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For Love & Country

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Ashlyn pauses at the end of the cargo ramp. The heat from the Iraqi sun is beating down and she wonders how long it will take to get used to. She feels someone step up beside her and looks over at her sergeant.

“Just another day at the office, right, LT?” Andrews says with a grin.

“Right,” she says, looking back out at the tarmac and all the activity going on, the burned out Humvees awaiting scrapping, the boxes of ammo being moved around. “Just like home...only different.”

The two chuckle then continue off the plane and walk over to a waiting Hummer. The private driving stops them before they get in

“Uh, ma’am, officers in back, please,” he says.

Ashlyn frowns. “Why?”

“Because IEDs usually take out the front of the vehicle.”

Ashlyn swallows hard. This kid, who looks much older than his 19 years, had told her that as if he was telling her the sky is always blue. It was just a hard truth to life in the war zone. She exchanges a glance with Andrews. As her second, he gets in the backseat, too, leaving a corporal to take the dreaded passenger seat.

“This is fucked,” Ashlyn mumbles.

“Yeah. And I have a feeling it only gets worse from here forward,” Andrews whispers back.

Ashlyn just nods and watches the activity outside the window as the private drives them to their new headquarters. They would be checking in and getting things ready to hit the ground running the next day. On the plane Ashlyn had gotten an email detailing a build their team would be doing in 2 days.

2. Fucking. Days.

There is no time to “get acclimated”. No time to “see how things are”. Nope, it is work right away.

But Ash and her team are used to it. They were all on Fast Response Teams and know how to get going quickly. And they all know the more they work, the faster time flies. She knows that she is not the only one mentally and physically crossing off calendar days until they return to their loved ones.

When they pull up in front of the building they will be using, Ashlyn hops out and grins at Andrews. “Time to rock and roll.”

He rolls his eyes. “Seriously? That’s the best cliché you could come up with? Geez, LT.”

Ashlyn chuckles and shrugs her shoulder. “I like the old standbys.”

The two grab their briefcases and backpacks out of the back. It is only then it hits Ash that she was told her kit bag and trunk were being taking to her hut...and she has no idea where that is. Hopefully someone inside will know or she’ll be spending the night right here at the office.

With a deep breath, Ashlyn steps into the building to begin her year in Iraq.


 

December 3, 2014

On December 2, the USWNT had reported to a hotel in Los Angeles for a 4 day camp before flying to Brazil for a camp and a tournament. Well, the whole team minus a certain right back.

As Ali walks into the hotel lobby on December 3, she is hoping she will be able to check in and get to her room unnoticed. She needed a few minutes to herself to really turn her mind from the fear she can’t get rid of to the game of football. But fate has other plans for her.

“KRIEGS!” Pinoe shouts.

Ali forces a smile to her face as the blonde middie races towards her, KO, HAO and Syd close behind. She drops her bags and accepts the hugs from each of them. Pinoe grabs her suitcase.

“You’re my roomie here in LA. I got this,” she says.

“No, Pin, really, I can get it.”

“I don’t mind,” she insists.

Ali looks at her four teammates and suddenly starts to chuckle. HAO lifts her eyebrow.

“Uh, you okay, Kriegs?”

“I am,” Ali chuckles. “It’s just...all four of you have your head tilted to the side and are looking at me like someone stole my puppy.”

The women glance at each other and see she is correct. KO grins.

“Uh, I guess we do,” Kelley notes with a grin. “We’re all just kind of worried about you.”

Ali reaches out and squeezes her shoulder. “Thanks, Kell. But I’m okay. Will I have bad moments? Sure. Got a year of those to look forward to. But right now I’m here for soccer and that’s all I need to worry about.”

“If you’re sure,” Syd says warily.

“I am. Promise.” She wraps an arm around Pinoe’s shoulder. “And with this one as my roommate, how can I not look forward to fun and football?”

“True. Not to mention I will tell everyone who will listen if you cry yourself to sleep,” Pinoe admits with a grin.

Ali laughs and nods. “Not surprised at all by that. So, let me grab my key, go drop my bags and meet you guys down here for lunch.”

