Ashlyn is sitting at her desk on Monday morning going over some inventory numbers when a shadow falls across her work. She looks up to see the miffed countenance of her sergeant, and friend, Michael Andrews.
“Have I done something to piss you off, Lieutenant?”
Ashlyn is confused. “Uh, no, Sergeant,” wondering at his use of her full rank and not just the initials L.T. that he normally uses when it’s just them.
“Oh, really. Then what am I? Chopped liver? Not good enough for you anymore now that the brass has their eyes on you?”
Ashlyn is amazed at how angry the normally easy-going man is at the moment. She stands and gestures to an empty file room. “How about we take this in there and you can tell me what your problem is, Andrews.”
He precedes her into the room, which also shocks Ashlyn. His gentlemanly ways are usually impeccable. She swallows and follows him in there and shuts the door. She leans against one of the tall file cabinets.
“So when did I piss in your Wheaties, Andrews?”
He steps towards her. “Is it true or not that you can handpick your team for Iraq?”
Ashlyn slowly nods. “It’s true.”
“And is it true or not you’ve already picked most of your team and are now interviewing sergeants to be your right hand over there?” he continues.
Ashlyn straightens her back. “Yeah, I am.”
“So what the hell is it about me that makes you want to take some jackass you don’t know or barely know? I’ve been with you since we got here and I thought we worked damn good together! We’ve been through a lot of shit, Harris, and I thought you knew I’d have your back. Now I find you don’t trust me at all! What the hell did I do to deserve to be shit on this way?”
Ashlyn closes her eyes a moment. She hadn’t expected this anger; this hurt. She opens her eyes and meets his. “It wasn’t you, it was me. I didn’t keep the line as separate as we’re supposed to. You’re not my subordinate, Andrews, you’re my friend. And...and I couldn’t...I just...”
Andrews’ shoulders sag as he gets what she’s not saying. “You don’t want me by your side in case shit hits the fan.”
“Yes,” she says softly.
He starts to pace. “Son of a bitch, LT.” He turns to her. “And how the fuck do you think I’d feel if something happens to you while I’m over here in safety? I want to go have your back, Ashlyn. I’ll have yours and you’ll have mine just like always.”
Ashlyn stares at him a second. “Michael, you better keep your ass down over there.”
He gives her a grin. “If shit gets hairy I’ll just throw you in front of me,” he promises.
Ashlyn chuckles. “Way to have my back, asshole.”
The two go back out to Ashlyn’s desk. She pulls up the page where she’s filling out her squad. She takes a deep breath and types in “Sergeant Michael Andrews”. She hits enter and the field populates on the master list. She looks up at him.
“Happy now, whiner?”
He smiles. “Very, Lieutenant. Best damn decision you’ve made all day.”
Ashlyn rolls her eyes. “Still think the turkey club I had at lunch was the best decision but to each their own.”
He chuckles and goes back to finish what he had been working on when he ran into a sergeant who had asked about what it was like to work with Ashlyn. Ashlyn looks over the complete list of those she is taking to be her build team leaders. They would be the ones in charge of the workers who would do the majority of the build and then stick around to put finishing touches on the building. She has a master electrician, a plumber, painters, construction workers and now, to help her keep everyone in line, the sergeant to lead the team. She hits submit, sending the list to Menninger for approval. She glances at her watch and sees it is nearly 4 p.m. She sends a quick email out to the sergeants that had been interested in the position to let them know it has been filled.
She then grabs her gym bag to go get a workout in. She needed to sweat out the stress of having just signed a friend up for a year in Iraq. It was hard with the others but it is worse with Andrews. She knows she needs to get her head on right before getting home to keep her wife from realizing just how much stress the impending departure is weighing on the blonde.
Ali is running on the treadmill. In her mind she is crossing things off a list and adding other things on; all things that have to be done before Ashlyn leaves for Iraq. There are so many things in their lives that have to be dealt with. Making sure she has all the passwords for the bills companies; making sure she knows who to contact in an emergency; making sure she has Ashlyn’s address handy in her tablet, phone and computer should she need it somewhere.
Ali jumps to a stop as someone rips out her earbuds and screams at her. Her feet are braced on either side of the treadmill, which is still moving. She looks at her trainer, Chris, in confusion.
“What?” she barks.
“Ali, you’ve got that thing set on manual so you control the speed. Look at your max rate,” he says.
She looks down and sees that she was running a good 10 kph faster than normal and had kept that pace up for about 10 minutes. She grabs her towel and wipes her face as she turns off the machine.
“Sorry,” she mumbles.
