A couple of weeks after they return to Virginia, Ashlyn is sitting at her desk going over inventory forms to make sure there are plenty of on-hand supplies for any emergencies her team would have to respond to around the world. As a first lieutenant, she has even more responsibilities. She’s been in the field long enough to know mistakes at the office mean casualties on the ground.
“Andrews? Where the hell is the water inventory? I don’t want to get fucked again,” she calls to her sergeant.
Andrews checks the papers on his desk. He finally shakes his head, muttering a cuss under his breath. “Mahoney hasn’t gotten it to me yet.”
“I see. Didn’t I want it on my desk today?”
“So shouldn’t she have gotten it to you yesterday,” Ashlyn presses in irritation.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll find her and see what the hell is going on,” he says as he stands, knowing shit runs downhill. If his lieutenant is pissed, he is in the crapper. And that means Mahoney better be on life support or she’s in even deeper.
Ashlyn just grunts and goes back to her paperwork. She knows Andrews will deal with the private that is not meeting standards Harris has set for her squad. And that reflects badly on her. She will not have a black mark in her records because of one soldier who’s not working out. She is still fuming about the missing inventory when Corporal Peters pops his head into the room Ashlyn’s team uses.
“Uh, Lieutenant Harris? I think you need to see this, ma’am,” he says a little nervously.
Normally Ashlyn would ignore a corporal or order him to tell her what he needs. But since he’s Colonel Menninger’s admin, she decides it would be better to just follow him, especially knowing she needs to keep her head down until she has dealt with Mahoney. She stands and follows him outside. She sees four tractor trailers pulled up in front of their building, an amused Menninger and a laughing Nettles, Ashlyn’s immediate superior, standing there.
“Have something to tell us, Lieutenant?” Menninger asks.
Ashlyn shrugs. “I...I don’t know. What’s all this, sir?”
Menninger hands her the paperwork the first driver had supplied. She reads over the invoice and her eyes widen.
“SIR! I swear I didn’t order this!”
He laughs. “Read it to the bottom, Lieutenant.”
Ashlyn flips through the pages until she comes to the final charges: $0.00.
“But that makes no...oh, hell no...”
She flips back to the first page and sees the company that had sent the items. She smiles.
“Nike! Alex, Abby and the gals ROCK!”
She scans down the items they would find inside: sneakers, tee shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, sweatpants, socks, balls of all sorts along with pumps for each, and more teddy bears than she would have budgeted for for 6 months. Even a bunch of single-person water bottles. She looks up at her bosses.
“Sirs, Abby Wambach and several other Nike athletes, including my wife Alex, had said they would talk to their contacts to see about getting us a few donations. They said it so long ago I assumed nothing would come of it. And they didn’t warn me this would be coming. This is AMAZING!”
Menninger nods. “It sure is, Lieutenant. Get these items inventoried and divided up into cargo containers. Looks like you’ll be making more kids smile than ever and making our bean counters smile by saving budget money on all these giveaways.”
“Yes, sir, we will. Permission to send thank you notes to Nike and the athletes that arranged this for us?”
“Permission granted. Challenge coins for them, too, and I’ll sign the notes personally.”
“Thank you, sir.” Ashlyn looks back down at the paperwork. “In-freakin-credible.”
“To put it mildly, Lieutenant. To put it mildly,” he chuckles and heads back inside.
Major Nettles pats Ashlyn on the shoulder. “Well done, Harris. I’ll make sure a commendation makes it into your files for this.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He follows Menninger inside as Ashlyn starts to sign the paperwork for the donations and calls for Andrews to get their squad together to start inventorying and packing all these special prizes into containers so they can travel to places that will need them the most. As she sees all the boxes coming out, she shakes her head.
“You guys so totally rock,” she whispers, as she thinks about her friends, her family, on the National Team with her wife.
“Okay, Ash, we’re all here,” Ali says as her wife appears on the flat screen TV in the team conference room.
“Damn! She’s not naked. I thought this was a fun call,” Pinoe pretends to gripe.
“Watch it, woman,” Ali warns with a grin.