The four nod and let Ali go check in and head up to her room alone. After she is in the elevator, HAO turns to Pinoe.

“Anytime of night, Meg...”

Pinoe nods seriously. “I know, Heather. I’ll call you or whoever she may need. I swear.”

HAO nods and the four head into the dining room they are using to let the others know Ali Krieger-Harris is in the building.


 

In her room, Ali quickly changes into workout clothes. She wants to get a little weight training in before field practice that afternoon. Once she is changed, she opens up her backpack to plug in her computer and slide out a leather, double-sided picture frame. On the left side is a shot of her and Ashlyn at the zoo, posing in front of the otters and laughing. Just before a passerby snapped the pic for them, Ashlyn had said something silly and they both laughed. It almost looks candid instead of posed. It is one of Ali’s favorite pics.

On the other side is Ashlyn’s most recent official Army photo. Ali carefully runs a finger over the various ribbons and medals that adorn her wife’s chest. She smiles and gives the glass over her wife’s face a quick kiss.

“Love you, sweetheart. Hope you’re safe.”

She puts the picture down on the bedside table. Satisfied her things are as arranged as she needs them for now, she pulls on her sneakers and heads down to the team lunch, wondering how many more friends will give her the “puppy head tilt” as she’s now calling it. She smiles, knowing it will probably be all of them.

“I love these gals,” she mumbles to herself as she takes the stairs back down to ground level.


 

“PICK IT UP! PICK IT UP! PICK IT UP!” Jill Ellis yells at her players.

In all honesty, she is very impressed by the players. They had all come into this camp in shape and ready to work. As she watches her defenders cross the end line, she grins. The one defender that had her most concerned was quickly proving that the coach need not worry. Ali Krieger was ready to roll.

“OKAY! FORWARDS UP!” Jill pauses. “GO!”

She watches as the forwards in the camp start a series of line touches. Her eyes momentarily stray back to the defenders and sees Ali is already ready for the next set while a few others are still working on controlling their breathing. Yep, the right back was showing she still plans to be the number 1 pick for the backline.

“FINISH HARD! LET’S GO!” She watches as the last of the forwards crosses the line. “OKAY! MIDDIE’S UP! GO!”

Dawn Scott walks over, grinning. Jill sees her and rolls her eyes. “Hate to say I told you so, Jill...”

“Whatever. I was right to have concerns.”

“Maybe. But I think she’s shown you that it doesn’t matter where Ashlyn is, Krieg’s mind is on the pitch. She has unfinished business at the World Cup, not to mention the Olympics.”

“True.” Jill looks back at the field. “FASTER LADIES! YOU’RE OUR WORKHORSES!” She grins as the middies all pick it up a bit. She glances at Dawn. “She’s the best damn right back in the world. That’s not in doubt. I just had to worry about her mindset with her wife in Iraq.”

Dawn nods. “I know. I’m sure Tony DiCicco was worried briefly about Mia Hamm, too, back in the day. But these ladies are professionals and all have dealt with some sort of hardship at times. Trust them to put it away.”

“I can’t even imagine the fear that will be in her heart the next year. But I am now confident it won’t be an issue. Let’s just pray nothing happens to make things...worse for Kriegs.”

Dawn nods as the two coaches walk towards the middle of the field. Jill stares at the players on the end line.

“EVERYONE UP!” The players all get up and ready to go. “Good job, ladies. Grab a drink and get ready for a scrimmage,” she says with a grin.

The players groan in relief, having been sure they were about to run again. They make their way to their water bottles. Ali detours to her bag and slips the dog tags from her neck. She gives them a kiss then secures them into the inside pocket. She turns and sees Tobin grinning at her.

“What?” Ali asks, unable to not grin back.

“That is just too damn adorable.”

Ali chuckles. “Thanks.”

“I missed you at lunch. Did she make it over there okay?”

Ali takes a drink as she nods. “Yep. She said it’s hot. Like, makes Florida look like Alaska hot.”

Tobin laughs. “Yeah, I’ve heard rumors. And can’t make it easier to be in uniform all the time.”