“Nothing to apologize for. What’s going on in your head? You’ve been distracted all week,” he points out.
Ali steps off the apparatus, feeling the shakiness in her legs from the pounding run. She starts to stretch.
“Ali, I can’t help you if you’re not open with me. What’s making you so distracted you’re going to end up hurting yourself?” he presses.
Ali turns to the wall to help stretch her calves. She takes a deep breath. “I found out the night we won the CONCACAF tournament that Ashlyn leaves December 1st for Iraq. She’ll be gone a year,” she says quietly, hating the words every time she hears them or speaks them.
Chris now understands why she is so distracted. He puts his hand on her shoulder. “Ali, I’m sorry. If there’s anything I can do while she’s gone let me know. But as your friend and trainer I have to say you need to be careful letting your emotions affect your work out. She will not be happy if you hurt yourself because you’re distracted. You know that in your heart.”
Ali turns from her stretches and leans back against the wall. She nods. “You’re right. I just...feel like there is so much to do and we’re running out of time to get it all done. I have a list where I keep crossing things off and yet I add 2 more items for every 1 that comes off. We leave next week for Thanksgiving in Florida and I just...I’m running out of time,” she says, her voice choking off as stress tears start down her cheeks.
Chris puts his arm around her shoulder and leads her to a private room, knowing she wouldn’t want the public to see her break down. He holds Ali as she cries, releasing some of the tension that had been building up. She can’t have this release at home. She has to be strong for Ashlyn and her father. But here she can let loose a little, either sweating it out or crying in the shower. She’s been doing that for a couple weeks now. She hadn’t expected to lose it during a workout.
“Thanks, Chris. I’ve been trying to...to stay so strong at home. I guess today it boiled over.”
“Understandable. Being a military wife sucks sometimes. But you’re one of the strongest women I know. You’ll figure out how to balance it all, Al. I know you will.”
“You almost make me believe that.”
“You need to. And if you start to doubt, come see me.”
“I will. Thank you,” she says gratefully.
“Now, I think your body is maxed out today considering our agility workout, your power run, and your emotional release. Go grab a shower and take the rest of the hour to do something nice for yourself. Go get a latte or something. Don’t spend so much time worrying about Ashlyn and your dad that you forget to take time for yourself,” he reminds her.
Ali thinks about that a moment, then nods. “Yeah, I think I know what you mean. Thanks again, Chris. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll be here,” he promises with a grin.
A few minutes later Ali steps into the shower. As the warm water cascades over her body she doesn’t feel the need to cry for the first time in a few days.
“Probably because you cried without the water hiding you for a change, Krieger-Harris,” she mumbles to herself.
As she lathers up, she thinks about what Chris had told her to do. Though she had just agreed to end the conversation, she decides she really is going to take some time for herself. She’ll start with a latte, then maybe a manicure, and then maybe a little shopping. She grins as she thinks about finding the perfect outfit to wear the night before Ashlyn has to get on the plane at Andrews. An outfit that will surely give Ashlyn wonderful memories while she is in Iraq.
Ashlyn is studying plans of the various prefab buildings that will be available to her. Each village will have a certain amount of space so there are several sizes to choose from. In some places there will be a place for a school and a central meeting place in addition to a government center. In some there will be a school that will double as a meeting place. Two architects will visit each town and find out the needs of the town and bring that back to Ashlyn with the space available to the team of builders. Ashlyn will have to order the right buildings, arrange for their transport to the town, and then get the builders and tradesmen there on the day to start construction. It usually takes 2 weeks to fulfill the material order, a day to deliver, 5 days to build, and 2 days to do the final inside work to get a building up and running.
“Incredible!” she whispers to herself.
She’s got notes from previous team leaders letting her know about shortcuts that can help speed things up and pitfalls to avoid to keep things on time. One big call out is that if locals want to help, don’t let them. If they are anti-American they will sabotage the build. If they are sincere, they will slow things down as they are taught what to do. Instead, she should encourage them to make curtains, artwork, anything to decorate the sparse buildings. Taking toys and games can help with that, too, as she can tell parents to relax and spend time with their kids instead of worrying about work that the U.S. Army is happy to do.
“In other words: keep them the hell out of Dodge,” she summarizes.
“Best way to describe it,” Nettles chuckles as he walks up and pats her on the shoulder. “How goes the studying?”
Ashlyn sighs and sits back in her chair. She shrugs. “It’s...a lot. It’s kind of overwhelming right now to be honest. But I’ll be fine by the time I go. I promise, sir.”