Ashlyn just chuckles and stares out at the women gathered. “Alex has no idea why I asked to speak to all of you.”
“Of course not. Ali called us together,” Alex Morgan pipes in with a smile.
Ashlyn rolls her eyes. “Okay, smarty pants, NEITHER Alex knows why I asked to speak with you all.” She holds up a stack of papers. “These papers represent seven truckloads of hope. You all know my team and other teams go to places devastated by natural disasters and war. The people we serve have lost everything. Most didn’t have much to begin with.” She takes a deep breath. “Two days ago 4 trucks pulled up unexpectedly from Nike.”
“Four?!” Abby blurts out in shock.
Ashlyn nods, her smile huge. “Four, my friend. You Nike athletes came through for us here at the Corps of Engineers. We have toys, balls, shoes, clothes, water bottles, anything you can imagine that people need to get restarted with life and the toys...damn, the toys will help kids have a chance to just smile and see things will be okay.”
“That’s freakin’ awesome!” Sydney shouts.
Ashlyn nods. “It sure is. And to make sure they weren’t outdone, yesterday 3 more trucks pulled up, thanks to you Adidas athletes. Again, clothes, toys, games, things people need and things that kids need just to feel safe. You all went above and beyond and I have no words to express the thanks we have for you. Colonel Menninger is personally sending each of you and your contacts at both companies personal notes of thanks as well as challenge coins from our Fast Response Teams. He’s also extended a standing invitation for you all to visit us and get a close up look at what we do next time you are in DC. And that is if you’re there with the team or just on your own. In all the years he’s been with the S&R division of the Engineers and now with these teams he’s never had someone step up so huge with donations.”
“I think I can say for all of us, it was our honour, Ash,” Christie says. “I don’t think any of us knew the Corps of Engineers did more than build bridges until you educated us. If clothes and shoes that were just going to be destroyed can instead be given to kids with nothing, so much the better. Adidas is happy with the tax write off so it’s win-win.”
“Yeah. Nike felt the same way,” Abby adds. “The clothes may be a year or two old but they will still work.”
Ashlyn nods. “Exactly. These people don’t care about fashion while we are there. I’ve seen people walking around with tarps on because floods took their clothes off. They just need something at that moment and I think they will appreciate Nike and Adidas for being there for them. I’ll make sure to send you all pics as we give things out so you can show the execs the smiles they are bringing to the faces of those we serve.”
“That’s awesome,” Pinoe states. “But I think we can all say we hope those boxes gather lots and lots of dust before they have to be used.”
Ashlyn smiles as everyone nods and voices agreement. “From your mouth to God’s ear, Pinoe. Well, I know you all are getting ready for lunch. Thanks for letting Alex contact me so I could thank you. You guys really are the best and I love you all so much.”
“We love you, too, Harris,” Hope says. “Let us know if we can ever do anything again.”
“I will. Good luck with practice today.” She looks at Ali. “Give ‘em hell, Krieger.”
Ali grins. “Always, Harris. I love you.”
“Love you, too, baby. Talk to you later.”
Ali nods and waves goodbye as she disconnects the session. She sighs and turns to everyone, amazement in her eyes.
“Seven trucks! Holy shit!”
HAO laughs. “Well said. I thought maybe a couple hundred shirts or something.”
“It’s a smart business solution, though,” Carli notes. “They don’t destroy things and lose money. Instead they get a tax write off and they get to put out a press release showing they support not only the military but the people the military serves.”
“Very true,” Becky agrees.
“I can’t wait to see pictures of Ash giving the toys away,” Kling notes. “I just want to see the kids all happy and stuff.”
Ali wraps an arm around Kling’s shoulder. “Well, I can wait. As Pinoe said, let’s hope it’s a long, long time before those donations are needed.”
Kling smiles and gives Ali a hug. “Right.”
The team splits up to get cleaned up and ready for lunch, all with a lighter feeling in their hearts that translates to a great afternoon practice. Charity has many rewards.
Ali kicks a sneaker across her hotel room. She is as frustrated as anyone with the way the team is playing. No one is on the same page and they only have a few precious months before they have to qualify for the World Cup. Right now it’s not looking good. She glances towards the door as Abby comes in and throws her duffle bag with anger. The two veterans exchange a look.