“Yeah. But that’s why in Florida she was jogging and working out in her ACU’s. I hope it helped her a little bit.”

Tobin nods. “I’m sure it did.” She takes another sip. “Did she, uh, watch the messages?”

Ali smiles. “She did. She loved them. In fact, at dinner tonight I have a message to play for everyone. I wanted to make sure everyone was there to see it.”

“Cool. Can’t wait.”

“Okay, Ladies,” Jill says, ending their conversation. “Hope, you’re in the near goal. Your backline will be Kriegs at right, Becky and Cap in the middle, and Whit on the left.”

As Jill continues to set the teams, the four defenders follow Hope down to the goal. The four quickly gather around and look at Christie.

“You all know what to do. Talk to each other, watch for the give-and-go opps, and keep Hope as bored as possible,” she says.

Hope grins. “Remember: Happiness is a bored keeper.”

“A lazy keeper,” Ali mumbles with a grin.

Hope gives her a good-natured push as the four quickly get into position. HAO runs past them and smiles at Ali.

“RIGHT SIDE!” HAO hollers.

“STRONG SIDE!” Ali calls back.

“WHATEVER!” Whitney yells with a grin.

Alex and Abby stand in the center circle ready to kick off. Ali sees immediately that Jill has put her probable starting forwards and 2 middies against the probable starting backline. Her heart swells a bit: coach sees Ali’s head is in the game. It would be a lie to say the defender hadn’t been worried about how the coach would see her. Ali knew she was all business and now Jill will see it, too. Ali’s face goes to steel as the whistle blows to start the scrimmage.


 

“Great practice, Kriegs!” Abby says, patting the brunette on the back.

Ali smiles. “Thanks. Sorry about the nutmeg,” she says with a wink.

Abby laughs. “The fuck you are.”

As Ali slips her dog tags over her head, she sees Jill walking towards her with Heif. Her stomach does a flip.

“Kriegs, got a second?”

“Sure, Coach.”

Ali grabs her towel and walks over to the coach and their media guru. So far she had been able to avoid doing the interview they were most likely about to ask her to do. She and Ashlyn had discussed this probability of this occurring and the blonde had said it was up to Ali whether or not to do it.

“Ali, we are hoping you’d like to do an interview about being a military wife,” Heif starts. “We have done lots of pieces showing the team with military personnel in other countries and even here in the US but we’ve never had someone on the team married to someone serving the country the way your wife is.”

“Mia Hamm’s first husband was a Marine Corps pilot,” Ali points out.

“True but that predates the Studio 90 and Behind the Crest spots.” He studies her face a second. “Ali, I can understand you’ll have to think about this and maybe even talk to Ashlyn about it. That’s fine. Just know it’s something we would love to do, okay?”

Ali nods and goes back to her bag. It’s not that she’s not proud as hell of her wife and not like she doesn’t know people would love to see a piece like this. But it’s the question of how much of her private life does Ali want out there? How many of her emotions does she want to allow the fans to see? She carefully packs her bag and follows the others to the vans for the ride back to the hotel.

She slides into a seat and Whitney sits down beside her. “Let me guess: Behind the Crest on you and Ash?”

Ali sighs. “Yeah. Ash had told me it’s up to me. I am just...I’m not...”

Whitney takes her hand. “Do whatever you’re comfortable with and whenever you’re comfortable with it. That’s what she would want. It’s not wrong to want to keep your private life private, you know?”

Ali smiles. “I know. Thanks, Whit.”

“No problem.” She pauses. “But if they ask me I am going to gush about her so much her head will swell even before she sees it.”

The two women burst out laughing, both knowing Ash would, indeed, have fun with their praise of her.


 

Ali is sitting in a chair waiting to board the plane to Brazil. She is busy typing out an email to her wife to let her know how things have gone so far at camp. To be honest, Ali is incredibly proud of herself. She has shown her coaches and her teammates that her mind is committed to the team and not simply wallowing in missing her wife. She is nearly done, when someone sits down beside her.

“Hey, Amy, what’s up?”

“You’re on my team.”

Ali grins. “Good. Glad to know you’re not moving to another country,” she teases.

