“PLAY OFFS, BABY!” Ali screams as she leaps into Ashlyn’s arms.
Ashlyn smiles, holding her happy wife and spinning her around. They share a big kiss. “I knew you guys could do it!”
“I’m just so glad you didn’t get that time off for no reason,” Ali says with a smile.
“I wouldn’t have asked for it if I didn’t think you’d make it. Just wish I could have gotten the Championship weekend, too. Will suck to have to watch you on TV and not in person.”
“If we make it to the championship. Freakin’ Seattle has had our number every game this season.”
“So what? It’s the playoffs! Everything changes. You know that!” Ashlyn encourages.
“True. And I think we are peaking now so it’s perfect timing. We’ve got this! I don’t care if they do have the Shield!”
“Damn right, baby!” Ashlyn agrees.
Ashlyn braces herself just before a Flying Pinoe lands on her back. She laughs. “Good to see you, too, Pin.”
“Holy fuck, you are like ALL muscle!” Pinoe says as she hops off and starts to poke and prod her friend.
“Of course I am. Think I could be a 90 pound weakling like you and do my job?” she jokes.
“Hey! I will have you know I am 91 pounds, thank you very much!” Pinoe says with fake pride.
The two women laugh and Ashlyn pulls her into a hug. “My bad. It really is good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” Pinoe says sincerely. “I miss hanging with you.”
“I miss it, too. I miss all you guys and playing but I know I made the right choice to join the Army,” she says, answering the question in Pinoe’s eyes.
Pinoe smiles. “Then I am happy for you. I never got a chance to see you before you all left Hawaii.” She pulls her into another hug. “Thanks for...for everything over there.”
“Thank you for calling out that dumbass Prothro about the first class seats,” Ashlyn says, making both women chuckle.
“Yeah, no thanks needed. He was an idiot.” They start to walk towards Pinoe’s car. “So, you want to stay with us or at the hotel where the Spirit is staying?”
“I think I’ll take you up on your offer of hospitality, if you’re sure it’s okay,” Ashlyn replies. “Alex needs to stay focused on the game and she needs to keep the team focused, too.”
“Yeah. Of course, after you all lose I’ll understand if you kick me out, unable to bear having me around as a reminder of your harsh defeat.”
Pinoe laughs. “Uh, right. Not too worried about that,” she admits.
Ashlyn grins. “Keep that smug confidence. It’ll make it easy for the Spirit to run right past you.”
“Whatever,” she says, giving Ashlyn a shove.
As Pinoe drives them to her apartment, they chat about the city and cool things to do in the area. When they get to Pinoe’s place, the middie grabs Ashlyn’s bag.
“Hey, I can get that,” Ashlyn says.
“Nope. You’re my guest so I serve you completely, including being your bellboy.”
Ashlyn laughs and follows her into the building. Pinoe opens the door of her apartment and allows Ashlyn to enter first.
“She’s here!” Alex Morgan hollers.
Ashlyn stops in confusion. Then Syd, Tobin and Hope pop into sight. The former keeper smiles.
A group hug soon follows. Alex gives her a big kiss on the cheek. “I’ve missed you!”
“I’ve missed you, too, Baby Horse,” Ashlyn says. She looks at Tobin and Hope. “You guys, too.”
“Same, dude,” Tobin agrees.
“You look great, Ash,” Hope says as the group moves into the living room to sit down.
“Thanks. Have a lot of time to work out when we’re on a mission. Plus, you know, moving crates and stuff helps, too,” Ashlyn says with a grin.
“I bet. You could sell your own work-out DVD if it makes you that cut,” the keeper jokes.
“That’s my retirement plan,” Ashlyn states with a laugh.
The group sits around talking for a few hours until there is a knock on the door. Pinoe hurries to answer it and the party really gets going. Ali, Niki, Crystal, and Yael show up. Over the next few minutes, players from Seattle join the get together. Soon pizza and Chinese is ordered and the two soon to be combatants are enjoying a relaxing, laugh-filled night together. Ashlyn eventually finds herself beside Niki.
“How’s it going, bestie?” Ashlyn asks her.
“It’s going good. I think we needed this night to relax before the big game.”
Ashlyn leans her head on Niki’s shoulder. “And how is your better half?”
Niki grins. “Molly is great. She said we need to double date with you and Ali again soon. We had fun that day we went to the Inner Harbor.”
“We did, too. Maybe between the championship and Qualifiers we can do something.”
“Sounds good. As long as you don’t end up in Timbuktu.”
Ashlyn laughs. “Good point. We’ll do our best to plan it, how’s that?”
Niki grins and nods. “Sounds acceptable.”
People are laughing and having a good time when there is suddenly the sound of Ashlyn’s work phone going off in Pinoe’s spare room. Those who recognize the tone, quiet down. Ashlyn slowly stands, getting a glare from Ali. The blonde shrugs.
“I have it. Didn’t expect to hear it,” she explains as she goes into the room to get it.
Ali follows her, anger in her eyes that the phone is even on this mini-vacation. Ashlyn checks it and lets out a sigh.