“What the fuck do we do, Abs? We look like shit, we feel like shit, nothing is coming together,” Ali gripes as she drops down onto her bed.
Abby runs a hand through her hair and shrugs. “I’ll be fucking damned if I know.” She paces, unable to sit and stew like the defender. “We barely pulled out the tie against Japan, lost 1-0 to Pia and Sweden which isn’t surprising because she knows us so well, but we fucking just had our asses handed to us by Denmark. DENMARK!” she shouts in frustration.
The 5-3 loss was such a sore point for everyone because after being down 3-0 in the first half, they had stormed back to make it 4-3, with the second and third goals coming within 3 minutes of each other. They felt things were turning but then they again fell apart, solidifying the loss by allowing a goal in stoppage time. Abby stops pacing and lifts her eyes to meet Ali’s.
“What do we do?” Ali asks.
Abby runs a hand down her face. “We...we do what we need to do to ensure a win.”
“We complain to US Soccer, in other words.”
“Yeah.” Abby is about to expound when there is a knock on their door. She goes and checks who it is before opening the door. “Hey, what’s up?”
Christie and HAO walk in, their irritation obvious. The four women stare at each other before Christie finally lets out a breath.
“This is going to get uglier before it gets better,” she finally states.
“We don’t need another year with the stress we had with Ryan,” HAO adds.
There is silence as the four women contemplate what this means. Ali draws her legs up onto the bed.
“Do we know everyone feels the same?” she asks quietly.
“You were in the locker room, Kriegs,” HAO points out.
“We need more than grumblings right after a bad match,” Abby states logically. “Let’s just...get through the Algarve and then talk as a team.”
Christie grunts. “We’re playing for seventh damn place. We’ve never done this badly before.”
“I know, Piercy. I know,” Abby says. “But we still do have that game, plus training, and then a long flight back to the States. Let’s not rock the boat just yet. If the four of us fight to stay positive and just concentrate on winning the last game it will influence the others.”
HAO flops backwards on Ali’s bed. “Any idea how the hell we stay positive?”
Abby nods. “Yeah. We go out, we score goals, and we win the last damn game we can.”
Christie looks at Ali. “And we do our damnedest to keep the other team from even getting close to scoring. Let’s step up and act like we’re playing for first, not some consolation prize. Can we all do that?”
Ali slowly nods. “I’ll do it. I promise.”
HAO lifts up a hand. “I’m in. But after the Cup we have a serious talk among the players.”
“Agreed,” Abby says.
Before any more can be said, Ali’s phone starts to ring. She leaps towards her bag, nearly taking out Christie in her haste. The others chuckle as Ali swipes to answer.
“HI, ASHLYN!” the other 3 chant.
Ashlyn starts to laugh. “Sounds like a party.”
“A pity party,” Ali states.
“Ah. I kinda figured. Tell them I said hello.”
Ali looks at the others. “She says hi. Now I’m going into the bathroom for some privacy.”
“No need. We’ll head out,” HAO says standing, hooking her arm into Abby’s.
“We who? This is my room?” Abby points out with a grin.
“Hey, if you want to stay and listen to Ali get sympathy phone sex, go for it. I’m off to see my kids,” Christie says with a laugh.
“Oh, God...please tell me she didn’t say what I think she said,” Ashlyn begs her wife.
“Sorry, baby, you heard her,” Ali chuckles, blushing.
The others leave and Ali drops back down on her bed. She lets out a sad sigh.
“Can I guess the four of you weren’t just rehashing the game?” Ashlyn asks.
“Yeah. We were...well...”
“Discussing the future coaching situation, right?”
“Yeah. We’re just...we’re not meshing, Ash. It’s not like we’re just going to be given a World Cup berth. We have to earn it and he’s not getting us motivated and feeling like we can get there under him. He’s a nice guy and he’s got a great coaching history but he’s not...he’s not...”
“He’s not working for you all.”
“Yeah. I haven’t felt this...this crappy since things started to get bad in Frankfurt. We’re snapping at each other, we’re barely celebrating goals. We’re just...just...we’re sucking so bad,” she says, her voice choking off as the tears she had been fighting finally escape.
