Tammye and Ali are giggling as the Harris mother tells a story about Ashlyn as a toddler attempting to copy something her brother had done. Ali shakes her head.
“The sad thing is, that hasn’t changed!”
“Tell me about it!” Tammye agrees. “I swear if he had jumped off the London Bridge she’d have followed suit just to prove she was as tough as him.” She thinks a moment. “Of course, I guess that prepared her for what she’s doing now.”
Ali sighs and links her arm with Tammye’s. “True. I can’t believe some of the things she’s done. I just assumed she’d be constructing things or doing paperwork. But they’ve gotten caught up in riots for food and water, aftershocks, bad storms. And she’s out in it all.” She smiles proudly. “I once asked her if it was possible for her to stay somewhere safer and she said, without hesitation, she would not send her soldiers out into shit if she wasn’t willing to go out in it herself. She’s a hell of a leader.”
“That she is. Not sure where she got that.”
“That’s from her heart,” Ali answers immediately. “And her heart comes from you and her grandma.”
“You give me too much credit, Alex.”
“Nope. She told me that herself. She knows the...issues you had when she was really young weren’t your fault. But you overcame them and repaired your relationship. Not everyone does one of those things, let alone both.”
Tammye leans over and kisses Ali’s temple. “Thank you for saying that. I am so glad my daughter not only found you but was smart enough to keep you.”
The two continue to shop, getting not only the few forgotten items but a few other things that catch their eyes as well. It was going to be a very good Thanksgiving at Ken Krieger’s house.
Ken, his girlfriend, her sons, Ali, and the Harris’ hold hands around the table. Ken nods to Ashlyn’s grandfather who says the blessing. As it ends, he takes his glass of cider and lifts it up.
“If I may, I’d like to make a toast to Ashlyn. I wish she could have been here but I know there’s other families that need her more right now. Let’s hope wherever she is, she is safe, dry and warm.”
“Here, here,” Ken agrees.
They are about 5 minutes into dinner when the doorbell rings. Ken shrugs and stands, laying his napkin beside his plate. Dinner continues with laughter and chatting.
“Room for one more?”
Ali leaps up as everyone immediately quiets. Later everyone would swear the brunette had simply leapt over the table and into the arms of her wife. Ashlyn looks tired, she has a bruised cheek, and she is still the most beautiful sight any of them have ever seen. Ali gives her a long kiss. When it ends she smiles.
Ashlyn smiles. “We got word yesterday we could leave. I wasn’t sure how soon I could get here so I didn’t want you all worrying about me. Besides, I thought this would be a pretty nice surprise.”
Ali pulls her close again. “Best surprise ever.”
“So, you going to share or what, Alex?” Tammye asks.
Ali smiles and steps away. Ashlyn pulls her mother into a hug.
“Hi, Mom. Sorry I’m late.”
“I forgive you,” she says, then steps aside so Ash can hug her grandmother.
“Hmph. You know the rule, young lady, if you are late to dinner you do the cleanup,” her grandmother chides with a grin.
Ashlyn smiles. “Gladly, Grams. Gladly.”
While everyone had welcomed Ashlyn home, Ken had retrieved another plate and utensils. He sets the empty place beside Ali.
“So, Soldier, you hungry?” he asks.
Ashlyn smiles. “Starving. But mind if I change first? Been in this since yesterday.”
Ken grins. “Sure. We’ll save some for you.”
“Maybe,” one of the boys adds with a smile.
Ashlyn grins at him. “Watch it, kid.”
Ashlyn kisses her wife again and starts towards the stairs. She stops when she feels Ali following her. “Baby, go eat.”
“Nope. I need to see if that bruise is your only injury.”
“It is. Mostly. I promise,” the blonde says with a smile.
“Right. And how did you get it?”
Ashlyn’s eyes drop down. “Uh...tell you later. Not exactly...dinner material.”
Ali frowns, having expected a funny story like with other injuries. “Okay. Still want to check you over, my soldier. Let’s go.”
Ashlyn nods and the head upstairs. At the dining table, Tammye looks at the others.
“Okay, whoever gets the story of the bruise tells everyone else. I have a feeling my daughter is trying to protect us from what happened.”
“I’ll talk to her. She’ll tell me,” her grandfather says confidently.
The others nod, hoping he will be right.
Up in the bedroom, Ali sits on the bed as Ashlyn slowly undresses. Brown eyes narrow as she watches how her wife moves. This isn’t slow because she’s tired. This is slow because she is hurting. Ashlyn stares at herself in the mirror a moment, her eyes darting to her wife.
“The tee shirt, Ashlyn,” Ali says firmly.
