Actions

Work Header

For Love & Country

Chapter Text

January 2015

Ali stares at the blonde across from her. She tries to find the words to express her shock and sadness but can’t. She twirls her coffee mug on her father’s kitchen table, trying to come up with something, anything, to say.

“Geez, Ali, it’s not like I said I was retiring, moving away, and you’ll never see me again,” Lori Lindsey says with a crooked grin.

Ali shakes her head. “Yeah. Right. I mean, I know. I just...wow. You’re so good. Why?”

Lori shrugs. “It’s time. For me at least. I can’t compete with the youngsters at National Team camps. And I’m tired of getting my ass handed to me by even more youngsters in NWSL matches. Besides, I really think I want to get going on this new venture. It’s just the right time for me.”

Ali sighs and leans on the table. “All my blonde’s keep leaving me,” she whines with a grin.

Lori laughs. “Nah. You still have Abby and a few others.”

Ali smiles. “Yeah, but they aren’t you, Lor. You’ve always been here for me and Ash.”

“Still will be. That will never change, Als. Besides between preseason, those European friendlies, the Algarve, the NWSL and that little thing called the World Cup, you’ll be too busy to notice I’m gone,” Lori states with certainty.

“Never, Lori. You’re hard not to miss,” Ali says sincerely, taking one of her friend’s hands and giving it a squeeze.

“Thanks,” she says with a smile. “So, uh, any chance you can tell your wife for me?”

“Oh, hell no. You promised to take care of me on the field. You’ll need to be the one to tell her you’re now leaving my ass hanging out in the wind.”

Lori laughs. “Gee, thanks. Just what I want after me: a pissed blonde with legal permission to have and fire a machine gun.”

Ali gives her a wink. Lori takes a sip of coffee and grabs a croissant.

“So, how are you really doing after the Brazil shit?”

Ali groans. “We are all so...so pissed about those fucking games. They didn’t beat us; we beat ourselves. We had been so good in practice then just fucking crumbled in the games. I have no idea why! It’s damn frustrating.”

“Is it a coaching problem?”

“Honestly, no. And even if it was, we’re less than 6 months out from Canada. No way we could change now if it was. You know how it is: once we’re on the field it’s on us. We’re not kids still learning. We’re all professionals. Well, except Morgan Brian but she’s so damn good she could be. Whatever it was that caused that breakdown, we all need to look into ourselves and fix it. If not...it’ll be another 4 year wait for a chance at the Cup.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, you all look good. I believe that you will figure it out and bring the Cup home this year. 2015 is our year. I just know it,” Lori says confidently.

Ali smiles. “Thanks for saying that, Lori.” She checks her watch. “Hey! It’s about time for Ashlyn to FaceTime me for the week. She sent me an email last night. Want to say hi?”

Lori shakes her head. “Nah, just tell her hi for me. You two need to enjoy your time. I know it’s precious.”

“It’s okay. You can say hi and leave before the virtual sex starts,” Ali jokes.

At that Lori blushes and leaps up. “On THAT note! Thanks for the coffee, old friend. I’m out of here!”

Ali stands and gives Lori a hug. Yes, she was sincere when she offered the blonde the chance to stay. But, yes, she was even happier that Lori decided to go...no matter what mental image made her do so. Ali puts the coffee mugs in the sink and hurries upstairs to her bedroom. She closes the door and snuggles down into the bed, hugging Ashlyn’s favorite UNC sweatshirt to her as she waits for the call.

And waits.

And waits.

And waits.

After an hour, Ali has to accept that for some reason, her wife would not be making their virtual date. She reaches for the remote control and turns on the TV. She flips through all the news channels, which she has memorized, searching for some answer, some possible reason, that her wife missed this appointment. For better or worse, she finds nothing on the happenings in Iraq.

She turns off the TV and lies down in bed, pulling the covers around her, still hugging the hoodie. She stares at all the pictures she has on her nightstand and sighs.

“I miss you, Ash. I hope you are okay, baby. I love you.”

And though the little voice in the back of her head says she should get up and go for a workout she decides that today she just needs time for herself. She closes her eyes for a nap, deciding it can’t be too terribly bad to wallow in missing her wife for the day. A tear squeezes out of her eye and rolls down her cheek.

Yeah...today it would be fine to just give in to the ache of missing her soldier.