“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. Please don’t cry. Baby, you guys will get past this. You’ll either figure out a way to work with Sermanni or, well, you’ll find a coach that can click with you guys. I know you will,” she says sympathetically.
“I know. I’m just scared it will happen too late. We’ve got 15 months until Canada, Ashlyn. What if we don’t even fucking qualify?”
“You WILL qualify, Alex. I know you all will. The US Women’s Team doesn’t know how to give up. When things are toughest is when we have always shined brightest. And I know that hasn’t changed. You’ll all find a way to qualify and then you’ll find a way to storm through the competition and bring the Cup of Life back to the good old US of A!”
Ali smiles biting her lip a second as she gathers her thoughts. “You, my soldier, are incredible. I needed that pep talk.”
“It’s not hard to give a pep talk if you believe every word of it,” Ashlyn points out. “I’m sorry things are tough right now but I have faith that one way or another things will get better.”
“Then as long as you keep believing in us I guess I can believe in us. I love you, Ashlyn.”
“I love you, too.”
The two talk for almost an hour. Ashlyn had turned the topic away from soccer to crazy things her squad had done during a team bonding day. Ali, much to her surprise, finds herself laughing. When she first returned to the hotel room she was sure she was in for a night feeling miserable. As Ashlyn finishes telling her about a tug of war game that ended with her being tricked by her men into falling on her ass, Ali has to wipe her eyes she’s laughing so hard.
“I mean, they all, both teams, just let the fucking rope GO! So I yank with all I’m worth when Nettles blows the whistle and go flopping back on my ass like a toddler learning to walk! I was ready to throttle them all!”
“Oh, my goodness. Do you know how much I would pay to see that? Was it videoed?”
“Thank goodness no!” Ashlyn says emphatically. Inside, she loves the change she can hear in Ali’s voice. Truth is, she’d recreate the incident in a heartbeat to keep her wife smiling. “The only thing that kept those oafs on my team from running until they puked was the fact that Andrews pointed out since I pulled the rope with me as I fell my team technically won the event.”
“Well, I’m proud of you for single-handedly winning the tug-of-war,” Ali says cheekily.
“Gee. Thanks...I think,” Ashlyn says, hearing the tone of her wife’s voice.
Ali giggles. “Sorry. Tried to sound supportive. But it really is a funny image to have in my head.”
Ashlyn grins. “Yeah, I see how it is. No respect.”
“Lots of respect, baby. I didn’t think I’d be laughing tonight. Hell, I didn’t think I’d be smiling tonight. Thank you for getting me out of my head for a little while.”
“My pleasure, baby.” Ashlyn checks her watch and sighs. “I hate to say this...”
“Lunch time over?”
“Yeah, about an hour ago. And I have a meeting in 30 minutes or I’d probably risk continuing to run over.”
“It’s okay. I feel a lot better now. Thank you, sweetheart.”
“Glad I could help. You all flying back tomorrow?”
“Yeah. We get a couple weeks off for club teams then regroup for 2 friendlies against China in April.”
“Excellent! I’ll have my little wifey around for a little while,” Ashlyn chuckles.
“Yeah, if you are even there,” Ali notes. “I really need to see you and I keep worrying between now and me getting home you’ll get called out somewhere.”
Ashlyn sighs. “I wish I could promise that wouldn’t happen but, well, we know better.”
“Yeah. Well, I better let you get ready for your meeting. Thanks for calling, baby. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too. See you tomorrow.”
“Hopefully. Bye, baby.”
Ali hangs up and stares at the ceiling. Yes, things were still up in the air with the coaching situation but now that she had spoken to her wife she truly believes things will get better. Having someone who knows the team and knows the game is a blessing and Ali knows she couldn’t be luckier to have Ash on her side. She slips the dog tags out from under her shirt. She runs her thumb over the raised letters as she reads them. She smiles and gives them a kiss.
“You are my everything, baby. I love you so much.”
She tucks the tags away then goes in search of her teammates to see if anyone else needs a shoulder to lean on now that she’s got her head in a better place.