Nettles sits on the edge of her desk. “Of that I have no doubt.” He pauses. “If all goes well, you get your promotion to captain while you’re over there. By the time you return to the States there will be several options open to you.”
Ashlyn nods. “Yes, sir,” she replies, unsure where this is going.
“Lieutenant, you’re a hell of a leader and a quick learner. Your team members all hold you in high esteem and you have proven yourself able to make quick decisions to calm dangerous situations or to get your people out of trouble as safely as possible.” He takes a deep breath. “You could go to any Corps of Engineers post in the world and there are several majors and even colonels with their eyes on you. That said, I hope you’ll consider staying here under my command. I know a certain green-to-gold captain who has plans to retire next summer. If I knew your plans were to return here I’d be able to argue to keep his post open until you step into it.”
Ashlyn let’s out a breath. “Wow. Uh, thank you, sir. I guess...as we sit here right now I say I’d want nothing more than to stay here. My wife’s family is here, her career is here, it’s the right place for us. But what might a year bring? I just don’t know. How soon would I have to let you know?”
“Not until May. June at the latest,” he tells her. “Captain Morris plans to leave for the civilian world at the end of August when his educational commitment is met. I am sure I can keep his position open until December if I tell Menninger you’re taking it. He’s a big fan of yours.”
Ashlyn chuckles. “Yes, sir, I know. Well, if all goes well, yes, sir, I would love to return to Belvoir if it fits with the plans for my wife and me.”
Nettles stands. “Excellent! I’m happy to hear that, Harris. I’ll let you get back to studying. If you need any help, let me know.”
“Thank you, sir,” Ashlyn says as he walks away.
She turns back to stare at her notes again. Her stomach had been in knots as she wondered if she was the right person for this job. Is she the right one to lead these men and women in Iraq? Does she know enough to get the job done on time and get them out of the area safely? What happens if she makes the wrong decision and they anger the locals? What happens if insurgents attack?
She suddenly stiffens. “What the fuck do I do if insurgents attack?”
She starts to comb through the notes, looking for instances where builds were disrupted by Taliban loyalists. She finds it and starts to read, losing herself in the way others had handled it, the casualties involved in each incident, and their notes on what was right and wrong in the handling of such. She is so caught up in the notes, she is startled when her desk phone rings. She grabs it as she rubs her eyes.
“Are you coming home tonight?”
Ashlyn is surprised to hear a slightly miffed Ali on the line. “Alex?”
“Yes. Are you coming home or what?”
Ashlyn looks at the clock and sees it is almost 7:30. “Oh, fuck! Sorry, baby, I was studying and lost track of time,” she explains as she stands and starts to gather her things. “I will be out of here in 5 minutes. I promise.”
“Okay. We were getting worried you’d had an accident or something.”
Ashlyn groans. “Fuck. I am so, so sorry. You and Ken don’t need added stress right now. I’m on my way out the door. Love you!”
“Love you, too,” Ali says with a smile.
Ashlyn jogs to her Jeep and gets in. “Get your head together, Harris. You only have a couple more weeks with your family before you leave for a year. Don’t give up a minute more than required for work,” she coaches herself as she puts the vehicle in gear and drives out of the lot.
It is November 20. In two days they leave for Thanksgiving in Florida. Thanksgiving is November 27. They leave Florida the 28th. Ashlyn leaves the country on December 1.
In the room they use for storage, the blonde stares down at the kit bag in front of her, that timeline plays over and over in her mind. She is finished at Belvoir for now. The next time she returns to that base her tour in Iraq will be over. She turns and drops down onto the bed, her head down between her knees as she tries to control her breathing. She feels a gentle hand on her neck.
“Easy, baby. Easy,” Ali says calmly.
Ashlyn finally gets her breathing under control and looks up. Her eyes are finally honest, showing Ali what she had long suspected. “I am so fucking scared, Alex,” the soldier admits.
“Me, too,” the footballer states. “How could we not be?” She kneels down in front of Ashlyn. “But what gets me through the scariest moments is knowing how smart you are, how good at your job you are, how well trained you are, and how much your hand-picked team admires you. They’ll protect you as you protect them. And this time next year you’ll be making your way home to me. There is no other option that I will accept.”
Ashlyn takes her hands and kisses both of them. “Thank you. I couldn’t do this, couldn’t face this, without your love for me and your confidence in me.”
Ali smiles. “Those two things you’ve always had and always will.” She looks at the bag. “So...are you all packed?”
Ashlyn nods. “Yeah. Just need to close it and, well, it just seems so...so...final if I do.”