ARod rolls her eyes. “Smart ass. I meant when we get on the plane, you’re on my team for Heads Up.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re good at it, of course! And I want to win. I am tired of losing to Tobin’s team.”

“What if I told you that Tobin had already recruited me?” Ali says with a wince.

“When?”

“At breakfast.”

ARod leaps up. “TOBIN! I’m gonna KILL you! I told you Ali was mine!”

Tobin bursts out laughing and takes off at a jog down the terminal to get away from the furious Latina. Ali just laughs knowing Tobin will be laughing too hard to get away. She goes back to her letter.

So, baby, funny thing just happened. Amy asked me to be on her team for Heads Up but Tobin had already asked me. Turns out, ARod had already claimed me but Tobin jumped her claim and asked me first. They are now running around the terminal making us all crack up. I think I’ll be kind and just offer to referee. Ooh! Amy caught Tobes. You may be one alum short next time all you Tar Heels get together. Lol

Kyle stopped by the hotel last night. He sends his love. He also said that he and his buddies got together to send you a care package. He promises it is “horribly clean and innocent” so you shouldn’t have any porn in it. He said they just all wanted to do something to show their support. He had a great time with the gals and I think he was nearly convinced to drop everything and go to Brazil with us. If he could have found a sitter for Luna and someone to take his hair appointments he’d be sitting with me right now.

Well, Jill just stood up and is starting to get her things together. Guess our plane is ready to board. I’ll send this off so you can read it when you get back to base. Hope your first build is going well. I love and miss you so much. Take care, baby.

Love always,
your Alex

Ali waits until her outbox empties before closing down her laptop. As she tucks it inside her briefcase, ARod walks up to her.

“I will give you $20 if you play on my team and help us beat that cheater Tobin.”

Ali bursts out laughing. She is about to offer to ref but instead turns to Tobin. “Offer is $20 to play for ARod. What’ve you got?”

She checks her pockets. “Uh, $1.97 and I crash at your house in January and act like a maid all month in return.”

Ali thinks a second then shakes her head. “Nope. Not needed.” She turns to Amy. “I’m all yours, Aim.”

ARod throws her arms in the air. “SCORE! You are so going down, Heath!”

The entire team is cracking up at the insanity. They know they will definitely be entertained on the flight. And the coaching staff is glad it’s a private charter so they don’t risk someone on the team getting arrested by an air marshal for rowdy behaviour!


 

Ashlyn walks into her hut after 5 days in the field. She drops her backpack and briefcase on her footlocker and flops face first onto her bunk.

“I can’t believe I am finding this piece of shit comfy,” she mumbles into her pillow.

She hears laughter and slowly lifts her head. She hadn’t even noticed the other woman in the tiny hut. Ashlyn sits up, blushing.

“Uh, hi. You must be Captain Cousins,” Ashlyn says as she stands and offers her hand.

“And you must be my new roomie, Lieutenant Harris,” she replies shaking her hand.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Excellent. Now, first things first: this is our house for however long we are here in Hell. No ranks allowed. I’m Fliss. Well, really Felicia, but Fliss since I was a kid and my brother couldn’t say my name.”

Ashlyn smiles. “Ashlyn. Or Ash. How much longer are you here?”

“I have 8 more months in this lovely resort. It’s my second tour. Hopefully my last tour, too.”

“Excellent. I’m just starting my first year here.”

“You’re Engineers, right?”

“Yes, ma’...uh, Fliss,” Ashlyn corrects with a grin. “Been on a Fast Response Team since I graduated OCS.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, anytime some sort of disaster happens, we have 4 hours to mobilize and get in the air,” Ashlyn says.

She goes on to explain more about what they do. She answers questions about where she has been and what she has seen. By the time she is done, she sees she has earned the captain’s respect.

“Got to say, Ashlyn, I was thinking you guys had it easy. Turns out you’ve seen crap like I can’t even imagine.”

“Yeah. But for all the bad there was a lot of good, too. Seeing kids and families start to have hope and start to smile again make all the bad worth it. I really like what I do.”

