m so proud of you baby sis,” he whispers and the sincerity in his voice is apparent even through the noise of the boisterous crowd.

“Thanks, Kyle,” she says excitedly and finally pulls back from the hug when she hears a familiar voice shrieking in her ears. “HEY, BUD!” she greets an ecstatic Noah, his face painted with USA and #11 written all over it in red, white and blue, and lets him throw his little arms around her neck as she holds herself up on the edge of the wall that rises eight feet above the pitch. She takes one arm off to pull him tighter when Ashlyn finally lets the wiggly boy out of her arms and she breathes in deeply as she feels him in her arms, babbling incoherently about what she can only assume is the game. As Noah holds her tightly, Ali and Ashlyn show a look that conveys it all – the love, the pride, the passion. They had gone through so much, come so far in the last few years and neither can wipe the smile off their faces that out of all places, after they rose from the darkness, this is where they find themselves. Ashlyn squats down next to Noah and joins him in hugging Ali, letting her chin rest on the brunette’s shoulder, her lips on her ear as she whispers to Ali how proud of her she is and how much she deserved to be there as she squeezes her tightly, both breathing in deeply as they realize how truly special this moment is.

When Ashlyn feels Ali’s arms getting shaky from holding her body weight up there after a grueling ninety minute battle, she leans back on her heels and takes Noah with her. “We’ll see her in a little bit, buddy,” she tries to convince the pouting boy when he continues to reach his arms out towards her with her face contorting like he’s about to cry. She knows Ali will want to do her victory lap, get her pictures and celebrate a bit more with teammates before they meet up later at the celebratory party.

Ali glances to the field where her teammates are running around celebrating and sees a plethora of the U.S. soccer kids running around. She turns back to Ash with a shy smile and meets her gaze with a bashful expression. “Can I…can I take him on my victory lap?” she asks, nodding towards the field where ARod is running around with an American flag wrapped around her shoulders and Ryan waving proudly in her arms.

“What…Really?” the blonde asks, her eyes going wide at the meaning behind it. Ali wants to take Noah out on the field just as the other moms on the team take their kids out to celebrate. She had known that Noah loved Ali like a mother and knew Ali loved him as well, but this was much more profound and she feels the tears welling up in her eyes as she thought of the implications. “Are you sure?” she asks, not wanting Ali to feel pressured to share her celebration with a toddler when she could be running around with just her teammates.

Ali just shyly nods. “If it’s okay with you,” she quickly clarifies, not wanting to overstep any boundaries as she reaches out her arms for Noah who is eagerly wiggling out of Ash’s grasp.

“There’s nowhere else he would rather be,” Ash says truthfully, handing off Noah with a meaningful kiss to Ali’s cheek as Kyle drapes his American flag over both their shoulders. “See you later, champ,” she says with a wink, her heart swelling as Ali hops off the wall while cradling Noah tightly in her arms.

“Ready to go show them whose number one?” she asks Noah, the excitement bubbling up in her voice.

“Hell Yeah!” he shrieks as Ali laughs and lifts him up onto her shoulders and runs towards centerfield where the rest of her teammates have accumulated. Even with Noah on her shoulders, she feels so much lighter, a happiness spreading throughout her entire body that she knows isn’t entirely due to the gold medal clamoring around on her neck. It feels so natural having Noah clinging to her, pumping his fists in the air as he joins in on the crowds chants and Ali can’t help but realize that any celebration after this wouldn’t feel as real if Ashlyn and Noah aren’t by her side. She turns one last time before reaching center field, meeting Ashlyn’s eyes and they share a look that neither is quite able to decipher. She blows the blonde a quick kiss and Ashlyn smiles back at her just as she’s engulfed by a horde of teammates all jumping up and high fiving an ecstatic Noah.

She realizes that it doesn’t matter what happened in the past; the heartbreak, the injuries or the struggle. None of it matters because it got her to where she’s supposed to be; ninety nine percent of the way to her happy ending that’s been evasive for so long. This is where she’s meant to be and more than ever she can see that last percent within reach.

Chapter Text

Ali struts into the Fan Headquarters with more swagger than she’s ever possessed in her life, one arm lazily slung over a stumbling Megan Rapinoe while the other clutches a half empty bottle of champagne tightly. The club is already packed with their friends and family, ‘Fan Headquarters’ essentially becoming ‘secret VIP after party with no media allowed’ for the night. The room is hot and stuffy and a thin haze hangs in the air as the smog from the nearby fires seep into the building, but Ali thinks it only accentuates that club vibe especially as the smoke holds the effects of the red, white and blue strobe lights a bit better.

She takes another swig from the bottle and passes it to Pinoe as her eyes, not necessarily searching for anything in particular, take in the rest of the bar. It’s two levels and screams U.S. Soccer from the logos and full-size murals of the players stuck to the wall to the D.J. in his customized jersey as he keeps the entire crowd, all garnered in their own jerseys and flags, pumping their fists in the air and screaming in celebration as the players all make their way inside having showered and changed and celebrated in their hotel rooms. Most everyone in the crowded room are clutching beers in their hands, the bar completely stocked with Budweiser compliments of their top sponsor, but Ali eyes the Grey Goose bottle with a sly grin. She knows she’s going to pay for her decisions in the morning, especially since they have to be to the Fox Soccer set at 8am for hair and makeup, but she’s got her blackout Ray bans and she figures it wouldn’t be the first time she fought through a hangover for a media appearance. Besides, her teammates have all the pointers since they were in a similar situation last Olympics. She’s a World Cup Champion and that means for once she’ll let herself indulge on everything she’s held back on; sweets, junk food, alcohol, and maybe a little something else.

She holds in a tipsy laugh when her eyes finally land on her mother who she assumes must be drunk already by the way her body is so lucidly moving on the dance floor while Kyle dances beside her snapping pictures that she’s sure will be used as some sort of blackmail in the foreseeable future.

She lets out a squeal when Kyle turns and waves excitedly, and skips over to him after casting a glance back to Pinoe to make sure she didn’t tip over without the support. Luckily, Syd is quick to jog over and drag the lanky blonde over to where Sera is waiting for her with a glass of water and bemused grin when she starts dancing her way over.

“Looking good, champ!” Kyle says as he pulls Ali into a tight hug and rolls his eyes when Ali starts dancing behind her mom teasingly while chugging the remainder of the champagne left in the giant bottle.

“Are you getting this on video?” she calls over the crowd while pointing to her mom who has turned around in an attempt to further embarrass her children. “Photos won’t do it justice!” she adds, her eyes glimmering with a teasing light when her mom wraps her up in a tight hug as her dad comes through the crowd with a few beers in his hands.

He gives Kyle a glare when he comes up behind him and sees the timer on his camera going and playfully smacks his son in the back of his head. “Leave your mother alone,” he says sternly, but he’s barely able to contain the laugh fighting to escape his lips. “We’ve been through a lot,” he adds, his voice becoming a bit more serious as he eyes his ex-wife and children. Holding his beer up in the air, he continues. “Here’s to the Krieger’s always coming out on top!”

“I’m sorry did you say always coming out, or always coming out on top, dad?” Kyle teases referring to his and Ali’s sexual proclivities and gets another smack when Ken rolls his eyes at his son’s antics.

Kyle and Ali giggle, knowing how far they’ve come as a family and how lucky they were to have such loving and supportive parents through it all. She’s about to respond when she feels someone barrel into her legs and she’s thankful Kyle is there to support her or her tipsy state may have allowed her to fall to the ground.

“Ali!” says the little boy excitedly as he hops in the air with his arms outstretched.

She looks down at him, absolutely adoring his cute comb over and the same Krieger jersey from the game before that she assumes Ash couldn’t get him out of after the game. “How’s my favorite guy?” she squeals and plucks him off the ground, ignoring Kyle’s mumble about how he used to be her favorite.

“Sorry, Kyle, but I think this cute little man has got you beat,” Ash interjects as she comes up behind them and slings her arm around the taller man, slightly out of breath from chasing her son through the crowd who beelined for the brunette as soon as they got inside.

“Definitely,” Ali nods as she kisses the top of Noah’s head. “I see he’s in his very best outfit for tonight,” she adds teasingly as she shoots Ash a wide grin.

The blonde nods and smoothes his hair down in the back as she processes the way Ali is looking down at her son so endearingly. She feels her heart flutter, but knows this isn’t the time or place to interject deep seeded feelings. Its’ a time for celebration and she bites her cheek to keep her thoughts in check for the moment. “I tried to get him out of it, but we were on the verge of a temper tantrum so I let it slide.”

“Well I think he looks adorable,” Ali counters as her mom and dad comes up to join the group, all greeting Ashlyn and Noah with hugs and kisses.

“Your son has good taste,” Ken says slyly as he points to the back of his jersey and Ashlyn just grins and nods.

“The best taste,” she agrees sincerely and notices the way a slight blush creeps across Ali’s cheeks. She’d try to blame it on the heat in the bar or the alcohol pumping through her veins, but they both know the real reason behind it.

“Can I get you a drink, Ash?” Ken asks and holds his empty bottle up signaling that he’s about to venture back to the bar to get another. Deb’s husband’s is out as well and says he’ll join as Ash nods and Ali holds up a finger as well to signal her desire for another.

Ash eyes her sideways as she watches Ali sway back and forth, partially rocking with the music but she can tell she’s already had a bit of alcohol from the way her bouncing if off beat. She looks adorable as she babbles back and forth with Noah in a language that she knows is definitely not English and she just shares a knowing look with Deb as they watch Ali set Noah down and begin hopping around dancing with him. Kyle joins in as does Arod and her little boy Ryan and soon there’s a small group huddled around them with Ali and Noah in the center leading the charge.

“She’s never been good with kids,” Deb supplies in a dumbfounded expression as she watches her daughter interact so effortlessly with the little Harris boy.

Ashlyn’s eyes go wide as Ken slips a cold Bud into her outstretched hand. “Really?” she asks in shock, unable to think of a single time that Ali didn’t seem like a natural with Noah.

Ken laughs with his hand resting on Ashlyn’s shoulder. “She was terrified of babies,” he begins and shares a look with Deb and her husband knowing some of the family reunions they had been to. “She acted like they were porcelain dolls and she was going to break them and the second they started crying…”

“Right back to their parents!” Deb interjects with a chuckle of her own as she looks at her daughter proudly. “That’s more special than you know,” she adds, pointing to the way Ali is squatting down, holding Noah and Ryan’s hands as they spin in circles all laughing and giggling.

“She’s amazing,” Ash breathes out honestly as she watches Noah with his head thrown back giggling. She’s so captivated by the sight that she doesn’t see the look Deb, Ken and Mike share before they slip away to catch up with some other parents. Ash stands back watching the interaction between them all from a few feet away even as the music dies down and the dancing group of toddlers and adults thin out.

“So, can I see your medal?” Kyle asks, his eyes dancing mischievously as he looks at the gold medal slung around his sister’s neck as she stands up with Noah in her arms while they wait for the next song to come on.

Ali holds it up in the air teasingly, “See it?” she asks with a smirk, knowing that’s not exactly what Kyle was asking.

“Can I wear it?” he finally huffs, hoping that Ali won’t be able to withstand his pleading look. She just shakes her head and sips on her beer waiting for him to up the ante. “Just for a minute?” he begs, clasping his hands together in front of his face. “Please,” he adds, drawing the word out in a higher tone than he had used previously.

She drops the medal back down and shakes her head. “No one is wearing this sucker but me,” she replies sternly and sticks her tongue out at him. She looks down again when she feels a tug on her neck and sees Noah eyeing her medal, turning it over in his tiny hands.

“Tank you,” he says softly the way he does when he sees and takes something he wants as he tugs on the strap of the medal again with a beaming smile.

“You want it, bud?” she asks giggling when his eyes go wide and he nods his head frantically in excitement while curling his fingers tighter around the cool metal.

“Of course! The kid gets it!” Kyle says exasperatedly, throwing his hands in the air with a playful frown before he slips away in the crowd to grab another soda and find his parents.

Ash sees the interaction and quickly steps in, not wanting her son to grab her medal and risk losing it somewhere. “Maybe you can wear it later, buddy?” she says, giving Ali an apologetic smile for her son’s action, figuring that Ali felt pressured into it. She knew the brunette could never say no to her son.

“Your mama is being silly, bud,” she says and slips the medal from her neck onto Noah’s. “When we get back to the States maybe I’ll even let you keep it safe for me,” she whispers loudly into his ear and smiles brilliantly when he begins clapping his hands in pure joy. When she feels him wiggling in her arms she sets him down, knowing he wants to go show it off to his new friends.

“Alex, you don’t have to humor him,” she says with a concerned voice as she watches her son’s movements like a hawk. He’s currently dancing with Ryan and Zoe under Arod’s watchful eye, but she honestly doesn’t know what she’ll do if he was responsible for losing Ali’s World Cup gold medal.

Ali smiles and puts her arms around Ashlyn’s neck to pull her closer as she begins to sway her hips to the R&B song that has just come on over the speakers. “Relax,” she says with a reassuring grin. “I think he’d appreciate it more than me,” she adds. “I know I won. Seeing a gold medal sitting in the office I never go into doesn’t even compare to the feeling.”

“You’d seriously give my son your World Cup gold medal?” Ash asks in complete disbelief as she lets her body press into Ali’s her eyes searching the brunette for any sign of hesitation or reluctance.

“I’d give you two the world if you’d let me.” The words slip from her mouth candidly; a statement more forceful than any that Ali has made to the blonde since agreeing to take things slow. She sees Ashlyn’s eyes go wide and immediately thinks she’s pushed too far, regretting her liquid courage at the moment.

Ashlyn’s mind though, is on a completely different track. You both deserve the world. Promise me you’ll follow your heart when you find someone who can give it to you. “What…what did you say?” she asks softly, her voice shaking as she stills their movements and grips Ali’s hips tighter in her now sweaty palms.

“I said I’d give you two the world if you’d just let me,” Ali says, more confidently this time as she sees something new flicker through the blonde’s eyes. Her finger tips are digging into Ali’s hips and for someone who looks so shocked, Ali is surprised she’s holding her so tightly instead of running.

You both deserve the world. Promise me you’ll follow your heart when you find someone who can give it to you. Ali. It’s always been Ali and she realizes now that even Emma knew it. It all clicks and suddenly she doesn’t care that Ali just won the World Cup, doesn’t care that her son is dancing three feet away from them or that the entire building is full of people that know Ali, her closest family and friends. She wants Ali to know that she’s ready, she wants to be closer to Ali, she wants Ali.

And when Ashlyn leans forward, pressing her soft, pink lips firmly into the brunette’s and feels her soft, toned arms wrap tightly around her neck in response, her hips pushing forward as she hungrily reciprocates the kiss, she knows that Ali is hers for the taking.

Chapter Text

The cat calls and whistles are what finally break them from the kiss they’ve waited for so long to share and Ali can feel the flush creeping up her neck and onto to her cheeks, only part of which is caused from embarrassment. Suddenly she’s very aware that she’s in a room surrounded by her teammates and family, especially when she makes eye contact with Kyle who just raises his eyebrows emphatically and offers them a thumbs up with a smug smirk painted on his face.

“Sorry,” Ash says shyly with her hands still wrapped around the shorter defender’s waist as Ali rests her head on her breast bone, her hand fisted gently around the front of the blonde’s black t-shirt. She’s a bit embarrassed herself that she had such a lack of control around Ali’s team and family. It’s not at all how she had pictured the moment, but hearing Ali say those words, the words, had sent an overwhelming flood of emotions and hunger coursing through her veins. It was almost as if the words had finally penetrated through the dam that Ashlyn had built to hold everything in and all the emotions, the love, frustration and desire came rushing out at once.

“Don’t be,” Ali mumbles into the soft cotton fabric and tightens her grip a bit as she tries to steady her racing heart that she’s sure Ashlyn can feel through the light layers of fabric separating them just as she can feel the way Ashlyn’s chest is heaving against hers. She lifts her head to meet Ashlyn’s eyes and a beaming grin splits across her face when she senses no sign of hesitation housed in her soft hazel eyes. The way her black pupils have almost overtaken the light brown color gives Ali and added sense of confidence and she stands up on her toes so her lips are resting on the blonde’s ear. “The only thing you should be sorry about is that we’re not alone in my hotel room right now,” she whispers, the combination of her hot breath and suggestive words sending visible shivers down the blonde’s spine.

“Oh yeah?” Ashlyn asks with a shaky voice, her usual confidence faltering under the brunette’s smoldering stare as she tries to calm herself down. She knows Ali’s family and teammates as well as her son are standing just feet away and as much as she wants to take the brunette now, she’ll be damned if their first time is in a cramped bathroom stall.

“I may have just played ninety minutes, but my stamina is off the charts Harris,” she replies, again letting her lips brush the blonde’s earlobe as she fights the urge to nibble on it. Not wanting to put too much pressure on her, Ali follows her statement up with a wink and quickly dances over to where Noah is jumping around with Zoe and Ryan. “About time, Kriegs,” she hears and lifts her eyes to see Arod looking at her with a smirk as she nods to the dumbfounded blonde standing behind her.

There’s no time for her to answer though before she feels Ashlyn wrap her arms around her from behind. “You are trouble, Miss Krieger,” she whispers to Ali as she sways her hips to the beat, pretending that they’re just innocently dancing and not increasing the sexual tension between them. She’s seemingly gotten her confidence back as she grips her waist tighter. “I can’t wait to see you wearing that medal later in my bed,” she adds seductively, her voice an octave lower than normal.

There’s so much they need to talk about, issues and feelings that they need to discuss, but this is time for celebration and Ali will blindly indulge herself at least for the night. Fueled on by the alcohol and the frustration that’s been housed in her body for the better part of a year, Ali dips a bit lower as a new song comes on and presses her back into the blonde, grinding her ass into her lightly, just enough to tease her. She feels Ashlyn exhale deeply against her neck at the extra contact she is providing and is about to drive her a bit more wild when Noah turns around from his dancing and stares up at them with a confused expression. He looks upset and Ali immediately takes a step forward from Ashlyn thinking he’s upset seeing them like that until he points up at accusingly at Ashlyn.

“No, mama! I dance wit Ali!” he says sternly with his face etched in serious concern and grabs the brunette’s hand to pull her away from Ashlyn who nearly doubles over laughing at his antics. Leave it to her son to break up the moment she was finally having with Ali. She only hopes his little bout of jealousy is an isolated incident, that just like everyone else he just wants a moment with the World Cup champ.

“How about we all dance together?” Ali asks, trying to compromise with Noah. She can still feel the blonde’s warmth burning through her skin at every point of contact.

He bites his cheek and thinks on it for a minute while looking back and forth between the two women before nodding slowly. “Okay!” he finally says and grabs both of their hands as they dance around together.

Ashlyn can feel Ali’s fingertips igniting a fire in her and out of the corner of her eye she can see Ali biting her bottom lip as she smirks back at her. It’s turning white around where her pearly teeth are digging into the soft pink lips and Ashlyn’s breath hitches, wishing it were her teeth digging into the brunette’s flesh. Her whole body is on fire and she’s not sure if it’s the alcohol or the aura surrounding Ali, but she feels completely intoxicated. Her mind is foggy and wants to feel Ali, to be closer to her than she ever has dared herself to think about. Unless she’s pressing Ali’s naked body into the mattress in the next few hours, it won’t be close enough for her.

Their smoldering and challenging expressions, while unnoticed by Noah who is giddily dancing around the dance floor while holding both women’s hands with Ali’s gold medal bouncing around his neck, isn’t missed by the watchful eyes of her teammates and family.

It’s Pinoe who first approaches them and throws her arms around both women. She hasn’t spent too much time around the blonde, but feels like she knows her inside and out from the amount that Ali gushed about her and Noah. “Finally, Harris!” she yells over the music with her head pressed between Ali and Ashlyn’s. “Geeze, Ali. You had to become a World Champion before she was even remotely interested!” she teases, knowing the real reason behind it all as she playfully elbows Ashlyn in the ribs.

“Gold definitely looks good on her!” Ashlyn quips with a smirk, shooting Ali a glance that lets the brunette know she’s thinking about her in just the gold medal, a scenario she hopes to play out later.

Ali swallows hard and digs her fingers into Ashlyn’s side as she bites her bottom lip again. Pinoe mumbles something incoherently and slips away after placing a sloppy, drunk kiss to the top of Ali’s head when her girlfriend calls to her. Ali is about to turn to Ash when HAO slips into her place and hangs heavily on both of their shoulders.

“I’m heading out!” she says, her words sticking together which makes Ali giggle. HAO is never a big drinker and seeing her slurring her words from the effects of the bottle of champagne she’s been carrying around all night is definitely a memory to cherish. “I’ll be staying at Dave’s room so uh…feel free to…uh…you know…” she awkwardly points between Ali and Ash and raises her eyes emphatically before her husband comes to tug her away.

Ali laughs and buries her head into Ashlyn’s shoulder, embarrassed by her teammates thinking they’re helping. The only silver lining is that she has a room to herself and from the way Ashlyn’s hand has slipped from her waist down to her ass, she knows the blonde is just as ready as she is. She lifts her eyes, about to whisper something along the lines of ‘let’s get the hell out of here’ when she feels a tug on her other arm and looks down to Noah. Noah. She lets out a loud groan and hears Ashlyn chuckle when she realizes the reason behind it.

“Better get used to it with a toddler around,” she says quietly into Ali’s ear, but the brunette can pick up the slightest hint of a challenge in her tone.

Lifting her head, she scans the room once her eyes adjust to the red, white and blue strobe lights flickering throughout the entire place. They settle on Kyle and he shakes his head as he walks over to her. “Can I help you with something?” he asks, an innocent tone to his voice that Ali knows is anything but.

“Can you watch Noah for the night,” she asks sweetly, plastering her megawatt smile on as her brother eyes her deviously.

His eyes shift to Noah who still has the medal draped around his neck and his eyes light up. “I get to wear the medal,” he says evenly while staring back at her poignantly.

“Fine. For one minute,” she says reluctantly and holds up one finger for emphasis. She knows that she would have let him wear it at some point anyways, but knowing that he holds all of the power at the moment is driving her crazy, almost as crazy as Ashlyn’s fingers slipping below the hem of her shirt and grazing the soft skin of her lower back.

Kyle narrows his eyes. “The whole night. You get it back tomorrow morning when you pick Noah up.”

Ashlyn groans, realizing her fantasy with Ali and the medal that night is not going to be met and Kyle’s face scrunches up in disgust. “You two,” he says pointing between his sister and the blonde, “are gross.” He holds his hand out to further his demand. “The medal. One night. And you buy me and Noah breakfast tomorrow.”

Ali and Ash share a look between each other before they both nod, knowing they’d honestly give into anything he asked for. “You go say goodbye to your parents and I’ll settle up with Kyle,” Ash says hurriedly as she pushes Ali off the dance floor towards the VIP section where her parents are sharing a drink with some other people.

“I think I’m going to head out,” Ali says, feigning a yawn as she wraps her arms around her dad’s waist. She goes to hug her mom, but Deb sticks a hand out and stops her. “Don’t tell me your dad and I are outlasting you at your own after party?” Deb shrieks in disbelief.

“I uh…I’m tired,” Ali weakly replies, trying to settle her thoughts that drift to the after after party that she’s trying to get to.

Deb’s face scrunches in confusion as she hugs Ali, the wrinkles around her eyes becoming more pronounced until her gaze falls onto the dance floor where Ashlyn is squatting down hugging Noah goodnight as Kyle slips the gold medal onto his own neck. Her eyes narrow even more as she pulls back. “About damn time,” is all she says with a knowing smirk as she kisses her daughter’s cheek. “Have a great night sweetheart,” she adds emphatically, grinning ear to ear as she turns back to Ken and her husband who are both wearing confused expressions.

Ali slinks back to the dance floor with pink cheeks from the embarrassment of being caught by her mother, until Ashlyn stands up from hugging Noah and turns and gives her a smoldering stare. Suddenly, she doesn’t care if she has to scream to the entire room that she’s about to get some. “Have fun with Kyle!” Ali says excitedly as she bends over and gives Noah a big kiss on his cheek. “I’m taking you for breakfast tomorrow, okay?” she adds, and he nods excitedly knowing that if Ali is going he’ll definitely be able to get chocolate chip pancakes. “Love you, handsome!”

“Love you!” he replies and kisses Ali back before turning and running after Ryan who had just tagged him.

“He doesn’t even care that we’re leaving,” Ali says with a bit of a pout as she watches Kyle chase after the two rowdy boys who have seemingly forgotten about her.

Ashlyn leans over and wraps her arms around Ali’s waist burying her lips into the brunette’s neck. “You should be happy he’s not chasing after you crying and screaming your name,” she says with a chuckle as her hands slide across Ali’s stomach. She smirks when she feels the defender’s abs clench underneath her touch.

Ali spins so that she’s face to face with Ashlyn and looks deep into her eyes with a sultry stare. “Only one Harris is going to be screaming my name tonight,” she says cockily before grabbing the blonde’s hand and tugging her out of the bar into the hazy Vancouver night.

Chapter Text

“Third floor.” Ali pulls back from the kiss and nods to the number pad behind them as if the blonde actually needs the information, as if she hasn't been in Ali's room countless times already.

A soft chuckle escapes Ashlyn’s lips as she leans back in to kiss Ali, again pinning her athletic frame firmly to the wall of the hotel elevator. “I know, but I’m busy,” she mumbles against the brunette’s lips, her hands holding Ali's face on either side. There’s a heat spreading through every fiber of her and she can’t pull herself away from Ali now that she’s finally tasted her lips.

Ali gets lost in Ashlyn’s touch. Everything around her is hazy except for the blonde’s lips on her own, her hips grinding her back into the cool, glass wall of the elevator and for a moment she honestly thinks she might let the blonde take her in the elevator. “Ash, please,” she begs, her hands already intertwined in the blonde’s hair at the back of her neck pulling her in closer to create more friction on her throbbing core. She's been so worked up since before they even left the bar and the prospect of finally having Ashlyn, of finally finding that closeness and intimacy that she's been so desperate for is making her head spin with lustful desire. "Please,” she whispers against her lips and suddenly Ashlyn naps out of it and pushes back from Ali.

Her eyes are dark and her pupils have swallowed the normally bright irises Ali has come to find home in, but she takes a few steps back and turns to hit the button for the third floor. Her chest is heaving as she looks back at Ali with an intense gaze as if she’s measuring her up until the elevator dings and the doors to the third floor open. “Come on,” Ashlyn says, her soft, sweet voice a stark contrast to her dark eyes and heaving chest as she reaches out for the defender.

Ali takes Ashlyn’s hand as the blonde leads her down the hallway, pulling Ali’s key out of her back pocket and sliding it through the door eagerly. The second they’re through the door, Ali’s had enough as she watches Ashlyn walk slowly into the room. She pulls Ashlyn back towards her by her wrist and slams her against the door, wanting, no needing to feel the blonde pressed against her again. Her body is on fire, completely alive and she is quick to lay an assault on Ashlyn’s neck with her lips. Her tongue slides up the blonde's neck, swirling in circles to capture the small beads of sweat pooling along the hollow of her throat from the warm Vancouver night as her fingers instinctively go to the zipper of Ashlyn's tight jeans.

Suddenly, Ali feels nothing after Ashlyn mumbles a flustered, “Stop” into the waves of her hair and gently pushes her away. She opens her eyes to see Ashlyn awkwardly standing a few feet away with a certain nervousness in her expression.

“Ali,” she says softly, taking a few steps to close the gap in between them again while taking the brunette’s hands in her own. She runs her thumbs lightly over the back of Ali's hands and meets her eyes with the most sincere expression Ali's ever seen. “We’ve both waited a long time for this," she says softly. "You’ve been amazing for me and for my son. Let me take care of you now.”

Her expression is timid and her voice is so soft and tender that Ali’s lips instinctively curl up into a smile as Ashlyn leans in to kiss her again. It softer this time, exploratory and they both let each other feel every sensation as they survey every inch of each other’s lips. They have all night together and after almost two years, Ashlyn knows that she wants to make it a night neither of them will ever forget. She lets Ali’s hands slip from her grasp as hers find purchase around the defenders hips, gripping them as she pulls Ali away from the door. Her tongue is soft as it slides against Ali’s bottom lip, the lips she has spent months staring at while fighting the demons and guilt that crept up at the thoughts. She’s ready now though; ready to give Ali everything, her all, her entire being and what’s left of her heart.

Her tongue slides into the brunette’s mouth and meets her eager tongue as they slowly dance together with none of the awkwardness of a normal first time. Her fingers tighten around Ali’s waist when the brunette lets out a contented sigh and dips her hand below the back of Ashlyn’s collar, her fingers grazing the soft skin there which makes Ashlyn’s skin erupt in goosebumps as her senses screech to life. Though Ashlyn’s body is on fire, every nerve screaming for what she’s denied herself for so long, it also feels comfortable, like she’s been making love to Ali for her entire life as she slides her hands to cup Ali’s ass and effortlessly lifts the brunette to carry her over to the bed.

Gently, she lays Ali down on the end of the bed, resisting the urge to quickly cover her body with her own as she takes in the beautiful sight of Ali lying on the bed, a dark, but calm look radiating from her eyes with waves of her shimmering brown hair framing her face perfectly. Her smile is soft and welcoming, and if it were not for the slight lopsided smirk creeping across her lips and the darkness in her eyes, Ashlyn would think she just woke up from a blissful night of sleep. She’s beautiful, absolutely gorgeous and it makes Ashlyn nervous as her heart begins fluttering when her eyes travel down to the black shirt clinging to Ali’s strong frame and the skinny black jeans she had shimmied into earlier after their victory. The tightness of the clothes leave little to the imagination and Ashlyn takes in a deep breath as she realizes that Ali in her natural state can only get even more beautiful.

“You are so gorgeous,” Ashlyn whispers in awe as she finally steps towards the bed, sensing that Ali took her momentary pause as a sign of hesitation. She slowly climbs onto the bed, her knees resting on either side of Ali’s as she runs her hands tantalizingly slow down the brunette’s sides, relishing the way Ali's body reacts to her touch.

Ali can sense the admiration in Ashlyn’s voice and settles back onto the bed with ease. As much as her body is aching for release, she knows this is something that Ashlyn needs to take at her own speed and that she will definitely be well rewarded for the wait. They’ve come so far and the last thing Ali wants is to be left alone in bed again by pushing her too fast. “I look even better without the World Cup Champion shirt on,” Ali teases, bringing lightness to the encounter that both had been missing.

“I’m getting there,” Ash replies sassily with a smirk as her hands tease the skin under the hem of the black t-shirt hanging tightly on Ali’s body. She lets out a soft sigh as Ashlyn slowly pushes the fabric up and her fingers ghost over her toned stomach which clenches at the stimulating touch. Ashlyn’s breath falters for just a moment when Ali sits up to help her pull the shirt over her head and her eyes catch Ali’s already hardened nipples through her white lace bra. They keep eye contact as Ali helps Ashlyn remove her shirt and Ashlyn moves up so she’s straddling Ali as the brunette holds herself up and runs her fingers around to Ashlyn’s back, pulling gently at the fabric pooled there before Ashlyn slowly takes it off to even the playing field.

They stay there sitting in silence looking at each other while feeling their desires continually rise until they can’t take it anymore. Ashlyn leans over Ali, covering the brunette’s smaller frame while gently pressing her lips to Ali’s neck. She starts off soft with her hand gently stroking up Ali’s side, but her own desire raging through her body quickly urges her to press harder, kiss deeper. When her teeth bite down lightly on Ali’s pulse point she lets out a moan, relishing the feeling of pleasure bordering on pain, pleasure winning out especially when the blonde’s strong hands began massaging her breasts over the white lacey bra.

It doesn’t take long before Ashlyn wants more and Ali is quick to oblige her as she leans forward and lets Ashlyn deftly unclasp the bra and pull it smoothly over her shoulders before discarding it on the floor onto the growing pile of clothes. Her eyes widen a bit at the sight of Ali topless before her and her heart rate doubles at the realization that she was in fact correct –Ali can only get more beautiful. Her lips attack the freshly revealed skin as she trails her tongue from the crook of Ali’s neck down to her perky nipple which she adeptly takes between her teeth, biting down gently, just enough to elicit a slight gasp from Ali before her tongue is quick to draw soothing circles around it. She barely registers Ali’s fingers raking up her back, too lost in her own blissful state, until she feels the brunette’s fingers slip under her own bra, tugging the sports bra over her head.

They break contact only for a moment, but it’s already too much for Ashlyn as the burning sensation takes over her entire body, every nerve ending screaming with emotion and need. She finally feels again and it’s not just the desire she has for Ali, but everything. Every emotion she has housed deep down is pulsing through her veins, the dams holding them back broken by her thundering heart which sends everything coursing through her unrestrained. Her mind and body are suddenly awake, her spirit awoken by the brunette writhing underneath her and she wouldn’t have it any other way knowing that you always have to take the bad with the good. Her mind is reeling, in complete overdrive with a singular focus as her hands finally slide down Ali’s body and find the button of her jeans.

With a soft smile, she pops the button and slowly pulls down the zipper, noting how Ali’s eyes widen and simultaneously become a shade darker. Ali wiggles out of them while biting down on her bottom lip, taking in the way Ashlyn is admiring every inch of her body. She’s never felt so special, so loved as Ashlyn begins kissing every inch of her skin.

“You are more beautiful that I could ever have imagined,” she says, her voice cracking in complete awe as she places a kiss to Ali’s ankle where a faded scar from a rogue tackle raised slightly from her skin. Her kisses move further upward, running a trail of soft, stimulating ones to the faintly discolored line along her lower right leg where it had been fractured in college. “So beautiful,” she adds softly with her lips right over the faded scar on her left knee, the one that ended her Olympic dreams.

Ali’s heart rate is spiking as Ashlyn continues her intimate, but extremely erotic journey up her legs, kissing every inch of exposed skin with extra emphasis on the damaged skin, lingering at each scar to let Ali know she was beautiful despite her scars, flaws and broken past. Her loving touch and tender kisses are sending waves of euphoria coursing through Ali’s veins as she presses her head back into the pillow despite her desire to keep her eyes open. She wants to take it all in, to engrain the sight of Ashlyn’s lips on her skin into her memory, but she can’t even focus. Her mind is foggy with arousal as her skin explodes with goosebumps at every touch, becoming more sensitive by the second as the blonde smirks against her skin.