Ali nods and bites her lip a second. She stands and takes the top-load bag in her hands. She folds over the top and uses the snap hook to secure it. Ashlyn watches as Ali then picks it up and walks it over near the dresser in the room. The brunette then walks back and takes her wife’s hands again.
“There. All done.”
Ashlyn looks from the bag to her wife. “So...you trying to get rid of me then?” she teases, her eyes still showing fear.
Ali shakes her head, her face serious. “Never, baby. Never.”
She pulls Ashlyn up and down to their room. Once inside, Ali kicks the door closed and pulls her wife into a deep kiss. When it ends, her hands are stroking under Ash’s tank top.
“Fuck me, Ashlyn. Fuck me so hard I can feel it for the next year,” Ali begs.
Ashlyn growls as she recognizes what Ali is asking for. Making love will come later, closer to the day they say goodbye for a year. Tonight...tonight they would release the animalistic side of their love. They would mark each other with mouths, with nails, with bruising thrusts. Tonight they would fuck until they are too tired to feel the fear that courses just below their skin.
Without saying a word, Ashlyn rips open the button up Ali wears. The brunette moans as her breasts are freed a moment later, not even caring that her bra strap was ripped by the hungry blonde. She shoves her own sweat pants down as Ashlyn starts to kiss and nip along Ali’s collar bone, her hands kneading the perfect breasts she had freed so recently.
“Oh, Ash,” Ali moans.
Ashlyn lifts her wife up and walks her towards the bed as Ali kicks off her sweats and underwear. Ashlyn carefully lays her down and stands staring down at the toned, gorgeous body waiting for her. Breasts are fully standing at attention, their hard peaks just begging to be sucked, tweaked, and rubbed. Ali is already breathing hard and reaches out to her wife.
“Ash. Hurry. Please...”
Ashlyn quickly strips down. Before she climbs into the bed she reaches into the drawer of her nightstand. Ali drops a hand to her own center, feeling how wet it already is but giving it a few strokes anyway.
“Oh, already so wet for you,” she pants.
Ashlyn quickly dons the harness and kneels down on the bed. She drags a finger up Ali’s wet slit, wanting to feel for herself how ready her wife is. She brings the hand to her mouth and slowly sucks it, savoring the taste of Ali on her tongue. Ali moans as she watches how pleased her wife is by that taste. Ashlyn moves so she is between her wife’s legs. She slowly lowers herself, guiding her appendage up and down her wife’s wanton center.
“Lube me up, baby,” Ashlyn whispers.
Ali rocks against her wife, making sure to coat her juices on the dildo. Ashlyn leans down farther and takes a firm nipple in her mouth.
As Ali arches up at the contact, Ashlyn drives herself inside.
“ASH! OH, ASH!”
Ashlyn bites the nipple in her mouth just enough to make Ali arch up. She then places hard, open mouthed kisses up her wife’s chest to her throat. She sucks at her pulse point, not caring about leaving a mark this time. This time she wanted the world to know that Ali Krieger-Harris is hers and only hers. Her hips keep up a rapid pace, met by Ali’s. Her mouth nips at that spot just behind Ali’s ear; the place that drives her crazy.
“YES!” the brunette moans.
After torturing that spot a few minutes, Ashlyn sits up enough to stare into eyes nearly black with unadulterated lust. She keeps up her forceful thrusts deep into her wife as she speaks.
“Do you love me, Alex?” she demands.
“Yes, oh, yes, Ashlyn,” Ali pants.
“Are you mine to fuck anyway I want?”
“Yes, baby. All yours. Anything you want,” Ali agrees.
“Good.” Ashlyn scoots up, lifting Ali’s legs to her shoulders. The brunette lets out an inhuman cry of pleasure as this new position allows Ashlyn to plunge deeper and deeper into Ali. Ashlyn grabs a breast with one hand, teasing the perfect nipple and watching as this added sensation makes Ali respond even more physically as her voice is reduced to just sounds. “So fucking beautiful,” Ashlyn grunts out.
Just when Ali thinks she is about to dive over into the strongest orgasm of her life, Ashlyn pulls out. “No! God, no! Please, baby!”
Ashlyn doesn’t speak. She simply flips her wife over and pulls her up onto all fours. Ali squeals as this position opens her up even more and Ashlyn wastes no time before thrusting back in. Strong hands grip Ali’s hips, pulling her back to meet each thrust.
“Oh. So. Deep,” she moans her body on fire with sensation.
Ash reaches around and starts to rub Ali’s clit, sending her into tremors of pleasure. And just when Ali thinks her mind is as blown as it can be, she feels where the other hand is.