“That’s great. Being an MP we tend to think everyone else, other than Rangers, have it easy. At least we usually know what we’re in for,” Fliss notes.

Ashlyn nods. “I understand.” Ashlyn walks over and grabs her towel and some clean clothes. “Well, if you don’t mind, I need a shower and a nap.” She pulls out a pair of shorts and a US Soccer tee.

“No problem. Oh! Wait a second. You have a couple of packages here.” She walks over and unlocks her trunk. “I didn’t want something to happen to them.”

Ashlyn smiles. “Hey, thanks. I appreciate that.” She takes the boxes and smiles when she sees one from Pinoe, most likely the one from the gals. The other is from her grandma. She sighs. “Sure wish there was a way Grandma could have sent her mac & cheese.”

Fliss chuckles. “I feel the same way about my mother’s fried chicken.”

Ashlyn chuckles and decides to save the packages until she gets back so she can enjoy them until she falls asleep. Thirty minutes later, she is sitting on her bunk cutting open the one from the gals.

“AWESOME!” she exclaims.

She pulls out Skittles, microwave mac & cheese, playing cards, a travel checkers game, several magazines, a couple of crossword books, and tees from each players pro team.

“Very cool!” She reads the accompanying letter that promises 1 package a month until she gets home. “You guys rock,” she says to the letter, knowing she’ll put off her nap to write them all a thank you.

She then grabs the next box. She cuts it open and chuckles as the first things she sees are Skittles and microwave mac & cheese. “Geez, I am that easy to buy for?” She also finds shampoo, deodorant, soap, and several packs of hair rubber bands. The note from her grandma reiterates how much she is loved and missed. Ashlyn lifts the paper up and gives it a sniff, smiling with tears in her eyes when she smells Grandma’s perfume. “I love you, Grandma,” she whispers emotionally.

She tucks her food and tees away and crawls into her bunk to get some sleep, setting her alarm to wake her up in time for dinner.


 

Ali sits on her bed, frowning.

“You okay?” Morgan Brian asks as she unpacks her clothes.

“Yeah. Just...haven’t heard from Ash in a few days. I guess I thought I’d hear from her more while she’s over there.”

“That sucks,” the college senior says.

Ali grins. “To say the least. But, I know she said she had a build. I guess I just thought she’d go out, build, and come home each night. Or maybe that is just wishful thinking.”

“Maybe,” Morgan says. She pauses a second. “Uh, I know, like, I don’t know you as well as the others know you. And I only just met Ash that one time in passing but, well, if you need anything, let me know. I mean, if I can’t help you with it, I can fetch someone who can, you know?”

Ali smiles at the young woman. “Thank you so much, Morgan. I really appreciate the offer. And trust me: I’ll take you up on it at some point I’m sure.”

Morgan smiles. “Cool. Well, I’ve got studying to do.”

“Okay. I think I’m going to go for a walk, maybe get a coffee. Want anything?”

“Uh, a latte would be great. Let me get some money for you,” she says, starting to stand.

Ali waves her off. “It’s on me. A thank you in advance for any calls I get in the middle of the night.”

Morgan grins. “Okay. Thanks, Ali.”

Ali nods and pulls on her sweatshirt. She checks to make sure her make-up is on point and goes out in search of caffeine yumminess for her and her roommate for this trip.


 

Ashlyn groans when her alarm clock goes off. She’d have sworn she just laid down. She smacks it off and sits up, stretching.

“Have a good nap?”

Ashlyn glances over at the desk in the hut. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“You’re lucky. Took me forever to learn how to sleep during the day.”

Ashlyn chuckles. “It was a skill learned long ago. Needed to nap sometimes to be up for games. And, well, for the after parties,” she adds with a wink.

Fliss chuckles and starts to go back to the report she’s working on when she sees the shirt Ashlyn wears. She frowns.

“US Women’s soccer team? You’re a fan?”

Ashlyn blushes. “You could say that. I was part of the team pool for several years. Even helped us win the inaugural U-19 Cup.”

Fliss’ eyes widen. “Wow!”

“Yep. And even better: I met my wife thanks to US Soccer.” She opens her drawer and pulls out a photo frame identical to the one Ali carries. “She’s a right back.”