 

February 2015

Ashlyn walks into her hut and throws her helmet across the small space, listening to it slam against the far wall then hit the ground and roll a bit before settling under her bunk. She throws her small pack next, wishing it would make as satisfying a noise as the helmet. She does control herself enough that she doesn’t toss her rifle or sidearm. She sets those on the desk and drops onto her bunk, staring at the ceiling.

“You’re a stupid fucking idiot, Harris,” she scolds herself.

Her mind drifts back to earlier that day, trying to figure out what she should have done differently.

Ashlyn smiles as she hands the keys to the newly built schoolhouse over to the village leader. Her team had worked harder and faster this time and had actually finished a day early.

“Here you go, sir. May your students enjoy peace and learning within these walls.”

He smiles and nods his head as her words are translated. He turns to some of the people gathered around and lifts up the keys in triumph. Ashlyn’s smile broadens as people and children all cheer the new building.

“INCOMING!”

Her smile is wiped from her face by that one word. People scatter as an RPG fired from a nearby roof strikes the ground just outside the building, sending rocks, sand and building scrap flying.

“COVER! COVER! COVER!” she screams as she drags the village leader away from the school and into the protective shelter offered by a Hummer.

She eases up and sees the two men on the far roof. She points.

“TWO ON THE ROOF! MACKLIN, GET ON THE GUN!”

Corporal Harold Macklin scrambles up into the gun turret of another Hummer and turns the mounted .50 cal onto towards his targets. Just as one man finishes loading the RPG, Macklin fires, killing the shooter. The launcher flips up but in death he had squeezed the trigger.

“Son of a bitch,” Ashlyn mutters as the rocket goes straight up and then down exploding on the front of the building. This kills the second part of the sniping team but also starts to crumble the facade of the 4 story structure. She can only pray no one on the ground is killed or hurt.

“LIEUTENANT!”

Ashlyn turns to see Macklin pointing up another street. As she looks to see the men with rifles racing towards them, the firefight begins. In seconds she sees she and her men are badly outnumbered.

“RETREAT! RETREAT! GET IN THE CARS AND GO!” she orders.

Men and women are laying down covering fire as they scramble to get into their 5 armored vehicles. Ashlyn watches, making sure her people are getting to safety. She realizes she is firing her rifle and had no idea when she had started. She doesn’t dwell on that as she sees more insurgents coming from another direction.

“SOUTH! SOUTH! SOUTH!” she screams, waving the direction she wants her team to go.

“LT! GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!” Andrews screams as the other four vehicles take off out of town.

Ashlyn empties her clip at the insurgents before leaping into the vehicle as the driver floors it to get away. She winces as she hears bullets pinging off the armor of the vehicle. She looks at Andrews.

“Casualties?”

“None that I saw,” he answers.

“Fuck. Good. But fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” Ashlyn mutters, not really sure what else to say.

“Ma’am, I’ve called in the situation. HQ is sending in infantry and cavalry to assist the town in quashing this insurgent uprising,” Private Marjorie Skilks tells her.

Ashlyn nods. “Good work, Private.”

A little over two hours later Ashlyn is standing in front of a colonel. The man is furious...but not for the reason Ashlyn had expected.

“YOU LEFT SUPPLIES BEHIND?!”

“Sir, we had just started to clean up and we had handed over the keys to the school when all hell broke loose. I ordered my finishing squad into the Hummers as we were badly outnumbered.”

He slams his hand down on the desk. “BUT YOU FUCKING LEFT NAILS AND SHIT BEHIND, LIEUTENANT!”

Ashlyn swallows hard. “Yes, sir,” she acknowledges.

He leans on his desk, his dark eyes boring into her. “And do you not remember being told that no matter WHAT nails, screws, nuts, and bolts are to NEVER be left behind? That shit gets used in bombs as shrapnel! Do you want to be the fucking reason people die or are maimed, Lieutenant?”

Ashlyn’s stomach trips at that thought. “No, sir,” she croaks out.

“Then why the HELL didn’t you secure those in the vehicles right away, Harris? They should have been packed up as soon as you fucking finished the build!” he screams at her.

For the next 30 minutes, Ashlyn gets a reaming like she’s never gotten before. Her captain and major stand nearby, not offering words of support or comfort. Truth is, she did fuck up not securing the hardware that insurgents pack into bombs for maximum damage. But she had saved her entire team. Not a single injury. Shouldn’t that count for something?

“Get out of here, Lieutenant. And spend the next few hours praying our troops get there in time to secure the potential weapons you weren’t smart enough to secure. DISMISSED!”