“Ash,” Ali whispers, barely audible and she barely registers it herself when she feels Ashlyn’s lips still breaths away from where Ali needs her the most.

She pulls her head up from the pillow and meets Ashlyn’s lust filled gaze. Her eyes are dark and hungry and Ali honestly can’t believe she has that much self control to take things this slow. “Please,” she says softly, her voice not pleading, but slightly urgent and Ash smiles as her fingers tease the skin just below the waistband of Ali’s black lace panties. She sucks in a deep breath and presses her eyes closed again when she feels the soft fabric slide down her legs and over the tips of her toes.

Ashlyn quickly shucks off her own pants and boy shorts before turning her attention back to the patiently waiting brunette. “So beautiful,” she says again like she still can’t believe it as she lowers her body down onto Ali, relishing the burning feeling rippling through her flesh at the skin on skin contact. With her weight pressing Ali firmly into the mattress she strokes a few hairs out of the brunette’s face before leaning in for a soft, but deeply passionate kiss. Ali’s hips push up into hers searching for more friction and Ashlyn knows she’s drawn it on long enough. She’s taken it slow and admired Ali’s body and now it was time to give in to their wildest desires.

Her hand trails down Ali’s rib cage over the script tattoo and she can feel Ali’s fingernails pressing into her back, knowing there will likely be deep, red scratches down it in the morning if she’s already this worked up. Her hands finally meet the soft warmth of Ali’s folds and she sucks in a deep breath when she finds the wetness waiting for her. Her fingers tease over Ali’s clit for just a moment, their eyes locked, chests rising and falling in perfect, chaotic unison as a wave of peace washes over both of them.

“I love you,” Ashlyn whispers with an uncharacteristically shy smile before pushing two fingers gently into the brunette’s core.

She isn't sure if it's the way the blatantly sincere words slip off Ashlyn's tongue or the way her fingers slip into her effortlessly, but the few nerve endings that weren't already firing in Ali's body scream to life as she feels waves of white hot heat wash through her body. "Fuck," she moans out with her eyes locked on Ashlyn's, not caring the the extremely intimate moment was ruined by her dirty mouth. "You feel so good, Ash," she mumbles, her eyes forced closed as the room spins around her. She feel like she's floating, like her body is lighter than air and when the blonde brushes her clit gently with her thumb, her head drops back onto the pillow as she loses all control over her body.

She's trembling and Ashlyn can feel the tremors rippling through Ali's already exhausted legs as she strokes her towards an orgasm, her lips working on the brunette's neck which is strained as her head presses firmly back into the pillow. She's surprised she doesn't feel Ali's nails raking into her back, but a smirk passes across her lips when she glances beside her to see Ali's knuckles turning white as they grasp the sheets tightly like she’s holding on for dear life.

"I'm close," Ali whispers through a moan and her raspy voice only turns Ashlyn on even more, her confidence bolstered by the effect she is having on Ali. It may have been over a year since she had heard her name on someone else’s lips, but the physical evidence of what she’s doing to Ali’s body is making her heart pump even faster, reaching almost dangerous levels. She can feel the wetness pooling between her own legs and her pulsing need for release, but right now Ashlyn's mind is only focused on one thing and that's sending Ali over the edge with her name on the brunette's lips.

She slows her fingers and pulls her lips away from Ali's neck and ignores her frustrated whine, instead kissing her way down Ali's body, her tongue swirling around her nipples and then down to her navel which makes the defender's abdominal muscles clench tighter, a reaction that Ashlyn can feel around her fingers which are buried deep inside the brunette. She can tell Ali is reaching her breaking point from the way her eyes are screwed shut, her strained knuckles are almost blending into the the white sheets wrapped tightly around them and the low, throaty moans that are escaping her mouth as her legs wrap around Ashlyn's back to pull her in even closer. “Fuck, Ash,” she hears Ali moan, followed by the increasingly loud sound of her panting. She’s unable to catch her breath and as Ali’s moans get higher pitched, Ashlyn ghosts her tongue over the brunette’s hard clit and sends them to a whole other octave.

“Ash,” she gets out in a keening wail as Ashlyn’s lips wrap around her now throbbing clit, sucking gently as her fingers continue to press into Ali, her hips giving her even more power as she thrusts into Ali, feeling her body spasm every time. She feels Ali tighten around her and her body go rigid before a wave of tremors ripple through the defender, sending her body convulsing as Ashlyn’s name, curse words and deities slip out of her mouth. Ashlyn never pegged Ali to be such a dirty talker in bed, but then again she never imagined being this turned on by just the sight of Ali orgasming, her eyes shut, hair splayed around her face which is etched in a blissful pleasure as a light sheen of sweat coats her perfect, naked body.

She pulls her fingers out, but keeps her lips trained on Ali’s clit, her tongue gently sliding through her glistening folds as she laps at Ali’s wetness and works her down slowly from her euphoric state. “Mmmm,” Ashlyn hums as she feels Ali’s hands, which must have finally unraveled themselves from the sheets, in her hair tugging her up. She pulls her face from between the defender’s legs and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand before crawling up Ali’s body. “Was that World Champion worthy?” she asks teasingly, her voice softer and less cocky than Ali would have figured considering the circumstances, considering that the entire hotel likely knew someone was having the best orgasm of their life.

“I love you,” is all Ali says in response as she quickly flips their positions, catching the blonde off guard who now finds herself being straddled. “I love you so much,” she repeats with her sparkling lust-filled eyes locked on the blonde’s as she slowly grinds her hips down into Ashlyn’s feeling the blonde’s warm wetness against her hot skin. “I love you too,” she hears Ashlyn whisper in response, but her breath is already becoming ragged as Ali increases her pressure, her pelvis pressing down on Ashlyn's throbbing center. “I’ll never leave you,” Ali says assuredly as she ghosts her fingers down Ashlyn’s side, tracing the ink scrawled across her taut skin.

“Never?” Ashlyn whispers timidly, her eyes housing sadness, a hopeful disbelief as she looks up at Ali, the second woman she’s ever given her heart to, and possibly the first to never desert it.

“Never,” Ali replies confidently as she takes Ashlyn’s lips in her own while sliding two fingers deep into the blonde’s pulsing core. “Never," she repeats, her fingers thrusting in and out of of the blonde whose skin is burning, toes already curled as her fingers claw at Ali's back.

It doesn't take long for Ashlyn to find herself building up to orgasm. She was already right on the edge after finishing Ali, but after a few minutes, and over a year of not having sex, she's right there, clutching Ali's back tightly as she spreads her legs farther so Ali can get even deeper. "Yes, Alex," she moans, her face buried in the crook of the brunette's neck. She feels like she's on a runaway freight train and knows she's about to hit a wall, but she doesn't care, as she raises her hips to meet Ali's perfectly tantalizing rhythm. "Don't stop," she pleads, praying that the brunette doesn't have it in mind to tease her.

Ali smirks, knowing she has the blonde exactly where she wants her. She bites her bottom lip to cut through the pain she knows is coming and curls her fingers to hit Ashlyn in just the right spot. A slight grunt escapes her lips as Ashlyn's short fingernails pierce her skin, but it's drowned out by the sound of Ashlyn's screaming her exhilarating release.

"Fuck, Alex," she cries, her whole body shaking as the orgasm ripples through with blinding intensity. Her body drops back down onto the bed, chest heaving as she tries to steady her racing heart. "Holy shit," she finally gets out with a chuckle when Ali settles on top of her, their bodies sticking together due to the hazy heat clinging to their skin.

They lay quietly for a few moments while Ali rolls over to her side with her head still resting on the blonde's shoulder and strokes her fingers lazily up and down Ashlyn's forearm as she waits for her vision to come back into focus. After a few minutes, the starts circling Ashlyn's head have faded and she reaches her hand around to Ali's hip to pull her back on top of her. The brunette's tired eyes go wide in confusion causing another smirk to pass across Ashlyn's face.

"You thought we were done?" Ashlyn teases as her fingers began rubbing perfect circles over Ali's still swollen clit, earning her a worked up sigh from the brunette. "What happened to that stamina I was hearing all about earlier?" she adds challengingly, seeing a fierce darkness pass through Ali's eyes just before they're forced close by the by the feeling of her long fingers slipping inside of her.

She gasps at the feeling as her hands play with the blonde's breasts, rolling her nipples between her fingers as her strong thighs power her up and down on the long fingers buried deep inside her. She already feels close to the edge, the smoldering look she's getting from the cocky blonde only making the pleasurable feeling between her legs increase. She's honestly not sure how much more she can take, the exhaustion from the game mixing with the emotional toll from afterwards, but she'll never back down from a challenge. If the blonde keeps making her feel like this, she'll stay up all god damn night. "Bring it, Harris," she challenges in a husky voice, and as the blonde's cocky chuckle is overpowered by her own raw, guttural moans as her juices spill out onto Ashlyn's fingers for the second time while her legs shake uncontrollably with a mixture of pleasure and fatigue, she knows they're both in for a long, long night.

Chapter Text

It’s an unfamiliar feeling when Ali wakes up that morning and it’s not because she recalls that for the first time in her life she’s a world champion. No, she thinks it has more to do with the warm body pressed into her back and the tattooed arm haphazardly thrown around her waist. She’s usually a morning person, always eager to jump out of bed and attack the day, but in this moment she thinks she could stay wrapped in the blonde’s arms forever. It’s warm and despite the soft snores vibrating in her ear, comfortable and she knows that when she steps outside into the real world, everyone is going to want a piece of her. Fans, media, sponsors, they’ll all want her and she closes her eyes, wanting for just a few minutes longer to belong only to the one person she loves most -Ashlyn.

Ashlyn wakes up after Ali has drifted back to sleep, smiling when she finally comes to her bearings and realizes where she is as memoires of the night before come flooding into her mind. After letting her eyes adjust to the soft light streaming in through the translucent curtains of the hotel, she takes a few moments to process it all. She breathes in deeply, letting Ali’s scent permeate into her mind, and pulls her in tighter so she feel her warm body even closer. Ashlyn didn’t think it was possible, but in this moment she thinks Ali looks even more beautiful than she’s ever seen her. She loves the way the soft rays glow off her skin, that the sheets are pooled perfectly across her waist with just a piece of her side tattoo peaking out, how her chest is so peacefully rising and falling and the way her body is so perfectly at peace snuggled tightly into her. She doesn’t want to wake Ali, but with a glance to the clock she knows it won’t be long until she hears a banging on Ali’s door. Noah’s likely been up for an hour already and she knows he can be a bit difficult in the morning.

Her arms pull Ali in tighter and she begins to pepper her shoulder with light kisses, smiling against the brunette’s soft skin when Ali hums in acknowledgement. “Morning, beautiful,” Ash says softly as she continues her kisses up to Ali’s neck. She tries to contain her surprise when Ali grips her hand that’s slung around the brunette’s waist and slides it down between her legs, but after some of the things she saw and heard the night before from Ali, she knows she’s seen a side of the brunette that few ever have before. It’s a stark contrast to the sweet, innocent, all American girl version of Ali that the rest of the world gets to see on a regular basis and just the thought of Ali relentlessly riding her fingers, her muscular legs spasming as she sunk down and fucked herself the night before, makes Ashlyn squeeze her own legs together tightly as she strokes the brunette gently.

“Mmmm,” Ali purrs as she spreads her legs further apart to give Ashlyn more room to work. She can feel the blonde’s lips gently sucking on her neck and she’s already too far gone in blissful morning sex to care if she has to ask the makeup crew cover a plethora of hickies. She feels like she’s floating, like she feels everything, but nothing at all as the sun streaming through the curtains casts a soft glow in the room and the heat of Ashlyn’s body pressed firmly into hers has created such a state of euphoria that she’s not sure if she can handle an orgasm on top of it.

Ashlyn can tell Ali is already on cloud nine, her normally loud moans replaced this morning by soft contented sighs and it amazes her how the brunette has so many sides to her. Her phone vibrates next to her and she pulls her lips from Ali’s neck for just a moment to see the alarm she set for Ali the night before go off. Knowing at the rate they were going, Ashlyn’s attempts to pleasure Ali were going to cause her to blissfully fall back to sleep, Ashlyn decides to take matters into her own hands. She bites down on Ali’s shoulder, harder than she had before and a sharp gasp slips from Ali’s lips as she throws a leg over Ali so she’s now straddling her waist.

“Good morning,” she smirks while slipping two fingers inside Ali, stifling her moans by taking Ali’s lips into her own. The response is immediate when Ali’s eyes jerk wide open and her hands frantically search for purpose, finding refuge in wavy blonde hair that she urgently tugs at.

“Yes, Ash,” she moans, her morning voice so raspy that Ashlyn’s smirk is quickly replaced with a soft smile, that is until she feels Ali’s tongue slip into her mouth, her hands pulling more firmly on her hair as she begs for release. “Don’t stop, babe,” she pleads, the pet name going unnoticed by both women who are too caught in the moment to process anything but their desire to find closeness.

Ash is surprised when the usual, ‘Fuck yes. I’m coming, Ash,’ from the night before is replaced by a simple sated sigh as Ali drops back to bed, a look of pure satisfaction smeared across her face. Ashlyn settles onto the bed and pulls Ali into her side, placing a kiss on her forehead as she watches the brunette try and settle her spiking heart rate. She’s sure her own is nearly beating out of her chest and she honestly doesn’t think she’ll ever get enough of the brunette now that she’s had a taste. She’s hooked in every sense of the word.

“Morning,” Ali mumbles a minute later when her thoughts finally come back to her. She rolls over on her side to face Ashlyn and looks at her with complete admiration that the blonde can tell is not just a result of what she’s done to her body. She looks peaceful, happier than Ashlyn’s ever seen and although in the pit of her stomach there’s the tiniest pang of guilt, she loves that she’s the one behind the perfectly brilliant smile stretching across Ali’s face.

“Hey you,” she says softly and leans forward to place a sweet kiss on her lips. “How does it feel being a world champion and all?”

Ali just sleepily smiles and shyly buries her head in the blonde’s shoulder, still in disbelief that she’s here, that they’re here and that she can’t sense a hint of regret in the soft hazel irises looking back at her that morning. “I think I got something even better than a gold medal last night,” she mumbles into Ashlyn’s neck and receives a chuckle in response.

“Well aren’t you charming?” Ash teases, leaning back a bit so she can meet Ali’s eyes which are sparkling with a light that she’s never seen before. “Who knew Alexandra Krieger had so much game?” she asks rhetorically, remembering the way Ali had her so worked up before they even left the club the night before.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet, Harris!” she laughs, before rolling over and slipping out of bed, making sure to sashay her naked hips as she makes her way to the bathroom. She hears a whine behind her and turns around to face a pouting Ashlyn with a coy grin. She knows she only has two hours until she has to be at the Fox Soccer set, but the hungry stare Ashlyn is giving her at the moment makes her mind go blank. “You going to join me in the shower, or what?”

Almost an hour later after a quite eventful shower they knock on the door to Ashlyn’s room where Kyle stayed with Noah, but there’s no answer. Ash pulls the extra key out of her pocket figuring Kyle took him out somewhere for him to run off his early morning energy, but she has to hold in a laugh when they take a few steps into the room and see the two boys in the soft glow of the television which must have stayed on from the night before.

Kyle is sprawled out on his back in Noah’s bed, still in one of Ali’s old jerseys from the night before. Noah, who is still in his Krieger jersey as well with the gold medal draped around his neck is curled into his side, clutching a half eaten bag of Cheetos in his little fist on top of Kyle’s chest. Both of their mouths are open and besides the drool, there’s a few empty bags of candy and crumbs scattered around them.

Ali quickly pulls out her phone and snaps a picture while one hand covers her mouth to hold in the laugh that’s bubbling up. It’s definitely a photo that’s going to grace Instagram one day soon.

“Look at your number one fans,” Ashlyn teases as she pulls Ali into her with an arm around her shoulder.

“I thought that was supposed to be you?” the brunette challenges with a smirk as she rests her hand on the blonde’s chest and looks up at her sweetly.

“Judging from what you were saying last night, I’d say you’re my number one fan,” Ash replies smugly with a wink that quickly earns her a slap.

Chapter Text

The sun has only been hanging in the sky for a few hours when Ali and Ashlyn find themselves in a Vancouver park watching Kyle, Ken and Noah kick a soccer ball around in a patch of grass shaded by giant, plush Maple trees. Deb and her husband have already flown back to Florida and in a few hours Ali will be joining her teammates on their chartered flight to Los Angeles where over ten thousand fans are expected to greet them. She's excited for the celebration to continue, but sad that Ashlyn and Noah will be flying back to Florida for the time being.

They're sitting on a worn, wooden park bench with Ali cuddled into Ashlyn's side when she finally breaks the silence. "I'm going to miss you two," Ali pouts, as she rubs her thumb gently over the back of Ashlyn's skin, relishing the softness of it as her finger grazes over smooth metal. It doesn't even register as the whole time she's deep in thought about how she's actually going to be able to live without the blonde and Noah.

Ashlyn wraps her arm tighter around the brunette and rests her chin on Ali's head. "We're going to miss you too, Alex," she responds with a sigh. As much as she wants to be supportive of Ali, she's really disappointed that she'll be in Sweden in less than a month and hasn't quite decided how she's going to break it to her son who is obviously enamored with her. "We'll come visit though."

"In D.C. before I leave or in Sweden?" Ali asks with a raised eyebrow. They hadn't really talked much about where they were going from here even though both knew they had definitely taken the next step in their relationship.

Ash just shrugs as she watches Ken pick Noah up and twirl him around in the air. There's a huge smile plastered on both of their faces and she can feel Ali smiling against her neck as she watches the same thing. "Obviously I'd love if we could make a visit to Sweden work," she says honestly. "But we'll definitely be up to help you pack and see you off before that."

"Yeah?" Ali asks, pulling back a bit to meet the blonde's eyes.

"You think I'd let my girlfriend fly to a different country without saying goodbye?" she asks, feigning offense as she smiles widely knowing Ali picked up on her words.

The brunette leans back a bit more and meets her gaze. Her hand is playing with the loose hairs at the base of Ashlyn's neck. "Girlfriend, huh?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.

Ashlyn shrugs with a shy smile as Noah comes barreling into her, a laughing, giggly mess. "Hey bud," she says excitedly and plucks him from the ground, smothering him with kisses as he shrieks wildly.

"MAMA NO!" he yells between his giggles.

Ashlyn just laughs and finally stops her attack. "I've got a question, Noah," she says, her voice becoming more serious and her son can tell and sits back on her lap while taking her cheeks in his hands. "You know how we both love Ali a lot?" she asks and holds her breath as she anxiously awaits an answer. He nods and she continues after shooting an apprehensive look at the defender. "How would you feel if Ali spent a lot more time with us? Like if she was my girlfriend?"

The little boy furrows his eyebrows and looks between both women for a moment. He shrugs nonchalantly, not realizing the difference. "Okay. I love Ali," he says innocently and reaches out to the brunette who pulls him into her lap and wraps her arms tightly around the little boy.

"And I love you too, Noah. So very very much," she says sincerely, taking in the boy's scent. She's become so familiar with it, but knows that'll be the first thing to fade from her memory when she heads to Sweden.

"Okay bye!" he says excitedly and slips off her lap to run back over to Kyle and Ken.

"The kid has spoken. Now you have to be my girlfriend," Ash says with a smug smile. She knows Ali can never say no to Noah, even though she's sure this is something she would agree with anyways.

"Using your adorable son against me, Harris?" Ali playfully chides as she smacks her arm lightly. "I see how it is!"

"He won't even notice a difference!" Ashlyn replies. She knows they were practically dating without the intimacy and that's not something her toddler will be privy to anyways.

Ali just rolls her eyes and leans back into the blonde's arms. "Well since I have no say I guess I'll be your girlfriend." She laughs when Ashlyn leaps up in the air and fist pumps. The blonde's childlike excitement never ceases to amaze her. She shakes her head and pulls Ashlyn back down onto the bench. They sit for a moment with Ali intertwined into the blonde's arms watching Ken try to teach Noah how to kick the ball across a five yard patch of grass to Kyle. "So we're really doing this, huh?" she questions, her head buried into the crook of Ashlyn's neck.

"I'm in if you are," Ash replies quickly and gives Ali a squeeze.

Ali smiles against her skin, placing a few light kisses on her exposed neck. As if that wasn't enough of an answer, she verbalizes. "Oh, I'm in," she whispers teasingly. She knows how much she loves the new found fun that results from they taking that next step. She had loved Ashlyn without a doubt, but their sexual chemistry was off the charts as well. There's no way she could ever get enough of the blonde. A soft sigh escapes her lips as she realizes being a continent away will quickly put an end to that.

"I'm sure we can find a way to still get you off," Ashlyn whispers huskily in her ear, her hot breath sending shivers down Ali's spine. Her arms wraps just a bit tighter around Ali whose fingers raise a bit up Ashlyn's thigh.

She lets out a groan when she realizes why Ashlyn is smirking at her so widely. "Oh god! You're totally thinking about that time you saw me getting off over Skype when I was away with the national team, aren't you?!" she hisses, her eyes wide as she realizes that Ashlyn may have seen more that she let on at the time.

"Maybe," she smiles deviously, not being able to forget the way Ali's face was etched in bliss with her hand between her own legs. It paled in comparison to the real thing, to knowing that she was the one who put that expression on her face, but the sexy image was still something ingrained in her mind and she knew with Ali being an ocean away that they'd have to get creative.

With a sigh, Ali buries her head back into the blonde's shoulder. "Wipe that stupid smirk off your face or that will be the last time you ever get a show," Ali grumbles, but the soft chuckle that follows takes the bite out of the words.

"Whatever you say, Alex. Whatever you say," she replies with a laugh. If Ali from the last two nights is any indication of what's to come, she's sure there's a lot more shows in her future. "I'm just glad you're all mine," she admits honestly. Judging from the way the team had been hounded at the three star ceremony on the Fox Soccer set the morning before, she knows how hot of a commodity her girlfriend is. Not that she doubted Ali's loyalty in any capacity, but she's glad they both know where they stand now.

"I'm not all yours," Ali replies evenly and the blunt confession makes Ashlyn pause and pull back for a moment. "There's a pretty adorable little boy over there that's proving to be pretty stiff completion, Harris," Ali says with a wink before pushing off the bench and running over to her brother, dad and Noah, with a laughing blonde hot on her tail.

Chapter Text

“Alex?” Ash called out as she slowly opened the door of Ali’s apartment. Her arms were juggling a stack of empty boxes that she had snagged from the grocery store down the street. She sets them down on the living room floor, ignoring the despondent feeling that seeped into her veins when she looked around the half-empty apartment.

“We’re in the bedroom!” Ali calls out followed by a fit of giggles.

Intrigued, Ashlyn picks up her pace as she makes her way down the long hallway with bare walls and taps open the door to the brunette’s bedroom with her knuckles. A chuckle escapes her lips and she playfully rolls her eyes at the sight in front of her. “I thought we were here to help you pack, not play dress up,” she groans and flops onto the bed where Ali is sitting watching Noah try to traipse around her room in a pair of Ali’s high heels. He’s also wearing a full-size Spirit jersey with one of Ali’s white fedoras angled on his head, but covering his eyes which is making him wobble even more.

“He said I’m his favorite and he wanted to be just like me,” Ali says proudly with a smug expression on her face as she jostles Ashlyn's shoulder with a teasing glint in her eyes.

Ashlyn rolls across the bed and wraps herself in the comforter to stave off Ali’s tickle attack. “Is that so, bud? You wanted to be just like Ali?”

“Just like mommy,” he nods emphatically before pulling Ali’s Spirit warm-up jacket off the back of the chair and trying to slip his arms into it.

Ali’s jaw drops while Ashlyn’s eyes simultaneously go wide. It's been two weeks since the World Cup and Ashlyn and Noah were in town to watch Ali’s last Spirit game and help her pack for Sweden and although they had taken their relationship to the next level and were openly affectionate around Noah, he hadn’t called Ali mommy since the time she was hurt in the Houston game and it wasn’t anything they had discussed with him or each other. The couple was still trying to take things slow with the new developments in their relationship, just relishing their time together as a little family, and their alone time together. She knew Ali was in their future, that much was obvious, but the timeline surrounding it all was bit hazy. They had technically only been dating for a couple weeks, but realistically it felt like years.

Ashlyn’s mind goes blank and she can see the panic in Ali’s eyes. It’s not that she didn’t want to be a motherly figure to Noah, she just didn’t know how to approach the subject. This was something for Ashlyn to handle since Noah was her son, but she can barely find the words to address the situation. Should they just let him call her that? Would it make Ali uncomfortable? The blonde racks her brain for answers and her mouth opened and closed several times without any words coming out, until Ali finally breaks through the silence.

“Need some help with that jacket, Noah?” she asks nonchalantly, acting as if nothing had happened.

“Mhmm,” he hums and holds his arms up happily as Ali slides the cuffs down his arms, laughing as the jacket engulfs his tiny body.

And just like that, everything was back to normal as Ali sank back down on the bed and curled up into Ashlyn’s side, pressing a kiss to her lips. “What?” she asks feigning innocence as she lays her head back down on the blonde’s stomach, unable to meet her eyes without a grin creeping across her lips.

“You know what,” Ash hisses, trying to get Ali’s attention without gathering Noah’s.

Ali just shrugs and leans back a bit to meet the blonde’s gaze. “He’s barely two, Ash. Whatever he needs or wants me to be, I’ll be it.”

She says it as if it’s the simplest thing in the world and though Ash pauses for a moment, she realizes there really is no other way to play it. Should she really scold her son for expressing how he really feels about Ali, only to tell him later down the road that it’s okay for him to call her that? It’s a complicated web they’re weaving, but she figures Ali played it best by just acting natural and letting Noah set his own course with Ali just as she had done over the past year.

Hearing her son verbalize his true feelings though makes her heartbeat falter when she remembers why they’re there. Her eyes fall on a stack of boxes that are going to be relocated to Ken’s basement while Ali goes to Sweden to play for Tyreso. The contact was originally only going to be a few months, but with the World Cup boom they wanted the players to sign on for the entire Champions League tournament. It could be from August to late fall if they fell early on, or it could last all the way until the next May if they won the whole thing. Ashlyn can’t see herself living without Ali for that long let alone taking Ali away from Noah as well, especially when they had finally just begun to discover what they could truly be. After the things Ali did to her body in Vancouver, she honestly wasn’t sure if she could live without the brunette’s touch for that long either.

She lets out a deep sigh that lets Ali know she’s deep in thought. “What’s wrong, Ash?” the brunette asks as she strokes her fingers up and down the tattooed arm that’s wrapped around her waist. Her eyes are still on Noah who has lost the high heels and has instead slipped on her Nike cleats and is kicking his tiny soccer ball around the room.

The silence hangs between them for a few moments until they both let out a chuckle when Noah kicks his ball and knocks over a stack of shoe boxes, uttering his now famous, 'Aw shit' line that he had become so fond of. “I just can’t believe you’re leaving,” she confesses, exhaling deeply as she pulls Noah up onto the bed with them. He quickly cuddles into Ali’s side, his eyes drooping from exhaustion.

“I know,” Ali says softly as she switches from rubbing Ashlyn’s arm to Noah’s back in an attempt to get him to go down for a nap. “I’m going to miss you two so much,” she admits honestly. They’d held in feelings for so long that blatant honesty was now a mantra in their relationship. “I don’t even know what I’ll do without my good morning cuddles. And…and Noah’s birthday is going to be after I’ve already left,” she pouts.

As she looks down at Ali rubbing her son’s back, she can tell that she’s getting choked up and starting to regret her decision to sign with the Swedish powerhouse. The last thing she wants Ali to do is doubt herself and her dreams so Ash is quick to admit something. “I’ve been doing some thinking,” she starts and feels Ali tense next to her.

The brunette holds up a finger to silence Ash for a moment until she hears soft snores escaping from Noah’s mouth. “Let’s take this out there,” she says, nodding to the hallway outside the bedroom as she carefully slips out from underneath Noah without waking him. Ash follows her out to the kitchen and just as she turns around the finish the conversation, she feels Ashlyn’s hips press her back into the counter. With a hand on each side of Ali’s body, she has the brunette trapped against the counter and hungrily takes Ali’s lips into her own. It quickly heats up as Ash forces her tongue into Ali’s mouth and the brunette can feel her knees getting weak as Ashlyn’s hands slide up to grip her waist tightly. Her mind is swirling and as much as she wants the blonde to take her right there on the counter, she fights through her urges and places a hand on her chest to push her back. “You were saying?” Ali quips with a raised eyebrow as she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and ignores Ashlyn’s groan. “The faster you talk,” she adds sliding her hand down the blonde’s torso until it settles on the zipper of her jeans, “the faster we can get back to this.”

Ashlyn lets out a frustrated sigh when Ali rubs her gently over her jeans before pulling her hand back and biting her bottom lip while looking at her expectantly. “As I was saying,” Ash says, letting out a cough to clear her throat and recover from her rapid breathing. “I’ve been doing some thinking and I honestly don’t think I can be without you for that long,” she says evenly and leans back against the refrigerator crossing her arms.

Ali doesn’t know what to say and can feel Ashlyn slipping away. She’s about to beg, about to tell Ashlyn that she’ll find a way out of the contract so she can stay in the States with her and Noah, but a finger to her lips lets her know to shut up and let Ashlyn finish talking. She pops up and sits on the counter, anxiously kicking her feet as she waits for the blonde to continue.

“I’ve always wanted to start my own company,” Ash continues, and draws on, her sentences becoming agonizingly long as she teases Ali a bit more. “And what I’ve always loved is designing houses. That’s what I originally wanted to do before I signed with my current firm,” she supplies.

“I didn’t know that,” Ali admits, shocked by a seemingly large piece of information that she wasn’t aware of.

Ashlyn just shrugs and keeps going. “I couldn’t turn down the paycheck,” she laughs. “Building corporate office buildings and stadiums brings in bigger bucks than houses,” she adds and Ali nods in understanding. “Anyways…I was…well I have some money saved up and I was thinking of maybe quitting my job and starting my own company.”

Ali’s eyes narrow as she looks back at the blonde. It’s great news, but she’s not really sure why Ashlyn is telling her all of this two days before she’s supposed to leave. “That’s great, Ash, but…”

“I want Noah and I to go with you to Sweden,” Ash breathes out nervously and Ali barely catches the words.

“What?” she replies, eyes wide as she tries to process the information.

Ashlyn lets out a deep breath and takes a few steps so she’s between Ali’s legs. Her arms slide around the brunette’s back and she settles when their faces are inches apart. “I can start my company and work from Sweden. I already have some clients lined up and Noah isn’t in school yet so it’s the perfect time. We want to go with you, Alex.” She closes her eyes, unable to bring herself to read Ali’s eyes, to see the rejection she thinks might be coming. Ali is moving to a new country with one job in mind, to win, and Ashlyn doesn’t know how she and her toddler help that scenario.

“Yes,” Ali says, lifting Ashlyn’s chin and holding it until the blonde opens her eyes. When she does, she’s met with the most beautiful, twinkling hazel eyes and a purely blissful expression. “Yes I want you two there.”

Ashlyn doesn’t even respond, she just pulls Ali closer to her by the waist and hungrily presses her lips into the brunette’s. "Yeah?" she asks smugly, slipping her hand up the leg of Ali's shorts to brush her fingers teasingly over Ali's panties. She feels the brunette tense against her for just a second before her legs spread farther and she melts into her touch.

"Yes," Ali gets out through a gasp when the blonde's fingers find their way underneath her panties to rub circles against her throbbing clit.

Soon her cries of 'yes' have an entirely different meaning as Ashlyn's thumb slips into her slick folds, her palm rubbing over Ali's clit to quickly work her towards the edge.

"Yes, babe," Ali cries softly as her legs begin vibrating in ecstasy. She muffles her words in Ashlyn's US Soccer hoodie as best she can so that they don't wake the sleeping boy in the other room, but Ashlyn still feels the need to shush her, threatening to pull out of Ali can't keep quiet.

The secretness of it, the way Ali's biting down on the thick fabric encircling her shoulder turns Ashlyn on in a way she hadn't expected. As she feels Ali's raspy moans vibrating through the cotton hoodie, all thoughts of taking it slow go out the window and without warning she quickly rips her shorts and panties off, replacing her fingers with her mouth.

Ali's eyes shoot open at the new sensation as Ashlyn's warm, wet tongue slides through her folds and dips deeply into her core. She fights to keep her eyes open as she feels Ashlyn's fingertips digging into her thighs, essentially pinning her down on the counter. The sight of the blonde bobbing her head, thrusting into her as she eagerly laps at her juices is enough to send Ali spiraling over the edge and when a loud, high pitched cry escapes her lips when she climaxes, she feels the blonde's hand leave her hip to shoot up to her mouth, clamping it shut.

"Shhhh," Ash hisses into Ali's core and the feeling of the words that are supposed to quiet the brunette makes her yell even louder. When Ash still doesn't let up she knows the blonde is so worked up herself that she's in for round two. A deep sigh escapes her lips when she feels her tongue slow, now circling her clit lazily but with a focused intent and as Ali drops her back onto the cool granite counter to prepare for the next round, she feels a soft dish towel being shoved into her hand and she can only roll her eyes at the blonde's attempt to subdue her cries.

"Keep quiet this time," Ash growls intensely and winks before fervently picking up her pace.

Chapter Text

“You coming out with us tonight, Kriegs?” Ali hears a moment after a sweaty pair of socks is tossed at her.

She looks up from her phone while grinning like an idiot to see her new teammates staring back at her with amused grins. “Oh…uhh…” she shifts under everyone’s stares and tries to look for an out. Ashlyn and Noah are coming in two days and she really wanted to just relax and finish getting the small two bedroom apartment set up for them. “I’m not sure,” she finally offers noncommittally as she slides her cleats off and plops down on the bench.

“Her girlfriend is coming in to town Sunday,” Whitney, a fellow American interjects for her, knowing how nervous Ali is for them to join her in Sweden. It’s the good kind of nervous, but she can tell the excited energy is eating up the other defender.

Ali smiles up at Whit with a flicker of gratitude while peeling off her socks until she feels a hand slap down on her shoulder. “Even better, Kriegs. Last night out before the wifey gets here,” says a teasing voice she recognizes as Caroline Seger, their captain.