Fliss takes the frame and her eyes widen. “Holy shit!”

Ashlyn grins. “Yeah, she’s a beauty isn’t she.”

“Yeah...she, uh, is. Um...wow...”

Ashlyn studies the woman a moment. “You okay?”

Fliss hands the frame back, her cheeks flush. “Uh, sure.” She gulps. “I, uh, kinda know your wife.”

Ashlyn stiffens. “Kinda? What’s that mean?”

“We, um, sorta...went out a few times...in Germany,” Fliss says, refusing to look up at Ashlyn.

“Say WHAT?!”

Fliss stands. “We never slept together!” She says quickly. “We literally just went out. Dinner, coffee, etc.”

Ashlyn drops down on her bed. She can imagine when these dates occurred. Ali had never said a word to her about them.

Fliss starts to pace. “Shit. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m sure she wasn’t with you at the time. She didn’t seem like the cheating kind to me. She was...she said she was questioning her life at the time. She wanted to keep things innocent and, more importantly to me at the time, quiet. We talked a long, long time. She asked me why I’d risk my career for a woman. It seemed important to her.”

“It was,” Ashlyn says quietly. She sighs. “What did you tell her?”

Fliss shrugs. “I told her when I met the woman that meant more than the job, I’d do my damnedest to hang on to her and start touching up my resume.”

Tears well in Ashlyn’s eyes. She takes a deep breath and slowly looks up at the worried captain. “I owe you more than I can ever repay you for, Fliss.”

Fliss’ eyes widen. “She was asking...about you?”

“Yeah. We’d broken up because she was scared what it would do to her career if people found out. Then one night, out of the blue, she called me. She told me she finally realized that her career would mean nothing if she had to deny her heart and our love. She begged me for a second chance.” Ashlyn chuckles wryly. “Little did she know the begging wasn’t necessary. I’ve loved her practically from the day I met her and would have waited forever for her.”

Fliss smiles. “I’m glad things worked out for you. She was a really sweet girl.”

“She was. She’s an even better woman. She’s been so supportive of me doing this, even defending me when people said I was crazy for retiring so young; especially after having just won a championship. Alex got that this was a calling; something I had to do. As much as it scared her, she has been behind me 100%.”

“That’s great! I hope someday I find the woman that can be that kind of supporter for me.”

Ashlyn looks up at the striking woman. Her auburn hair falls in natural waves and her green eyes sparkle with life. Ashlyn nods. “You will, Fliss. I’m sure of it.”

Fliss rolls her eyes. “From your mouth to God’s ears.”

Ashlyn chuckles and starts to get dressed to go to the dining hall. Fliss turns back to her report, her mind on a few short weeks in Germany, when she was a freshly turned out Lieutenant, when she thought she had met the woman she would spend the rest of her life with. She sighs. And instead she is now bunking with that same woman’s wife for several months in Iraq. The Fates sure enjoyed kicking people’s teeth in every now and then.


 

Even with her phone turned nearly all the way down, Ali hears the alert that she has an email. For some reason, she just knows it is Ashlyn.

She ignores her phone and grabs her laptop as she sneaks into the bathroom to keep from waking Morgan. Within minutes she is logged on. Tears spring to her eyes as she sees her wife’s email address and sees the attachment notice. She quickly opens it and starts the attachments downloading as she reads the message.

Hey Baby,

I miss you so much. Just need to get that out of the way first. Maybe then I can concentrate on writing and not just on missing you.

So, I’ve finished my first build here in Iraq. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it was really cool. Exhausting, but cool. I almost feel bad saying it was exhausting because as the lieutenant on the team, I really couldn’t do much. I was more like the foreman at a construction site, making sure the men and women did what they should do while dealing with outside distractions. I will admit to being kind of overwhelmed at first but the Captain I am assigned to is pretty cool and he was a big help and even came with us on that trip. Most of the actual builders have been doing this for a while and only my team leaders were new. But I am so damn proud of them all. They did great and I made sure that all my reports reflected that. One of the attached pics is me and Andrews in front of the newly built school house/council house in a little town south of here.