The team had flown back to the States via LaGuardia in NYC. From there, players had caught hops to their hometowns. As Ali walks through the terminal at National Airport, she sees a man in fatigues holding a sign that says “Krieger-Harris.” She smiles and walks up to him.
He grins. “Hey, Ali. Ashlyn said to apologize for not being here as promised. Colonel Menninger called her into a conference call with the Pentagon. He didn’t want to but she was asked for.”
Ali frowns. “Asked for? Why? Is she okay?”
Andrews shrugs. “I have no idea. I don’t think the colonel knew either. He seemed angry and he only gets angry when he doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Ali nods. “I see. Well, let’s grab my bags and if you want I can just get a cab home.”
“And risk the lieutenant kicking my ass? I don’t think so,” he says with a grin.
Ali chuckles, knowing Ashlyn probably would kick her friend’s ass if he didn’t see her home. As they are gathering her bags, three little girls run over and ask for her autograph and a photo. Ali is tickled pink and happily fulfills their wish. This, of course, draws the attention of a few more people. Soon a crowd has gathered around her and she is worried she may never get away from the airport. But she is determined to give every person what they want, respectful of the duty she has to help keep the game growing. Despite the disappointing Algarve Cup finish, people still love her and love the team. And if all goes well, they will stay worthy of that love by turning things around before next summer.
Ali feels a hand stroking her cheek. She sighs happily. That hand then moves a lock of hair back behind her ear and then soft lips place a gentle kiss on a defined cheekbone. Her eyes slowly flutter open to find smiling green eyes looking down upon her.
“Welcome home, beautiful.”
Ali rolls to her back and takes her wife’s hand. “I am so happy to be here. I missed you so much.”
“I missed you, too.”
Ali sits up and Ashlyn pulls her into a strong hug, one hand rubbing up and down the defenders back. Ali sinks into the embrace, drawing strength from the woman who captured her heart so many years ago.
“I have loved you for so long,” she murmurs. “I think from the moment I saw you, though it took me forever to admit.”
Ashlyn smiles and hugs her a bit tighter. “I knew the moment I saw you that you were it for me. It was like Cupid shot me or something. I just knew. Even in the hard times, I knew you were the only one for me.”
Ali leans back and stares into her wife’s eyes. “Make love to me.”
Ali’s hands go to Ashlyn’s Class B blouse as the blonde’s hands slide up under Ali’s tee. They kiss, their mouths and tongues reuniting in the dance that always leads to pleasure. When Ashlyn feels her wife’s hands on her stomach she moans in anticipation. She shrugs out of her blouse as Ali unclasps her bra, allowing Ash to slip that off, too. Ali’s hands immediately go to pert breasts as the blonde arches into her. Ali breaks off the kiss to take one of those pebbled peaks into her mouth.
“Oh, fuck, yes,” Ashlyn groans, standing so she can slip out of her pants but making sure not to pull her chest from her wife’s mouth.
Ali slides her free hand down and slips it between the tall woman’s legs, feeling how wet and ready her wife is. Ashlyn’s legs tremble as she yanks Ali up out of the bed.
“Naked. Now,” she grunts out and they quickly divest the brunette of her clothes.
Now as ready as her wife, Ali lays back on the bed and drags Ashlyn down on top of her. Their mouths lock again as their bodies catch fire from rubbing together. Strong, nimble fingers slide through ebony curls soaked with desire. A hard clit greets those digits, who stop their descent to pay it some attention.
“Oh, yes! Oh, Ash!”
Ashlyn traps the clit between 2 fingers. She slides them back and forth, the friction making Ali writhe and make cute little sounds that make Ashlyn smile.
“Please...more, please,” Ali pleads.
Ashlyn has no plans to make her wife suffer. They both need this release. She releases the clit and slips her fingers deep into her wife.
“Oh, baby...so hot...” Ashlyn mutters against Ali’s neck.
Ali lets her wife thrust in and out several times before needing more. She needs to give as well as receive. She slides a hand into golden curls. Ashlyn mumbles something along the lines of “oh fuck yes” as she is soon filled with the fingers of her wife. The women thrust against each other. Ali’s head is thrown back as Ashlyn’s mouth devours her neck. Yes, there would be a mark. No, Ali really doesn’t care at the moment.