With a grumble, Ali knows the battle is lost and besides she really could use a fun night out with the team. It’s been two weeks since she’d gotten to Sweden and had really enjoyed their camaraderie and appreciated how they welcomed her with open arms. It didn’t hurt that she shored up their shaky defense, but she felt their warm acceptance the first practice and knew that these girls would soon feel like family. “Alright, alright. Where are we heading tonight?” she asks, suddenly feeling anxious when the girls left in the locker room all chuckle deviously amongst themselves.

 

“A gay bar? Really?” Ali asks with a playful eye roll as Vero and Seger push her into the bar. It’s on the smaller side, basically carved into the wall between two crumbling brick buildings and Ali wonders what Ashlyn the architect would think about the deteriorating interior. Through the dim lighting, Ali can make out the bar on the far side, separated from them by a slick wooden dance floor and to the left is a stage that makes her shudder a bit, wondering what could be in store for them that night that would need a stage. In the United States Ali was guarded with her private life and that left little room for trips to shady gay bars. Still, as the music starts pumping through the large speakers drilled into the columns that stood on each side of the dance floor and a cold beer is pushed into her hand, she lets her walls down. No one here in Sweden knows who she is and when Vero and Whit tug her onto the dance floor she decides to let loose.

It’s not long before her second beer is empty and she makes her way back to the bar, wiping some beads of sweat from her forehead as she leans across and signals the bartender. She places her order and looks up at the TV above the bar which is showing the music video which goes along with the Swedish house music filling the room when she feels a slight nudge on her side. Casting a look to her right she eyes the taller brunette curiously when she realizes it’s not a teammate.

“Can I get you a drink?” the woman asks politely, her voice softer than Ali expected. Ali just smiles back at her when the bartender comes back and slides her beer across the bar top, telling her it’s on the house with a wink. “Ah, I see you already have a drink and someone to get them for you,” the woman chuckles and Ali feels bad as her shoulders slump a bit and her eyes dip nervously to floor. Ali can tell that this woman is the type whose gorgeous and doesn’t know it, her confidence not all there.

“Even if she didn’t,” Ali says, pointing the tip of her bottle at the cute bartender who is now helping a few of her teammates down the bar, “I have a girlfriend I love very much.”

The other woman takes a sip of her beer and nods her head in understanding. “I figured a woman as beautiful as yourself would already have been scooped up,” she says with a soft smile. “How long have you two been together?” she asks, her eyes falling to Ali’s phone screen that lights up with a text from Ashlyn, the picture of their little family on the field after the World Cup Final holding the trophy. The woman’s eyes light up a bit when she realizes who Ali is.

“About a month,” Ali supplies quickly, not realizing how strange it sounds.

Her eyes go wider as she points to the phone where the picture has now faded to black. “Only a month? That’s fast to fall in love, no?” she asks, her voice laced with a thick accent that lets Ali know English isn’t her first language.

“It’s a long story,” Ali chuckles and shakes her head as she thinks to how far back they’ve come. “We’ve known each other for a while, but things were…complicated to say the least.”

“Most love stories usually are,” the woman replies before finishing her beer. “Congratulations on the World Cup win,” she adds with a knowing look on her face, making Ali suddenly realize that anonymity might not find her in Sweden either.

Ali clinks her beer bottle against the other woman’s while the taller brunette signals the bartender over. “Two shots of…” she trails off and looks back pleadingly at Ali for an answer, her eyes full of innocence and Ali quickly finishes with, “Grey Goose,” before the bartender slips away. “I can’t pass up the opportunity to buy a World Cup Gold Medalist a shot!” the woman explains simply and Ali nods her head in understanding, knowing that she’s rarely paid for drinks since the win.

They take the shot quickly and then Ali poses for a picture with the woman before she’s pulled away by her teammates. “Nice meeting you!” she throws over her shoulder, slurring a bit as Whit and Press sandwich her on the dance floor. They stay out on the dance floor for the remainder of the night, having drinks handed to them by flirting Swedish girls until last call when Ali feels herself being half carried out by Whit and Seger, laughing at how much of a lightweight their ‘Warrior’ is.

A sound knock on the door in the morning rips Ali from her sleep, her eyes shooting wide open as she shoots up in bed. Confusion is quick to settle over her along with the hangover she now feels full force. “Shit,” Ali mumbles to herself as she pulls herself from bed and throws on a loose t-shirt to get the door. She figures it’s a teammate checking on her, but when she opens the door her jaw drops.

“Ash?” she says, her voice raspy and confused which makes the blonde chuckle.

“ALI!” shrieks Noah and as he hurtles into her arms Ali’s hand shoots to her forehead, rubbing her temples to try and calm the piercing headache which increased in intensity from the boy’s yelling. “SURPRISE!” he adds excitedly, his tiny hands squeezing Ali’s cheeks as he kisses her nose like she so often does to him.

“Is it…is it Sunday?” she asks, eyes wide thinking she slept for an entire day. She knows she had gotten drunk the night before, but honestly didn’t think it could have been that bad.

Ashlyn laughs and gently pushes past Ali with a handful of bags. “That’s the surprise part,” she says with an amused grin while taking in Ali’s stunned, disheveled appearance. “We came a day early!” Ashlyn tries to sound excited, but from the look of Ali she thinks maybe the surprise was a bad idea. “You okay there?” she asks, dropping the bags and pulling Ali and Noah into her arms.

“I have such a bad hangover,” she mumbles into the blonde’s chest, letting her head linger on the cool fabric of the cotton shirt. “The girls dragged me out last night.”

Ashlyn smiles knowingly and pulls Noah from Ali’s arms. “I know," she chuckles, finding the photo the girl from the bar the night before has posted on Twitter of a slightly drunk Ali and herself. The brunette groans when she sees it, instantly feeling guilty that Ash might think something happened, but Ashlyn is quick to quell her fears. "It's okay, Ali. This will be the true test though,” she says casually and Ali simply looks back at her in confusion. “Let’s see if you can still love an adorable two year old when you have a head-splitting hangover.”

“Ughhh,” Ali groans as she wanders into the kitchen to grab a water bottle from the fridge. She turns around to see Noah walking over to her, his curious eyes taking in every inch of the apartment. After taking a sip from her water bottle she squats down so she’s eye level with him. “I missed you,” she says softly, her composure back after she finally figured out what was going on.

“Missed you,” he mimics and leans into her arms.

Ali squeezes him tightly, taking in the scent that still reminds her of back home. It’s a scent she’ll never get tired of. “How about a nap with me?” she whispers into his ear and Noah nods excitedly wanting to spend time with Ali no matter what. She lets out a sigh of relief, knowing that she’ll at least get a bit more sleep, hopefully several hours since he’ll be exhausted from the flight once the excitement of seeing her wears off. She scoops him up off the floor and begins walking down the hall with him cradled in her arms, his head already heavy on her shoulder. “You coming?” she asks, turning around to shoot Ashlyn a wink, knowing how the blonde always complains about having such a hard time getting him down for a nap.

“Wouldn’t miss cuddle time with my two favorites for the world,” Ash replies as she all but runs down the hall to catch up with them. She pulls down the covers of the Queen bed, noting how soft the comforter feels underneath her fingers. Ali definitely has expensive taste when it comes to bedding, but she definitely didn’t mind, especially the mornings it meant waking up with one thousand thread count sheets wrapped around her naked torso. The defender lays Noah down and then slips in behind him as Ash pulls the soft bedding back up and tucks it around them. She hops in the other side, turning on her side to face Ali who has Noah pulled onto her stomach, his head resting on her chest. Under the sheets she finds Ali’s hand and interlaces their fingers.

“I’m so glad you guys are here with me,” Ali says softly, already feeling comforted by having Ashlyn and Noah in her arms. She places a chaste kiss on the blonde’s lips pulling back with slightly darkened eyes that let’s Ashlyn know later that night after Noah is asleep that she’s in for a long night.

“We are too, Alex,” she replies with a small smirk, kissing her temple softly while pulling Ali and Noah closer to her. “We are too.”

Chapter Text

The strange creaking sound rippling through the apartment jerks Ashlyn awake, especially when she realizes that it’s coming from their bedroom. She’s in an unfamiliar place having it be her first night in Sweden with Ali and her heart starts thumping in her chest. She knew it would be a bit strange being housed in a castle which was converted into apartments, but she didn’t think it would feel so creepy walking through the winding staircases wrapped in gray, cobblestone walls. She tries to rub her eyes to adjust to the darkness when she hears soft footsteps pattering around the bed and she’s stuck between screaming for Ali to wake up and scare off the ghost or monster or whatever it is and between staying stark still and completely silent hoping the spirit will just lose interest and depart.

Finally, the footsteps stop and she lets out a sigh of relief when she sees a familiar pair of bright green eyes through the soft glow of the moon. “M-M-Mama,” Noah whispers, his bottom lip quivering as he clutches his fleece blanket and soft stuffed penguin he’s had since he was born tightly to his chest, his thumb tucked between his lips as well which is a sure sign of distress. Ash still finds it ironic that it was the stuffed animal that Ali gave him as a baby that he became so enamored with. In retrospect, she should have realized that Ali had Noah’s heart from the start and it was only a matter of time until her own heart figured it out as well.

She swings her legs over the edge of the bed, instantly regretting leaving the warmth of the covers as her feet hit the part of the cold stone floor that is covered by a rug. “What’s wrong buddy?” she asks softly, trying not to wake Ali who has early practice. A glance to the clock shows that its two in the morning and after spending quite a lot of time getting reacquainted with each other’s body after Noah went to bed, she knew the defender would already be short on sleep come time for practice.

“I’m scared,” he mumbles, his eyes welling up with tears. “I wan go home,” he adds a bit louder and Ashlyn can tell that they’re moments away from a major meltdown. She can’t blame Noah for being scared since she literally just thought there was haunted castle spirit creeping into their bedroom and can only hope the castle atmosphere just takes some getting used to before it feels homey like Ali suggested it would.

She pulls Noah into her arms and wraps him up tightly, carrying him back to his room. “Shhh, it’s okay bud,” Ash says, rubbing his back soothingly as they enter the boy’s room which Ali had set up and painted all on her own. “Want me to stay here with you for a little?” she asks, while tucking him into bed. He nods and she slips into the bed and smiles when she feels him snuggle into her side. She’s glad he’s not fighting it too much and figures it’s the jetlag that’s helping her put him back to sleep so easily. She says a silent prayer when she feels his breathing even out and after a few more minutes of waiting it out, slips from the bed and plods back to her own room.

She’s barely even gotten the covers warm again when she feels a poke on her cheek and her eyes jerk open to find her son standing before her again clutching his blanket and penguin. “I’m scared,” he whispers loudly and Ashlyn knows this is a battle she’s not going to win. She and Ali had discussed that if they were going to move in together, they would try to get Noah out of his habit of sneaking into Ash’s bed every night. Ali’s job was so demanding that the defender needed a restful night of sleep every night to be on top of her game and that likely wasn’t going to come with a flailing toddler in the bed. “I sleep here?” he asks innocently as he begins crawling up onto the top of the bed.

Ashlyn casts a glance to Ali and sees that she’s out like a rock and is pretty far over on her side of the bed. She reluctantly sighs and helps Noah onto the bed and settles him under the covers, making sure that she keeps her body as a barrier between Ali and Noah so that he doesn’t interrupt her sleep with flying fists. The exhaustion is too much for her to argue with Noah and she just hopes she wakes up in time to sneak him back into his room so Ali doesn’t get upset with her breaking so easily. Even though Ali is even more wrapped around Noah’s finger, she knows the defender won’t let her live it down since it was actually Ashlyn who suggested they get strict with him on staying in his own bed. She figures one night won’t hurt and is just glad they had the wherewithal to put clothes on before actually falling asleep. “Night handsome,” she whispers, kissing his head as she wraps her arms tightly around him. She knows the move was the right thing, that coming to Sweden with Ali was the right decision for them as a couple and family, but that didn’t mean the transition period was going to be easy.

“Night, mama,” Noah replies, his eyes already becoming heavy as he cuddles closer into his mother’s chest.

 

***

 

With a yawn, Ali stretches and rolls over in bed, wrapping her arms tightly around Ashlyn. She still can’t believe that the blonde had actually moved to Sweden with her and definitely wants to spend the next half an hour before she has to get up for practice showing her just how thankful she was.

“Mmm, morning sexy,” she whispers suggestively into Ashlyn’s ear as she tantalizing grinds her hips up into the blonde who is facing away from her. She hears Ashlyn moan against her and smiles knowing the blonde is definitely down for a little morning cardio session too. Her hand dips under the covers and slides up Ash’s tattooed arm on its way to her breast before a strong hand grabs her and halts it, the blonde’s body tensing immediately.

“We have company,” Ashlyn warns as her eyes shoot open in realization and when Ali pops her head over the blonde’s shoulder with a confused expression, she’s met with a familiar pair of piercing green eyes which are wide open and more than ready to take on the day.

“Ali! You’re up!” Noah exclaims excitedly and quickly climbs up over Ashlyn into the defender’s arms.

Simultaneously, Ali lets out a chuckle and a sigh of relief, knowing that things could have gotten extremely awkward, very quickly had Ashlyn not come to her senses when she did. “I am! And what are you doing in here?” she asks teasingly, though Ashlyn knows the slightly chastising undertone is meant for her.

“I got scared,” he whispers quietly as if it’s a secret and Ali just nods, feeling guilty that Noah was scared. “Mama said I could stay,” he adds with a smile and Ali laughs when she hears the blonde let out a groan.

“Aw, I’m sorry. Mr. Penguin didn’t keep you safe?” she asks, taking the penguin from Noah and making him dance across the bed.

“No!” Noah giggles and shakes his head while trying to grab his stuffed animal back. “When we go home?” he asks when he’s finally able to pry his favorite buddy back from Ali.

Ali’s eyes widen a bit and she feels Ashlyn shift on the bed next to her. She looks up to see that the blonde has rolled over and they share a meaningful look. Ali feels her heart slump, knowing that Noah isn’t happy. It’ sonly been one day, but she knows she’s the only reason they’re in Sweden and not still with Ashlyn’s family in the states. “You and your mama are going to stay here with me while I play soccer for a team in Sweden. Is that okay?” she asks, trying to put as much enthusiasm in her voice as possible, but her smile drops when Noah shakes his head.

“I don like it here,” he whines, shaking his head side to side as he buries his face into Mr. Penguin’s soft fur. “I wan go home.”

The soft sniffles of the little boy break Ali’s heart and she shoots a pleading look to Ashlyn who’s similarly at a loss on how to handle the situation. It’s the first time Noah’s been anywhere that Ali was and been discontent. She rubs small circles on Noah’s back to try and comfort him, but he rips away from his mother’s grasp and runs to his bedroom, slamming their bedroom and his bedroom door behind him.

“That went well,” Ash sighs as she stretches and contemplates her next move. She knows how Noah feels, being in a new place, similar to when her family had moved when she was five years old. After hours of pouting, her father had finally coaxed her out and took her around all the fun areas of town to show her what she would be missing out on if she stayed holed up in her room hating her new house and town. She lets a deep exhale out and then turns over in bed to place a light kiss on Ali’s lips. The brunette looks just as worried and upset as she feels and knows cheering Noah up will have a similar effect on everyone. “Can I drop you off at practice and then borrow your car?” she asks sheepishly while rubbing her hands up and down Ali’s arms. “Can Whit maybe drive you home after?”

Ali pulls back a bit and narrows her eyes. “What for?” she asks, wondering what the blonde had up her sleeve.

“Well I know Noah is just scared about being in a new place. If I show him how similar it is to the old place and how much fun he can have here, I’m sure he’ll forget all about being scared.”

The thought is a logical one and Ali just smiles as she pulls the blonde in for a deeper kiss. “How about you two stick around for practice and I’ll even get Noah on the field and then afterward we can all explore the city together as a family? If…if that’s okay…” she trails off, not knowing if this was something Ashlyn wanted to do with Noah herself.

“I would love that,” she says with a dimpled smirk, kissing Ali deeply as her hands trail down to the brunette’s ass. Things start to heat up and Ashlyn can feel her heartbeat speed up as Ali’s breath simultaneously quickens. She feels deft hands teasing her underneath the covers and a sigh escapes from her lips when Ali slips her hand underneath her waistband, ghosting over the blonde’s throbbing core. She’s losing it, getting lost in Ali’s touch with her body taking over her mind and she spreads her legs a bit wider to give her more access. She feels Ali smirk against her lips when she feels how wet the blonde is through her underwear. She mentally chastises herself for being so weak for Ali’s touch, but she knows it definitely go both ways and Ali’s panties are probably soaking already too. The thought, combined with Ali cupping and rubbing her over firmly her boy shorts causes a moan to slip from her lips only to be muffled by Ali’s mouth on her own. She’s about to pull the defender on top of her to speed things up when they hear Noah’s bedroom door slam open as he stomps down the hallway towards their room yelling, “Hate it here!” at the top of his little lungs.

They barely have time to break apart in a fit of flustered giggles at his dramatic tantrum before he throws open the door and thunders into the room glaring at both of them before turning and running back out screaming his displeasure for Sweden. “You asked for it,” Ashlyn says cheekily with a wink when Ali groans in frustration as Ash slaps her ass and quickly hops out of bed to chase her fuming son down the hallway before he can break anything.

Chapter Text

The practice field for Tyreso is surrounded by metal bleachers that rise up ten or fifteen rows and it almost reminds Ali of where the Spirit play. She looks up into the stands to see Ashlyn holding Noah tightly in her arms and smiles as she thinks to herself how much she loves watching Ashlyn and her son interact. She knows Noah thinks of her as a mother too since she and Ashlyn are all the little boy has ever really known, but it’s obvious that Ashlyn clings so much tighter to him because he’s all she has left of Emma. It makes her wonder what Ashlyn would be like if she were to have another child that didn’t bear Emma’s features, but she quickly shakes that thought out of her head realizing that she would be the one the blonde Is having another child with and that isn’t something she’s ready to think about. The Olympics are less than a year away and she has her sights on actually making it there this time.

It’s a slightly overcast August day and Ali is thankful for the break from the blaring sun that the clouds provide as they line up for conditioning at the end of practice. She’s still a little tired from her late night exploration of Ashlyn’s body, but knows with some important games coming up that she needs to put in everything she has. Her legs are burning and lungs begging for air, but she stands tall with her hands above her head even though most teammates are bent over heaving for air after the first set up sprints. It feels good to come in as one of the fittest on the team and she smiles and leans forward as the coach’s whistle goes to his mouth to signal for them to begin another full field shuttle.

An exaggerated sigh of relief escapes from everyone’s mouths twenty minutes later when they finally hear three whistles sound to signal the end of their grueling fitness session that involved more sprinting drills than Ali can even remember. Still, she has a smile on her face and a bit of life in her legs as she leaves the team huddle and jogs over to the stands where Ashlyn is holding a still pouting Noah tightly to her chest. It had taken an hour, thirty minutes of which were filled with tears and shrieking, followed by another twenty minutes of trying to get him into clothes which he said he didn’t want to wear and very pointedly refused putting on one of his Krieger jerseys as well, and then another ten trying to buckle him into the car seat that Ali had borrowed from a teammate, which Ashlyn couldn’t figure out for the life of her. After the fiasco, Ash was exhausted and honestly wished she could just go back and collapse in bed.

“How is he doing?” Ali asks, frowning a bit when Noah won’t even look at her. He’s never acted like this towards her and it’s honestly breaking her heart. She didn’t realize how much her emotional state was tied to the little boy’s until now.

Ash tries to shift him in her lap, but he keeps burying his head back in her shoulder and refusing to look out at anyone, including Ali like he’d been doing for the entire practice session. “Not good,” she supplies and shoots Ali a small, sympathetic smile. Her son has been distant and moody all practice and she’s thinking about canceling their little family day because she doesn’t want to subject the poor people of Sweden to her toddler throwing temper tantrums all day. As adorable as he might appear, she knows by the way he’s so tightly clutching to her sweater that he’s actually very uncomfortable.

“Well that’s too bad,” Ali responds louder than necessary to Ash hoping to peak Noah’s interest. “I heard some of the girls were looking to take penalty kicks, but the goalies are too tired to stay after practice. If only Noah felt better he could hop in net and shut them all down,” she says exaggeratedly and Ashlyn smiles widely when she catches on to what Ali is doing. Noah’s absolute favorite thing to do was play goalie and try to stop penalty kicks, which Ashlyn absolutely loves about him –almost as much as she loves that Ali usually lets him stop them.

Ali smiles when she sees her plan working a bit. Noah’s head slowly lifts off Ashlyn’s shoulder just a hair and he casts a hesitant glance over at Ali with his thumb still tucked in his mouth. “Maybe next time you come to practice and are feeling better, okay?” Ali asks and goes to turn around to head back to the field and gather her things when she hears a small voice call her.

“Did you say something, Ash?” Ali asks, feigning confusion when she turns around to find Noah again buried in his mother’s neck.

Ash holds in her laughter and shakes her head, glad that Noah can’t’ see her face since she really isn’t able to steady her amused expression. “Nope I didn’t. Go grab your stuff and we’ll meet you at the car since Noah is too sad to run around on the field and play goalie.”

“Okay,” Ali says, emphasizing her sadness before turning around again and grab her gear.

A few moments pass as she walks away and she thinks her plan might have actually failed until she hears it. “Wait, Ali!” calls a small, tentative voice. The quivering in the voice melts Ali’s heart and she hopes more than anything that Noah will be able to adjust. She loves having Noah and Ashlyn with her in Sweden, but she also loves them too much to keep them somewhere they aren’t happy.

She turns around to find Noah looking at her with a sad expression on his face. “I…I think I can play now,” he says cautiously with his glistening eyes dropped to the ground like he thinks the brunette would actually deny him the opportunity.

“Are you sure?” she asks, drawing her words out. “They’re pretty good shooters and you really need to be on top of your game, handsome.”

“I can,” he nods, more assuredly this time and Ashlyn grins as she watches the defender slowly pry him out of his shell. “Down!” he whines and tries to wiggle from her grasp, but Ashlyn is so wrapped up in staring adoringly at Ali that she doesn’t even realize he was struggling against her.

She stands up and goes to hand him over the railing to Ali who just shakes her head back at her. “You can come down on the field too,” she says with a smile and nods towards where the group of girls are sprawled out across the field, some stretching, some unable to move still from the exhausting and unexpected fitness session. “I want to introduce you to some of the girls.”

Seeing Ali so excited about introducing her and Noah to her new teammates makes Ashlyn’s smile grow a little bit wider. She’s met a few in passing over the years, but after watching practice she knows there are quite a few new faces out there for her to meet. “Alright,” she says and walks around to the stairs down to the field. She sets Noah down and he immediately sprints over to Ali and she can tell he’s broken out of his shell and is definitely going to try and show off in front of the girls. Her son is definitely a ladies’ man and she knows she’ll have her hands full once he learns how far his charm can actually get him.

Ali picks Noah up and waits for Ashlyn to make her way over as she’s trailing a few steps behind her excited son. She pulls Ashlyn towards her by her hip and wraps her hand around the taller blonde’s waist before heading over to where her teammates are gathered with Noah settled on her other hip.

“Ah, so there’s an adorable kid to go along with the wifey, huh Kriegs?” Seger teases as they approach and Ali’s eyes go wide as Ashlyn blushes besides her. “I’m Caroline, but everyone calls me Seger or Segs,” she says, reaching out to shake Ashlyn’s hand.

“I’m Ashlyn Harris, Ali’s girlfriend,” she politely corrects the Swede while taking her hand and shaking it firmly, but she’s sure the blonde already knows that from the teasing glint in her eye and mischievous smirk across her lips. She instantly feels welcomed by the woman and knows they’ll have fun on the nights she and Ali actually make it out with the team.

Seger pretends to whisper, “You better not mess this one up, Harris. Girls like Ali don’t come around every day.”

“Don’t I know it!” Ashlyn responds with a breathy chuckle, holding her side from the playful elbow she received from the team captain. “I think I’m safe as long as this little guy has her wrapped around his finger,” she jokes and earns laughter from a few of Ali’s teammates who know how true the statement is. Their American defender has gushed countless times and showed them all adorable pictures of Noah and they are well aware of how much Ali adores the little boy.

“Say hi, Noah,” Ali coaxes after she finished introducing Ashlyn to the rest of the team, shifting him up a bit on her hip to get him to turn and face the girls.

“Hi,” he says shyly and Ashlyn can’t decide if he’s actually shy or if he’s working the crowd as usual. When she hears the girls all ‘awww’ over him and sees his smile grow more confident, she thinks it’s definitely the latter. “PK?” he asks, and Ali sets him down and points to the goal where the balls are lying scattered in the eighteen, telling him she’ll meet him over there.

“Alright I need some of you to take penalty kicks on my kid,” she says evenly and nods to the net where Noah is kicking around a ball. A groan ripples through the team who all want nothing more to slip into their ice bath induced numbness after the grueling practice. They can tell by the serious glare they’re getting from Ali, that that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. “Seriously. I’ll buy you all a round at the bar next time,” she ups her ante and a few girls heads perk up at this. They didn’t all have six figure endorsement deals like the World Cup Champion and free drinks was free drinks.

“Make it two rounds and you got yourself a deal,” Seger says and slaps a rough hand down on Ali’s shoulder.

She sighs, but knows she’ll comply with anything at the moment, especially when she hears Noah impatiently calling for her from across the field. “Fine. No top shelf though,” she clarifies with narrowed eyes at the captain who usually went for the expensive stuff. They shake on it and about eight girls, who would have eventually given in and helped Ali regardless of the offer for free drinks, stroll over to the net where Noah has set up between the posts wearing a pair of old gloves one of the goalies picking up some balls had given him to keep. There are some tiny holes in the fingers, but she knows no one will be kicking it hard enough for it to sting his hands. “Ready, Noah?” she calls, and he looks up with a huge grin on his face when he sees the line of professional soccer players lining up to take shots against him.

“Bring it!” he yells, and Ashlyn chuckles when she sees Ali glare at her and remembers where he had picked that saying up from. She had been playing around at the park with Ali and had gone in net to see if she could stop any of Ali’s shots. Their competitive nature had gotten the best of them and they were bantering back and forth and trash talking and she distinctly remembers telling Ali to ‘bring it’ when they were down to their sudden death shot, which she had saved with a huge smirk on her face the whole time. Of course, Noah didn’t know the sexy bet behind it that made them so competitive, but he had definitely liked the saying.

The girls chuckle behind Ali in response to Noah’s taunting as she lines up to take her shot. She takes a few steps back and stares at the boy before jogging and lightly placing it towards the corner. Noah takes a few steps and easily corals the ball, earning cheers from the girls behind Ali, followed by a few chuckles when he tries and fails to punt it back to them.

She jogs over and gives him a high five before kicking the ball over to Vero who starts to set up. She glares protectively through narrowed eyes at the Spaniard with her hands on her hips, knowing how much she hates to lose and suddenly Vero knows the free drink offer likely won’t stand if she nails the ball top corner as she had been planning too. She lets out a sigh and takes a step back before sending the ball a few feet to the right of him. He exaggeratedly dives and saves the ball, popping back up clumsily with a wide grin.

“Bring it!” he yells again as the next shooter, Marta steps up. The Brazilian had never missed a PK in her entire career and the cat calls from teammates behind her telling her not to miss are making it hard for her to put it right down the middle where she knows Ali is expecting her to. She takes a few steps back and looks up to see Ali leaning over Noah with her hands on his shoulders whispering to him. He just giggles and shakes his head up and down before pushing Ali out of the net. Marta eyes the defender who walks around behind her with a smirk while dribbling one of the stray balls back to where the rest of the girls were gathered. She takes a few steps forward and just as she goes to shoot the ball, suddenly feels a ball lightly driven into her legs, causing her to mishit the ball and send it tearing down the center of the net right to a patiently waiting Noah. The shot has more pace than the others and it knocks him back a bit, but he’s still able to keep the ball out of the net and smiles when he stands back up with it in his hands.

They continue a few more times, each girl rotating around and miraculously Noah is able to save every ball that is shot at him. By the end of their PK session, which even the coaches have joined in on watching, wondering how Ali found it possible to curb her teammate’s extremely competitive personalities, Noah is beaming and Ali is glad to have averted a crisis for at least the time being. She knows a time will come when they need to teach Noah the importance of being a grateful loser, which means actually having to score on him, but for now she’s just glad to see him smiling and enjoyed taunting her teammates herself.

“I think a superstar performance like that deserves some ice cream. Don’t you agree, Ash?” the defender asks as the rest of the team dissipates while grumbling that they should have held out for top shelf liquor.

Noah’s eyes light up and Ash nods in response as she brushes some grass off the back of her son’s shirt. “What a great idea!” she says excitedly. “What do you think, Noah?” she asks even though she already knows the answer. The little boy nods eagerly and grabs Ali and Ashlyn’s hands to pull her towards the car.

An hour later they’re all walking hand in hand around the small city, exploring cute shops and taking in the beauty of the city. It’s still overcast and the sun has begun to set so Ali tugged on her team warm up and Ashlyn slipped one of Noah’s sweaters over his head as the slight breeze was easily nipping through his t-shirt. Ali smiles when she looks down and sees Noah with chocolate ice cream all over his face. She nudges Ash who chuckles and then licks her thumb before wiping the corner of his cheeks to clean the mess off.

“Look, Noah,” Ali says and points off in the distance to a little park. “After you finish up your ice cream maybe your mama can spin us on the merry-go-round,” she says with a childlike smile and Ashlyn snorts at the thought of Ali and Noah holding on for dear life as she pushes them.

“Yeah! Then swings!” he adds and takes a huge bite out of his ice cream cone in an attempt to get through it quicker. The merry-go-round and swings are his favorite parts of the playgrounds back home and that’s exactly why Ali had led them down this path. It’s only a few miles from her apartment and she had often run by it on her recovery days, thinking of the little black haired boy as she did.

She knew Noah loved it, but the one thing she didn’t bargain for, was the force that Ashlyn would be spinning them with, combined with the ice cream settling in her stomach. As she holds on for dear life while the world spins around her in a crazy blur, praying that she doesn’t vomit up her ice cream, she hears Noah’s carefree shrieks filling the air and can’t help but smile despite her stomach ache. When the world finally slows down, she looks dizzily up at Ashlyn with unfocused eyes and playfully smacks the blonde who just giggles down at her while helping her off the piece of equipment.

“Easy there, stumbly,” Ash teases while holding her up, smiling at the fact that Noah is seemingly unfazed by the fact that he was just spun in circles for minutes. He’s a bit wobbly as well, but his eyes aren’t nearly as hazy as Ali’s. “Let’s get you home,” she says, kissing Ali on the forehead as she slides her arm around the brunette’s waist. “What do you say, Noah? Did you have enough fun today?”

Both women hold their breath and let out a big sigh of relief when Noah nods his head and expresses how much fun he had. “Thank god,” Ali mumbles as Ashlyn leads them back to the car, Ali tucked under one arm while she holds Noah’s hand tightly in the other.

They realize that they dodged a bullet, that as long as they take Noah out and plan fun family activities like they always do anyways, that he’ll be just fine. He’ll adjust to Sweden, he’ll enjoy Sweden and he’ll eventually fall in love with Sweden. They are certain of that, but know it will take some time. Especially when long after they’ve fallen asleep, they hear their bedroom door creak open followed by the pitter patter of little feet on the floor and then the clamor at the end of the bed as a body crawls up into the tiny space between them before a tiny, uncertain voice fills the silent room. "I scared. I sleep here?”

Chapter Text

“I still can’t believe Whit and Press actually agreed to watch Noah for the night,” Ashlyn says in disbelief as she and Ali walk down the cobblestone street in front of their Stockholm apartment hand in hand. A walk around town was a perfect ending to the date night that had already seen some shopping on the main street that wound through Stockholm and dinner on a beautiful patio wrapped in soft orbs of light. It had been a wonderful evening and neither woman could wipe the smile from their face as they walked around giggling and exploring the town that was becoming home to them.

Ali smiles and pulls her light sweater tighter around her as a cool breeze ripples through the sleepy city. The sun has just fallen below the horizon and the already quiet town was mostly subdued to their homes on the quiet Sunday evening. “Well I may or may not have originally told her we needed to get last minute stuff for Noah’s birthday tomorrow,” Ali admits with a sheepish grin as she cuddles closer into the blonde’s side. As much as she loved spending time with Ashlyn and Noah, after two weeks in Sweden with them she was dying for a date night with just the blonde. Especially since Noah crawled into their bed every single night claiming he was scared since they moved to Sweden and neither woman had the heart to kick him out or the energy to fight through a tantrum. As much as Ali loved cuddling with Noah and Ashlyn every night, alone time with the blonde was exactly what she needed and she intended to show her how appreciative she was of that time after they got back to their apartment.

“You are so bad!” Ash laughs, now realizing why Whitney had given them such a skeptical look when she showed up to watch Noah and found them dressed so fancy, Ali in a tight red dress and Ashlyn in gray slacks with a light blue checkered button up.

“I just wanted to have a night out with my girl,” Ali shrugs, but the large grin slips off her lips when she feels Ashlyn tightly squeeze her hand, the cold metal pressing into her palm sending shivers down her spine.

Ashlyn catches the way Ali falters and tugs her closer when she tries to pull away. “Hey, what’s wrong?” she asks, her face etched in concern.

“It’s nothing,” Ali says casually, trying to brush it off before the question that’s been eating her alive inside ruins the first night out they had together.

The blonde isn’t having it though and grabs Ali’s hand again to gently stop her retreat. “Alex,” she says firmly, “What is it?”

A feeling of defeat already washes over Ali as she sinks down onto an old wooden bench in the tiny park they had wandered into in the middle of the city. She rests her hand on the cool wrought iron arm rest and takes a deep breath. She feels Ashlyn sink down next to her, the bench letting out a rickety creak that isn’t loud enough to cause concern. “I just...” she starts slowly, not knowing how to verbalize her concern. A warm hand squeezes her thigh gently and she finally looks up to meet Ashlyn’s eyes which house a sense of concern, her eyebrows furrowed as she tries to get a read on the brunette.

“Just talk to me, Alex,” she pleads, wanting to know what was bothering her girlfriend so much. “I love you. You can tell me anything.”

Ashlyn’s heartfelt confession, the outright concern that she’s expressing is in stark contrast to the image Ali gets when her eyes drop down to Ashlyn’s left hand resting on her thigh. “Are you ever planning on taking off your wedding ring, Ashlyn?” she asks firmly, her voice meek, but still holding a bit of bite. She feels guilty even asking, but she can only have the blonde make love to her so many times with the feeling of her wedding band pressing into her before she loses it completely.

