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For Love & Country

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Earlier that week...

“I can’t believe the Qualifiers are on turf,” Heather Mitts complains.

“No kidding. They would never hold a major tournament like the World Cup on turf, why the hell would they hold Qualifiers on it?” Ali agrees.

“What are you worried about? You don’t have to throw your body onto cement to stop shots,” Hope points out.

“True. We just have to slide tackle on glass,” Lauren Cheney points out with a grin. “No big deal.”

“Well, we can all agree it sucks but let’s still go out there and play our best,” Abby tells them.

The group nods. They had gotten into Canada that morning after a brief camp in L.A. They are putting on their boots for their first on-field practice. As Ali finishes lacing up her cleats she stands and lifts the dog tags from around her neck. She gives them a kiss then carefully tucks them into the zippered pouch inside her kit bag. Abby grins.

“Have I told you lately how adorable that is?”

Ali blushes. “No. I didn’t really think anyone had noticed.”

“Are you kidding? We all noticed,” Mittsy says with a smile. “We all think it is sweet.”

“So wait...you all have discussed this? What else do you discuss about me and Ash?”

“Oh, who’s usually on top, who wears the harness, who gets spanked, just things like that,” Abby says with a grin.

Ali goes BRIGHT red. “Are you fucking serious?!” The group laughs and she realizes she’s been had. “You guys suck.”

“We discuss that, too,” Hope adds with a smile.

Ali rolls her eyes and walks off, mumbling about people keeping their noses out of her marriage. But her eyes are smiling, appreciating the fact that they care enough to tease her about her love for Ash. As she starts to stretch, Mittsy walks up and gives her a gentle hip check.

“To be honest, we are all so happy for the two of you. And I think it is so sweet you have her dog tags.”

“Thanks,” Ali answers with a smile. “They just help me feel close to her.”

“I get that completely.”


 

All she feels is pain. She has no idea where the ball ended up. She has no idea who hit her. All Ali Krieger knows is she has never felt pain this bad in her life. Not when she broke her leg. Not when she was having the mini-heart attacks that nearly killed her. Her body feels like it is on fire with her knee the burning ember that started the inferno.

“Easy, Ali, the trainers are coming,” Boxx tells her.

“FUCK! It fucking HURTS!” Ali screams as she beats her hand into the ground.

Boxx holds the defenders hand. She had seen the hit by the out of control player. It wasn’t dirty just reckless and now the best right back in the world was on the ground, her playing future in question. Boxx swallows that knowledge down.

“I know it hurts but you’ll be fine. Just stay positive, Al. You’ll be fine.”

Boxx stays as close as she can while the trainers evaluate Ali’s knee. She winces as she sees Ali fail a couple field tests. This is not good. Not good at all.

“You may be down a little while but you’ll be back, Ali. You’re a fighter, Kriegs, and you’ll be back in no time. You’ll see,” Boxx says encouragingly.

Ali sniffs and stares at her friend. “You suck at lying.”

“No lies told, Kriegs. You’ll be back and better than ever. You’ll see.”

Those are the last words Boxx can offer as Ali is carried off the field. The middie takes a deep breath and finds herself glaring at the player that took out her defender.


 

Hey, Ash. It’s not good. MRI tomorrow. Can’t really talk tonight. I love you.

Ali hits send on the text and tosses her phone down on the bed beside her. She grabs the Kleenex box and uses it to wipe her eyes. The tears had been her constant companion. Well, the tears and the pain. She looks at her leg, nearly twice the normal size between swelling, bandages and braces. Her phone buzzes and she grabs it.

Please don’t shut me out. I love you and I can help you.

Ali studies the words a moment. She sighs and types back.

Nothing but a miracle can help me right now. Good night.

She has just tossed her phone down when Mittsy comes into their room. “Hey, how you doing?”

“Crappy,” Ali says as she blows her nose.

“Did you talk to Ash?”

Ali considers the question a moment then nods. “Yeah. Nothing she can do for me.”

Mittsy sits on the edge of Ali’s bed. “Al, I’m sure she tried. She’s probably just frustrated she is so far away.”

“I guess.” Ali’s phone buzzes and Mittsy sees it’s Ashlyn. Ali grabs it and turns it over. “She won’t leave me alone.”

“She loves you, Kriegs. If she said the wrong thing just know it probably came from a good place. She wouldn’t try to hurt you on purpose.”

“I know. I just...I just need to be left alone with my thoughts right now,” Ali says, subtly hinting for Mittsy to leave her alone, too.

Mitts gets it. “Okay. If you need anything let me know. Even if you have to wake me up in the middle of the night, okay?”

Ali just nods. When Heather goes to the bathroom to get ready for bed, Ali lifts up her phone and reads the text from her wife.

You can ignore my calls, ignore my texts, avoid me at all costs but I still love you. I’ll give you tonight but tomorrow we talk. I love you, my warrior.

Ali’s eyes tear up again. This time it is due to the love she feels from her wife even as she pushes her away.

I love you, too, my soldier.

She plugs her phone in and tries to get comfortable. Mitts comes in and smiles at her.

“I mean it, Ali, if you need anything, wake me up.”

“I will. Promise.”

Mitts turns off the lights and soon her breathing evens out as she falls asleep. Despite her emotional upheaval and the pain pills, Ali stares at the ceiling long into the night.