Ashlyn leans on her dresser a minute. She takes a steadying breath and carefully lifts her shirt up to pull it off.
Ashlyn’s left side is covered in her tattoo. Her right side is covered in a massive bruise. Ali leaps up and hurries to her wife’s side, her hand gently tracing the darkening bruise. This is recent. She looks in the mirror, meeting her wife’s eyes in the glass.
“What the fuck happened?”
Ashlyn looks down, hating the fear she sees in Ali’s eyes. “There was a riot. Rumor got out that we were pulling out without leaving supplies behind. It wasn’t true. Only some of us were leaving and the food and water supplies were obviously staying.” Ashlyn squeezes her eyes shut. “They wouldn’t listen to us. We kept saying nothing was being taken away.” She shivers and Ali wraps her arms around her. “There was a little girl. Her...her mother dropped her. No one was helping her. Me and Andrews saw her. Fuck, Alex, they were trampling her and I swear I could actually hear her screams over all the other sounds. We ran for her. He kept pushing people away as I went to scoop her up.”
Her voice trails off. She hates scaring her wife. Ali kisses her shoulder.
“And then?” she prods.
Ashlyn feels tears slip out from her eyes, hating that Ali will see them and know this doesn’t end well.
“Ashlyn,” she prods again.
Ashlyn takes a deep breath. “As I bent over, someone kicked me in the ribs. I fell on the girl. I was concentrating on hovering over her and not crushing her. I was looking right into her eyes and she was terrified. Three, maybe 4 people started kicking and stomping me.”
Ali considers that a moment then quickly undoes Ashlyn’s pants and shoves them down. “Oh, Ashlyn...”
Her legs are a mass of bruises, too.
“I just had to take it because she was in danger. I couldn’t hurt her,” Ashlyn explains. “Andrews finally saw what was happening and knocked a couple guys away. Then more of our soldiers ran over and gave me a chance to lift the kid up and run for safety. Riot went on about an hour. Four people were killed but...but that little girl was okay. We even found her mom. And I was the only injury for the Army. Major Nettles read Andrews and me the riot act for disobeying orders and leaping into the fray. Then gave us both a commendation for saving the girl.” She forces a grin to her face. “Kinda fucked, huh?”
Ali turns her wife around and kisses her deeply. “I am so proud of you for saving that girl. You risked everything for her.” Her voice chokes off at the end.
Ashlyn pulls her close. “I’m sorry.”
Ali leans back. “Don’t you ever, EVER apologize for saving a child.”
“I meant...for scaring you.”
Ali smiles and runs her hand over Ashlyn’s head. “Baby, I have news for you: I know your job is dangerous and I will always be worried about you and when I see some news reports I will be scared for you. But above all, I will always, always love you.”
The two share a kiss and another firm hug. Well, as firm as Ash can handle. When it ends Ali smiles.
“Get a shower. I’ll make sure my potential step-brothers don’t eat everything.”
“My hero,” Ashlyn says with a smile.
Ali watches as her wife kicks out of her boots then goes into the bathroom. Once she is out of sight, Ali leans on the dresser, finally letting her mind run through the “what ifs” of the situation that had hurt her love.
“Son of a bitch,” she mumbles. She wipes her face, reapplies her make-up, then goes back down to dinner to try to pretend her wife is okay.
Ashlyn polishes off her fourth plate of food and finally sits back from the table. Ken grins at her.
“You sure you’re done? I think there’s some bones here you can gnaw if you’re still hungry,” he teases.
Ashlyn smiles and pats her stomach. “Nope, I’m good. I’ll save the bones for a midnight snack.”
Everyone chuckles as Ali rolls her eyes. Her grandfather sits forward.
“So, now that you’re done you can come clean. Your wife did her best to pretend you are okay but love is the great lie detector. So tell me, Smashlyn, what damage have you done to yourself,” he orders, using her childhood nickname.
Ashlyn glances at her wife. The shocked look on the chiseled face tells her Ali didn’t tell everyone about the riot. Ash looks around the table and sees everyone staring at her expectantly. She sighs.
“If you lie I will turn you over my knee, Ashlyn,” her grandmother warns.
And Ashlyn knows she means it. “Well...the bruise happened over a bit of a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding?” her grandfather pushes.
“She was caught in a riot and people hurt her because she was protecting a child,” Ali blurts out, hating to watch as her wife struggles to tell the story without scaring anyone. “She was trying to get the child to safety and the bastards knocked her down and kicked her and stomped her and she’s bruised like hell but she saved that little girl and that’s all we need to worry about.”
Ashlyn reaches over and takes her wife’s hand. She slowly looks around the table. “Um, so, yeah. What Alex said.”