“I uhh..I…” Ashlyn stutters over her words and yanks her hand off Ali’s thigh as her right hand protectively covers the worn wedding band she’s worn for the last six years of her life. She immediately feels the guilt pulling at her from both sides. She promised to love Emma forever, to never forsake her and always remember her and the platinum band she wears on her ring finger is a testament to that promise, to the commitment she had made to the woman she loved. But she had also made a commitment to Ali, to love her, to care for her and eventually to marry her. Her mind is reeling as she tries to formulate a proper response, but she can’t. Ali’s been amazing, patient and kind, but this question is out of left field and suddenly Ashlyn feels attacked. “I don’t know,” she says hotly looks off into the distance, unable to meet Ali’s eyes.

“Ash, I just…it’s hard for me sometimes,” she begins softly, but tenses when she sees Ashlyn’s head whip around, her eyes glaring red.

“It’s hard for you, Alex?” she asks incredulously, an eye roll showing her true displeasure at the statement. “Are you a widow at 29? Did you have to watch your wife die of cancer and promise her on her death bed that you’d always remember her, but still find a way to love again?” Ali sadly shakes her head, wishing she had just kept her mouth shut for now. She already knows this isn’t going to end well. “Yeah, didn’t think so,” the blonde scoffs, her voice rising higher as she pushes off the park bench and takes a few steps away from Ali. “I’m sorry this is so god damn difficult for you then.”

The brunette quickly comes to her own defense, trying to make Ashlyn understand. “I loved Emma too and you know that, but I feel like I’m competing with her,” Ali begins firmly. She knows this is a conversation they’re only going to have once. It’s not something they can keep rehashing over and over and expect to have a healthy relationship and if she doesn’t get it all out now, she thinks she’ll explode if there's any unresolved feelings kept inside. “Ash, I’m not oblivious. I hear you watching the videos on your phone late at night when you slip out of bed and I see you staring at old pictures all the time.” She catches the blonde’s eyes and sees her jaw tighten a bit at the accusation, but carries on, unable to stop now. “I...I’m not asking you to forget about her,” she huffs. “And I’m not trying to take her place because lord knows you have a big enough heart to share, but you have to understand that she’s not here, Ashlyn. I’m here now and she would want you to live in the present, with me.”

Ashlyn knows Ali has been nothing, but patient with her but when the brunette’s eyes drop down once again to the ring on her finger she feels her defensive walls build up, like she has to protect Emma and fight for her. “You have no idea what Emma would want, Alex. It’s not a competition between you. You’re making that all up in your head,” she says angrily, drawing the attention of a couple passing by as she points to Ali’s head like she’s crazy.

“She asked me to take care of you,” Ali says evenly, finally confessing something she should have kept locked deep inside. “The night she passed when we spoke she said she knew we loved each other and told me to look after you, to put you back together after she left.” She means it to assure Ashlyn, to let her know that she does know exactly what Emma wanted, but when she sees the red hot anger flash through Ashlyn’s eyes, she knows the blonde took it the complete wrong way.

“Oh, so that’s why you stuck around? That’s why you were there for me all this time? I get it now,” she laughs coldly, sending chilling shivers down Ali’s spine. “You pitied my wife and you fucking pitied me and that’s why you stuck around. Good to know,” she says to herself, her tone deep and angry as she glares back at Ali with a clenched jaw.

“That’s not what I meant, Ashlyn,” Ali contests as she stands and cuts the distance between them.

Ashlyn throws her hands up and steps back, stumbling a bit on the raised cobblestone walkway. “No. Don’t,” she warns her eyes daring Ali not to take another step towards her. “You know what? I don’t care what Emma asked you to do. I don’t care about any of that, Alex. I thought you understood what I was going through. I thought you understood that this was going to be a process and that it wasn’t all going to fall into place magically.” Her eyes search Ali’s for an answer, for something to calm her down and put her at peace, but Ali’s too fired up to appease her and just glares back at her with pursed lips and an impatient expression.

“I do understand that, Ashlyn, but you’re not the only one who's allowed to struggle! You’re not the only one who's allowed to feel guilty or confess that something’s bothering you. It takes two people to have a relationship and that means two people get a say!” Her voice has risen as well and she’s honestly glad they’re having their first real argument under the cover of night.

“So what, you just want me to get over my wife? To forget about her and be some big blissful idiot who pretends that nothing bad ever happened? Okay, here,” she says, ripping the ring off her finger. “Here, Ali,” she says, thrusting the ring out to the brunette in her clenched fist. “Here, this is what you wanted right?” she asks incredulously with wild eyes as she forces the ring into Ali’s hands. “There you go. Problem solved,” she shouts, her voice becoming hoarse from the emotions bubbling up in her. The simultaneous relief and guilt she feels as her fingers run over the smooth skin usually covered by the shiny band eats away at her.

“Ashlyn, that’s not what I mean!” Ali replies hotly, her own anger increasing at the blonde’s outburst. “I’m not asking you to forget about Emma. You know me better than that!” Guilt surges through her body as her fingers close around the ring, the ring she has eyed on Ashlyn’s hand for weeks.

“Good! Because I’m never going to just forget about her and if that’s a problem, then we have a problem,” she exclaims, pointing back and forth between the two of them. “Maybe you need to think about how I feel too because this is a lot harder on me than it is you!” She feels bad for hurling everything at Ali, but the feelings she had suppressed are bubbling up and she can’t contain them any longer. She had tried to push off the guilt, but it only grew over time and the fact that she felt Ali couldn’t understand that Emma was and always would be an important part of her and Noah’s life was like setting fire to a match. It engulfed everything and all she could feel was burning anger. Ash just hoped she could get it all out and the feelings would go up in smoke along with her words.

The blonde’s dismissive attitude sets something off in Ali though and the words come tumbling out of her mouth before she has a chance to stop them. “Well maybe you shouldn’t have started something with me that you weren’t ready for, Ashlyn,” she says coldly, wishing she could take the words back as soon as they leave her mouth. It’s too late though, and when she sees Ashlyn turn to face her, her eyes glistened over, but hard, she knows she pushed her too far.

“Maybe you’re right,” Ashlyn scowls, not meaning the words that cut straight through to Ali’s core.

“Wow, Ashlyn,” she replies with a disbelieving laugh, her eyes glossy already. She feels her bottom lip quivering and the tears welling up in her eyes. Out of all the things Ashlyn could have said, the blunt and harsh confession was not at all what she was expecting and the words hurt her in a way she never thought possible. Before she can completely break in front of the blonde, she turns and briskly walks away into the dark night, needing time to cool off, catch her breath and try to put the pieces of her heart back together.

Chapter Text

It’s late when Ashlyn slinks back into their apartment. So late that Ali, despite her best efforts and copious amounts of coffee, hasn’t been able to stave off the exhaustion that was nipping at her heels all day. Through the soft glow of the moon seeping into the room from between the cracks in the curtains, Ashlyn finds Ali wrapped in a blanket, sitting upright in one of the kitchen chairs with a now cold cup of coffee sitting before her on the table. She knows exactly why Ali waited up, and that was to finish the conversation they started, but she was still angry at Ali for her words and for storming off before finishing their discussion, no matter how upset she was. Ali had promised never to leave her and although this was small in comparison to what the brunette had actually been referencing, it was their first major fight and the fact that it was over Emma wasn’t making it any easier for Ashlyn to process.

She was happy with Ali. Their love was apparent to anyone who even saw them interact for less than a minute, but there was still a tiny pang of guilt deep down that she wasn’t sure would ever fade. She loved Ali, loved her compassionate nature, her fierce competitiveness, her loyalty and the way she cared so deeply for her son, but sometimes her mind would still drift. In the middle of the night Emma would creep into her dreams only to have her wake abruptly when she reached out to try and touch her and for the rest of the night, Ashlyn would find herself sleeplessly curled up on the couch watching videos on her phone or simply staring at a picture. Her favorite was a picture right after Emma had given birth that the nurse had taken for them. Emma was cradling Noah in her arms looking down at him with so much adoration and love, while Ashlyn sat on the edge of the bed with one arm draped around Emma and the other holding Noah’s tiny hand. They were so happy, so carefree and in that moment, there was no cancer, there were no negative thoughts. They were a regular family doting on their newborn son with megawatt smiles plastered across their faces. This shouldn’t be her life. She shouldn’t be in Sweden thousands of miles away from her home and family. She should be with Emma in D.C. in the home they built together. It was a constant struggle and she just wished Ali would understand that. She thought she had understood that, but now she wasn’t so sure. Ali had never given her reason to doubt that and had been nothing but compassionate and patient, but tonight felt different for some reason. Her finger already felt naked without her wedding ring and her body felt stripped.

“I miss you, Ems,” she whispers with a glance to the clock, realizing it’s well after midnight. It’s two years to the day that Emma had given birth to their beautiful son. She grabs her worn leather wallet from her back pocket and pulls the picture out from the back of it. Her eyes trace the photo before her fingers do and she can’t help but smile at the picture of the three of them. She knows Emma would be happy for her, that she would appreciate the fact that sheand Ali ended up together and it makes her chuckle at the selflessness of her wife, before a few tears begin to slip down her face. Emma made her the person she was today, how could Ali want to strip that part of her away? How could she ask her that on the day before Noah’s second birthday, the day before Emma had given them the greatest gift of them all?

With a final glance towards Ali, Ashlyn trudges down the hall to Noah’s room. She slips inside and stares down at him for a few minutes, relishing in his peaceful state. She’s almost envious of the fact that he’ll never know of her own heartbreak. He’s only ever known Ali and his love for her is that of a son’s love for his mother. It makes her heart soar that he won’t ever feel the pain of being without a mother because Ali has filled the role eagerly and selflessly, but she finds herself wishing that she could still hold the innocence that her son has. Two years into his life, he’s known nothing but happiness. He’s been loved, accepted by another family, and flown around the country to watch a woman he loves accomplish her dreams. She knows Ali is good for him, good for both of them, but as her eyes catch the framed picture of her holding Emma and Noah in her arms on the nightstand next to his bed that she doesn’t remember putting there, she realizes that those facts don’t make it any easier.

“Happy birthday, handsome,” she finally whispers as she runs her fingers through his jet black hair and leans down to place a kiss on his head. “Your mommy and I love you very much,” she adds, trying to hold back the tears that he won’t even know which woman she’s referring too. She covers her mouth to hold the sobs back and slips out of his room and into her bedroom, leaving Ali in the kitchen as she undressed and climbs into bed. She knew they needed to talk, but after wandering around the streets aimlessly for hours, Ashlyn still hadn’t been able to find the right words to express herself. It didn’t feel right to push off their conversation, especially with Noah’s birthday in the morning, but with both of them exhausted emotionally and physically she decides it might be best to sleep it off. She wraps herself up in her own arms and lets the tears fall, wondering how Ali can act like this and try to eradicate Emma from her life on the one day that she needs to feel her the most.

 

***

 

Ashlyn had felt Ali slip into their bed sometime in the middle of the night, but when the light streaming through her curtains wakes her up and she rolls over in the morning, she finds her side of the bed empty and cold. She knows that she shouldn’t have left Ali asleep at the kitchen table the night before, but the internal anger and hurt had been too much. Still, she thought Ali would have at least been there for her in the morning, especially considering what day it was. She rubs the sleep out of her eyes, hoping that Ali had at least gotten Noah up and started breakfast, but when she stumbles into the hallway in her sleep shorts and t-shirt she finds his bedroom door still closed and Ali nowhere to be found.

Fear sets in when she realizes that Ali may be a lot angrier than she let on. After lying awake in bed for several hours, she had realized that Ali had a right to voice her opinion whether or not she agreed with it and her last words to Ali had been completely uncalled for. She knows Noah will be up in a few minutes and just hopes that Ali comes home so they can celebrate the day together as they had planned. It’s one thing for Ali to be upset with her, but another thing completely to let that anger be taken out on her son who couldn’t stop babbling about how excited he was to spend his birthday with them.

A sigh of relief escapes her lungs when she finds a handwritten note scribbled on a piece of scrap paper lying on the kitchen table.

 

Ash,

I’m sorry about last night. I didn’t mean to upset you, but I need you to know that your words hurt me deeply as well. We need to talk about all of this later tonight. I went out for a run and will be back soon. Get him ready so we can celebrate the big day with our favorite guy!

XO Alex

 

Typical, Ali. Leave it to her to apologize while still laying down the law. Luckily, there’s a pot of coffee already brewing and she takes a deep breath of the calming scent, knowing she definitely needs to have a talk with Ali to hash this all out. She’ll push it aside for the sake of Noah’s birthday, but she needs Ali to understand that Emma and Emma’s family will always be a part of their lives whether or not there’s a ring on her finger to show for it.

With a cup of hot coffee in hand, she strolls down the hallway to get ready before waking Noah up. Originally she had planned to have them both wake Noah up together and get him all excited, but it looks like Ali left her alone on this one. After a quick shower she changes into black skinny jeans and a checkered black and white flannel, leaving her hair hanging over her shoulders in waves. She figures she’ll throw a snap back on before they head out later.

Slowly, she opens the door to Noah’s room to find him impatiently standing on the end of his bed. “MAMA!” he squeals, jumping up and down and clapping his hands. “I’m two!” he yells proudly and holds two fingers up in the air as she walks into the room and picks him up, spinning him around in circles as his adorable giggles fill the air.

“You are!” she says emphatically, her excitement level easily matching his. This was a day that she hadn’t even been certain she would ever see when they had initially received the news of Emma’s cancer. “Happy birthday, buddy!”

“Tanks!” he says and when she finally sets him down his eyes scan the space behind her. “Where’s Ali?” he asks, his face scrunched in confusion as he patters out into the hallway into the kitchen where he usually finds her making breakfast or curled up on the couch.

Ashlyn’s heart nearly shatters at the sight of her son looking desperately for Ali. She follows him into their bedroom where he even tries to crawl into bed to look for her there, but Ashlyn pulls him back into her arms. “She went to get some special things for a certain handsome guy’s birthday party,” she says, feeling irritated again that she’s covering for Ali who should be there. She wonders why Ali thought that going for a run was more important than being here for this moment, but figures she just needed to clear her head some more. Still, she can’t hide her slight irritation that she’s missing out on the first birthday that Noah might actually remember.

Noah nods, although he doesn’t completely understand why she is missing either. “Okay,” he mumbles before wiggling out of his mother’s arms. “I get ready!” he calls over his shoulder and when Ashlyn follows him into his room she can’t help, but roll her eyes as he pulls on his new Tyreso jersey that Ali had gotten for him immediately after arriving in Sweden. It was his favorite color, red, and since they had recently started letting him pick out clothes on his own, he rarely took it off. He quickly slips the shirt on and after Ashlyn sternly reminds him, changes his underwear before slipping on a new pair of shorts. “Here yet?” he asks excitedly, poking his head out into the hallway to see if Ali had returned yet.

“She’ll be here soon, Noah,” she says dejectedly as she picks him up and carries him into the kitchen. She plops him down on the counter as she goes to get breakfast started, wondering where the hell Ali was.

Chapter Text

An hour later, after Ashlyn has fed Noah and made up at least five different excuses why Ali is taking so long, she hears the keys in the front door. Her heart begins racing and she bites her bottom lip as she tries to hold in the anger that’s threatening to spill out. Ali doesn’t ever go on several hour long runs, especially during season and her patience has worn thin. In their entire time together she hasn’t ever felt that Ali lied to her, but she knows the brunette was just making up excuses to get away. That feeling multiplies ten-fold when she sees her enter the apartment with a sheepish grin in a silky, button up shirt and dark washed skinny jeans that she definitely was not running in.

Noah jumps off the couch and runs over to her. She wants to reach out, to stop her son, but knows her own anger towards Ali can’t get in the way of her son’s happiness. “Where have you been?” Ashlyn gets out through gritted teeth as she pushes off the couch, her jaw tightened as she stares daggers at the brunette while ignoring everything else around her. She can feel Ali shift uncomfortably under her gaze, but she doesn’t care.

“Grandma!” she hears her son scream excitedly and suddenly things come into focus as Ali steps the rest of the way into the apartment and pushes the door all the way open.

Her eyes go wide and her hand flies to her mouth as she sees the ensemble of people streaming into the tiny two bedroom apartment. First, it’s her mom and dad with Noah cradled between them followed by Chris and Kyle. Next into the room are Ken and Deb and she feels her heart rate triple when the Kriegers step aside and Emma’s parents and sister walk into the room. “Wha…What is going on here?” she asks in disbelief as the horde of people pass an ecstatic Noah around. He’s never had all of his favorite people, his family, together in one place and Ashlyn can’t believe it. “When did you guys decide to fly in?” she asks, still wide eyed with shock as she hugs her parents tightly, crying into her mother’s shoulder.

“Ali’s been planning it for a while,” Tammye supplies, sharing a knowing look with the kindhearted brunette who she had all but slammed the door on when she had tried to visit her daughter after Emma had passed. “She picked us all up at the airport and her and a teammate drove us back here. We would have been here much earlier, but our flight was quite delayed.”

“What?” Ashlyn whispers in astonishment as she pulls back from hugging her father to meet Ali’s gaze. “You…you did this?” she asks the brunette while watching Noah jump into Emma’s mother’s arms as the older woman peppers his face with kisses.

Ali just shrugs, “I knew he should have his family all together,” she says softly, still not sure if the blonde was furious with her as she takes a few steps towards her. “I knew you needed your family here too.”

Unrelenting tears are streaming down Ashlyn’s face as she throws her arms around Ali, her chest heaving as she’s wracked with sobs. She immediately regrets all of the words she had hurled at Ali the night before and the doubts that had crept into her mind. She’s never felt so loved, never felt so surrounded by Emma after she had passed. “You are amazing, Alex,” she whispers into her ear, trying to suck in deep breaths. “I’m so sorry.”

“Shhh, Ash,” Ali coos, keeping her voice low so people didn’t catch on which isn’t difficult since the rest of their family was being quite boisterous as they all caught up. “I’m sorry too, babe. We’ll talk later, okay?” she offers with a smile when she pulls back from their tight embrace. With the pad of her thumb she wipes away Ashlyn’s tear and places a chaste kiss on her lips.

“No cry, mama,” Noah says, pulling on her pants with a confused expression. “I’m two!”

The group lets out a loud laugh led by the blonde which fills the entire apartment as she scoops her son off the floor. “I’m just sad you’re growing up so fast!” she exclaims and plants a huge kiss on his cheek. ‘Thank you’ she mouths to Ali with a thankful smile as she carries Noah into the living room and urges everyone to follow her.

Ali gathers everyone’s jackets and places them in the hallway closet before heading into the kitchen to prepare some snacks. She pulls a few blocks of cheese out of the back of the fridge that she had hidden from Ashlyn and almost drops it on the ground when she shuts the door and finds herself face to face with a grinning Kyle. “Jesus, Kyle! You scared me,” she laughs, clutching her heart which is racing.

He chuckles and shakes his head before handing Ali the cutting board she pointed to. “I can’t believe you pulled this off,” he says with an amused grin. He remembers when Ali had first brought it up to him that she had so many doubts. The first of which was that Ashlyn’s mother had a knack for calling her Alice and shutting doors in her face and second of which was that she wasn’t sure if Emma’s parents would be willing to agree to fly all the way out to Sweden. Finally, she had debated back and forth about whether or not to invite her own family, but Kyle had reminded her that Noah loved them too and eventually would be family, not that they didn’t act like it already.

“Me either,” she groans. “And to top it off I didn’t even know if Ashlyn would be here when we got back,” she offers quietly, casting a glance to the blonde who was interacting animatedly with everyone in the living room with a huge smile on her face. Her face was glowing and Ali wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her so happy before. Being surrounded by family did something for the blonde and her love for them made Ali’s heart swell even more. Despite the small fortune it cost to fly nine people to Sweden, she knows she would do it a thousand times over if it made Ashlyn glow like that.

“What do you mean?” Kyle asks, his eyebrows creasing in confusion.

Ali turns her attention back to the block of cheese in her hands to avoid slicing her fingers. “We had an argument last night,” she begins while sliding the razor sharp knife through the Sharp Cheddar that was Noah’s favorite.

“About?” Kyle questions with a raised eyebrow. He knows the women rarely fight and if they do it’s never anything for Ali to doubt that Ashlyn will stick around.

She sighs and sets the knife down. After making sure the group scattered in the living room on the couches and recliner was still engrossed by Noah’s antics, she levels her gaze with Kyle. “She…she still wears her wedding ring and I mentioned that it bothered me. That sometimes I felt like I was competing with Emma. She…uh…she said some not nice things in response.”

“What’d she say to you?” he asks with narrowed eyes, casting a glare over to Ashlyn which thankfully goes unnoticed.

Ali smacks Kyle’s arm to get his attention. “It was both of us, Kyle. We both said some things we had been harboring for a while. We didn’t get a chance to talk because she came back late last night and I had to leave so early this morning, but I hope this will smooth things over a little.”

Kyle studies his sister for a moment, noting how her shoulders slump a bit. He knows Ali inside and out and can tell that something is eating at her more than she’s letting on. “Alex,” he begins softly, pulling her attention back in. “This is a really serious topic and isn’t something that can’t be swept under the rug. Emma will always be there in both of your heads and Ashlyn’s heart. You need to sort through it together. Don’t let her off the hook if something is really bothering you.”

It never ceases to amaze Ali how wise Kyle is and how he can read her so easily. Seeing Ashlyn this happy, she was ready to forget it all, to push her hurt feelings aside. She knows her brother is right though, that this issue will only grow larger if they keep putting it off. “I know, I know. I think I have a solution to part of it though,” Ali supplies with a glance to the small paper bag she had returned with.

“Alright,” Kyle says with a hint of skepticism as he pulls Ali in for a tight hug. “You need help bringing that over?” he asks, nodding towards the platter of cheese Ali had finally finished putting together.

She picks it up off the counter and nods. “Can you grab the box of crackers out of the top left cupboard,” she asks, smiling when Kyle nods and goes to find them. The living room is alive with a fun, loving energy when Ali strolls into it, the platter of cheese in her hands. Emma’s mom stands to grab it and set it down on the table and as she walks by Ashlyn towards the open spot on the couch, she feels a tug on her wrist and suddenly she’s plopped down in the blonde’s arms.

“I know we need to talk later, but I just want you to know how absolutely amazing you are,” Ashlyn whispers into her ear, relaxing Ali instantly as she melts into the blonde, and rests her head on Ash’s shoulder.

She knows it’s Ashlyn’s form of an apology and she smiles against the blonde’s shoulder.“I love you too,” she whispers back as the blonde’s arms wrap tightly around her waist and Emma’s mom pulls her into a conversation about how well they were treated by the first class attendants on the plane.

“Ali, dear, you have no idea. We’ve never flown first class and I felt so spoiled! They had drinks in our hands before we even took off,” the older woman chuckles while the other adults nod in agreement and Ali can’t help but think about how similar she looks to Emma. Somehow, it feels comforting and she smiles until she hears Kyle grumbling beside her.

“You flew everyone else out here first class?” he asks incredulously with a mouthful of cheese and crackers, laughing playfully when his father smacks him teasingly in the head and tells him to be grateful for what he got. He’s about to let it go when Ali sticks her tongue out at him, but he settles on glaring back at her instead of risking another head slap.

Ashlyn squeezes her waist tighter, seemingly coming to awareness of how much Ali had put into this surprise. Months of planning, getting Whit to help drive everyone from the airport and even flying them out first class. Despite the waning anger about their fight the night before, she isn’t sure that she’s ever loved Ali more than she did in that moment. She only hopes she can express her true feelings and concerns when the time comes later, even though at the moment she just wanted to show Ali how much she appreciated the amazingly thoughtful gesture.

“So Ashlyn, tell us about this new business of yours.” Emma’s father’s question pulls her out of her deep thoughts and she turns her attention back to the group as she begins to explain all about her clients and the type of services she was providing. She forgets that since moving back to Florida it’s been awhile since she talked to them and it makes her realize that maybe Ali wasn’t the one pushing Emma out. A ring isn’t the only way to cling to Emma and she had been neglecting the living, breathing remnants of her wife. Her finger runs over the smooth skin where her wedding ring once was, and she just hopes that no one questions its absence.

Chapter Text

“Okay, you ready to blow out your candles, Noah?” Ashlyn asks with Ali standing behind her as she holds her squirming son in her lap. Kyle is standing opposite them behind his parents taking pictures as the little boy stares down in wide eyed excitement at the chocolate frosted cake with two giant candles sticking out of it that Ashlyn had picked out for him. She knew the chocolate frosting would make the situation even messier, but would provide them with amusing photos to remember the day by.

“Mhm!” he hums, his eyes wide as he looks at the delicious cake that he can’t wait to dig his little hands into.

He’s takes a deep breath to blow them out when Emma’s sister, Pam, sticks her hand out to block him. “He’s got to make a wish first, Ash!” she playfully chastises, wondering how the blonde could mess the tradition up.

“Oh shoot!” she exclaims, a slight blush creeping up her cheeks. “You get to make a wish before you blow them out, Noah. Anything you want, just ask for it,” Ash says, her smile growing wider as she thinks about the new child-size Jeep Wrangler she had gotten him. He’s been asking for it for weeks and she can’t wait to see his face light up when he thinks his wish was actually granted.

He thinks about for a moment with narrowed eyes and his nose wrinkled in deep thought before a smile peels across his face. “I wan Ali be my mommy like mama,” he says nonchalantly before blowing out the candles and clapping his hands excitedly as the rest of the group gasps, Kyle catching the entire unforgettable moment on his camera. His high definition lens catches the way Ashlyn’s eyes go wide, the way Ali’s face instantly turns a deep shade of red and the way Emma, Ashlyn and Ali’s parents alike cover their shocked, gaping mouths in response to his statement as Noah slams his tiny hands into the cake with ruthless abandonment before dragging his cake filled fists to his mouth.

“I...I’ll get the plates,” Ali stutters partially to break the tension, but more so as an excuse to escape before turning her back to the room. She quickly retreats to the kitchen to buy some time to compose herself. She reaches up and grabs the plates from the cupboard with a shaky hand, before she feels a body press into her from behind and a much steadier hand extend to grab the plates.

“Hey. It’s okay,” Ashlyn says softly, her voice already doing wonders to comfort a shell-shocked Ali.

She turns around and buries her head in the soft cotton fabric on Ashlyn’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she whispers, feeling ashamed that the lively atmosphere was ruined.

Ashlyn lifts Ali’s chin with two fingers, gently prodding her head up. “Alex, it’s okay,” she says reassuringly. “Sure it caught everyone a bit off guard,” she chuckles, eager to see the pictures Kyle had captured of the moment which were sure to be hilarious, “but it’s okay, babe. Everyone in that room loves you and they obviously can see how much you and Noah love each other too.”

“That son of yours sure has no filter,” Ali groans, thinking of the other times Noah’s big mouth has caused similar situations.

Ashlyn just grins and shrugs. “He gets it from his mama,” she teases before pulling Ali into a tight hug. “Let’s go enjoy whatever cake hasn’t already been devoured by Noah. We’ll talk to him about all this later, okay?”

“Okay,” Ali breathes out as she takes a few deep, settling breaths. She puts on her big girl pants and holds Ashlyn’s hand tightly as the blonde leads her back to the table where Tammye has begun cutting the cake.

Ashlyn hands over the plates to Chris and Ali drops into the only empty chair at the table and conveniently finds herself sandwiched between Tammye and Emma’s mother. She refuses to meet either woman’s gaze, instead dropping her eyes to the table even with Kyle kicking her underneath the table until Tammye hands Ali a piece of cake, holding it out in the air in front of her. She lifts her eyes to meet the gaze of the woman who gives Ashlyn her wild, blonde hair.

“Welcome to the family, Alice,” Tammye says softly with a teasing wink, making the entire table burst into a fit of laughter as all of the tension dissolves just as the smoke of the candles Noah blew out just moments ago. She feels instantly at ease and as Chris nods at her from across the table and Emma’s mom places a reassuring grip on her hand resting on the table, she knows she’s welcomed into their family just as Noah had so easily welcomed her; with open arms and a loving heart.

A few hours later, after the guests have left to their hotel for the night, Ali and Ashlyn find themselves cuddled on the couch with Noah passed out in between them.

“I can’t believe you did all of this,” she whispers, not wanting to wake her son up. He had an exhausting day and she knows he needs to get a good night’s sleep or he’ll be cranky when they all go to Ali’s game the next day. “I can’t believe you thought of bringing them all out for his birthday.”

Ali just shrugs as she continues rubbing Noah’s back soothingly, glad that the surprise played out exactly the way she planned it except for not all being there when Noah woke up due to the delayed flight. “Contrary to your beliefs Ashlyn, I’m not trying to push Emma or her family out of your life,” she says evenly, knowing their time to hash things out has finally come to a head.

The blonde sighs and knows Ali is right and that they need to talk. “Can I put him to bed and then we can talk?” she asks with a soft voice.

Ali nods and releases Noah from her grip. She places a kiss to his head before standing up. “I’ll meet you in the bedroom,” she replies while grabbing a few empty wine glasses left over from their guests to take to the kitchen. After placing them in the sink and filling them with water to soak, she dries her hands on a dishtowel and wanders into their bedroom to wait for Ashlyn.

The blonde slips in five minutes later with an apologetic smile on her face and sinks down onto the bed next to Ali. “Alex, I-“ she begins, but pauses when Ali hands her a small box wrapped in red paper. “Open it,” she hears Ali prod so she figures it isn’t a birthday gift for Noah, but a present for herself and slowly pulls at the paper. Inside is a small white box and she shoots Ali a confused expression as she pulls the lid off the box. Inside she finds a beautiful, white gold chain and her eyes narrow a bit more until she pulls the chain out of the box to find the ring she had practically thrown at Ali the night before, hanging from the chain.

“I never want you to think that I’m trying to push Emma out of yours or Noah’s life,” Ali says evenly, her tone firm which lets Ashlyn know she still isn’t off the hook yet. “But I need certain assurances too, Ash. For god sakes Noah wished for me to be his mother today,” she sighs, dropping her face into her palms when she realizes that’s yet another talk they need to have. “I get why you wear the ring on your finger. I really do understand, Ash, but I need you to know that it makes me question what our future is. I know it’s dumb, but-“

Now it’s Ali’s turn to be cut off as Ashlyn cuts the space between them and gently kisses Ali to silence her. “Alex, I understand what you’re saying. And I’ve realized that this ring isn’t what’s going to help me hold onto Emma’s memory. You just came out of nowhere with that comment last night and I didn't know how to respond. I felt...I felt kind of ambushed by it. Still, I know I didn't handle it right on my end despite your blunt and extremely tactless attempt to express yourself," she says with a shy grin at her attempt to inject a bit of levity. Ali playfully rolls her eyes at the blonde's teasing as she opens her mouth to continue. "I never want you to feel like my love for you isn’t true and one hundred percent pure, Ali. And yes, one day I want you to be my wife. I know that you deserve that from me and I deserve that for myself. I’m sorry I put you in this situation.”

Ali wipes the tears welling up in the corner of her eyes and she shakes her head, wondering why they couldn’t have had a level headed conversation like this the night before. She knows the emotions were just running too high after being suppressed for so long though. “I got you that so maybe you could…maybe just wear it around your neck?”

“I love it,” Ashlyn answers sincerely, slipping the necklace over her head and tucking the ring underneath her shirt where it hangs just between her breasts. “Thank you. For everything.” She wraps her arm around Ali and pulls the brunette into her. “I still can’t believe Noah’s whole family is here.”

“You’re welcome, Ash. And I’m sorry for lashing out on you last night,” she confesses, her guilt over some of the things she said still weighing heavy on her mind.

Ashlyn can sense the shift in her tone and gently nudges Ali until she meets her gaze. She sees the apprehension and hurt housed in her eyes and places a gentle kiss to the blonde’s lips. “I know you didn’t mean it. And I hope you know I didn’t mean what I said either. I am more than ready to be with you and I just let my anger and confusion consume my thoughts. You didn’t deserve that.”

Hearing Ashlyn directly address the words that stung Ali the most relaxes her and she finally sinks into the blonde’s embrace. “I forgive you, Ash,” she says honestly. “I hate fighting with you,” she confesses. Being at odds with the blonde is an unfamiliar feeling and she’s realized not knowing where they stood last night had really messed with her.

“Well guess what?” Ash says, her voice dropping an octave as she whispers into Ali’s ear.

Ali pulls back a bit, her confusion evident by the creases in her forehead. “What?” she asks cautiously, wondering what the blonde is up to.

“Having fights means we make up. And when we make up, guess what that means?” she asks, waggling her eyebrows suggestively.

“Makeup sex?” Ali quickly supplies, already knowing the answer and she pushes the blonde down onto her back as she crawls on top of her with a sexy expression.

“Yup,” Ash replies smugly as she quickly leans up to kiss Ali deeply.

Chapter Text

"Mmmmm," Ash hums deeply as she feels Ali's leg slip between hers and begin grinding down on her. She was already throbbing just from the smoldering look Ali gave her right before she began sucking lightly on her neck, but feeling Ali's muscled thigh rubbing up against her clit was definitely increasing her need to feel the defender.

"I'm sorry," Ali whispers sincerely as her hand slips under the blonde's shirt and she runs her fingernails lightly across her toned stomach with an apologetic, yet fiery glisten in her eyes.

Ashlyn's hips thrust up at the contact and her muscles clench before the words penetrate into her mind which is already hazy with arousal. She remembers why Ali is apologizing and suddenly realizes that she should be the one doing it first. After everything Ali had done for her and the hurt she had caused the night before, she wanted more than anything to show Ali how loved she was and that was going to involve making the brunette cum all night. With little effort, Ash quickly flips them so that she's hovering over Ali and looks down at her with almost a predatory glare as he hips pin the toned defender to the mattress.

The brunette stares up, her soft amber eyes doe like with innocence as they connect with the blonde's and Ashlyn just smiles devilishly in response. "Girls who pull off amazing surprises deserve the first orgasms," she says cockily with a grin while rubbing Ali with her thumb gently over her shorts.