Sooner than either woman wants, their bodies start to rock faster, their hips push together harder, fingers reach deeper, and they are driven over into an intense orgasm together.
“ALEX! YES! YES, BABY!” Ashlyn screams against her wife’s neck.
“ASHLYN! LOVE YOU!” Ali screams as her legs wrap around strong hips and they ride each other over the edge.
Ashlyn collapses down onto her wife. They lie there, both panting, both still buried in each other. Ashlyn finally lifts her head and stares into eyes dark mocha with pleasure.
“I love you, Alex.”
“I love you, too.”
The two women kiss, then their hands start to move again. This time they go slowly. Ashlyn rolls off and the women lay facing each other as they slowly reignite the fire only temporarily doused by their first, hungry round of sex. Ashlyn brings her mouth down to her wife’s chest, sucking one breast, teasing it into a point using her tongue and teeth. Ali uses a hand to return the favor. When they are both rising to the summit once more, Ashlyn briefly pulls away...and turns so her mouth is by her wife’s center of pleasure.
Ashlyn rolls to her back, pulling Ali on top of her. Ali shifts until they are both perfectly place to give each other the ultimate pleasure. Ashlyn pulls her wife’s center to her mouth, her tongue sliding up through the wetness. She smiles.
Ali smiles and brings her mouth down to the golden triangle below her. “My turn,” she whispers and dips her tongue into her wife. “So good,” she agrees, the vibrations making Ashlyn quiver.
Soon both women are feasting, the tongues and teeth working to give pleasure. Their desire and hunger for each other being slowly sated by their eager ministrations. Ali feels her second orgasm coming on. She wraps her arms around the strong thighs below her and lifts, giving herself even more access to her wife’s core; hoping this angle will help them go over together once more.
Ashlyn whimpers, knowing she won’t last much longer. With the angle she has, she takes her thumb and shoves it into her wife as her mouth latches onto the pulsing clit.
“OH!” Ali screams.
That scream into Ashlyn’s core sends her over the edge and into a spasmodic orgasm. Those spasms and the work of her mouth and tongue send Ali over the edge, too. After several aftershocks, Ali throws herself off her wife, needing to catch her breath and calm her body. Both women lay gasping for breath, their bodies occasionally trembling in the aftermath. Ali’s hand pats around on the bed until she finds Ashlyn’s. She entwines their fingers.
“I love you,” she says, giving her wife’s hand a squeeze.
Ashlyn smiles and squeezes back. “Welcome home, my champion.”
Ali groans. “We didn’t win.”
Ashlyn shifts around so she can stare down into chocolate eyes, now sated after their love session. “I’m not talking about the team. I’m talking about you. You’ll always be a champion to me for what you’ve overcome and what you’ve helped me overcome. I don’t care that you didn’t win the Algarve Cup. I don’t care that it was the worst showing ever for the U.S. You, Alexandra Blaire Krieger-Harris, will always be a champion to me. And I will always love you.”
There are tears in Ali’s eyes as she stares up into honest, loving green orbs. She brings a hand to Ashlyn’s cheek. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”
Ashlyn smiles. “You loved me back,” she explains simply.
Ali smiles and pulls her down into another kiss. Before it can lead to more, Ali’s alarm clock goes off. Both women look over to it, Ashlyn in confusion, Ali in disappointment.
“Talked to Dad earlier. He said he’d be home by 7.”
Ashlyn reads the clock face. It’s 6:45. She sighs and looks back to her wife. “Remind me again why we live here instead of our own place?”
Ali grins, seeing the amusement in her wife’s eyes. “Your job, my job,” she reminds her.
“Ugh. Right. Somehow it’s a bigger deal when we’re naked than when we’re working.”
Ali laughs and pulls her wife close. “True, baby. Oh, so very true.”
Reluctantly the women get up and hop into the shower for a quick rinse before getting dressed and going down to figure out what they can make for dinner.
Which turns out to be delivered pizza.