“Oh, fuck, Ashlyn...”
Ash just grins as she wets her finger with Ali’s juices, then penetrates that rarely used orifice in back. That extra penetration is the final piece to the puzzle. Ali’s eyes see stars as she screams out her pleasure and her body is rocked with a forceful orgasm.
So forceful, in fact, it presses the dildo back against Ashlyn in such a way and in such a rapid fire beat, that it also sends the blonde over.
“ALEX!” Ashlyn screams as she thrusts through her orgasm, sending Ali over the edge once more.
Ashlyn barely has time to pull out before both women collapse down on the bed. They are a panting, sweaty mess. Ali slowly turns her head to look at her wife.
After a few minutes, Ali reaches towards her nightstand and pulls out her own harness. She grins wolfishly.
Ashlyn just smirks and slips her own harness off and rolls to her back. “As you wish.”
Ali slowly shakes her head. “Not like that.” She sits on the bed, back against the headboard. “Mount up, cowgirl.”
Ashlyn moans and throws her legs over her wife. With Ali’s help she lowers herself onto the toy. Her eyes roll back in her head at the sensation.
Ashlyn grabs the headboard and starts to work herself up and down on the shaft. Ali watches her a moment, then leans forward and takes a breast in her mouth. She sucks the hard peak, making Ashlyn moan, before trapping it between her teeth and flicking it with her tongue, making Ashlyn lose her rhythm.
“Oh, fuck, Alex...”
Ali’s hands trace over muscular thighs and abs. She then grabs both breasts with her hands as she looks up at her wife.
“Kiss me, Ashlyn.”
Ashlyn lowers her mouth and lets Ali control the depth and power of the kiss, just moaning at how good her body feels. The kiss ends when Ali gives one breast a carefully planned pinch. As Ashlyn rocks back from that sensation, she feels where Ali’s other hand has gone. No one, not even Ali, had taken her in that way before. She brings her head down to look into chocolate orbs.
“You’re mine, Ashlyn. All mine.”
“And I am going to take you in every way.”
“Yes, Alex. Every way.”
They kiss again as Ali’s index finger penetrates Ashlyn from behind. And that is what puts Ashlyn over the edge. The amazing feeling of Ali filling her every hole sends her into an orgasm like she has never experienced before. Her body rocks hard on her wife, who is thrown over by Ash’s actions.
The two ride out the aftershocks before Ashlyn dismounts. They lie staring at the ceiling as they both catch their breaths. After a second, Ali rolls over.
“I forgot something,” she whispers.
Ashlyn frowns. “What the fuck could you have forgotten?”
“This,” she says and sucks her wife’s collar bone until a hickey appears. Ashlyn just moans through the process. Ali smiles when she sits up and admires her handiwork. “There. Won’t be visible when you’re in uniform but will definitely tell anyone in a community shower that you are taken.”
Ashlyn smiles. “Want to carve an ‘A’ on my chest, like Zorro?”
“Nah. They would just think you did that yourself,” she jokes.
Ashlyn laughs. “You’re probably right.” She rolls over and lightly caresses her wife’s toned stomach. “Alex, when I get back if it looks like we are staying in this area for you and for me, I want to get our own house. I want...want to start setting down roots with you. And, honestly, it will be nice not to have to plan loud sex around your dad’s dating life.”
Ali smiles and strokes Ashlyn’s cheeks. “Okay.”
Ashlyn’s eyes grow wide. “Really? Are you serious?”
Ali nods. “I’m serious. I figure by then it may also be time to think about little Nittany Lions in our life.”
“Oh, hell no. You mean little Tar Heels.”
“Nope, I definitely mean Nittany Lions. Lions are so much cuter.”
Ashlyn laughs, realizing she’s been backed into a corner. If she says they aren’t cuter, she’s insulting her wife. If she admits they are cuter than Tar Heels, she’s insulting herself. She shakes her head.
“You are just about evil, Mrs. Krieger-Harris.”
Ali grins slyly. “I know.”
They stare at each other a few minutes, just enjoying being together. Then Ashlyn reaches over and undoes her wife’s pink harness. She tosses it off the bed and straddles her wife.
“Maybe, just maybe, lions are cuter. But...you have to admit...keepers have better fingers than defenders.”
Before Ali can give a retort, two long, nimble fingers are thrust deep into her center. She groans and arches up. Ashlyn just smiles smugly as she starts to work her wife over again.
It will be a long night of memory (and hickey) making for the women as they make the most of the time they have left before Ashlyn’s departure.