"Oh ya?" Ali questions with a raised eyebrow. She's trying to keep her composure but when Ashlyn increase her pressure a bit, she quickly realizes she's already helpless under the blonde's touch. If the smoldering look Ashlyn is giving her is any evidence, she knows her apology is likely going to involve removing every article of clothing piece by piece and kissing every inch of Ali's skin before she gets said orgasm. Of course she finds it extremely erotic when Ashlyn does that, as the blonde admires every freckle, scar and toned muscle on her body, but she’s too wound up already. The pulsing between her legs is growing more intense by the second as Ashlyn continues to rub her in erratic patterns meant only to tease her, so Ali decides to speed the blonde up a bit.

"Do those girls also have to be teased before they get their orgasm?" she quips and drops plaintive glare to where Ashlyn is rubbing her over her clothes, trying not to start panting too much or she knows she'll give her body over completely.

Ashlyn smirks as she cups Ali's folds over her shorts and watches her face twist in a tortured pleasure as she presses her hand in firmer. "Oh please," she begins, returning her fingers to Ali's clit after the brunette forces her eyes back open in an attempt to prove she isn’t totally gone yet. "We both know I could get you off with all your clothes still on," she cockily retorts, her hot breath tickling Ali's ear.

The statement couldn't be anymore true and Ali knows it, but a challenge that involves clothes on likely means no time being spent kissing her entire body so she decides to go with it, especially when she feels a hot, firm tongue tracing the outline of her ear. "Doubt it," Ali cheekily responds, trying not to sound too worked up but it's hard with the blonde's lips sucking on her earlobe in the spot that drives her absolutely crazy. Her hairs are already standing on end and she hopes she can hold her orgasm off at least for a few minutes to keep Ashlyn from being insufferable after, but she honestly needs to cum so badly that she doesn't care.

Red flashes briefly through Ashlyn's eyes before they become black again and narrow in focus. "Oh you're on, Miss Krieger." She can already tell Ali is close from the heaving of her chest and the way her words are forced out of her mouth with a breathless desire. The game Ali is playing is an obvious one, but she decides to oblige her girlfriend and quickly pushes Ali's shirt up revealing her breasts, nipples already rapt at attention for her. She takes the left one between her teeth, biting it gently to get a gasp from the brunette who she can tell is trying to hang on without toppling over the edge.

Her pointer finger traces circles around her right nipple while her lips gently suck on the other and she can feel Ali writhing underneath her as she tries to get more friction between her legs. After a moment she slips her hand down Ali's torso tantalizingly slow before running her fingers just under the waistband of Ali's shorts. She can feel the indents from the elastic band on her skin and smirks when Ali tries to lift her hips to get the blonde's hand back where she really wants it.

"Easy there," she playfully chides, but when she looks up and sees Ali sexily biting her lip which is turning white around where her teeth are pushed into the flesh, she knows the brunette means business.

Ali's mind is already spinning and she drops her head back down onto the pillow when she finally feels Ashlyn's fingers graze against her swollen clit. The blonde dips her finger into her already soaking folds, but much to Ali's displeasure pulls them right back out as she shifts up to rub her now slick fingers in tight circles over Ali's clit.

The feeling is absolutely maddening and sending bolts of pleasure shooting through Ali’s body, but it’s not enough and they both know it. "Ash, just fuck me," the brunette demands in a firm tone, too far gone in pleasure to care that she was giving in.

Her back arches off the bed the instant the blonde's long, adept fingers slip into her tight core and she feels Ashlyn’s thumb keep rubbing circles on her swollen clit. "Fuck, baby," she moans out in a raspy voice, her head pushed back into the pillow as she feels the blinding intensity of the blonde's ministrations on her clit swirling with the feeling of her fingers thrusting deeper and hitting in just the right spot. Her legs are burning all the way to her curling toes and the feeling is quickly traveling up her spine to the rest of her body.

"Oh, Ash," she moans, louder and more urgent this time as she firmly pulls the blonde’s face up to her lips by her hair to muffle her cries of the impending orgasm that she knows is going to leave her screaming and most likely spewing profanities. She knows Noah isn't the heaviest sleeper and definitely wants him to stay asleep in his bedroom so she can return the favor to her girlfriend.

Ashlyn can feel Ali's nails digging into her back as the brunette clenches against her fingers and knows there are going to be indents and scratches to show for it in the morning. Her wrist is beginning to hurt from the odd angle caused by the strong elastic of Ali's shorts, but she can tell the brunette is so lost in the new sensation that she keeps thrusting her fingers in and ignores the pain building up. Seeing Ali this worked up and knowing she’s the one causing it makes Ashlyn throb even more with want and she can feel that she’s already soaking herself. Besides, she knows Ali gives it just as good as she gets and that she'll be well taken care of after.

"Fuck, Ash!" she cries out in a high pitched wail that Ashlyn is quick to silence with her own lips. She feels Ali holding her tightly, her short nail still piercing skin as her entire body convulses, dealing with the orgasm and its aftershocks. After a few seconds, she pulls her fingers out so that they're just rubbing slow, gentle circles on Ali's hard bundle of nerves to help work her down from her state of pure euphoria.

After a moment, Ali's back sinks down onto the bed and she's left completely breathless and panting for air. A calming effect has flowed through her body as a result of the orgasm and despite the fight that they had the night before, she's never felt closer to the blonde. "I love you," she says sweetly, her hand raising to cup the blonde's cheek that was hovering a few feet above hers on the bed. She rubs her thumb gently over the blonde’s face and stares up at her in wonderment.

"I win," is all Ash says with a smirk and is surprised she doesn’t get slapped by Ali in response. "What is my prize," she adds suggestively, wiggling her eyebrows as she drops onto her side and props herself up on her elbow to look back at her girlfriend.

The smug look on Ashlyn's face is too much and as much as Ali wants to wipe it right off her face with a heated kiss and mind blowing orgasm, her stomach gurgles and she realizes she wants something else more. "Go get me some chocolate cake," Ali says casually, ignoring the blonde's suggestive comment and she smiles when Ashlyn's eyebrows furrow in defiance.

"No," she replies pointedly, not wanting to get out of bed, but Ali knows just where to hit her and ups the ante. She sits up in bed so her face is level with Ash's and she just smiles sweetly at her for a moment while gently grazing her fingers along the back of the blonde's neck.

Ash's hairs stand up on end and she gets shivers down her spine when Ali's fingers wrap tightly around the base of her neck and pull her head in for a heated kiss. They kiss passionately for a moment and Ash thinks Ali has forgot all about the cake judging from the sexy moans slipping out of the brunette’s mouth and into her own. Ali takes the blonde's bottom lip in her own, sucking on it gently before she bites it and pulls back, bringing the worked up blonde with her.

She releases Ash's lip, but only after spreading her fingers out along her neck and tilting her head back to reveal more skin. Ali takes a few more seconds, biting, licking and sucking on Ashlyn's exposed neck to work her up as her other hand dips below the blonde's waistband to tease her a bit more.

Just as Ali's fingers get to her clit and Ash is about to pull her down on top of her to satisfy her needs, Ali pulls her hand back to the blonde’s cheek with a devilish smirk that Ashlyn feels between her legs. Her eyes are dark with hunger and want as she leans forward again and poises her lips just beside the blonde's ear.

"If you bring enough cake back and finally manage to get me naked, I'll let you eat it off of me," she whispers in a low, seductive voice, her fingers finally leaving the blonde's neck as they trace a slow path again down her body. She smirks when she hears Ashlyn audibly gulp as her fingers continue their descent. "And then I'll be such a dirty girl from all that chocolate frosting that you'll have to take me in the shower and clean me up, baby. And you know how naughty I can get in the shower, don’t you?" she adds, elongating her words. She pulls back with a sexy laugh to match her darkened eyes as her fingers finally settle on and press into the crotch of the blonde's shorts shorts and suddenly a slack jawed Ashlyn can't get to the kitchen quick enough.

Chapter Text

Ali just chuckles as Ashlyn sprints down the hall to the kitchen. She hears the blonde wash her hands before yanking open the fridge door. She's still so worked up from what Ashlyn did to her that her mind begins drifting in anticipation of what's to come.

She imagines Ashlyn slowly slipping her clothes off and tossing them to the floor with a mischievous glint in her dark eyes. She can almost feel the cold frosting that Ashlyn will spread down her stomach and then up her legs with one finger, maybe two. It will be tantalizingly slow and she knows Ashlyn will be wearing a proud smirk as she traces her chocolate covered finger around her nipples as her back arches off the bed at the enthralling contact.

It's not even the putting on of the frosting that really gets Ali going though, it's the thought of Ashlyn removing it. The thought of feeling the blonde's warm tongue contrasting against the cold frosting as she licked slowly and determinedly up her legs, swirled her tongue in her belly button to get every last morsel of chocolate and then taking her nipples between her lips and into her mouth to suck them clean, both of them humming in blissful ecstasy. She knows Ash will take her time, will tease her ruthlessly and she knows she'll love every goddamn second of it because once Ashlyn cleans up the frosting with her tongue, she knows she'll take care of the wetness sure to be dripping between her legs with her tongue as well. It'll be an experience that she'll repay in spades when she drags a hot and horny Ashlyn into the shower with her and slams her up against the wall before dropping to her knees. She'll lick Ashlyn clean in a completely different way that she knows will leave the breathless blonde screaming her name out with her long fingers digging into Ali's scalp as she begs for more.

She's about to get up and tell Ash to hurry the fuck up when the door swings open and she feels someone crawl onto the bed.

“Hey, Noah,” she says with a hint of panic, suddenly so thankful that Ashlyn had gotten her off with her clothes still on. It was a rare occurrence for them and she thinks the gods might be on their side just this once, well except for the fact that the two year old just ruined the incredibly sexy fantasy that was playing out in her mind minutes before it was supposed to play out in real life. She feels a wave of disappointment that it will have to wait and thinks to call out and warn Ash he’s in there before she runs back in naked or saying something sexy or cheeky, but her motherly instincts take over immediately when she sees his eyes are red and puffy.

“What’s wrong, handsome?” she quickly asks and pulls the sniffling boy into her arms. He stays quiet, just silently crying in her arms as she runs her fingers through his hair. “Noah, tell me what’s wrong, bud,” she prods, holding him out a bit so he can’t just hide his tear stained face in her shoulder. She can’t understand why the little boy who she had rarely seen happier, is suddenly in her bed sobbing. “Did you have a good birthday?” she tries, and the little boy nods his scrunched up face. “Well what’s wrong then?”

“I didn’t get my wish,” he says through his gasps as he rubs his tired, watering eyes with his balled up fist.

His words cut right through to her heart and she realizes that he must feel ignored since they had never discussed it. Ali had been so caught up in what everyone else had thought about his statement, that she didn’t actually address it with Noah.

Despite the sadness, he still looks so adorable and Ali just wraps him up tightly in her arms and wonders what’s taking Ashlyn so long as she hears the blender fire up in the kitchen. “Hey, bud,” she says calmly and folds Noah’s legs so that he’s sitting on top of hers facing her. This had been a conversation she thought she needed Ashlyn for, but in reality it’s between her and Noah, and Ash will support whatever decision comes out of it. “Did you really mean that? Do you really want me to be your mommy?” she asks slowly, wanting Noah to understand it all.

He nods and wipes his red eyes again before looking back to her with his face etched in uncertainty. “Yeah,” he replies in a high pitched, innocent voice.

Even though the dim lighting of the room, she can see the sincerity in Noah’s face and she takes in a deep breath. “You know you already have two mommies, right?” she asks and leans over the little boy to pull a picture out of Ashlyn’s nightstand that matches the one on the dresser in Noah’s room. It’s the one of Ashlyn, Emma and Noah that was taken right after the little boy was born.

He nods and points to the women in the picture. “Mama and mommy,” he mumbles as his short fingers trace their faces while Ali holds the picture tightly so Noah doesn’t wrinkle it. "And me!" he adds with a tiny smile when pointing to the bundled up baby in the photo. He still can’t understand how that’s him, but his mama always told him so he just went along with it.

“Right!” she says excitedly and leans down to kiss Noah’s head, glad that he hadn’t made this too difficult yet. “Your mommy loved you very much, you know,” she continues, her eyes lingering over Emma’s face, the same face that stares back at her every night when she tucks Noah into bed. “She was an amazing woman and took care of you and your mama until she got sick.” He nods in understanding, it’s a story he’s heard before, but it’s a story Ali needs to repeat and for him to understand before she can give him what he really wants. For her own sake she needs to understand that Noah knows about Emma, about the woman who had ultimately given up her wonderful life to make sure the little boy had a chance at his own. It’s something she could never forget and something that she needs to know Noah understands as well.

“Got sick and went bye bye,” Noah says sadly, and Ali cringes at how morbid the child’s version of it all sounds.

She squeezes him tightly with both arms after setting the picture down in front of her. It’s getting harder and and Ali can feel the tears beginning to form in the corner of her eyes. She quickly brushes them away and pushes down her guilt as well. “She did go bye bye, but she still loves you very much, Noah.”

“Like you?” he asks, turning in Ali’s arms to point at her.

“Yes, like me,” she breathes out before taking in another deep breath filled with Noah’s scent. It calms her a bit to know that she has him in her arms, that she won’t lose him and drawing strength from the little boy gives her the courage to go on. “I love you so much, handsome,” she says with a warm smile and smoothes his messy bed head down with her palm. “You’re lucky because you have so many people that love you, especially your mommy and mama.”

“Mama, mommy and you,” he says excitedly and pokes Ali in the nose. In his childlike innocence he sees no difference between them. He’s unaware of his connection to Emma, Ashlyn and Ali besides what they do for him, how they care for him, and his undeniable love for them, especially the latter two.

The brunette giggles and nods. “Yes. We all love you so much, Noah, and I want you to know that I’ll always protect you and take care of you,” she says, trying to keep herself from getting choked up. “I’ll always be here for you.”

“Like mama and mommy,” he replies with a nod like it’s the simplest thing in the world and as she looks deep into his bright green eyes, Ali realizes it is simple. Noah calling her mommy isn’t about replacing or forgetting Emma. It’s not about taking her place or filling a void, it’s just Noah expressing how he feels about Ali and what she means to him.

“Exactly,” Ali hears from the doorway before she could even open her mouth to form a reply and turns to see Ashlyn standing there with a look of pure adoration on her face while holding a chocolate milkshake in one hand and a giant plate of cake in the other. She had heard the entire conversation and smiles down at Ali when she saw the picture of the three of them and heard her explanation of it all. Even though she knows she won’t be licking chocolate frosting off of Ali’s amazingly sexy, toned stomach or watching the brunette get on her knees for her in the shower, she smiles knowing that her family is getting pieced back together in more ways than one that night.

“What could make this night any better?” she says teasingly while holding up the cake and milkshake that originally were going to lead to some sexy fun, before making her way over to the bed. “How about some midnight cake and your birthday wish coming true?” she says more sincerely this time as she holds the milkshake out to Noah while plopping down on the bed next to her two loves.

“Ali be my mommy?” he asks excitedly, his eyes growing wide as he looks up at his mother in shock as if waiting for her permission.

Ashlyn just shrugs with a look of surprise that Noah ignored the chocolate milkshake and then looks over at Ali whose eyes are glistening. “That’s a question only she can answer,” she replies to Noah and nods her head towards Ali, knowing the strong implications of Ali's answer. She knows it’s in their future anyways, but with Noah actually calling Ali ‘mommy’ her timeline would be a bit sped up. If Ali and Noah could make that selfless commitment to each other, she knew Ali deserved the same from her as well.

Noah turns and looks back at Ali with the most hopeful, pleading expression Ali has ever seen in her life and even though she didn’t, if she did have reservations, that look would have wiped them all away. His eyes are wide and she can barely see the whites of them as he places his hands on her shoulders and squeezes them gently in anticipation while just gazing into her eyes wordlessly.

“Of course I will be your mommy, Noah,” she says with all the honesty she possesses and barely has time to take a breath before two little arms are thrown around her neck in pure ecstasy. As her arms wrap around Noah’s diminutive body, his head burying in the mess of wavy brown hair at the crook of her neck she closes her eyes, relishing every detail, no matter how insignificant, of this moment. She can feel the little boy’s warm breath on her neck, smell his freshly washed hair and feel the strength of his arms which are wrapped around her as tight as possible.

If she didn’t already know it before, this brought her to the swift realization that wherever Ashlyn and Noah were, that was where her home was.

Chapter Text

Ali pauses the television which was playing game film for her upcoming round of thirty two Champion's League game and sets the remote down after she hears yet another sigh leave the blonde's mouth. She turns and studies Ashlyn for a moment just as she had been her game film, watching reverently as the blonde’s face twists in confusion. Her jaw is clenched and lips pursed as she stares intently at the papers laid out on the wooden table before her. She honestly thinks the pencil in the blonde’s hand might snap the way her fingers are turning white around it and after watching her struggle for a few moments she finally pulls herself up off the couch and wanders over to the kitchen table where the blonde is hard at work.

“What’s got you so worked up?” she asks and slides her arms around the blonde’s waist. She lets her chin rest on Ashlyn’s shoulder as she looks at the layout that has her girlfriend so frustrated. Usually, Ashlyn likes to be left alone when she works, but she can tell when the blonde gets really flustered that sometimes she just needs some help. It’s become a common practice when the blonde becomes aggravated that she helps Ash solve her design problem, often offering her own insight on the design matter while giving her a relaxing massage and then Ashlyn repays the favor by thanking Ali in the best way possible, multiple orgasms. It is the fifth time it’s happened in two weeks though and she’s beginning to think the blonde is just using it as a game.

When Ashlyn just sighs and sets the pencil down roughly on the paper, Ali can tell this isn’t the case. Her shoulders slump as she drops her face into her palms and rubs her tired eyes. It’s late, almost four hours after they put Noah to bed, and she wants nothing more than to cuddle up in bed with Ali, but she promised to get new designs out to a very wealthy client by early the next day. “This damn house I’ve been working on all week,” she says in a frustrated tone that she hopes Ali doesn’t think is meant for her. “I just cannot figure out the layout I want to go with and they keep emailing me with changes every day. I started this in the beginning of September and it's now the beginning of October and we're still going back and forth!" She’s been working on a house for a client with very specific wishes and it’s getting to her that she can’t make it all come together. Usually she’s never had a creativity problem, but with this couple, they were too indecisive and she couldn’t get any rhythm going before they changed up the plans.

“Well what part are you looking at now?” Ali asks and brings her hands up to her shoulders. She lets her fingers work deeply into the tight muscles on the blonde’s neck and she can already feeling Ashlyn relaxing under her touch.

She plucks the standard pencil off the paper and points to the corner room of the house with the point of it. “The master bedroom,” she begins and quickly erases a pencil mark she had accidentally made on the design. “They obviously want a master bath, but with the layout on the upper floor, which is a result of the very eccentric exterior they had me design, I’m struggling to put it all together.”

“What’s the actual problem?” Ali asks, knowing it sometimes helps to break things down. She hopes this approach along with her nimble fingers kneading the blonde’s taut neck and shoulder muscles will help calm Ashlyn down.

Another sigh escapes Ashlyn’s lips and she’s about to tell Ali not to worry about it when the brunette gently kisses her neck and encourages her to go on. “He wants a stand up, walk in shower with a bench, she wants a full size Jacuzzi tub and they also want a double vanity with ridiculous counter space, a double wide linen closet and obviously a toilet has to fit too.”

Ali taps her chin and looks at the space and the size of the cutouts Ashlyn was using to try and piece it all together. “Why don’t you do one of those cool things where the edge of the Jacuzzi tub builds into the shower to serve as a bench?” she asks simply and slides the jacuzzi cut out towards the shower one so that they slightly overlap.

A loud exhale escapes Ashlyn’s lips at how simple the solution is. She’s seen what Ali is referring to in several bathrooms and knows that she has the capability to actually pull it off if she picks her finishes correctly. Wanting to see what other genius ideas Ali can bring to the table, she sits back in her seat and lets Ali continue to work her fingers over her muscles. “And what finishes would you pick for the bathroom, my dear?” she asks, closing her eyes so she can picture the room Ali is describing.

“Hmmmm,” Ali hums as she thinks hard on the matter. “You know those light gray tiles in that Hilton we stayed at?”

“The ones that kind of look like they have wood grains?” Ash clarifies.

Ali nods as she slides her fingers further down Ashlyn’s arms so that she’s now massaging her arms with her whole hand. “Yes. So I would have a shade lighter of that on the floor and then the walls…they would be a real light sea-foam blue color.”

“Chrome, brushed nickel or bronze finishes?” Ashlyn grills her, already knowing that the defender hated gold finishes. She chuckles when she remembers a very serious Ali telling her that they only gold things she wants in her apartment is medals.

Ali doesn’t even need to think about the answer. “Chrome,” she replies. “Brass could look good with green walls, but I definitely like chrome with blue. And the shower would be those little glass tiles in different shades of blue and gray,” she adds matter-of-factly as the blonde just chuckles at Ali’s expensive taste. At expensive as it is, at least Ali has a good decorating sense. She honestly can't remember the last time she put gold finishes in a house so she was happy to hear Ali say that, no matter how much sass was behind it. The brunette then points to a piece of paper lying out on a chair beside Ash. “And that vanity,” she says, specifically pointing to a specific set made up of dark wood with beautiful marbled gray and white granite on top of it. “If that woman tries to tell you not to get that vanity, tell her to shove it because it’s beautiful,” Ali says evenly.

Ash just laughs and turns in her swivel chair to pull Ali onto her lap. “That’s a good way to keep clients,” Ash says with a playful eye roll. “Excuse me, Mrs. Robinson, but if you don’t like this vanity, you can go shove it,” she mimics Ali’s voice and gets the brunette laughing heartily. She knows Ashlyn is far too professional to pull a stunt like that. “She actually told me she wants all white for her vanity,” Ash supplies, knowing the woman’s choice would get a rise out of Ali.

“Whatever,” the defender mumbles feigning indifference as her eyes drop to the blonde’s pink lips. Her gaze lingers there for a moment before Ashlyn looks up from her paper and picks up on it.

“If it’s any consolation, I think you have excellent taste, babe,” Ash responds with a devilish smirk, her voice dropping a bit lower as she drops her pencil on the table and cups the brunette’s ass in her hands.

“Oh yeah?” Ali replies seductively, catching onto the double meaning of her statement.

“Yeah,” the blonde replies breathlessly as she stands and lifts Ali out of the chair with her. She crashes their lips together before dropping Ali down onto the couch. "And I think I really want to get reacquainted with that taste," she adds with a smoldering look while gently pulling Ali's shorts and panties off.

"By all means," Ali replies with a grin and pulls a pillow behind her head so she can watch Ashlyn eat her out. She folds her hands behind her head casually as Ash runs her tongue over her clit. That only lasts for a minute though before her hands are buried in Ashlyn's hair pulling her deeper as the blonde pushes her tongue into her needy, soaking core.

"Yes baby!" she cries out softly, hoping not to wake Noah as her fingers twirl into Ashlyn's hair.

To say Ashlyn is aroused is an understatement when she feels Ali's fingers pulling her hair, her nails digging into her scalp as she gets so lost in the feeling of ecstasy creeping through her veins. To see Ali be this far gone, to feel her so wet with desire, sends a deeper throb between Ashlyn's legs and she picks up her pace with fervered intensity.

She can tell how far she is already and she hums happily as she greedily laps at Ali's folds. "You taste so good, Alex," she mumbles into her core and the sensation is enough to send Ali hurling over the edge with the blonde's name on her lips.

"Damn," Ashlyn mumbles in awe as she spends a few more moments licking Ali clean before pulling back and wiping her chin with the bottom of her shirt. "That was so hot, Alex," she says with a wide grin as she looks down at her girlfriend. "I wish I didn't have to finish these plans," she says ruefully and casts her eyes back to the plans that might keep her up for a few more hours.

Ali just looks back at her with hungry eyes that are dark with desire. "As I said before, tell Mrs. Robinson to shove it. You're coming to bed with me, stud," she whispers seductively in an 'I won't take no for an answer' tone and grabs Ashlyn by the belt to drag her to their bedroom.

Chapter Text

It’s a freezing, rainy November day and as Ashlyn glances out the window with her pencil between her teeth she shudders while thinking of how cold it will be outside. Sweden had been an adjustment not just for Noah, but also for herself and the one thing she missed about Florida the most was that November didn’t mean sleeting rain and light snowfall. In Florida she could still surf in November with a wetsuit on and even then it didn’t take long to warm up after since she could just lay out on the beach under the bright sun.

The sound of Ali shuffling down the hallway brings her from her thoughts and she pulls her eyes from the window to glance at her girlfriend. She’s bundled in her warm-up pants and a thick red and yellow puffy coat and Ashlyn groans knowing that if Ali is wearing her winter coat, she’s going to have to wear about three sweaters and two pairs of pants underneath her own.

“Oh it won’t be that bad,” Ali teases as she catches on to Ashlyn’s emotional shift. “Just make sure you bring your hat,” she says and drops her bag by the door before turning around and coming back over to the kitchen table where Ashlyn is hard at work on another design.

After over three months in Sweden, Ashlyn had taken on designing homes for several clients and Ali was glad that she was doing what she loved. Even though it meant long nights and her often having to take Noah out so she could concentrate, seeing the smile on Ashlyn’s face when she came up with the perfect designs made her heart soar. Ashlyn would also proudly show her emails from her thrilled clients who all promised to spread her name around. The checks that were piling up in her bank account didn’t hurt either, especially since they were both living in the apartment provided by Ali’s team and Ali had a stipend to live off as well on top of her rather large contracted salary.

The blonde just smiles and wraps her arms around Ali to pull her onto her lap. “You excited for your game tonight?” she asks the brunette who is now straddling her.

Ali runs her fingers along the hairline at the back of Ashlyn’s neck and nods. “Yeah. Just have to win by one goal and then we’re into the Quarterfinals!” she exclaims and the excitement is evident from her tone.

“When are those?” Ash asks as she shifts her eyes over to the couch where Noah is watching cartoons on Netflix so that he could listen to them in English.

“March,” Ali supplies as her eyes follow the blonde’s to the couch.

Ashlyn’s eyes go wide, not realizing that there was such a large gap in between the games. If Ali won this one, then they were going to be in Sweden until spring. She didn’t even want to think about how brutal a Swedish winter could be. “That’s a long time,” she breathes out, realizing the weight of her commitment.

“We get over a month long break for December and January,” Ali replies and shifts on Ashlyn’s lap so she can meet her gaze. She can tell the blonde is a bit hesitant and knows why. “We’ll go back to the states and spend lots of time in Florida, okay?” she asks, lifting the blonde’s chin so she can see her brilliant smile.

“Deal,” Ash grins, though she still doesn't sound completely convinced. “Now before you go kick some ass, red or gray?” she asks, holding up two paint samples for an upscale kitchen she was designing.

Ali taps her chin and looks at the stainless steel appliances she had pulled up on her laptop screen. “Do at least one accent wall red so it pops,” she says. “Maybe behind the stove top and sink area?” she asks, letting Ashlyn’s expertise take over. “Oh and that backsplash is gorgeous,” she adds, pointing to the glass tile selection Ash had lain out. “Definitely put that behind the red wall.”

“I like it,” she says with a nod and tosses the paint samples back onto the table. “Now give me a good luck kiss and get out of here.” She leans forward to close the gap between them and as Ali’s tongue slips into her mouth she feels the brunette rock her hips forward and grind into her. Ash contains the moan threatening to spill from her lips since Noah is in the room, but quickly converts it to a frustrated sigh when Ali whispers, “Don’t forget the bet we made. I’ll be cashing it in tonight when we win.”

“The bet was that you had to score,” Ashlyn whispers back, closing her eyes as Ali applies a bit more pressure.

“Oh I plan on it. In more ways than one, Harris,” she responds cheekily and kisses Ashlyn deeply once more before swinging her leg over the breathless blonde’s lap and walking over to the couch. “I’ll see you later, handsome,” she says cheerily, leaning over to ruffle Noah’s hair before planting a kiss on his head.

“Good luck, mommy,” he says while sitting up to wrap his arms around her neck in a tight hug. “Love you!”

Ali smiles and kisses his head once more. “Love you too, Noah. I’m going to score a goal just for you tonight,” she adds and pokes him gently in the nose which causes him to giggle.

“Okay,” he laughs as Ali catches Ashlyn’s eyes to see the blonde glaring back at her. The goal Ali is supposedly going to score is supposed to be for her and she’ll remind the brunette of that if the time comes that night.

“See you two later at the game!” Ali says with a giant grin and grabs her bag off the floor to sling over her shoulder. “Love you both!”

 

***

There’s ten minutes left in the game and for the first time in her life, Ashlyn finds herself doubting if she actually wants Ali to score. Of course she wants her to score and her team to win and them to move on in the Champions League tournament, but as the clock ticks down she thinks that maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing if they lost. Losing meant heading back to the states, losing meant seeing her family again, losing meant a warm winter on the beach and not wrapped in spandex, three sweaters and a parka just to visit the corner store. The thoughts in her mind make her heart clench and she feels guilty, but as much as she loves Ali, she also loves home. She loves surfing, dolphin watching and beautiful Florida sunsets. She loves her mother's Sangria and her grandma's Mac and cheese and she loves the way her family's faces light up whenever she and Noah are around, similar to the way she lights up around them. She's torn between her two loves, her family by blood and the family that she made for herself.

“Come on, mommy!” Noah yells out from her lap though it’s muffled by the adult sized Tyreso scarf that Ashlyn had wrapped around his head to keep the wind from nipping at his face.

She laughs at the thought that her son has absolutely no reservations about Ali winning, about her being successful and again she’s reminded that to him, home is wherever she and Ali are. He’s been in D.C., Florida and now Sweden all by the age of two and after a brief adjustment period he had settled into Sweden just as he had everywhere else. It’s another one of those moments where she wishes she could be like her son, innocent and naïve in a good way of everything going on around them. To him, happiness means Ash and Ali, it's Ali scoring goals, it's celebrations on the pitch with the woman he learned to call mommy and it means movie nights on a couch in whatever city or country they live in and curling up in bed with them wherever they are.

His unconditional love forces a smile onto her face and she squeezes her son tightly before clapping her gloved hands and joining in on the cheers.

It starts in the 90th minute. Ali wins a tackle in her defensive third that sends both her and the attacker sprawling to the ground. The ball is slowly rolling over the end line for what would appear to be a corner kick before the defender pushes off the ground and just touches it back in before the whole ball crosses the line. She sends an arching pass to the wide open center midfielder and then begins her long sprint up the field. Her lungs are burning for air and her muscles are screaming in pain, but she keeps up her run even as the ball is sent to the far side of the pitch.

It ends in the 91st minute, when the ball is crossed in and meets her head just briefly before finding a home in the top corner of the other team’s net. Ali lets out a scream as her teammates swarm towards her, her arms are spread wide and her face is etched in an intense look of pure ecstasy and the sight of the woman she loves so deeply being that elated, that euphoric, combined with her shrieking and clapping son celebrating the goal just as emphatically pushes all doubts out of her mind.

As things finally settle and Ali jogs back to her side of the pitch nearest to them for the restart and sends the blonde a wink doubled up with her characteristic smirk to remind her of their bet, Ashlyn thinks that maybe a few more months in Sweden isn’t a bad thing at all.

Chapter Text

It had been a long, exhausting night after Ali’s team won. There was celebrating on the field, there was dinner after to celebrate and then there was a few hours of drinks at the restaurant after the victory where the celebration continued well past Noah’s and ever her bedtime. Tyreso was on to the Quarterfinals, in March, and yes Ashlyn was excited for her girlfriend, but after it took almost an hour in the shower to finally warm herself back up and gain feeling in her toes again she honestly wasn’t sure that she could handle a winter in Sweden.

The burning hot water was running down her back as her thoughts continued to run rampant. She knew the water would be leaving a bright red spot on her skin, but she was so desperate for any type of warmth that she didn’t care. Though at least one of the next four months would be spent in the States between D.C. and Florida, that still left three months of a freezing cold, biting wind, heavy snowfall winter and that wasn’t something she wasn’t necessarily looking forward to. The reality is that she would follow Ali anywhere, she just wished that somewhere involved a beach and temperatures in the eighties.

The door down the hallway shut softly and Ashlyn could pick up on the vibrations of someone walking down the hall. Ali must have finished putting Noah down so she decided to call a quits to the shower and meet her girlfriend in bed. She turned the water off and stepped out onto the plush shower mat while grabbing her towel. Knowing that Noah was asleep, she forwent slipping clothes on and just slung her towel around her waist before making her way to their bedroom.

She was surprised to not find Ali there, but after a moment picked up on her movements in the kitchen and figured she was grabbing her usual glass of water or cup of tea. Ashlyn tossed her towel onto the chair that sat beside their tiny closet and slipped into bed, pulling the thick covers up over her body as she settled her head onto the pillow.

Her thoughts continued to drift back home, back to her family and she thought about all of the things she was going to pack into her schedule while she was home. She had to visit some clients, check on the progress of some of the houses she designed, she had to take Noah surfing and maybe even convince Ali to try as well. She would feast on her mother’s delicious Christmas cookies and kiss Ali at midnight at her family’s annual New Year's Eve party on the beach. There would be her grandma's mac and cheese and a night out at the bar with her brother. She would get up at the crack of dawn just to see the sun rise and hoped that Noah and Ali would join her for some of those as well, because if sunrises over the ocean were where she felt at peace, she knew that adding her son and Ali to the mix would only make it better. To be honest, she was ready to book their flights and head back now, but knew that Ali had a few more weeks of training before they were released for break.

She let out a deep sigh as she tried to busy her mind by thinking of things in Sweden that she was excited about. Though besides Ali and Noah and the perfect little coffee shop down the street with her favorite pastries, she wasn’t coming up with much. She just couldn’t wait for Ali to get into bed so she could be reminded that the brunette really was all she needed.

Her thoughts were soon interrupted by shuffling down the hallway and she turned just in time to see Ali saunter into the room. She looked adorable with short black Nike shorts and a loose white tee that hung off her shoulder.

“What happened to the bet?” Ash asked with a confused grin when she looked at the bundle of things in Ali’s arms.

The defender shot her a playful glare and began to set things down on her nightstand. “This is it!” she said excitedly.

“So you decided to waste your free ticket to do anything you wanted to bring a make-your-own-sundae bar to bed?” she asks with a giggle. Ali never did cease to amaze her. “I think you kind of missed the point of the bet babe,” she chuckles when she thinks about the sexy things she would have done to Ali if she had won, but it quickly fades when she sees Ali’s lips curl up into a sinister, seriously sexy smile.