“How badly are you bruised?” her mother asks.
“Um, pretty bad,” she admits quietly. “But it’s just bruises so it looks bad. And it happened yesterday,” she thinks a minute, “or maybe the day before. Time zones and travel have me a bit off. But the truth is I’m going to be fine. Things could have been worse.”
“And you saved a little girl?” her grandfather confirms.
“Yes, sir,” Ashlyn nods.
Her grandmother gets up and walks over to pull her into a hug. “My baby. So proud of you.”
Ashlyn blushes and returns the hug. “Thanks, Grandma.”
For the rest of the night, Ashlyn tells heartwarming stories of rebuilding and humanity that rarely make the news. She even shows pictures of her and another soldier handing out toys to excited children, some of whom had never even had toys. The light in her eyes tells them all that no matter the dangers or hardships she faces on these rescue and aid missions, she is truly doing what she is meant to do.
Ashlyn is carefully stretching to get rid of the kinks before going to bed. As she brings her arms down, strong arms wrap around her waist. She looks over her shoulder as Ali kisses it.
“I am so happy you’re home.”
“Me, too, baby,” Ashlyn says. “I was going to call you when we landed but wasn’t sure how long it would take to get here. Then I figured me just showing up would be more fun.”
“It was fun. It took me a second to register you were real and not a dream.”
Ashlyn turns and kisses her forehead. “You’re the only dream here.”
“Ooo, slick,” Ali says with a grin.
Ashlyn gives a cocky shrug. “Of course.”
Ali studies her wife’s face a moment. Then she brings her hands up and tangles them in blonde locks and pulls her into a kiss. Ashlyn pulls her close, their bodies flush together as they make-out for several minutes. Finally the blonde pulls away.
“Bed. Now. Need you.”
Ali just nods and slowly starts to remove her pajamas. Ashlyn quickly sheds her shorts and tee and crawls into bed. Ali walks over and pushes her back, straddling her carefully.
“Tell me if anything hurts.”
Ali brings her hands to the breasts that are already standing erect for her. She rubs them, watching as Ash’s eyes close and her back arcs up; her breath catching then becoming shallow.
Ali leans down, her hands sliding up to Ash’s shoulders. Her erect nipples brush her wife’s nipples and both ladies moan at the contact. Ashlyn opens her eyes as Ali places kisses up her neck, across her chin, on her cheeks, and finally on her lips. They lose themselves in the sensation of their bodies touching in so many places. Ali shifts as she starts to kiss her way to Ashlyn’s ear.
“Alex,” Ash grunts.
“Alex...ribs...” she forces out.
Ali’s eyes fly open and she flips off. “Fuck! Oh, baby, are you okay?”
Ashlyn is fighting to control her breathing. After a minute she slowly nods. “Yeah. Sorry. Didn’t know how sore they’d be.”
Ali carefully runs a hand over her stomach. “Baby, are any broken?”
“No, just bruised. Not even cracked. Basically they were kicking my body armor into me.”
“Ah. Need some ice?”
Ashlyn wants to say no. She wants to make love to her wife; to be made love to by her wife. But the throbbing in her side tells her that’s not happening tonight. Though she knows it breaks her clits heart, she slowly nods.
“Yeah...I think I do. I’m sorry.”
Ali leans down and kisses her. “I told you before don’t you ever apologize for getting hurt like this again. You saved that little girl, Ash. That’s heroic, not something to apologize for.”
Ashlyn just nods as Ali quickly pulls on clothes and hurries out to get a bag of ice so that hopefully her wife will get a good night’s sleep. When she returns to the room she sees Ashlyn taking something.
“You didn’t mention you had medicine.”
Ashlyn nods. “Pain killer and blood thinner. Thinner was so clots didn’t develop on the plane.”
Ali shivers, remembering issues she had once had with blood clots. “You need to go to the doctor tomorrow, Ash. I won’t take no for an answer. We call Belvoir in the morning and you go see someone. Promise me.”
Ashlyn can see her wife is not going to let this go. “Okay. But I’m fine, baby. Really.”
“And when a doctor confirms that I’ll be happier.” She lets Ash lie down then cuddles into her side. She lets out a contented sigh. “If I can’t make love to you, at least I can cuddle with you. I’ve missed this.”
“Me, too,” Ashlyn admits. “But tomorrow night, well, the others in the house better have earplugs because I plan to have you screaming my praises.”
Ali chuckles and kisses her wife. “I can’t wait.”
The two kiss a little longer, then Ash’s pain pill starts to work. Her eyes start to droop. Ali watches, smiling, as her wife drifts off to sleep.
“Welcome home, baby,” she whispers then watches her sleep for a little while before following her into dreamland.