So, I kind of have a surprise for you and that is picture 2. Turns out I finally was able to thank the woman that helped you come to grips with your feelings for me. I think you’ll recognize my roommate for the next few months.

Ali’s eyes widen. She clicks on the box that had popped up when the pictures successfully downloaded. She opens the second picture and inhales sharply.

“Fliss...”

In the photo, Ashlyn and Fliss stand outside their shared, 2-person hut, smiling at the camera. They hold their helmets under their arms and their guns are at their sides. Ali swallows hard and goes back to the letter.

Needless to say, there were a few uncomfortable minutes while Fliss told me how she knew you. I think she expected me to punch her, not thank her. Alex, baby, I am so glad I got to thank her for helping you work through your feelings. I owe her so much because I owe her my life with you. I told her when she heads back to the States to contact you for tickets to a Spirit or NT game. I think she would enjoy catching up with you, especially since I made it known that as far as I’m concerned you hung the moon.

Speaking of the moon, pic 3 was taken while we were tenting it out at that village. I looked up and it was so huge I just had to snap a pic. Remember what I said about us always seeing the same side of the moon? I can only hope you’ve been looking up because I have been trying to use my eyes to write your name on the surface. It could happen. Or maybe I need to stop watching X-Men movies and wishing I had Cyclops’ laser eyes. :o)

By the way, let the gals know I got the first care package from them. I also got one from Grandma. Both were filled with Skittles and Mac&Cheese microwave bowls. Am I really that easy to please? Lol. I loved the other things the gals sent, too. I’ll wear a different team shirt for all my workouts and do my best to talk up the league while I am over here. For some reason I haven’t gotten Kyle’s gift yet. Are you SURE it wasn’t something that would get stopped for content? Hmmmm... Lol

Well, baby, I know I haven’t had a chance to write before now but I am so damn tired after camping out for 5 days. I should be here on base the next 2 weeks while we prep for the next build. After that, I’ll be on the road more regularly. These two weeks are for me and my team to learn all we did wrong and fix things. We only get one learning trip and now we’re expected to fly solo for the most part. Fast learning turn around but everything seems to be at a faster pace here. Everyone is moving quickly I guess because when we aren’t working we are missing our loved ones and time seems to drag.

I miss you so much. I know I said it already but I am saying it again. You are my world, Alex, and I cannot wait to see you again. Good luck in Brazil at the tournament. I’ll watch the highlights when I can. I know you’ll be the kickass right back you always are. I’ll drop you a line as soon as I can. I love you, Alex. So much it hurts sometimes. Take care, baby. Talk to you soon.

Love always,
Ash

Ali wipes the tears from her eyes and saves the email. She then goes and looks at the rest of the pictures, giggling when she sees her wife hamming it up for the camera while pretending a tank is about to run over her. Her heart skips a beat when she sees her wife offering a teddy bear to a little boy who had obviously been crying. She sees her staring at plans spread out on the hood of a Hummer, a soldier manning a .50 cal mounted to the top of it. And the final picture makes her laugh out loud. Ashlyn sits cross-legged on the ground, 4 puppies crawling all over her as she laughs. Ali shakes her head.

“Leave it to you to find the puppies,” she whispers.

She saves the pictures in a file just as there is a knock on the bathroom door.

“Ali?”

“It’s open,” she answers.

Morgan opens the door. “Uh, you okay?”

Ali smiles. “Yeah. Finally got an email from Ash and didn’t want to wake you.”

“Ah. Cool. So, um, you don’t need...uh, the bathroom?” she asks uncomfortably.

Ali laughs and stands up. “Nope, it’s all yours. Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay. I’m really glad you heard from Ashlyn. I guess she’s okay?”

“She’s great. And even sent some pics I’ll show everyone tomorrow.”

“Cool. Well, night.”

“Night, Morgan. Sorry again about hogging the bathroom.”

Morgan smiles. “No problem.”

Ali goes out and plugs her computer back in. She crawls into bed and unlike the last few nights, falls right to sleep, her heart and mind both settled now that she has finally heard from her wife.