“I think you’re missing the point,” she replies and picks up a can of whipped cream and sprays it into her mouth all while looking intensely at her girlfriend. “Do you see any bowls here?” she asks with a poignant stare that Ashlyn can feel right between her legs.

Ashlyn gulps as her eyes flick to the pile of things Ali had brought in and although there is a pint of ice cream, chocolate syrup, sprinkles and whipped cream, she does not in fact see any bowls. Or spoons. There’s definitely a serious lack of utensils and judging from the devilish look in Ali’s amber eyes, she realizes that was exactly the defender’s intention. “Oh...I...I see,” she fumbles, trying to regain her confidence, but her throat has suddenly gone dry as she pictured her girlfriend covered in chocolate and suddenly she can’t rip the warm covers off quick enough when she remembers Ali promising to make the chocolate cake incident up to her. Images of licking chocolate up Ali’s legs flash through her mind as she gets to her knees and tries to pull Ali down onto the bed

“Easy there,” Ali says and gently pushes Ashlyn back down to the bed with palm on her chest. “I won the bet, remember?” she asks, as if the blonde actually needed to be reminded. “Do you know what that means?” she asks, her tone sweet, but Ashlyn can sense the mischievousness behind it as the defender sets the whipped cream down and grabs a bottle of chocolate syrup instead.

Ashlyn doesn’t even get a chance to answer because Ali answers it for her. The dots of chocolate syrup Ali dots her abdomen and chest with are cold and as they hit her skin it sends shivers down her spine. She’s about to let out a shriek at the feeling, but suddenly she feels the warm wetness of Ali’s tongue on her hip and her body ignites when she feels her tongue slide up her skin which is now alive with goosebumps.

“Mmmm,” Ali purrs as she swirls her tongue around Ashlyn’s flat, toned stomach where some droplets of the chocolate have pooled and tastes the sweet chocolate on her tongue. “You taste so good,” she quips and Ashlyn just smiles as she thinks about what Ali usually means when those words leave her lips. The smile is quickly replaced though as she sees Ali’s hand come up with the whipped cream to dot her already perky nipples.

“Jesus, Alex,” she moans as the defenders tongue pulls some of the chocolate from the valley of her breasts with it before she swirls it in tantalizing circles around her left nipple mixing the whipped cream and chocolate together. Ashlyn can already feel the wetness pooling between her legs as the brunette’s soft lips finally wrap around her nipple, sucking it into her mouth as her tongue eagerly cleans off the sticky sweet remnants.

Ali pulls her tongue back across Ashlyn's chest and settles on the other nipple, smirking as she feels the blonde writhing underneath her, arching up into her mouth and begging for more contact. Ashlyn’s hands are gripping tightly at her hips and Ali can feel her heart racing against the palm that’s pressed to the blonde’s chest. “Fuck, Ali,” the blonde mumbles as she gets continuously lost in Ali’s torturing touch. The brunette continues licking slow circles around Ashlyn’s pink nipple and is about to trail some more of the whipped cream up her neck when suddenly she feels herself lift off the bed only to be slammed back down, this time on her back.

Ashlyn stares down at her with piercing dark eyes, her chest smeared with chocolate that Ali hadn’t been able to clean off yet, and Ali realizes that there’s a chance that she had forgotten how dominant Ashlyn could be. When the blonde grabs the whipped cream from her hand and tosses it onto the bed next to them, reaching instead for the chocolate syrup that Ali had set back on the nightstand, she realizes her suspicions had been correct.

“You. Are. So. Fucking. Sexy,” Ashlyn says, squirting small drops of the chocolate up Ali’s leg to punctuate every word of her sentence. “And just so you know,” she says, her voice low and husky as she tosses the syrup down beside the whipped cream canister, “I can’t wait to eat you up tonight.”

The words alone are enough to pull a throaty moan from Ali, but when she feels the blonde’s tongue start above her knee and slowly make its way up her leg, the moans become louder and more pronounced. This wasn’t how the night was supposed to play out. She was supposed to be the one in charge, the one making Ashlyn squirm, but when she feels the blonde’s strong hands gripping her hips which are already trying to lift off the mattress, she quickly realizes that this is really the only way the night could have gone. There’s no way Ashlyn would have sat back idle and there’s no way Ali would have been able to hold her off is she tried. And honestly, as she feels Ashlyn’s warm, strong tongue making it’s way closer to her center, liking every drop of chocolate syrup off her legs, she realizes she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“What’s got you smirking?” Ashlyn asks, finally pulling back to meet Ali’s hungry stare.

“Nothing,” she replies sassily with a shrug as the blonde grabs the whipped cream and runs a line up Ali’s strong torso. The brunette squirms at the feeling of the cold cream against her, but again the blonde is quickly descending on her and when lips hit her skin, she feels her nerves explode in fiery burn. Her whole body is tingling at the extremely erotic way Ashlyn is working her way up her body and she honestly doesn’t know if she’s ever been so worked up before.

The blonde’s lips and tongue expertly work their way up before settling on her nipples which are now coated in sweet mixture of chocolate and whipped cream. Ashlyn pulls back, leaving some on her as she crashes her lips into Ali’s, forcing her tongue into the brunette’s mouth as they share the taste of chocolate and whipped cream between them, both moaning at the feeling of their bodies slipping against each other.

“Please, Ash,” Ali gets out, the throbbing between her legs becoming too much, but like always they are on the same page and Ashlyn is thrusting two fingers deep inside of her needy core before she can even finish asking for what she wants.

Their lips remain locked and Ashlyn can feel the vibration of Ali’s deep, satisfied moan rip through her own throat. The feeling only spurs her on more as she pulls her lips off Ali’s and attacks her neck with a sense of urgency. She begins sucking on her neck and can feel Ali’s pulse speed up against her lips as her moans become louder and more urgent.

“Yes, baby. Don’t stop,” Ali begs. She lifts her hips to meet every thrust of Ashlyn’s fingers and despite sticking together from the sweet concoction spread across both of their bodies, they find a perfect rhythm and within a few minutes Ali is panting and right on the verge. She can feel her body tightening, tensing in preparation for the orgasm that’s bubbling up. She’s lost control of her body, control of her senses and all she can feel, all that matters in this moment is Ashlyn thrusting deep into her as she bites and licks her neck bringing her closer and closer to the release she’s been longing for. “I’m close,” she gets out, though it’s almost too high pitched for the blonde to even hear and Ashlyn smirks against her skin knowing that Ali is so far gone.

She pulls her lips from Ali’s neck and replaces her fingers with her tongue, wanting to taste Ali in every possible way that night. Her nimble fingers find the brunette’s throbbing, soaking clit and only need to stroke it a few times before she feels Ali spill out into her mouth as a high pitched, sated moan spills out of Ali’s mouth.

“Fuck,” Ashlyn moans in awe, her tongue still lapping at the copious juices spilling out of her extremely wet girlfriend. She’s partially in awe that she was capable of making Ali’s body do that, but more so in shock that the defender was that worked up. Although, it had been over a week since they had been intimate since Noah had frequented their bed claiming there were monsters in his.. “Mmm,” she purrs, finally pulling her lips away as she looks down at Ali whose arched back has once again settled back onto the bed.

Ali smiles up at her girlfriend, but as soon as her unfocused eyes settle back on the blonde and the way her chin is coated with a mixture of her juices and traces of chocolate syrup, they become dark with desire. “Regardless of that,” she says breathlessly and points to the lower region of her body that was still trembling, “I’m still in charge here.”

“Oh yeah?” Ashlyn challenges, a smirk crossing her lips. Last time she checked Ali was the one on the bottom with her head nestled softly into the pillow, her chest heaving after a mind blowing orgasm.

“Yes,” the brunette gets out through gritted teeth as she pulls Ashlyn down to her by the neck and presses their bodies flush together while kissing her deeply, tasting herself, chocolate and whipped cream on the blonde’s tongue. She can already feel herself getting aroused again at just one taste. She pushes the Ash off of her by her chest and stares intently back at her, her eyes dark and hungry with desire. “And I say that we need to get into the shower to get cleaned up,” she states firmly. “Unless you have a better idea,” she challenges while slipping out of bed, but from the look she is getting, Ashlyn knows she’d do anything Ali asked her at the moment. She quickly shakes her head, hops off the bed and chases Ali down the hall, almost stumbling over her own feet in excitement as she hears the shower come screaming to life. She does a quick fist pump before jumping into the shower behind Ali, but the smirk is quickly wiped off her lips when she feels her back slammed into the cool, tile wall of the shower as the hungry defender drops to her knees before her.

Chapter Text

“Tell me again why we couldn’t just fly right to Florida,” Ash says with a slight hint of aggravation when they pull up in front of the Washington Spirit complex. There’s over a foot of snow on the ground seeing as it was December and she can barely see out of her windshield due to the blowing snow.

Ali unbuckles her seat belt before leaning over the center console to give the blonde a kiss. “I told you I have to meet with the Spirit staff and my agent. They want to talk about renegotiating my contract to have me back after I leave Tyreso.”

“Fine,” Ash huffs, hoping it won’t take too long. They only had a short stay in D.C. to visit with Ali’s family so she knows she’ll only have to suffer through the cold for a few days before the sunny beaches of Florida once again became home. They were in an awkward limbo state seeing as she had sold her house and Ali had vacated her apartment before moving to Sweden, but staying with family meant they would get as much face time in as possible in before they headed back to Sweden to see Ali hopefully finish out a successful Champions League campaign. “I’m going to take Noah sledding since he’s been begging me, but are you still down for a family ice skating date after your meeting?”

Ali nods and glances in the backseat to see Noah completely bundled up for their sledding adventure. She felt bad that the poor kid was sweating under all of the layers Ash had thrown on him, but knew it would be for the best once they got to the sledding hill she had grown up sledding down. “Of course,” she responds while leaning into the back to kiss Noah in the tiny spot of exposed skin that the blonde hadn’t already covered. “I’ll call you when I’m out of my meeting, but it shouldn’t be more than a couple hours. I’ll even take you two for some hot chocolate to warm you up,” she adds with a nose crinkling grin.

“Better big a big cup,” Ash broodingly replies. She was supposed to be taking Noah surfing, not sledding and that fact was not lost on the blonde.

It’s freezing outside and when Ali opens the door to the car a stiff wind whips into it and Ashlyn visibly shudders. “You are such a baby!” Ali says with an eye roll. “Have fun. Be safe. I love you,” she directs to both of them before she slips out of the car and immediately feels the D.C. winter surrounding her as she waves one final time to Ashlyn and Noah. Her eyes linger on the car as it pulls back out onto the road, before she turns and yanks open the front door to the Spirit offices.

 

***

 

The ‘little’ hill that Ali had told Ashlyn she loved as a kid is in no way, shape or form little in Ashlyn’s mind. It’s at least fifty feet tall and comparing that to her two and a half feet tall two year old, it’s actually fucking huge. After the snowstorm the last couple of days brought a nice new layer of powder, people flocked to the hill and Ashlyn couldn’t help but wonder what people in D.C. do in the winter when it’s not good sledding weather. Despite the welcoming, powdery snow on the way up to the hill, the face of the hill has been stripped down from use, worn to a glassy surface that Ashlyn thought was better suited for luge runs than her son’s sledding.

She had debated telling Noah the hill is closed, or their sled was broken or it’s too cold for him to be outside, but when her son’s eyes lit up at the sight of other kids flying down the hill she knew it would break his heart. Besides, she had always been a wild child and if her parents told her not to do something it only made her want to do it even more.

“Alright, Noah. Are you ready for this?” a shivering Ashlyn asks as she holds tightly to the sled that her son is sitting in. What she really wants to do is pull her scarf tighter around her neck to block the biting wind, but she doesn’t feel confident enough yet. She’s absolutely terrified to let him go and her full protective mom mode was in effect, so much so that she decided to only let him start from halfway up the hill. She figures if he only goes down half of the hill, he’ll have half the chance of getting hurt.

They’re hanging off to the side to stay out of everyone’s way and the only reason Noah doesn’t have a helmet on is because Ali wouldn’t let her bring a spare bike helmet from her dad’s house stating that Ashlyn needed to relax and that she didn’t want Noah to be ‘that kid’. After going down the hill several times with Noah in her lap the little boy had gotten bored and said he wanted to ride down on his own like all the other kids were.

Ashlyn is struggling to fight against gravity since she’s holding the sled at a total incline. “Ready!” the little boy squeals, completely oblivious to the terror pumping through his mother’s veins. He tries to scoot the sled forward himself and finally Ash just takes a deep breath and lets the sled go. It starts sliding down the hill slowly and she hates herself for being such an overprotective mother as she runs down the hill next to the sled the whole time. It picks up too much speed though and she’s unable to stay by Noah’s side as she chases after it, her eyes scanning the hill for any sign of danger.

He’s nearing the bottom when she sees it, a larger boy coming down the hill on a snowboard that is strapped to his feet. He’s wobbling like a tourist their first time on a surfboard and she cringes when Noah’s sled comes to a halt right in the middle of the chubby boy’s path. Time seems to stand still as her eyes go wide and she picks up her pace sprinting down the hill to try and reach Noah in time. She’s trying, but she knows she’s not going to make it in time. The boy is picking up more speed and she can tell his eyes are wide as well as he sees the toddler who is oblivious to his surroundings and is honestly too bundled in warm clothes to be able to move on his own accord anyways.

Ash tries yelling, tries calling his name, but Noah is too busy clapping his hands excitedly yelling, “More! More!” to hear her, not that he could over the shrill of the wind and through the hat and hoodie tied tightly over his head. It’s all Ash can do to cover her eyes at the last second and pray that the damage won’t be too much. She waits for the sound of impact, for the shrill cries of her little boy, but she hears nothing. Lifting her head up, she breathes the biggest sigh of relief as she sees the chubby boy lying on the ground inches in front of Noah, having caught an edge in the packed, icy snow and tumbled forward. “Oh thank god,” Ash gasps, finally filling her lungs with air again as she runs over to Noah.

“You need to watch it!” she yells harshly at the boy as she grabs Noah from the sled and hugs him tightly to her chest. “More, mama!” he squeals, completely unaware that he almost got run over by an overweight, out of control teenager. Ash just shakes her head, “I think we’ve had enough for today, Noah. I think mommy will be getting out of her meeting soon so how about we go wait for her?” she asks with a racing heart, hoping the mention of Ali will be enough to get his mind off of going down the hill again.

“Okay,” Noah pouts a bit and Ash shakes her head as she realizes she’s that mom and Ali is never going to let her hear the end of it. Ash knows though. She’s been the wild child and knows how many times she came close to serious injury and she refuses to let that happen to Noah. She’d rather be over protective, than regret a decision that could end in Noah getting hurt. Besides the wind has picked up and she honestly just wants to get back into the car and warm up while they wait for Ali. The hot chocolate promised to her was sounding pretty appealing as well.

She plucks the sled from the snow and carries it in front of her in her left gloved hand with Noah sitting on her right hip nuzzled into her shoulder for warmth. A slight shiver ripples through his little body which makes her smile proudly as she realizes that holding off on continuing their sledding adventure was the perfect idea. Approaching the car, she sets Noah down to dig the keys out of her pocket and after a minute finally finds them and lifts her eyes to find her son waiting patiently with his hand on the handle of the back door of Ali’s BMW. She unlocks the doors and takes a step forward, not realizing that she had stepped on the string of the sled. It jerks her forward and she falls face first, her chin slamming into the edge of the sled.

"Fuck!" she yells out, the words slipping out of her mouth before she can stop them.

The pain is instant and she can already see the blood dripping down onto the white snow beneath her. She tries to cover her chin with her glove before Noah can see it, but the boy’s eyes are already wide and he takes a few wind up breaths before breaking down into a mess of sobs.

“Fucking shit,” Ash mumbles due to the pain, the sobbing toddler, and the inevitable fact that she's going to have to tell Ali she got hurt tripping on a fucking sled. She stands up, her head a bit dizzy from the impact and makes it over to Noah to comfort him. “I’m okay, Noah,” she says soothingly even though every time she speaks she can feel the split skin stretching further. Judging from the feeling of blood seeping through her glove, she doubts this cut will close without stitches. “I need you to get into the car though. Mama needs you to be a big boy right now.” The little boy nods through his tears and scrambles into the car when Ash pulls the door open. She buckles him into his car seat as quickly as possible considering she only has one hand before hopping into the front seat. Blood is seeping through the glove already and the last thing Ash wants to do is bleed all over Ali’s car so she unwraps her scarf and wraps it tightly around her chin, grimacing in pain the whole while.

Had an accident. We’re both okay. Need stitches. Meet us at hospital. she quickly types out in a frantic rush and sends to her girlfriend before tossing her phone on the passenger seat and pulling down the long winding driving that lead her back to the main road.

Chapter Text

Ali is thrown into a complete panic when she read Ashlyn’s vague text message. Was it a sledding accident? Had they been in a car accident? Who needed stitches? The only thing she was certain of was that she didn’t even have a car to get herself there and calling a taxi or someone to come get her would only increase the amount of time before she was able to get to her family at the hospital. The frustration in her sigh peaks the interest of her old coach who places a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“You alright there, Krieger?” he asks with concern, his eyes narrowing a bit when he sees that her eyes are a bit glassy. He can tell the defender is worked up and knows from experience that it takes a lot for her to get like that.

“Ashlyn and Noah were sledding while I was here and I got this text,” she replies and shoves the phone towards him to see what he makes of it.

Mark reads the text for a moment before nodding in understanding. He can immediately tell why Ali is so upset, especially having little ones of his own. “You need a ride to the hospital?” he asks, having seen Ashlyn drop Ali off for their meeting through the large window of the conference room. He can tell Ali is frantic and just wants to get to her family and it’s not like he had anything important on his schedule, not that he wouldn’t move things around regardless to help her out.

She nods and lets out a sigh of relief. “Oh my god, please,” she says, her voice laced with gratitude, her eyes pleading. “I tried calling, but she’s not even answering the phone. She’s usually so good about picking up and I,” Ali continues babbling on as she gathers up all of her things from the table, including the contract offer and some other forms and proposals she needed to look over and consider before making a decision. On top of the file was a booklet profiling the new stadium set to be finished by the year’s end, though Ali didn’t need to read that one since her girlfriend had actually designed the building and brochure.

“Ali,” Mark says softly and puts his arm around her shoulder to calm her. “It’s okay. Just stitches. Think about how many you’ve gotten,” he says, putting things into perspective for her. He was a first hand witness to one of the occasions when the brunette’s head was split open during a game and needed a few stitches to close it up after the game.

A sigh escapes Ali’s lips as she nods and follows Mark outside to his car without even wasting time to throw her jacket on. “You’re right,” she replies, her teeth chattering in the cold as she tugs open the frozen door of her coach’s car and slips inside. She quickly buckles herself in and tries to keep her foot from tapping on the floorboard impatiently as she waits for him to get situated.

They chat casually on the way to the hospital and Ali is glad that Mark stays clear of any team or contract talk. Even though there’s an opt out clause in her contract that would let her out before they reached the end of the Champion’s League and she knows that Mark really wants her back with the team, she’s really been loving her time in Sweden. The team was amazing and she felt her game growing stronger as she meshed with all the other styles of play she was experiencing. Coming back was something to consider, but she still wasn’t sure she wanted to confine the blonde to D.C. either where she had so many ghosts around every corner. It was definitely going to take a lot of thought on her end before she presented her options and opinions to Ash so they could come to a decision together. She knew the blonde wasn’t exactly thrilled with the winter they were experiencing, but overall was enjoying their little family time in Sweden.

The conversation in the car hung between Ali talking about the team in Sweden and Mark commenting on how the weather has been worse than normal. He also shared a few anecdotes about his own kids to lighten the mood because he could sense how worried Ali was. As much as he wanted to push her and really sell her on coming back to the Spirit, he had always been a person over the play type of coach and he knew Ali just needed some comfort at the moment. Besides, she wasn’t the type of person to make a life-altering decision on such a small detail or favor. She was a big picture type of woman in every sense of the saying.

Finally, they pull up at the Emergency Room entrance to the hospital and Ali thanks Mark with a big hug and promises to text him when she knows exactly what’s going on to ease his worries as well. Though Ashlyn and Ali hadn’t been together when she was with the Spirit, he did remember the blonde and her adorable son showing up to all of the games in the Krieger jerseys which made him chuckle. Ali waves to him quickly through the window before running into the front door of the hospital which opens automatically for her.

Inside of the hospital, Ali’s eyes go wide at the amount of people sitting in the waiting room. The check-in station is in front of her with two nurses sitting behind it already speaking with some people, but Ali just scans the waiting room thinking they’d still be there. When she doesn’t see them there it makes her heart clench, thinking that it must have been Noah that got hurt since they likely would have left Ashlyn waiting longer than a little boy.

She quickly storms over to the nurses’ station and waits impatiently while the man in front of her tries to pass someone else’s insurance off as his own. Her patience quickly wears thin when the man continues to insist that it’s him, even when the picture on the ID card he was carrying looked nothing like him. A deep sigh escapes her lips and the nurse lifts her eyes to meet Ali’s, easily reading the nervousness on her face.

“Sir, can you please step to the side while we wait for my supervisor,” she says firmly to the man who just grumbles about the stomachache he’s had for over a week as he reluctantly moves over. “Can I help you ma’am?” she finally asks Ali who lets out a thankful sigh.

“Yes,” she begins while taking a step forward. “I’m here for Noah or Ashlyn Harris.” The nurse's eyes narrow a bit and Ali assumes she’s confused why Ali wouldn’t know who she was coming to see. “My girlfriend sent a very vague text about an accident and needing stitches, but forgot to specify anything else…like if it was her or our son,” she quickly supplies and after a slight chuckle the nurse nods in understanding. After twenty years in the hospital she’s seen it all.

She types in a few things and then lifts her eyes from the computer screen again. “They’re in room 110,” she finally says and points down the hallway to her right. “There was a lot of blood when they came in,” she continues and Ali’s heart clenches as she continues, “And it’s Ashlyn Harris that was admitted,” she adds to set Ali’s mind at ease.

“Thank god,” Ali breathes out and the nurse chuckles again at the young mother who is just glad it’s not her son that’s injured.

She hands her a visitor pass and points behind her. “Down that hall and to your right. It shouldn’t be too far down,” she says and Ali grabs the pass yelling thank you over her shoulder as she blasts through the doors to the ER ward. Her heart is racing and she honestly hopes nothing too serious happened to her girlfriend’s perfect face as her eyes scan the numbers above the doors as she makes her way down the stark white, brightly illuminated hallway. Finally she finds room 110 and bursts into it, her eyes immediately falling on Ashlyn who is sitting there holding some gauze to her face.

“Mommy!” Noah yells with a scratchy voice, his eyes a bit red from crying as he flies from the chair he was sitting on into the brunette’s waiting arms.

“Hey, handsome,” she says sweetly and quickly kisses him, but all of her attention is on Ashlyn who's staring at her wide eyed like she has something to say. Ali doesn’t let her get a word out as her eyes scan the mess of bloody towels and gauze sitting in a metal pan beside her. “Baby, are you okay?” she asks with a concerned tone and she storms into the room to Ashlyn’s side, running her fingers over every inch of the blonde’s face checking it over before kissing her gently on the forehead, letting her lips linger there for a moment. “I was so worried about you two. What the hell happened? And where is the damn doctor to get this stitched up?” she asks in a tone mixed with anger and impatience when she finally pulls away and sees the blood seeping through the bandage that’s pressed to her girlfriend’s chin.

It’s only then that she hears a throat clear behind her that she realizes someone else was actually in the room. She turns around with Noah still nestled on her hip and curled into her shoulder, ready to give it to the doctor for taking so long, when her jaw drops.

“Ali, this is my doctor. Doctor Valera,” Ashlyn says evenly with a slightly uncomfortable, but mostly amused grin as Ali stares into familiar crystal blue eyes.

“Nora?” she whispers almost inaudibly as she guiltily looked back and forth between Ashlyn and her ex-girlfriend, the woman she once loved and would have married had she not pushed her away.

Chapter Text

“Hi, Ali,” Nora says softly, holding the brunette’s eyes with an intense focus. “I was wondering if I would run into you all here at some point. Although I assumed it would be you injured,” she says and nods to Ali assuming it would be a sports related injury, “and not that one.” She finishes while pointing to Ashlyn and then drops her eyes back to the chart in her hand to jot a few things down.

Ali is still in shock and if she didn’t want to smack Ashlyn for getting hurt and worrying her, she now wants to smack her for the amused grin she’s sporting on her face. It’s been over a year and a half since the breakup and since Ali had last seen Nora and of course the first time she saw her would involve Ali doting on Ashlyn since she split her face open. Her heart is racing and she doesn’t even know how to process the situation currently facing her. Nora, as usual, looks completely gorgeous. Though her chestnut hair which is parted to the side and lying over her right shoulder in soft waves is cut just a bit shorter now, she still looks the same from her white lab coat and dark gray dress pants to the light makeup that accentuates her chiseled feminine features. Her crystal blue eyes still hold the same glistening light and it’s almost as if Ali is visiting her at work as she had done so many times when they were together.

“Are you allergic to anything, Ashlyn?” Nora finally asks in an all business tone when Ali still hasn’t found the ability to form words.

Ashlyn pulls her eyes from Ali and glances back to Nora. “Uh, nope doc,” she says with a moment of thought, offering the doctor a small smile. They had talked briefly before Ali had gotten there and Ashlyn knew that Nora didn’t harbor any hard feelings towards them, but she was thoroughly enjoying watching the usual cool, calm and collected defender sweat over the encounter with her ex-girlfriend. “Just not a big fan of needles,” she says a little quieter which finally pulls Ali out of her trance.

“You’re such a baby, Ashlyn,” Ali chastises with a playful eye roll, despite her frustration, and sets her hand reassuringly on the blonde’s shoulder.

Ashlyn sticks her tongue back out at Ali in response. “Yeah, but you love me anyways,” she challenges with a smirk while watching Ali begin stammering.

“I…uhh…well yeah…I do…” she barely gets out and feels a blush creeping up her neck. She feels awful that she can’t tell Ashlyn she love her in front of Nora, but she also feels guilty for being happy with Ashlyn around Nora. The guilt is creeping through her veins and she realizes that she might be feeling one tenth of what Ashlyn felt when she tried to move on with Ali after Emma had passed. It’s an uncomfortable, awkward feeling and suddenly the room feels likes it shrinking around her. Her breath picks up and she just hopes neither woman can see her heart racing through the sweater clinging tightly to her chest.

A soft, familiar touch on her arm and finally peels Ali’s eyes up from the white tiled floor and she pulls a deep, comforting breath of air into her lungs.

“Ali,” Nora says softly as their eyes meet again and as usual Ali feels a wave of relief wash over her when she sees no malice or regret in them. “It’s okay,” she continues, her eyes catching the light the right way to make Ali feel warmth radiate over her. “I just wanted you to be happy and it seems like you are,” she offers with a warm smile. “You three obviously belong together,” she adds with a small chuckle and glances at a red-eyed, shy Noah who is cuddled into Ali’s side as she holds a worried Ashlyn’s hand tightly. With that she turns back to the chart and writes a few more notes down before setting it down on the counter. She pushes over a tray of needles and sees both Ashlyn and Noah’s eyes go wide as it comes into their view. An amused smile now falls across Nora’s lips as she watches Ali try and figure out who needs her comfort the most, Noah or Ashlyn. She decides to make it easy on the brunette and turns around to grab a giant green lollipop and some cars off a shelf behind her. “How about you go play over there with these cars, buddy,” she says and points to the corner of the room while holding out little red and blue sports cars that makes Noah’s eyes light up, “and if you’re a good boy you can have this sucker when I’m done taking care of your mom?”

He nods and looks up for permission with wide, pleading eyes and Ali sweeps his hair to the side and nods before letting Noah down onto the floor. “Be good!” she calls out to him with a chuckle when he gently takes the cars from Nora’s outstretched hand and makes his way to the corner of the room while running the cars’ plastic tires along every surface in his path. “Thank you,” she says gratefully, finally meeting Nora’s eyes on her own accord.

“It’s no problem,” Nora begins. She pauses for a second like she’s considering something before continuing with a wide smirk. “There’s only one of you. I’m sure it’s hard to take care of two babies at once,” she teases with a glance to the blonde and Ashlyn just groans, remembering some of their double dates years ago where Nora, Emma and Ali would all gang up against her.

Ali chuckles softly as she rubs calming circles on the blonde’s back. She’s not sure Ashlyn can feel it under the three layers of clothes she’s still wrapped in from their sledding adventure, but it’s calming her to feel the blonde’s rhythmic breathing against her palm.

Nora preps the equipment she’ll need for stitches and then slowly removes the gauze from Ashlyn’s chin. “Yeah, you really did a number on this,” she says with a scrunched face as she examines it carefully once more and Ashlyn grimaces when she finally wipes it clean with some sterile swabs. “How did this happen again?” she asks while closely inspecting the cut for any other dirt or debris and then rubs a numbing cream across the skin.

“I tripped on a rope from Noah’s sled I that was carrying and hit my chin on it,” Ashlyn mumbles through gritted teeth and both Ali and Nora have to hold in their laughter at the woman who is in obvious pain, both physically and mentally from the fact that she tripped and split her chin on a children’s sled. Ali thought for sure there would be a better story than that behind the gory injury and eventually a giggle escapes her tightened lips.

“All that worrying and panic you were doing about Noah getting hurt and you tripped on a damn string, Ashlyn?” Ali asks incredulously, and Nora actually has to set the needle down because she’s chuckling herself as well. Though she was usually extremely professional around her patients, she can’t help but get drawn into the usual banter between Ali and Ashlyn. The love between them is as obvious as it was years ago, even more so now and despite the immense pain it had caused her at the time she knew stepping away was the right thing to do.

The blonde shoots Ali an exaggerated glare and Nora quickly moves back in before Ali can let Ashlyn have it too bad. “You ready for this, Ash?” she asks in a concerned yet soothing tone, scooting her rolling chair forward with the needle in her gloved hand. “This shot is going to numb the area up for you,” she explains, back into full doctor mode as she holds the long needle up for Ashlyn to see.

The blonde nods, her eyes staring down at the needle Nora is holding in the air and she looks back questioningly at Nora who she swears has the tiniest crooked smirk on her lips like she’s actually thoroughly going to enjoy this. “Uh…I…” she begins stammering and looks between Ali and Nora to try and figure out if this is against some sort of doctor or ethical code. It’s not that she didn’t trust Nora as a doctor, but she wasn’t completely sure she could trust her as Ali’s ex-girlfriend.

“What? Don’t feel comfortable with your girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend taking sharp instruments to that pretty face of yours?” Nora teases, the smirk falling from her lips as her shoulders relax and she sets back in her chair to let Ash breathe. She’d be lying if she said she didn’t want to make Ashlyn sweat it for just a second, but as a professional she would never jeopardize her career or ethics on a personal vendetta. Besides, even though it hurt when Ali left, she had been the one to push her away and she knows that Ashlyn was not the one to blame. She was just as clueless as Ali at the time. “Relax, Ashlyn,” she finally says in a calming voice that she regularly needs to use on patients as she gives her arm a light squeeze. “I’m the best at sutures in this ER ward and I promise I’m not enjoying this as much as you think I am.”

Ashlyn can pick up on the no-nonsense tone in Nora’s voice and takes a deep breath before nodding. “Just make it a good one, doc,” she says, letting her deep breath go. “I think Ali’s only with me for my pretty face.”

The joke does wonders to lighten the mood and Nora rolls her eyes at the blonde’s antics knowing full well the statement couldn’t be further from the truth. “Alright, here we go,” she says in a composed voice as she pokes the needle into Ashlyn’s chin and empties the syringe. The blonde grimaces, but ultimately takes the shot pretty well. It’s more the stitches that Nora is worried about as she watches Ashlyn’s eyes follow her every movement.

“Alright, I’m going to start the stitches now,” she says, and honestly feels bad when she sees how wide Ashlyn’s eyes get. “You’re just going to feel a slight poke and possibly some tugging at the skin,” she carefully explains.

Ashlyn tenses, her fingers digging into Ali’s thigh and nods to let Nora know that she’s ready. The brunette can immediately tell that she’s uncomfortable as a focused Nora approaches with the needle so she intertwines their fingers and rubs the back of her hand reassuringly with her thumb, squeezing it tightly when she flinches at the contact.

“You have to be still, Ashlyn,” Nora scolds when Ashlyn flinches at the first contact and Ali’s eyes widen a bit at Nora in complete professional mode. She’d heard stories about work from her when they dated, but had never seen her so focused like this. It makes her almost laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, the fact that her ex-girlfriend is currently taking a needle to her current girlfriend’s face, the same woman that they essentially broke up over. She rolls her eyes playfully before burying her head into the soft cotton sweater on Ashlyn’s shoulder while keeping their fingers wound tightly together. She feels Ashlyn inhale deeply and knows the blonde is struggling to keep it together. There’s definitely going to be some serious babying coming up over the next few days and she racks her brain for a few ways to cheer the blonde up that were acceptable under her father’s roof.

After about fifteen minutes, Nora finally leans back to admire her work. “Looks good,” she says to Ash with a smile in a pleased tone as she sets the needle down and dips her fingers in some antibiotic cream. She rubs it gently over the stitches which are still numbed up to keep the cut from getting infected. “She’ll be as good as new in no time,” Nora says, this time turning her attention to Ali who smiles warmly back at her.

“How long?” they hear Ashlyn ask and both women turn with skeptical, expectant expressions. “I was…I was planning on taking Noah out surfing with me…” she says but her voice quickly dies at the end, more some from Ali’s hard glare about taking Noah surfing than from the doctor who doesn’t want her stitches getting wet.

“How long are you in Florida for?” Nora asks, assuming that they would be visiting her family if the blonde was mentioning surfing.

“Three weeks,” the blonde says with a meek voice now that Ali is glaring at her. Taking Noah out surfing is definitely not something they had discussed and Ashlyn finds herself wishing she could melt into the wall she was leaning back on. She can already tell that despite her comforting touches that she’ll have some explaining to do regarding her injury and lack of proper texting ability and now the notion to take Noah out into the vast ocean is only increasing the brunette’s aggravation.

Nora sighs and flicks her eyes to the calendar hanging from the wall and does some quick math in her head. “These stitches are dissolving so they’ll come out on their own. I’d say the last week you’re there you should be good to surf,” she replies and watches as Ashlyn’s uncertain eyes flick to Ali. “That is if you can get it past this one,” she adds and juts her thumb out towards Ali whose eyes have now shifted to Noah in the corner, seemingly becoming more uninterested in the toy car Nora had given him.