“Where are you going?” Ali asks, her voice calm but angry.
“I’m not,” Ashlyn responds. There is no response but Ash feels the irritated scrutiny. She turns and looks at her. “I swear, baby, I’m not taking off.”
“Then why are they contacting you?”
“It was sent out to everyone.” She drops down on the bed, her eyes going back to the screen of the phone.
Ali is about to demand an explanation when she sees a teardrop magnify the words. Suddenly her anger is replaced by concern. She kneels down beside her wife.
“Ashlyn...talk to me,” she says quietly.
“Two of the guys that helped evacuate you guys...you know, from Ramos’ team?” Ali nods. “They were killed today.”
“Oh my God!” Ali gasps, a hand flying up to her mouth.
“Yeah. Rae, the medic, and Potter, one of the drivers. They were in Cambodia and they pulled off the road to check the maps. They hit one of the damn landmines that are all over that fucking place.”
Ali pulls her wife close. “I’m so sorry, Ash. Sorry they died and sorry I got mad.”
Ashlyn leans into her. “It’s okay. I got why you were mad. I was kinda mad, too, thinking they forgot I was scheduled to be off.” She pauses a second. “I don’t...really want to go back out there,” Ash whispers.
Ali kisses her cheek. “I’ll take care of things.”
“Potter just turned 20 last week. Twenty fucking years old,” Ashlyn mumbles.
“No matter the age, it sucks and doesn’t make sense,” Ali tells her. She holds her a few more minutes, then goes out to tell everyone what the alert was.
“Fuck,” Hope says. “Rae helped Tracy with my arm. He was a good guy.”
“This is so insane. How senseless,” Alex adds.
Tobin nods. “Totally screwed up.”
“She okay?” Niki asks, nodding towards the bedroom.
Ali shrugs. “She’s in shock. She knew them so it hurts but I think...I think part of her is guilty that she’s glad it wasn’t someone on her squad.”
“That’s not surprising,” Hope says. “Tell her it’s not a bad thing to have relief that it wasn’t her men. It’s just...being human.”
Ali nods. “I’ll tell her and make sure she believes it.”
“Anything we can do for her?” Crystal asks.
Ali shakes her head. “When she gets like this she just has to work through it. She’ll probably journal some and get her mind wrapped around it a bit better.”
“And I won’t be jumping out a window any time soon. Promise,” Ash says from behind her.
“I thought you weren’t coming out?” Ali says.
“I wasn’t. But I also didn’t want all the women in this room thinking about me and not a game in a couple days. You know, the one where the Spirit is going to wipe the field with the Reign?” Ash says with a wink to Pinoe.
The other blonde gets what Ash wants and rolls with it. “Oh, so the Army grunt thinks she knows football? Get real!”
And soon good-natured jibes start and laughter abounds as crazy bets start being made among friends. Ashlyn smiles as she listens. She pulls Ali into a hug.
“I’m okay. Thank you for being here for me.”
Ali gives her a kiss. “Always, baby. Always.”
The two share a kiss, interrupted by their friend’s favorite request of them
“GET A ROOM!” Pinoe yells, as everyone laughs.
About an hour later, the party is breaking up. Ashlyn stands on the sidewalk with Ali as the rest of the team gets in the hotel shuttle.
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, baby.”
“We have practice at 9 so maybe we can meet for lunch?” Ali suggests.
“It’s a date, princess.”
“And if you need me tonight, call me. Promise.”
Ashlyn nods. “I promise. But I’m okay, baby. Really.”
The two share another kiss and hug then Ali gets in the van to go back to the hotel. Ashlyn waits until it is out of sight before going back up to Pinoe’s apartment. She walks in and helps her friend clean up. Pinoe gives her a look.
“You need anything, you know where I am.”
Ashlyn smiles. “I know. Thanks, bud.”
Pinoe just nods and they keep cleaning up in companionable silence.
Ashlyn says nothing, just opens her arms to let her wife walk into them. Ali allows herself to be pulled into the strong arms as her tears darken Ashlyn’s red Spirit jersey.
“How the fuck have they been able to do that to us all fucking year?” Ali gripes.
“I don’t know, baby. You played a great game. It’s just...how football is sometimes. And it sucks. I really thought the game was yours.”
“Me, too,” Ali says sadly.
She sighs, just letting Ashlyn hold her. And Ashlyn is happy to do whatever she can to make her wife feel better. They had both been so sure the Spirit would win this game and complete the worst to first turn around by winning the championship. After a few minutes, Ali looks up and gives her wife a kiss.
“Thank you for not saying dumb things about ‘maybe next year’ and other shit people say.”
Ashlyn smiles. “I’ve been in your cleats, baby. I know those words just piss players off.”
“Damn right,” Ali agrees with a grin. “So, uh, any chance you can put cayenne pepper in Pinoe’s undies drawer before you leave?”
Ashlyn busts out a loud laugh that thrills Ali. She pulls her wife close once more. “Anything for you, baby. Anything for you.”
Much to Pinoe’s relief, Ashlyn doesn’t follow through on that promise.