Out of respect for Nora and the relationship she and Ali had shared, Ashlyn refrains for belting out the suggestive ‘I have my ways’ line that’s threatening to spill out and instead just nods. “Yeah she calls the shots if you haven’t noticed,” she chuckles and Nora nods knowingly.

“Oh I remember,” she laughs and pushes back from the blonde and pulls her gloves off. “Well here are your prescriptions for some ointment and pain medication and the aftercare instructions which I’m sure Ali will make sure you follow to a t. You guys are good to go,” she finishes quickly. Even though she’s enjoying catching up, she knows that there’s other patients in the packed waiting room and to be honest, the short interaction has already taken a lot out of her.

“Thanks doc!” Ash says and hops down from the cushioned table she was sitting on and makes her way over to Noah who looks up at her with wide eyes, his fingers pointing to the stitches in her chin as she picks him up. “Mama’s got a boo boo,” she says and pokes it gently so that Noah knows it’s okay.

She turns around to see Ali and Nora both looking at each other like they have something to say and decides to take Noah into the hallway and give them a moment. The pair had never exactly gotten closure and she figures it can’t hurt. “Hey, I’m going to take Noah and fill out my paperwork up front, okay?” she asks, nodding almost imperceptibly towards Nora so Ali knows it’s okay to stay and talk, not that she needs her permission to do so.

“Okay, babe,” Ali responds with a thankful smile. She and Nora had ended things quite abruptly and now that she had her feelings and life in check there were a few things she wanted to say to the doctor. ‘Love you,” she says and gently kisses Ashlyn’s cheek and then Noah’s. “Love you, mommy!” he says with a big smile as he takes the sucker Nora holds out for him with a soft smile.

Ali’s eyes follow her family until they slip out of the room and then she turns around to face Nora. “Mommy, huh?” Nora says with a grin, knowing Ali had acted like Noah was her own from the beginning. The woman’s selflessness never ceased to amaze her even if there were hidden feelings behind it.

“Yeah that’s a pretty new one,” Ali says bashfully, her eyes still on the ground as she tries to gather her composure back up.

“Well I’m sure you’re a great one, Ali,” she replies honestly. “Considering I once imagined you raising our kids, that’s a pretty big complement,” she teases, trying to lighten the serious mood that Ali’s nerves had cast over the room.

She finally lifts her head to see Nora looking back at her with an expectant expression, a teasing glint in her eyes and she finds the composure to say what she should have years ago. “Nora, I…I wanted to first apologize,” she starts, her eyes housing an apologetic sentiment as Nora nods slowly and listens intently. “I’ve thought a lot about that night and in dealing with my own inner turmoil and feelings I never got to express how I really felt. I’m so sorry and I need you to know that first and foremost. I never meant to hurt you, Nora and I hope you know that. I…I wasn’t even aware of my own feelings for Ashlyn, but I want you to know that I really did love you and our time together was genuine.”

Nora puts up a hand and Ali gets the hint and stops rambling. “I know, Ali,” she says, her voice laced with true understanding. “I know you loved me and that you never wanted things to end like that. Hell, I wish I could have gotten a picture when I told you that you were in love with Ashlyn,” she chuckles, remembering Ali’s completely and utterly shocked face when it all finally clicked that night out on the bar’s back patio. “I loved you too, Ali, but I knew there was no contest. That doesn’t mean it didn’t hit me hard, because it did. There was a solid week where I didn’t get out of bed and another month after that where I couldn’t even look at another woman because I just saw you everywhere. And part of me wanted to just go back in time and never push you away because I loved you and I missed you so much. I still do miss you even just as a person in my life, Ali. It wasn’t my life to have though,” she shrugs, wiping a stray tear out of the corner of her glassy eyes with a small laugh at how worked up she’s getting. “Those two needed you,” she points to the hallway to accentuate her point. “They belonged to you and you to them,” she says softly and tucks a stray strand of hair back behind Ali’s ear as she meets her eyes again with a firm stare. “I just wanted you to be happy and free and as much as I wanted that to be with me, I knew it wasn’t what was written in the stars,” she adds, pulling her hand back to drop it emphatically at her side.

“Well I also wanted to thank you,” Ali says, her voice a bit softer as she meets a pair of crystal blue eyes. “You knew I would have stayed with you and you pushed me to her anyways. Even though it hurt and I didn’t understand it at the time, that’s something I’ll never be able to truly thank you enough for.”

“Like I said,” Nora replies, “you three belong together. Even Noah knew it,” she chuckles. Ali joins in on the laughter for a minute as her mind flickers to all the times Noah literally dragged Ash to her realizations. “I didn’t think it was possible for that kid to get any cuter.”

“He really is something else,” Ali agrees with a warm smile as she thought about how much she was wrapped around her little boy’s finger.

“I can tell. He was pretty worked up about Ash bleeding so much when they came in,” she says, slipping back into her concerned doctor voice as she remembers the blonde, obviously in pain trying to console her son before getting medical attention herself. “I pulled some strings to get them moved up in the queue and I may have resorted to your old tactic and promised him ice cream in exchange for calming down,” she says with a hesitant smirk that Ali just laughs at.

A knock on the door pulls both of their attention away from each other as a small, pale skinned nurse slips into the room. “They’re waiting for you Dr. Valera,” she says impatiently and Nora nods in response.

“I should go,” Nora says with a hint of regret. She had enjoyed catching up with Ali, but knew they both had other places to be, other lives to live. She gives Ali one more smile before grabbing her clipboard off the table and turning back towards the door. Ali’s voice makes her spin around a final time.

“How are you?” she asks, needing to know that she wasn’t the only one that came out on the right end of things. Her guilt had been pent up over years without knowing how Nora was doing and she was hoping for some sort of closure.

Nora’s lips curl up into a beaming smile, touched that Ali still thinks of everyone before herself. “Her name is Gina and I’m asking her to marry me next month when were vacationing in Europe,” she says and holds up her phone which shows a picture of Nora holding a gorgeous tanned blonde with what looks like the backdrop of a beach in Hawaii behind them.

“Go get her,” Ali teases with a sense of honesty and wraps Nora up in a tight hug before the other woman can object. “I hope she gives you the world,” she pulls back and adds sincerely before placing a light kiss on the woman’s cheek and slipping out of the room to find her family patiently waiting for her.

“You okay?” Ash asks with concern, holding out her arm for Ali to slip into as she studies her girlfriend’s face to make sure everything had gone okay with Nora.

Ali scoops a sleepy Noah from the ground and settles him on her right hip before leaning into Ashlyn’s side with a large grin. “Just great,” she says assuredly, feeling the blonde’s arm wrap tightly around her. As she leans closer into Ashlyn’s side and feels her radiating warmth, she realizes that while she may not have understood Nora’s actions back at that time, she knows the woman’s sacrifice was something she could never truly thank her enough for.

Chapter Text

“How are you feeling, beautiful?” Ali asks as she scoots onto the side of the bed beside her girlfriend. After dropping Ashlyn off at her dad’s house, a quick stop at the pharmacy to pick up her pain medicine and antibiotics, and another forty five minutes trying to put a restless Noah down for a nap while explaining why he couldn’t sleep with Ashlyn after she got home, she finally got a chance to check on her doped up girlfriend. Though she was still a bit upset about how Ashlyn had handled alerting her to the injury, she knew she had been in pain and flustered especially with Noah panicking the entire time. For now, she decided to table the discussion about not sending her into a panic attack with extremely vague texts for later.

“Hurts,” Ashlyn mumbles, her eyes heavy from the medicine she had taken earlier. “Bad,” she adds, and sticks out her bottom lip in a pout that only serves to make Ali giggle instead of leaning in for a kiss like she was looking for.

The defender runs her hand soothingly through Ashlyn’s messy hair before finally placing a kiss on her pouting lips. “Aw, my poor baby,” she says while looking down on her girlfriend. “Poor thing lost a fight with a sled today,” she adds, trying not to laugh too hard especially when she sees Ashlyn’s expression shift.

“Don’t make fun of me,” she sulks, but to be honest she can’t help but laugh at herself. All the worry had gone into Noah not getting hurt and instead she had been the one to get injured. “I’m in pain woman,” she says, her voice becoming sleepy and groggy which Ali finds completely adorable as the pain meds kick in more.

Ali can sense that the blonde needs some rest so she leans over and places a final kiss on Ashlyn’s forehead, letting her lips linger there for just a moment as she feels a contented sigh leave her girlfriend’s lips. “Well you should get some sleep, babe,” she says, her voice soft as Ash’s eyelids become heavier. “I’ll bring you some of my homemade soup when you get up too.”

“Hmmmm,” she mumbles in response and shifts slightly on the bed trying to pull Ali down with her. “Will you be my sexy nurse and make me feel better later if I’m a good patient?” she asks, her voice slurring and eyes drowsy and Ali can’t help but chuckle to herself at the drug induced fantasy that is likely playing out in her girlfriend’s mind as she pulls back from her weak grip.

She smiles down at Ash, gently stroking her soft hair. “Sure, stud,” she chuckles. “My dad will be coaching later so if you behave, I’ll make sure Nurse Ali takes good care of her patient when she wakes up,” she whispers softly with a seductive tone in the blonde’s ear and can feel a dopey Ash smile against her skin when she realizes what Ali is insinuating. There might not be a costume to go along with it, but her imagination has never let her down before and neither has Ali’s tongue.

A weak, fist pump is all Ash can manage before her eyes finally close and the drugs, exhaustion and pain get a hold of her. Ali sits there for a moment on the edge of the bed just looking down at her girlfriend. She frowns at the long cut running along her chin and it makes her heart clench at the fact that something seriously bad could have happened and she wouldn’t have been there. She can’t imagine ever losing Ashlyn or Noah and just seeing her in the hospital getting stitches was bad enough, she couldn’t picture what it would have been like for Ash when Emma was really sick. Her heart clenches at the thought of what Ashlyn had gone through and will be going through in a couple days as well. “I love you,” she whispers softly, bringing the blonde’s fingers to her lips for a soft kiss before slipping off the bed and shutting the door gently behind her.

She plods down the hallway to find her father in the living room. “How’s our patient?” he asks with a concerned tone and Ali has to hold back a smirk when she thinks about how differently that term was just being used when she was talking to Ashlyn.

“In pain,” she supplies, grabbing a cup out of the top cupboard to pour herself a cup of strong, black coffee. It’s only the early afternoon, but she’s already exhausted from the day’s traumatizing events. Judging from a tantruming Noah and a drugged up, in pain girlfriend, her day is likely not going to get any better either.

“I can imagine,” he nods, setting his folded newspaper down on his lap. “I remember Kyle getting a pretty bad cut on his chin back when he was little. I think you were chasing him since he stole your doll,” he chuckles and Ali just rolls her eyes in response remembering all too well the day they spent in the hospital for Kyle’s stitches. “Did the doctor do well with the stitches?” he asks, knowing from her time in professional sports that she could easily recognize a good stitch job from a bad one.

The question sparks her mind which goes from worrying about her girlfriend to the extremely awkward encounter that occurred. She thinks of skipping over the topic of Nora, but her father easily picks up on the change in her demeanor and raises an eyebrow in silent questioning. “Well you know how I just have the best luck in the world?” she asks, her voice dripping with sarcasm and her father just nods in understanding. “Well the ER Doctor treating Ashlyn was none other than my ex-girlfriend, Nora,” she says with a cynical laugh.

“Ouch,” Ken says with a chuckle. It never ceased to amaze him how his daughter found herself in these situations.

“Oh yeah,” Ali nods, letting him know that it was as awkward as it seemed. “It was awful,” she laughs, dropping her face into her palms. “I went running in there, Noah was calling me mommy and crying and clinging to me and I went right to Ash and kissed her and then even proceeded to bitch about how the doctor was taking too long and she was standing in the room behind me the whole damn time.”

Her father is unable to hold back his laughter and his eyes twinkle as a soft laugh builds up in his chest and erupts. “That is quite the story,” he replies, shaking his head in amusement as he watches his daughter process everything. “And you just sat there and let your ex-girlfriend take a sharp instrument to Ashlyn’s face?” He can only imagine the thoughts running through his daughter and Ashlyn’s head at the time as Nora approached her with the needle which he knew the blonde hated to begin with.

“I did!” she says, her voice growing more excited as she realizes how absurd the whole thing was. “The weirdest thing was that I was the only one making it awkward,” she laughs. “Nora was fine and so was Ash. They were joking around like they always had before…you know,” her voice trails off. Her father had never pried deep into her personal life, he just knew that she was upset about how things had ended with Nora, but didn’t dig any further than that. As much as he loved his daughter, he was the parent she vented about soccer to and his lovely ex-wife got to deal with the emotional boy and girl drama phone calls. “We actually talked and I think we both got some to say some things we had held back before so that was…nice.” She finishes and pauses, letting everything soak in. It was definitely quite the experience and as awkward as she had felt in the beginning she was glad they had talked and cleared the air.

“Well it doesn’t sound like she was shocked to see you two together so I’m guessing the breakup originally had something to do with that?” Ken surmises, raising his eyebrow as he tried to read Ali’s reaction.

She nods and takes a long sip from her mug of coffee. “She basically told me that I loved Ashlyn and kind of pushed me towards her,” Ali softly confesses, feeling the guilt again that she had unknowingly dragged Nora along for so long. Her father’s face stills a moment before he nods in understanding.

“You and Ashlyn were the only ones who didn’t realize it,” he states evenly before bringing his own coffee to his lips.

Ali’s eyes go wide as she takes her cup in both hands to steady them. “You knew?” she asks incredulously, her voice rising a bit.

Ken just nods and stares back at her simply. “Everyone did, but it wasn’t my place to interject. You seemed happy with Nora as well,” he adds, reminding Ali that she wasn’t exactly unhappy in her prior relationship.

“True,” she agrees, letting her eyes settle on the floor. “I just…I felt so guilty in there today,” she admits, something she had withheld from even Ashlyn on the car ride home when they discussed the encounter. She knows the blonde is understanding and had no issue with Nora, but she hadn’t been able to admit her true feelings about the interaction.

“It’s understandable,” her father replies, never one to coddle her. “But in the end, at least Nora knows her sacrifice wasn’t for nothing, right?”

For a moment, Ali ponders her father’s simple, yet wise words. Even Nora had confessed the same sentiment. “I guess. She seemed genuinely happy for Ashlyn and I as well. And she’s with someone now and seems really happy.”

“Then it sounds like everything worked out and you both finally got some closure,” he replies simply and Ali just nods, realizing that’s exactly what had happened.

She slips off the couch and wraps her arms around her dad’s neck. “I guess so,” she says with a smile. A quick glance out the window shows her that the snow had died off so she decides to go for her run. “There’s a pot of soup on the stove that I started. Noah will be out for a few hours and Ash should be getting up in an hour or so for the next dose of medicine,” she says as she goes around to the closet to dig out the winter Nike gear that she kept there just in case.

“Got it,” Ken nods, noting the time on his watch so he’ll know around when to expect her to be up. “Be careful out there,” he adds pointing outside where the ground is covered with a slick layer of snow. “We don’t need any more hospital visits with ex-girlfriends,” he adds with a concerned smile, but there’s a teasing light in his brown eyes.

Ali just laughs as she makes her way up the stairs and down the hall into the bedroom. She slips on her warm running clothes and kisses a sleeping Ash on the cheek before slipping back out of the room and into the hallway. “Bye dad!” she calls out before stepping out into the frigid air and tugging the door shut behind her.

An hour later, Ash hears the bedroom door open. Her eyes slowly open, but quickly clamp shut when the bright afternoon light sears into them. She rolls over, her back to the door and lets out a groan, until she smells soup and remembers Ali’s earlier promise to take care of her. “Mmmm, is that my hot, sexy nurse coming to make me feel better?” she asks in a low voice as she hears Ali plod into the room. “I promise I was a good patient so that means you’re going to take good care of me, right baby?” she adds with a slight sleepy, drug induced slur to her suggestive tone.

“Uh…Ashlyn?”

Her eyes shoot wide open at the low, male voice that she recognizes instantly as Ken Krieger. She immediately feels her heart stop and wishes she could melt into the mattress or just suffocate herself in the sheets. Anything would be better than facing Ken after she basically just informed him she was having nurse fantasies about his daughter, something that Ali was obviously playing along with too.

“I brought you some soup and wanted to tell you it was time for your pain medicine,” Ken says evenly and she hears the thud of a bowl set down on the nightstand behind her before the rattle of her pill bottle. “Here,” he says and she knows without looking that he’s holding out the pills for her.

Reluctantly, she rolls over onto her other side with a sheepish grin spread across her face even though it hurts her chin to do so. Ken has a teasing glint in his eyes as he holds out her pills and she’s pretty sure from the amused smirk on his face that while he isn’t calling her out on it now, that Ali will definitely be hearing about this and she’ll likely get it worse from her girlfriend than Ken.

“Thanks,” she squeaks as she grabs the pill from his hand and quickly downs it with the bottle of water on the bedside table. An awkward silence falls over them and Ashlyn just looks up at Ken with her bottom lip sucked into her mouth as she racks her brain for anything she could say to pass the awkwardness.

Ken smiles, feeling the blonde squirming under his gaze. Although he’s not oblivious to what Ashlyn and his daughter do behind closed doors, he finds it thoroughly amusing to watch Ashlyn fidget before him. Ali hadn’t really brought around serious boyfriends so he hadn’t had a chance to pull the whole ‘here’s my shotgun’ routine and never wanted to intimidate any of her girlfriend’s, so he settled for occasionally making them feel uncomfortable in situations such as these.

They both hear the front door shut and Ken’s smile, if even possible, grows twice as big, now stretching from ear to ear. “I’ll tell the nurse that her patient is up and waiting for her,” he says with a giant smirk, which confirms Ashlyn’s earlier suspicions, before turning and walking out of the room, shutting the door softly behind him.

Ashlyn barely even has time to formulate a coherent thought before her girlfriend comes bursting through the door, the blush on her cheeks almost as red as her eyes. “ASHLYN MICHELLE!” she yells loudly, pointing a finger angrily at the blonde. “What the hell did you do?!”

“I thought it was you that came in to check on me!” she quickly defends herself, her eyes going wide as she sees Ali coming at her quickly.

“I can’t believe you said that!” she yells loudly and Ashlyn is shocked that she’s yelling so loudly with her father right downstairs. She’s even more shocked when she’s being pushed back onto the bed and suddenly being straddled by Ali.

“Wha…what is happening?” she whispers in complete confusion when she realizes that Ali has somehow gotten the covers off of her and pulled her pants down past her knees. She catches the brunette’s eyes which are no longer red, but a dark amber, the pupils of her eyes almost completely overtaking her irises.

Ali slips two fingers into the blonde’s already wet core before answering. “Oh my dad thinks I’m pissed at you,” she says quietly to the blonde as she begins to work her fingers in and out of her slowly, letting Ashlyn get used to the feeling of her nimble fingers stretching her. “His practice got cancelled so he’s not leaving tonight, but there’s no way he’ll think I’m doing this,” she says, pausing to push the blonde’s shirt up past her breasts while taking one into her mouth as the blonde arches up into her, “while I’m this mad at you. I had to sell it,” she adds with a devious smirk before leaning to take the blonde’s other nipple between her teeth.

“But he’s…he’s right downstairs,” Ashlyn whispers in horror at the prospect of Ken walking in on them as her heart rate immediately spikes. Her eyes are wide in a mix of terror and pleasure and she honestly doesn’t know which side is winning out at the moment as the thought to push Ali away before things get even more awkward before her and Ken briefly crosses her mind.

Ali just shrugs as she passes her thumb briefly over her girlfriend’s clit, sending shivers throughout her entire body as she presses up into Ali for more contact. “Well than you better keep your damn mouth shut,” she challenges and Ashlyn knows the words which are a warning and chastisement are also meant to work her up even more.

“Or what?” she finally gets out with a smirk, though her heaving chest and breathless voice take the cockiness out of it instantly. She’s right on the edge and knows it’ll only be another few seconds before Ali sends her over the edge and loses her power in the situation.

Ali pulls back and withdraws her fingers from Ash’s soaking folds, ignoring the blonde’s groan at the loss of contact when she was just seconds from climaxing. She meets her gaze with an intensely dark one of her own and bites her lip while staring down at the blonde whose eyes jerked open immediately. “I don’t think you want to know what I do with naughty patients,” she states intently, her tone challenging the blonde to actually object as her hips grind down into her, keeping the blonde right on the edge where she wanted her. “Do you?” she adds, her voice firm as she sucks her fingers covered in Ashlyn’s juices into her mouth.

“N…No…” Ash gets out, completely blown away by how sexy Ali is being at the moment. She doesn’t even think Ali in an actual nurse costume could turn her on more than she already was.

A smirk passes over Ali’s lips as she runs her wet finger down Ashlyn’s chest and then brushes over her hard bundle of nerves a few times to tease the blonde before she slips two fingers deep into her core again, grinning widely as the blonde’s back arches off the bed immediately to meet her fingers. “Good,” she whispers in the blonde’s ear she licks around the curve of it, taking the soft flesh of her lobe between her teeth as she feels Ashlyn clench around her fingers, her whole body spasming as she releases onto Ali’s fingers with a soft, muzzled sigh that Ali wishes she could have heard in full force.

She pulls her fingers out, staring down at Ashlyn with a satisfied smile as she licks them clean, her eyes tracing the blonde’s content, flushed face which is now coated with a light sheen of sweat. “Why don’t you get cleaned up and meet my father and I downstairs for lunch,” she says with a sweet smile, and Ashlyn groans at the sight. She still hasn’t figured out how Ali can go from being so sexy to sweet and innocent in less than a second or within the same sentence.

“Yes, dear,” she jokes as she runs her fingers lightly over her stitches, wishing they weren’t there so she could do what she really wanted to her girlfriend at the moment.

Ali smacks her hand away and glares at her, reminding her that she’s not supposed to touch the sutures. “That’s Nurse Ali to you,” she playfully states with a grin before throwing her leg over the blonde and slipping off the bed. “And I promise if you’re a good patient, I’ll keep taking care of you.” She winks and slips out of the room leaving Ash to figure out how she can ever look Ken Krieger in the eyes again.

Chapter Text

Ashlyn quickly puts herself back together; pulling up the pants that Ali had easily finagled down past her knees, smoothing her shirt down that had been pushed up to provide easy access to her breasts, and quickly redoes her hair which between the nap and sleep ambush in the last hour had become quite a mess. Her head's still spinning and she can’t decide if it’s from her injury, the drugs, the fact that her girlfriend’s father called her out on the nurse fantasy or from the amazing orgasm she had just experienced. As she pulls a pair of socks up her legs so that they settle mid-calf, she decides it’s likely a combination of all four.

The door to Noah’s room, Ali’s old childhood bedroom is still closed and she lets out a groan at the fact that she will be facing Ken and Ali without her usual adorable buffer. She can’t even count the number of times Noah’s adorableness had gotten her out of sticky situations with Ali and she knows that despite Ali’s actions ten minutes ago she knows that the brunette is still not over Ash’s little mix up. Her feet are burning, partially because she’s dragging them on the ground trying to slow herself down and delay the inevitable of facing Ken, but mostly because her whole body is burning with embarrassment. The smirk on Ken’s face when she had turned around in bed was burned into her memory and she shudders at the thought of what it would have been like to date Ali in high school, knowing how protective Ken was of his baby girl. She throws a silent prayer out for all of Ali’s exes that had to endure what was likely to come her way in the next few minutes.

Ali and her father are sitting side by side at the kitchen table and only Ali glances up when the blonde enters the room. Ash can tell she is trying to bite back a smile and just glares at Ali before setting her bowl of soup down and sinking into the chair across the table from them.

“How’s our patient feeling?” Ken asks while slowly bringing his spoon up to his lips as he finally raises his gaze to meet Ashlyn’s.

Ash sees Ali roll her eyes to her father’s left and the blonde can immediately feel the blush creeping up her neck as she drops her eyes to the table in an attempt to avoid his gaze. She dunks her spoon into the homemade chicken soup Ali had made, but quickly realizes from the silence that had settled over the table that Ken was waiting for an answer. “I…uh…I’m okay. Bit of a headache,” she mumbles before shoving her spoon into her mouth. It immediately burns her mouth, but she’d do anything for an excuse to keep her mouth shut.

“Hmm,” Ken hums, finally dropping his eyes back to the bowl before him. “Have you not been getting adequate care since you’ve been here?” Ali’s eyes go wide at the statement and her cheeks instantly flushed as she drops her head in a mixture of shame and embarrassment at her father’s probing questions.

Despite the ridiculous questions that Ashlyn knows are only meant to frazzle and tease her and Ali, Ken’s tone is firm and Ash knows he’s still expecting an answer. She can feel Ali’s glare burning through her but Ken is oblivious to his daughter’s reactions since he is simply studying Ashlyn’s face. She’s torn between giving Ken the answer that he obviously wants and the answer that will set her girlfriend off. “Oh…um…it’s been…good,” she finally squeaks out and she blushes when she thinks about the thorough care she had just received from the man’s daughter just minutes ago. She wipes her palms on her pants to try and dry some of the sweat off that she knows isn’t coating her body just because the soup is hot. She honestly can’t remember the last time she had been scrutinized by a significant other’s parent so agonizingly. There was one instance when Emma’s father had walked in on them in a compromising position, but they were engaged and already living together so this seemed much worse in her eyes.

Thankfully, by the grace of god she hears a tiny voice from upstairs. Ash doesn’t think she’s ever been more grateful in her life to hear her son crying and she pushes back from the table, stuttering her way through an incoherent excuse about needing to check on Noah before Ali got the idea to do it and leave her alone with Ken.

Ali watches Ashlyn slip out of the room and stumble up the stairs before she playfully smacks her father’s arm. “Really, dad?” she hisses, her own embarrassment from the situation outweighing her desire to sweep it all under the rug. Besides, her father isn’t the type to let things go unaddressed.

“What?” Ken shrugs with a smirk. “You really think I was just going to let you two off the hook?” His stare is firm and Ali pushes the noodles in the soup around mindlessly with her spoon under it.

“Can you not?” she says with an eye roll. “She’s obviously in some drug induced state,” Ali reasons, but knows her father isn’t buying it.

Ken laughs while dropping his spoon in the now empty bowl. “Right. We’ll go with that,” he winks teasingly before pushing his chair back from the table. “I’m just trying to keep things lighthearted since they won’t be in a few days,” he adds, his eyes flicking to the date on the December calendar that they know so well.

“I know,” Ali sighs, wishing the day never came around. It killed her to see Ashlyn so upset and she wasn’t even sure how she would take things this year. The first year had been a disaster. “I’m hoping to wean her off the heavy pain meds by then,” she chuckles, though there’s no humor behind it. The last thing they needed was to add painkillers to a distraught Ashlyn. “I should ask Nora if three days is too soon to switch to just Motrin.”

Ken nods while rinsing out his bowl. He sets it in the dishwasher. “I think that’s a good idea. And all teasing aside, whatever you two need, I’m here. For both of you. I know it’s not just a hard day for Ash,” he says, giving his daughter a knowing look.

“Yeah,” she breathes out, her eyes dropping down to the floor.

Ken studies her for a moment before deciding to continue. “I know you try so hard to be everyone else’s rock, but it’s okay for you to lean on people too, Alex.” His voice is mixed with concern and compassion and it makes Ali’s lips curl up to hear the normally gruff man approach her so carefully. “I took the day off of work so if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”

The brunette nods sadly and walks around the counter to where her father is standing. “Thank you, daddy,” she whispers, wrapping her arms tightly around the older man’s waist.

Ken smiles and pulls Ali into him tighter. Hugs after winning games and gold medals are one thing, but as he places a kiss on top of his daughter’s head he realizes that moments like this, when Ali is clinging to him for support or coming to him for guidance, are the ones he wouldn’t trade for the world.

Chapter Text

Ali rolls over in bed looking for Ash even though she knows she won’t be there. As she figured, the blonde’s side of the bed is cold and she knows she must have gotten up a while ago. The sun has barely risen above the horizon and though it’s reflecting off the crisp snowfall and radiating a bright light into the guest bedroom they’re sharing at her father’s house, she knows the sun isn’t what has Ashlyn up so early. She takes a deep breath knowing it’s going to be an emotional day before slipping out of bed.

A loose white tee gets pulled over her head and she slips on a pair of Ashlyn’s dark gray sweatpants which are baggy on her and hang low on her hips before throwing her hair up in a loose, messy bun and making her way down the hallway. Sure enough as she pushes open the door to her old childhood bedroom, Ali finds Ashlyn sitting in her desk chair just staring at Noah who is asleep in the small twin bed with a blank expression. “Hey, beautiful,” Ali whispers softly as she comes up around the blonde and wraps her arms around her neck from behind, leaning over to place a kiss on top of her head.

“Hey,” Ash replies with a sad undertone in her voice and leans back into her girlfriend relishing her warmth on the cold December day. “Sorry I couldn’t sleep,” she lamely offers, but they both know the real reason behind the insomnia, the real reason she’s in Noah’s room staring at him so intently like he could disappear at any moment and never return.

Ali sighs and walks around Ashlyn’s legs, nudging the blonde’s arms off her lap so she can fill the space with her body instead. She smiles when Ashlyn wraps her arms around her and pulls her ever tighter into her lap and presses a hard kiss into her shoulder. At least she’s not completely shutting her out. “Did you want me to take you to the cemetery this year again?” Ali asks cautiously, not exactly knowing how to approach the two year anniversary. She knew Ashlyn would need her, she just didn’t know it what capacity. It certainly hadn’t been in a physical one the night before when the blonde had just asked Ali to hold her claiming she was too tired when Ali tried to deepen the kiss they were sharing. All she could hope was that Ashlyn would at least lean on her in a mental or emotional capacity.

“I…I think I’d just like to take Noah myself if that’s okay?” the blonde replies and shoots Ali a questioning glance.

Ali nods and buries her head into the crook of the blonde’s neck, placing a few light kisses on her warm neck. “Of course,” she breathes out, understanding that there would always be things like this that the blonde wanted to do on her own, or with just Noah. “Whatever you want or need just ask,” she adds, needing Ash to know that she’s there to support her. Judging from how the blonde had acted the year before on the anniversary of Emma’s death, it was going to be an emotional time for everyone. Although she was obviously in a much better place, there were still haunting demons that Ali knew would never fade away completely.

“Thanks,” Ash says in response, though her voice holds little emotion as she lets out a long sigh.

Sensing that the blonde just wants to be alone with her son Ali places a soft kiss on her cheek, mindful of her stitches which have only been in for a few days and then slips off her lap. “I’m going to start some breakfast for us all, okay?” Ashlyn just nods in response, almost as if Ali isn’t there at all. “Do you want anything in particular to eat?” she prods, trying to get something out of her other than a one word answer.

“Whatever is fine,” she offers, her eyes still trained on her sleeping son who looks more and more like Emma every day.

“Okay,” Ali replies with a sigh, her eyes studying Ashlyn’s face. Her jaw is set and her eyes lack the familiar light she usually finds housed in them. It worries her, but she hopes it won’t last too long, especially considering that they’ll be flying out to Florida the next morning. Hopefully some bright sunshine and salty air can bring the light back to her girlfriend if she’s unable to. “Don’t forget to take you antibiotics and pain meds,” she adds, knowing that Ashlyn’s mind was likely not in any place to remember small details such as those.

“Yup,” Ash replies without looking back at her. She folds her hands in her lap again and leans forward in the stiff wooden chair so her forearms are now resting on her knees.

With a sigh, Ali slips out of the room to start breakfast realizing that at least she got a few words out of her distant girlfriend. She wanders into the kitchen and after a quick glance through the cabinets and into the fridge, settles on making omelets. She is just finishing the first one up when her father walks into the room and grabs a mug from next to the coffee maker to pour himself a glass. “How is she?” he asks with concern while walking around to sit on the edge of the breakfast bar.

The brunette shrugs as she flips the omelet a final time. “She’s sad obviously,” she replies and glances up to her father who gives her a sympathetic smile. “I don’t really know, I guess. She’s understandably not exactly in a talkative mood today,” Ali surmises while slipping the omelet off the metal skillet and onto a plate. Sliding the plate across the counter to her father who is sitting at the breakfast bar, she turns her back to him and begins working on Ash and Noah’s hoping that they get up soon.

“Well I’m sure she appreciates you keeping the date in mind when planning your trip,” is all he offers before digging into the food placed before him.

Ali gives the skillet a tight lipped smile as she focuses on dumping the cooked veggies and bacon into the egg mixture. She had remembered going back on forth on whether it would be better for Ashlyn to be in D.C. on the anniversary so she could visit Emma or to be with her family in Florida. Ashlyn had told her she didn’t care, but Ali knew in the end Ashlyn would want to visit Emma especially since she hadn’t been able to since the year before. She hears Ken say good morning to someone and turns to see Ashlyn carrying a very sleepy looking Noah into the room.

“Morning, Ken,” she says, but instead of passing Noah off to his grandpa like she usually does every morning, she walks past him and plops down in a stool beside him with Noah snuggled soundly on her lap. The day is already going to be hard enough and she just wants the comfort of her son surrounding her at all times. Noah can sense that something is up as well as her curls tighter into his mother’s chest, gripping tightly at the fabric of the hoodie she’s wearing.

“Morning, grandpa,” Noah mumbles as he wipes the sleep out of his eyes with a tiny balled up first. “Morning, mommy,” he adds with a small, tired smile before burying his head back in Ashlyn’s neck.

Ali smiles and leans across the counter to ruffle his hair and give him a quick kiss before she walks back over to the stove. She sprinkles some extra cheese on top of the omelet just the way her girlfriend likes it and then grabs a plate from the counter next to her to slide the omelet onto. Although she would usually cut Noah’s up for him, she slides the entire plate over to Ashlyn along with a knife and fork figuring that the blonde would want to do it. She has a feeling that anniversaries are going to lead to Ashlyn being very clingy with Noah and can only imagine the pain the blonde must be feeling. There’s a similar pang in her heart as she remembers the loss of her friend, but knows it’s nowhere close to being on the same intensity level as her girlfriend.

“Thanks,” Ashlyn says softly while cutting up the food. Her eyes are trained on the plate and Noah and it’s almost as if Ali and Ken don’t exist at the moment. Halfway through eating her breakfast silently, she looks up to Ali with an apprehensive flicker in her eyes. “I think we’ll get cleaned up after breakfast and head over to the cemetery,” she offers before dipping her head back down to her plate, the only sound filling the room is the scraping of utensils on the plates.

The statement sparks Ali’s memory and she walks to the front door to grab a beautiful bouquet of flowers she had delivered for the day. “Ash,” she says tentatively and waits for the blonde to look up from her breakfast plate and meet her eyes. “Do you…do you think you could bring these to her at the cemetery for me?”

The nervousness in Ali’s voice finally cracks through the hard exterior that Ashlyn had built up for the day in an attempt to keep her from breaking like she had the prior year and she nods as gratefulness flashes through her eyes. “Lilies, her favorite,” Ash smiles warmly, thinking back to the flowers Ali had brought over the first night she had ever come to their house for dinner. Touched by Ali’s kind gesture that she knows isn’t meant for her, but for Emma, she stands up and strolls over to the brunette for a proper good morning kiss. “Thank you,” she whispers into the mess of hair on top of Ali’s head as she pulls her tightly into her arms. “Thank you for everything.”

Chapter Text

The long drive to the cemetery felt too short. It was too short to process her feelings, too short to compose herself and prepare for what was to come. She crawls along the paved path winding through the tombstones until she sees the familiar row where her wife’s body lies. The car slows as she pulls it off onto the shoulder hearing the combination of gravel and ice crunching beneath the tires of Ali’s BMW. A few moments of silence pass with Ashlyn staring blankly out the window trying to muster up the courage to approach her grave until Noah’s voice pulls her from her thoughts. As she turns around to her son in the back seat, she finds it ironic that Noah’s cries are what pulled her out of a similar funk when Emma had first passed.

“Ready to go see your other mommy?” she asks and runs her fingers through his soft hair, taking in his features which still remind her so much of her wife. Noah nods and she slips out of the car to unbuckle him from his car seat. “Come on, handsome,” she says, her voice becoming heavy with emotion as she feels everything she’s been holding back come washing over her. It’s eerie, but she can feel Emma’s presence surrounding her and she quickly grabs the bouquet of flowers that Ali had given her as well as the ones that she and Noah picked out on their way over. He had wanted to get her white roses which Ashlyn found appropriate because Emma was the most innocent and pure person she had ever known.

She clutches Noah tightly to her chest as she makes her way towards the tombstone. The snow is past her ankles, but she blocks out the feeling of the cold wetness seeping into her boots as they come to a halt before the familiar stone. There’s already a few bouquets of flowers lying at the foot of the grave and Ash smiles as she thinks to all of the people that had loved Emma during her short time on Earth and had come by to pay their respects already that day. She just hopes that no one else comes around while she’s there.

“Hey, babe,” she whispers softly and sets Noah down in front of her. She leans forward and wipes the fresh snowfall off to top of the stone and then squats down so she’s at the same height as her son. “Look how big our little boy is getting,” she says, her smiling growing wider when she hears Noah mumble an adorable ‘hello mommy’ that she’s gotten used to him saying to Ali over the last few months. She places her hands on his shoulders and gives them a light squeeze. “I didn’t think it was possible, but he’s gotten even more amazing over the last year,” she supplies to her wife and proceeds to go on telling Emma all of the stories about Noah that came to mind –how he took his first steps, started forming coherent thoughts, started dressing himself and even some of the hysterical stories of his worst tantrums that had made her want to slam her head into a wall at the time.

“Won the World Cup!” Noah interjects when he catches on that Ashlyn is telling stories about the last year. “And I turned two!” he adds excitedly, holding up two fingers in the air even though he’s still not sure who he’s actually talking to.

Ashlyn smile as she watches Noah babble on about exciting things in his life, filling in the gaps she had left. It isn’t lost on the blonde that every story involves Ali in some capacity and after a few minutes, realizes there’s no use in trying to keep her name out of the conversation. Emma would be happy for her, proud of her for overcoming her grief and guilt and rebuilding their family to give Noah the second mother he deserved.

“I know you probably already know this, but I did it, Ems,” she starts softly, squeezing Noah’s shoulders to comfort herself more than the little boy who seems content to watch the snowflakes fluttering to the ground while his mother talks to a stone. “Ali and I finally figured it all out,” she adds with a soft chuckle and is amazed at the weight she feels lifted off her shoulders at the confession. She knew it was what Emma wanted, but still almost felt like she was hiding something from her. “She’s amazing with Noah, babe.” Her voice trails off as she thinks of the impact Ali has had on her and Noah’s lives and to be honest she’s not quite certain what would have happened if she hadn’t been there for them. “She loves him so much and treats him like he’s her own, but she never lets him forget that he has three mommies. She even flew all of our families including your parents and sister out to Sweden for Noah’s birthday so he could have all of his grandparents and family there,” she quickly adds, wanting Emma to know that she’ll never be replaced or forgotten and that’s as much Ali’s decision as it is her own. “And she brought him on the field with her after winning the World Cup. It was a moment she should have wanted to share with her teammates and friends and family that had all worked so hard and pushed her to be there, but she took Noah. She took our son on her shoulders, wrapped in a flag and ran around the stadium in front of 55,000 people and millions more watching around the world with.” She pauses for a brief moment to kiss her son’s head and wipe the tears running down her cheeks. After a minute of composing herself with a few deep, settling breaths, she continues.

“I’ve never seen him happier, Ems and I think that’s when I knew. I knew what you were trying to tell me two years ago because I realized that she would give us the world. She was it. She’s so good for him, for us and I know you already knew that,” she chuckles, again wiping at her cheeks with the sleeve of her coat, “but I just wanted to thank you for pushing me to move on. For being selfless to not only give yourself up for our son, but to push away your pride and make sure I was happy after you were gone. I still think about you all the time, still find myself wondering what would have happened if that cruel virus hadn’t taken you from us. I miss you every day, but she makes it just a little bit better and I have you to thank for that. For making sure I was taken care of even after you left. I love you so much, Ems.”

The tears are now rolling unchecked down the blonde’s cheeks and she pulls Noah into her chest so he can’t see her break. Her other hand settles on top of the grave stone as her chest heaves, trying to fill itself with air. “I miss you,” she whispers, her fingers now slipping down the stone into the carved grooves of her name. “Every day.” Her voice is cold and defeated and the warmth she felt upon confessing finally getting together with Ali is replaced with emptiness. She misses her wife and seeing all that’s left of her, a cold snow covered stone before her is only constricting her heart even more. She wishes Ali was there and knows it wasn’t smart coming without her. While she may have been composed on the way over, she knew it was only a matter of time before she broke and at that moment she wished Ali was there to pull Noah away, to shelter him from the hurt and pain that she carried alone.

“It’s okay, mama,” Noah says softly, knowing something is wrong as he takes her cheeks gently in his hands. “Okay,” he adds reassuringly and it forces a small smile on her lips as she looks into her sons eyes which are so familiar to her, almost as if Emma is the one calming her, telling her that she’s okay, that things are okay.

“Okay,” she breathes out, letting out a nervous laugh as Noah wipes the tears from her wind bitten cheeks with his gloved palms. “I love you so much, Noah.”

“Love you too, mama!” he says cheerily, still unaware of the meaning behind the day or her sadness.

Ash sees him shiver a bit and realizes that they should probably get going before he catches a cold. The last thing she wanted was for Noah to be sick the whole time they were in Florida. “Why don’t you give these to your mommy?” she asks, and picks up the bouquet he had picked out from behind them.

Noah nods and grabs the roses from her and sets them down gently in the snow, patting them a few times softly while whispering, “Love you mommy.” He turns around with a proud look on his face and Ashlyn smiles and gives him a thumbs up. “What about dose?” he asks, pointing to the flowers that Ali had sent along.

Ash takes a deep breath and grabs them from the ground. She sets them down beside the ones Noah had just laid on her grave. “Ali got these for you. She knew they were your favorite. She misses you too,” she says sincerely, knowing the defender was genuine in her statement earlier. She pulls her hand off the flowers, but her eyes catch a handwritten note slipped into the side of the cellophane wrapping that she hadn’t noticed before.

Emma,
I’ll never take the sacrifice you made for granted. I promise I’ll always love and protect your family.
Miss you, Ali.

A single tear slides down her cheek as she tucks the note firmly back into the flowers so that it doesn’t blow away with the wind. “I love you, Ems,” she says a final time, kissing her fingers before grazing the top of the stone once again. “I’ll see you soon,” she whispers before pulling Noah up into her arms and making her way back to the car.

Later that night as she lays in bed with Ali curled in her arms, a warm smile graces her lips. Despite the circumstances of the day, she knew that she was still so lucky. She had a loving family, Noah, and Ali. Ali, who had been the perfect mix of concerned, compassionate and withdrawn when she needed that day. She didn’t push or prod, but was always quick to offer a kiss or a light hand squeeze in passing just to remind the blonde that she wasn’t alone. Her support and love were something that Ashlyn would never take for granted. “I love you, Ali,” she says warmly, leaning down to place a kiss on her head. “Thank you for being there for me today,” she adds quietly, hoping that the brunette wasn’t upset that she had been a bit distant throughout the day.

Ali sits up and meets Ashlyn’s eyes, sweeping some stray golden hairs out of her face as she leans back on her elbow. “I love you too, Ashlyn,” she replies, her eyes warm and filled with so much love that a fire ignites in the blonde.

“Show me,” she whispers almost inaudibly, leaning in to capture Ali’s lips in a soft, but passionate kiss as she pulls Ali to her by the back of her neck. “Please show me,” she adds when the defender lets out a soft sigh into her mouth and deepens the kiss.

Chapter Text

It was beautiful morning on the beach, the ocean glistening under the bright sun with a slight breeze winding through the palm trees the surrounded the Harris's porch. Ali was enjoying a nice cup of coffee in the morning with Ashlyn’s mother and brother when Noah came thundering onto the back porch with Ashlyn hot on his tail.

“Going surfing!” the little boy shrieks and Ashlyn’s face simultaneously curls up into a sheepish grin as she grabs Noah and squeezes the wiggling boy tightly to his chest while whispering that his outburst wasn’t part of the plan.

Ali eyes them both, noting how Noah is already in his swim trunks with sunscreen smeared over his entire body. She wants to chuckle at the bright white spots that the blonde hadn’t gotten to rub in before he took off to tell Ali all about the exciting adventure the blonde was planning to butter her up before revealing. She also notes that Ashlyn is already in her tighter fitting Hurley board shorts and a strappy sports bra and her lips curl up into a smirk as she watches the blonde shift uncomfortably under her gaze. “Oh are you?” Ali asks, her eyes focused on Noah, but everyone on the porch can tell the slightly displeased tone is directed to Ashlyn.

“Yeah! Mama taking me!” he yells excitedly and points past the porch to the ocean where Ali can see waves breaking that are much larger than the little boy.

“Oh is she?” Ali asks, her eyes leaving the little boy to meet Ashlyn’s hesitant gaze. Ali can hear Chris chuckle to her right and he grabs his cup of coffee off the table along with the Auto magazine he was reading and slips by Ashlyn to the sliding door. “Goodluck,” Ali hears him mumble as he gives her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

“Yeeup!” Noah nods emphatically and when Ashlyn sees Ali’s apprehensive expression, she sets him down and tells him to go help Uncle Chris get his beach toys together so she can talk to Ali without him present. He runs inside once Ashlyn pulls the door open for him and then her eyes flick to her mother who is staring back at her with an amused grin.

The older woman throws her hands up when Ashlyn glares at her. “Oh honey, I am staying right here for this conversation,” she says in a tone that let’s Ashlyn know she’ll have two women mad at her if she argues.

“Fine,” she grumbles and walks over to sit on the thick wooden railing of the porch so she’s facing Ali with her back to the water. “So…”

“I’m guessing Noah blew your plan in before you got the chance to butter me up, huh?” Ali asks, her arms crossing across her chest as she now realizes why the blonde was so insistently generous the night before. Ashlyn just nods, biting the inside of her cheek as she tries to read Ali’s reaction. Her mother laughs again, knowing Ashlyn used to do the same thing when she was younger and she quickly shoots her a glare to quiet her. This was going to be a hard enough conversation without her mother on Ali’s side as well. “And you, who were so worried about sledding on a baby, snow covered hill want to take our baby into the ocean filled with riptides and sharks and waves that are three times the size of his little body?”

Ashlyn just nods, realizing how bad it sounds when Ali puts it like that. She knows that isn’t how it is, that she would never put her son in actual danger and she hopes it’s Ali’s concerns on the matter making her act this way and not that she actually doubts Ashlyn’s concern for Noah’s wellbeing. “You make it sound worse than it is,” she argues, becoming a bit defensive of the activity she so deeply loved and wanted to share with her son.

“Ash, it’s so dangerous out there!” Ali replies, not understanding how the blonde can’t see that, especially considering how fiercely she argued about taking him sledding originally.

“I’m not going out past the break with him, Alex! He’ll just be a bit off shore, where I can still stand!” she replies heatedly, tossing her hands up in the air in frustration. “He’ll be fine!”

Ali sighs and drops her face into her palm, more upset that Ashlyn had told Noah he could before talking to her. “Ash, I’m more upset that you just told him without even talking to me first,” she replies, willing the blonde to see her reasoning. “It’s dangerous and you know I’m not completely comfortable with it so you could have at least discussed it with me first!”

“What for? You would have just said no and left it at that! There would have been no discussion,” she says in a defeated, yet still angry tone. Her eyes are locked on Ali’s and neither is backing down. She’s resenting Ali for questioning her parenting skills and her own insecurities are flaring up as the fight progresses. She’s never been on her own with Noah, Ali had always swooped in and saved the day during her crises the first few months and she was offended by the fact that Ali thought she didn’t know what was best for her son.

“Well that’s because it’s dangerous, Ashlyn!” she yells, still in disbelief that the blonde had no hesitations and thought it was completely safe.

“Well he’s my kid, Alex!” she yells, instantly regretting the way the words came out when she sees Ali recoil and her mother’s hand fly over her mouth. She can immediately tell that Ali took her words the wrong way.

“Ashlyn Michelle,” the older woman hisses through gritted teeth, her tone angry and firm as she glares at her daughter. “That was completely uncalled for.” She stands up gives Ali’s shoulder a soft squeeze before slipping past her and into the house to give the women some time to figure it out. The conversation had definitely taken a less than playful approach and she knew they had some things to sort out on their own.

Ali just stares back at Ashlyn, her eyes becoming glassy as the implications of the words set in, but Ashlyn doesn’t give them a chance to fully settle before she’s dropped to her knees before Ali. “That’s not what I meant, Alex. I need you to know that,” she practically pleads, her eyes locked on Ali’s so that the brunette can read the sincerity in them. She quickly wipes the threatening tears away and takes Ali’s face gently in her hands. “I didn’t mean to insinuate that we aren’t in this together,” she adds, her voice sad as if she’s disappointed in herself for the slip of words when she had felt cornered.

“Well that’s how you just made me feel, Ash. I know Noah is technically your son, but I’m allowed to be concerned about things too. I need to be able to have a say.”

Ashlyn shakes her head, her grip on Ali’s face tightening. “He’s our son and that’s as much his choice as it is mine,” Ashlyn reassures her in a confident, no nonsense tone. “I thought this whole surfing thing was just us teasing each other and I’m sorry I didn’t read more into it and see that you were actually really worried about it. I’d hope you knew that I would never do anything to put Noah in danger.”

“I know,” Ali breathes out, feeling a bit reassured by Ashlyn’s honest and sincere apology. “It just makes me worry. I worry about when you go out there by yourself too,” she argues, letting the blonde know it’s her fear of the ocean, not that she doesn’t trust her.

Ashlyn’s lips curl up into a soft smile. “Welcome to being a mother,” she teases before leaning forward to place a soft kiss on her girlfriend’s lips. “You’ll always be worried about us,” she adds with a chuckle as she thinks about all the shenanigans she pulled on her own parents.

The brunette sighs as she sinks back into the chair. “You honestly think he’s old enough to be out there?” she asks, her voice still apprehensive, but less firm as she levels her gaze with the blonde’s again.

She nods and runs her hands up Ali’s thighs softly. “I’ll be waist deep babe at most,” she says. “Chris and probably my dad will be out there too and you can be too if you’d like. It’ll mostly look like boogie boarding since he doesn’t have the balance yet. That is…if it’s okay with you,” she adds, looking to Ali for reassurance. She hadn’t meant the words she said earlier the way Ali had interpreted them and she needed Ali to know that.

“I’m fine with him going out,” Ali sighs, but her lips don’t curl up in a smile when Ashlyn fist pumps. “But according to the doctor's orders you’re not supposed to be out in the water with those stitches, dear,” she says in an even tone as she runs her fingers lightly over the sutures which had only been in for a week.

A laugh escapes Ashlyn’s lips and Ali wonders why until the blonde leans in and whispers in her ear. “I also think that thing I did with my tongue last night was probably against Doctor Nora’s orders too,” she says with a cocky grin. “My stitches already got plenty wet last night, baby,” she adds with a wink and a deep blush immediately creeps up Ali’s neck and spreads to her cheeks.

“Ashlyn,” she hisses in embarrassment when the back porch door slides open and Tammye slips out to check on them.

“So is that a yes then? It sure seemed to be last night,” she asks softly, a smirk spreading across her lips as she watches Ali’s eyes get wider the closer Ashlyn’s mother gets and realizes this is a game of chicken that she doesn’t want to play with her.

“Fine,” Ali huffs. “But you both need to eat a good breakfast first since we’ll be in the sun all day and we’ll all go down as a family. And no going underwater,” Ali challenges and points straight at Ash, her eyes letting the blonde know not to argue. Not that she wants to get salt water in her cut anyways.

She smiles and kisses Ali soundly on the lips. “You got it babe,” she says with a wink. She pushes back and stands up, kissing her mother on the cheek as she dances into the house to prepare a quick breakfast.

“I didn’t like you at first,” Ali hears and her heart clenches as she turns to her right and sees Ashlyn’s mother sit down across the table from her with a mug of coffee in her hand. Her heart clenches at the words as she’s never been alone with the woman before, but when she meets her gaze she can see there’s nothing threatening in the woman’s soft green eyes. She just sits patiently and waits for her to continue, not sure how to address her statement anyways. Part of her hopes someone comes back outside and saves her from this conversation, but the other part figures it’s something that needs to happen regardless.

“I could tell,” Ali chuckles, finally breaking through the silence. “I believe you called me the wrong name and shut a door in my face,” she recalls, though she’s smiling and Tammye knows there’s no malice behind the words.

“I know my daughter,” Tammye begins. “I know how she deals with things and thought she was too vulnerable to have someone like you around. I thought you were there to take advantage of her.”

“I had a girlfriend at the time that I loved very much,” Ali reminds her and the older woman nods and she thinks back to their first meeting.

“I’m aware,” she responds, her voice even and almost emotionless. “I could tell just from how she talked about you that there was something different between you two though. I figured it would only get messy if she let you in at that time.”

Ali still isn’t sure where the conversation is going, but she doesn’t exactly like where it’s heading. “Don’t you think that should have been for your daughter to decide?” she asks, her eyebrows rising as she studies the older woman and notes the similarities in their faces.

“She was in a dark place,” Tammye states simply. “I know my daughter.”

“As do I,” Ali replies, her voice becoming firmer while still being respectful as she watches the woman stare down at her coffee deep in thought.

She sighs and pushes her mug away from her slightly. “Well I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad my interference didn’t push you away,” she finally confesses, looking up to meet Ali with a tentative expression.

“Nothing could have pushed me away,” Ali replies resolutely.

Tammye nods, sliding her hand across the table to rest atop Ali's. “I know that now. And I just wanted to let you know how glad I am that you stuck around. I know how difficult Ashlyn can be and that it must not have been pretty. For you to stick with her, to get them both through that and come out on the other end still smiling and in love just proves how amazing of a woman you are. They’re lucky to have you.”

The sincerity in her eyes makes Ali’s heart fill with warmth. She didn’t come in wanting the woman’s blessing, but having it makes her feel all the more confident in their relationship. She’s about to respond when Ashlyn comes chasing Noah out onto the porch again. She takes note of how the little boy’s face is covered in Nutella and the sheepish grin again plastered on Ashlyn’s face. “Nutella for breakfast, mommy!” she hears Noah yell excitedly, again blowing Ashlyn in as she scoops him up and carries him back inside quickly to clean him up. Her eyes flicker back to Tammye as a smile crawls across her lips before stating, “I think I’m the lucky one.”

Chapter Text

Despite Ali’s earlier insisting that it was a terrible day to go to the beach, it was actually gorgeous out. Her argument had been motivated by her desire to keep Noah from learning to surf with Ashlyn, but it had been met with skeptical, knowing glances and eventually she had conceded especially when cornered on the porch by the Harris’s who simply had to point to the pristine beach lying right beyond their front porch to reiterate their point. With a sigh she had finally given in and suffered the relentless teasing about being overprotective, Ashlyn frequently interjecting to remind her that she hadn’t let up on teasing her about her fear of taking Noah sledding. Though in Ali’s mind the two were completely different and on separate levels of danger, she supposed that surfing was Ashlyn’s version of sledding. She had grown up doing it and it seemed second nature to her. Her trust that Ashlyn knew what was best for Noah and would never let harm come to him in the end outweighed her fears so she had sauntered upstairs to change into the skimpiest bikini she had packed. At least she would still have some leverage over Ashlyn, she thought as she slipped on the black string bikini that showed off all of her curves. She had thrown a long, loose white button up which was sheer enough for Ashlyn’s eyes to penetrate and left her hair down with a woven straw fedora placed on top.

Ashlyn had been unable to contain Noah’s excitement so she had wandered down to the beach with him, carrying the little surfboard her parents had given him for Christmas the week before, insisting that he keep it at their house for when he came to visit. When Ali walked out the back door with Chris beside her and saw Ash spreading out a large beach blanket and chairs, her mouth went dry. She feared her plan was useless because at that moment as she looked at her girlfriend’s glistening muscles flexing in the sun, her black bikini top clinging tightly to her chest she felt like she would do anything Ashlyn demanded of her at the moment. Even though Noah was trying to help and she would normally find it adorable, her eyes were locked on the blonde and she subconsciously licked her lips when Ash paused for a minute to wipe some sweat from her forehead. She looked sexy in her new board shorts and Ali was definitely pleased with the purchase, making a mental note that she should order a few more pairs from Hurley in different colors if they made her girlfriend’s ass look that nice.

She walked onto the beach, letting her eyes continue to rake up and down the half-naked blonde before her approach finally caught Ashlyn’s attention. It seems her outfit had a similar effect on the blonde whose eyes she swore she saw darken for a brief moment as her lips curled up into a mischievous smirk. “Looking good, Miss Krieger,” Ash commented, pulling her sunglasses down to the tip of her nose, her eyes easily tearing through the sheer top Ali was wearing.

The brunette just rolled her eyes and gave Ashlyn a quick peck on the cheek. “You don’t look to bad yourself, Harris,” she countered, giving her girlfriend a light pat on the butt as she brushed past her towards the towels that had been laid out.

Ashlyn shamelessly let her eyes follow Ali to the blanket, only stopping when she felt an elbow in her ribs. “Cool it, Casanova,” her brother commented with a hearty laugh. “Let’s focus on bringing your son back to the beach in one piece so we don’t have to face her wrath. Maybe you’ll even get lucky later,” he teased in a whisper that got Ash laughing.

“Keep laughing and you won’t touch me for the rest of our trip,” Ali called from her stomach on the blanket and Chris and Ashlyn’s eyes went wide in shock.

“How does she do that?” he hissed, referring to Ali always being able to hear everything even if they whisper it. This time it was even accentuated by the roar of the ocean behind them.

Before Ashlyn can even open her mouth to answer, Ali was doing it for her. “When you live with two children, Chris, you learn quickly,” she responded in a resolute tone, lifting her eyes up from the Women’s Health Magazine she was reading to watch the blonde’s reaction.

The taller man burst out laughing, doubling over at the waist with his hands planted firmly on his knees. “You got a feisty one, sis!” he got out through his wild laughter.

“Come on, Noah,” Ash grumbled, grabbing her son’s hand and the surfboard. “Kiss your mean mommy and then let your cool mom take you surfing!” she exclaimed excitedly, trying to pull Noah onto her side since Chris and Ali were just laughing at her.

Noah grins and runs over to Ali, who ducks her face to avoid the sand he’s kicking up. “Love you, mommy,” he said in the sweetest voice and Ali just cocks an eyebrow towards the blonde as she gives him a kiss to say ‘nice try’. She watched the blonde’s face tighten up into a glare, but knew there was no malice behind it, just a playful teasing that hopefully would carry over to the shower after their beach play date.

She laid back down onto the towel as Ashlyn, Chris and Noah made their way down to the water. They didn’t go in yet though since Ash wanted to show her son the basics before they actually went out there.

Ali took a few moments of silence to enjoy the beautiful weather. The sun was hanging high in the sky and there wasn’t a cloud in sight so although it was early January, it was still in the high seventies and a stark contrast to the weather Ali had become accustomed to in Sweden and during their short stopover in D.C. the prior week. She let the warmth radiate over her body, essentially wrapping her in a blanket of heat and hoped that her skin which had become pale from its time under thick winter jackets would get a little more life to it.

Her eyes were slowly started to close, her body exhausted from the late night adventures with her girlfriend, her mind tired from their earlier argument. It had been a long time coming, Ashlyn admitting that she sometimes felt Ali thought she couldn’t do it on her own and she was just glad they had addressed it. It was true that Ashlyn had never really been on her own with Noah; Ali had stepped in right after Emma passed to help out and when Ali had been away for camps and games, Ashlyn was usually in Florida with her family who all doted over and cared for Noah as well. She hadn’t meant her concern over Noah surfing to come off the way it had, but she knew Ashlyn’s insecurities were what altered her words in the blonde’s mind.

The Harris's would often tease Ashlyn, asking her what she and Noah would have done without Ali and even though Ash would shrug it off and laugh along with them, Ali could tell that deep down she would let the words get to her. She supposed that her own insisting that Ashlyn didn't know what was right for Noah earlier had only added to that and the pressure had finally made the blonde crack, her insecurities finally spilling out. Even though the words had stung when they left Ashlyn's mouth, she knew that the blonde didn’t mean them and could sense the sincerity of her apology as well as the insistence that Noah was their son and Ali had as much say in the matter of raising him as she did. Ali was always a firm believer that actions spoke louder than words and Ashlyn had done nothing but show Ali she loved her and trusted her wholeheartedly with her son. Looking back she realized that maybe she had misconstrued the words Ashlyn mumbled in her mind just as the blonde had hers.

A loud giggle broke her from her thoughts as did the feeling of freezing water dripping on her face. Her eyes shot wide open to find Noah standing over her holding his wet hands over his face with salty ocean water dripping off his finger tips. “Hey!” she called sternly, rolling over to shield herself as the little boy jumped on her, covering her once sun warmed skin with cold ocean water. “Watch it, mister!” she laughed, turning to grab the little boy and began tickling him.

“Mommy, stop!” he squealed, his high pitched laughter carrying across the beach to where Ashlyn and Chris were watching the interaction with wide grins on their faces. “Help, mama!” he cried while squirming under Ali’s tight grip. “Help!”

Ashlyn rolled her eyes and jogged over, dropping down to her knees beside them to playfully fight Ali off.

“Was this your doing, Harris?” Ali glared at the blonde as she grabbed her hands tightly in her own, simultaneously releasing her grip on Noah. She figured Noah hadn’t come up with the plan of attack on his own and when Ashlyn just shrugged in response with a mischievous grin she glared a bit harder at her. “You’re going to pay for this later.”

To Ali’s bemuse, Ashlyn’s grin grew even larger at the words she interpreted to mean something different. “Oh I can’t wait, Krieger,” she smirked and then pulled Noah off from on top of Ali. “Now are you going to watch your son and I go surfing or just lay there are look pretty all day?” she asked, a teasing glint in her eyes catching the sun just right.

“Be careful out there,” Ali replied sternly as she looked hard at the blonde.

All of the teasing was gone from her voice and Ashlyn could immediately see how serious she was. She playfully saluted Ali while tucking Noah under her arm. “I will return him in one piece,” she said before leaning down and kissing Ali’s pouting lips so quickly that the brunette couldn’t protest. With Noah giggling from under her arm, she jogged back to where Chris was waiting, bending down at the waist to grab the little boy’s new surfboard from the sand as they all waded into the water.

Ali watched intently, her eyes not leaving Noah as they settled him on top of the board. After a few minutes, her worries while still present, but her face which had once been etched in concern, was now softer, slight wrinkles became more pronounced as she smiled widely at her family. Ashlyn who was up to her waist in the water when the waves weren’t cresting hadn’t left Noah’s side, her hand either holding the board or the boy tightly and whenever Noah fell off, she was quick to scoop him out of the water. What made her smile the largest though, was the smile plastered across her son’s face. He loved it, was screaming and laughing with Chris and Ashlyn and it made Ali’s heart fill with warmth that not even the hot Florida weather could provide her with.

She didn’t know what would come in the future for them with her leaving for Olympic Qualifying camp in a week, but she knew in that moment that she didn’t want to be watching from the sidelines. With a huge smile on her face she pushed off the towel and ran into the ocean to join them, her own smile growing larger as Ash and Noah splashed over to her with laughter filling the air.

Chapter Text

We miss you Miss Krieger! Attachment: numberonefans.jpeg

“What’s got you so smiley?” Syd asks as Ali smiles down at her phone, her grin wider than the black haired striker had seen it all day.

Ali jerks her head up, quickly clicking off the picture when she realizes it might be perceived as rude. She sets her phone on the table and turns her attention back to the mostly barren plate of salad lying before her. “Just Ash sending me an adorable picture of her and Noah in their jerseys with their faces painted for the game tonight,” she replies sheepishly with a slight blush creeping up her neck as Alex Morgan and Syd eye her knowingly when she finally flashes the picture to them. “What?” she asks, her eyebrows knitting together as the strikers share a look between each other.

“Do you want to have one of your own?” Syd finally asks, setting her fork down on the plate as she turns her full attention to Ali.

The defender’s face hardens a bit, “He is mine,” she challenges, offended by what Syd was insinuating.

Syd throws her hands up in surrender and waves them back and forth. “No. No. Not what I meant, Kriegs!” she quickly supplies, knowing being on the defender’s bad side is not somewhere she wants to be. “I mean like…do you want to have one?”

Ali let’s her face relax, the anger slipping off of it as she looks between Syd and Alex who are staring back at her intently with innocent expressions on their faces. “Oh...” she replies, mulling it over for a moment. “Of course I do. I’m thirty one and not getting any younger, but I mean…we’re not even engaged yet so don’t you think it’s a little premature to really be thinking about?”

“Gotta plan these things though, Ali,” Alex replies around a mouth of baby spinach and as Ali studies the two women sitting across from her, she can now see the commonalities between them.

Her eyes grow wide as she slams her hands down on the table excitedly. “You are planning on getting pregnant after the Olympics, aren’t you?” she hisses loudly while staring intently at Alex, but not loud enough for any eavesdroppers to catch on. Both strikers nod sheepishly, but their eyes are full of a mix of excitement and terror and Alex quickly chews and swallows the remainder of salad in her mouth. “Both of you? Oh my god!”

“We’ve got to sneak it in between cycles,” Syd supplies before taking a big gulp of water from her glass, studying Ali’s reaction from over the brim of her glass. The defender just nods so she decides to pry a bit more. “Don’t you think Noah should have a little brother or sister before he gets too old?” she asks, and shoots a glance to Alex who nods. They’ve always heard Ali talk about having a big family and just want to know where she stands on it all. They haven’t heard her talk about it much anymore since she got serious with Ash and Noah.

“Yeah, you and Ash are already a parenting dream team,” she chuckles, remembering how cute the family was at the World Cup.

Ali’s mind drifts to the future, to the future that she had dreamed for herself. She had always imagined a house filled with children, that she would have a baby between cycles and bring them around with the team just as the other moms did. She imagined settling down, likely in D.C. with an amazing wife and building their home and life together. It’s a future she sees with the blonde, but she’s not sure that she should push it. Having a child with Ashlyn would mean getting married and though it was definitely in both of their plans, she didn’t want to rush her. Having a child also meant that she would want a steady location, somewhere to plant roots and with her ties to the Spirit it likely meant Ashlyn settling for a life in D.C., a city that she had once been so desperate to get out of. She wanted nothing more than to marry Ashlyn, making their family official, and to settle down and grow it even larger, but she just wasn’t sure of the timeline anymore. Truth was though, that she wasn’t getting any younger.

“We both want another, but I’m not sure what our timeline is,” she finally shrugs, realizing that’s all she has to offer. She slips some cash to cover her meal into the check holder when the waiter brings it by before turning her attention back to the other women. “Dom and Serv are both on board with the babies?” she asks, turning the attention away from herself if only for a minute.

Both women nod as they pay for their portion of the bill as well. “Dom can’t wait,” Syd says with a smile and Ali knows it’s true. The couple couldn’t wait for anything, getting married after less than a year together. She can’t blame them though, when you know you know. “Talk to her, Kriegs,” she says assuredly when she notes Ali’s pensive, almost disappointed state as she thinks about having to wait for an entire cycle to pass before trying for children, which would make her 35 and Noah almost 7. She shudders when thinking about her little boy being that old and quickly realizes that this is a conversation she needs to have sooner rather than later. The Olympics are only six months away after all.

“Yeah, I will,” she replies, sounding more confident than she feels as they all stand up and vacate their lunch table. “You two heading back to the hotel now?” she asks, slinging her purse over her shoulder. The two girls shake their head and explain that they’re going to be doing some shopping first, but Ali turns down the offer so she can get back to the hotel and call her girlfriend.

The second the blonde answers the phone, she can pick up on the tone in her girlfriend’s voice. Even though Ali mindlessly rambles about how she can’t wait to fly back to Florida after the game to see them tomorrow and continue their family vacation for another week, she can tell. “What’s wrong, babe?” she asks, obvious concern in her voice and her first thoughts are somehow that Ali got pulled from the starting lineup. She’s about to go into full on protective, ranting mode, but the next words out of Ali’s mouth, though cryptic, cut right through to Ashlyn’s core.

“Syd and Alex told me they’re planning on getting pregnant a