Ashlyn salutes, does a crisp about face, and marches out of the room. She hears the colonel start to lay into her two superiors about the “problem” with women in positions of power in the Army.

 

Back in her hut, Ashlyn refuses to cry. It’s not easy, but she holds back the tears. Saving her team had meant nothing to the man and she didn’t even get support from her c.o. And with this fuck up, she can kiss her captain’s bars goodbye.

“Son of a fucking bitch,” she mutters.

She gets up and changes clothes, deciding a punishing work out might help her get past her anger at the whole fucking situation. As she changes she strokes a finger down the picture of her wife that hangs in her closet.

“All this separation and shit I put you through and it’s all for nothing. I’m so sorry, Alex. So fucking sorry.”

She takes a deep breath and closes the closet door. She leans her head against it a moment, then turns and leaves her hut, hoping to get into a better frame of mind...or at least work out hard enough and long enough to help her pass out when she gets back to her hut.


 

Ali sits down beside Alyssa Naeher as the keeper pulls on the #18 jersey. “You’re going to be awesome out there, Lys,” she says to the nervous keeper.

Alyssa swallows hard. “Thanks.” She pauses a second. “You know...if she hadn’t traded in her boots, this would be Ash’s jersey and start.”

Ali shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is it’s you in goal and we know you’ll be great!”

Alyssa smiles. “Thanks, Kriegs. I needed to hear that,” she says softly.

Ali nods and pats her on the shoulder as she goes to finish getting ready for their friendly against France. The team had been rocked when Hope Solo was suddenly suspended from the team. And, yes, it had occurred to Ali that her wife would have been a contender to be the number 2 on this team if she hadn’t joined the Army. But any number of things could have happened to prevent that from happening. Ali sighs and slips the dog tags over her head. She rubs her thumb over the lettering.

“I love you, Ash,” she whispers before kissing them and placing them in her locker.

“Heard from her yet?” Pinoe asks softly.

“Not this week. They had a build so...you know...it could be...” Ali takes a deep breath and turns to her friend. “We have a game, Meg. Let’s get to it.”

Pinoe just nods as Ali pushes past her and goes to check her mascara once more in the mirrors. The middie starts to walk away but Ali’s phone starts to ring. She grins as she recognizes the “Jaws” theme song.

“ALI!” she yells as she grabs the phone and answers. “Your babe is checking her make-up, Ash. She’s- -WHOA!”

Ali rips the phone out of Pinoe’s hands. “ASHLYN!”

The team smiles and does their best to move away from the right back to give her as much privacy as possible.

“Hey, Baby. I love you.”

Ali drops down onto the bench in front of her locker. “I love you, too. I’ve been so worried about you.”

“I’m okay, honey. And I’m sorry I didn’t call you sooner. Things got a bit haywire here and this is the first chance I’ve had.”

“It’s okay. I understand. I just...God, so much has happened and I just...I just missed you.”

Ashlyn smiles. “I miss you, too. I’ve been catching up with stuff online. Tell Alyssa good luck for me.”

“I will.”

“And I know you probably have to go. I just wanted to speak to you and let you know I am okay so you can concentrate on the game and not on me. Go out and show those Frenchies who the best right back in the world is.”

Ali grins. “I will. Will you be watching online?”

“For as long as I can, baby. I’m kind of exhausted. If I miss anything I will try to catch the highlights or maybe someone will post the whole thing. Either way, I will call you tomorrow to tell you how sexy you looked.”

Ali smiles. “Sounds perfect. Stay safe, baby. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too, beautiful. Talk to you soon.”

“Right. Bye, baby.”

“Bye.”

Ali sighs as the call disconnects. She stares at her wife’s picture on the lock screen until the camera goes dark. She stands and places the phone in her locker, still lost in her own world. Then she turns and sees 22 sets of eyes on her. She blushes.

“Uh, she’s fine,” she tells them. “Just been...busy. Uh, why are you guys staring at me?”

Tobin walks up and pinches Ali’s cheeks. “You are just so cute when you’re all lovey-dovey!”

The team laughs as Ali bursts out in laughter and starts to chase Tobin around the locker room. Christie and Abby exchange a look and nod. Yep, their right back had her head back in the game after a couple days of minor distraction when Ashlyn hadn’t called.

“Alright, ladies, save it for the field. Let’s bring it in,” Abby calls out.

Ali wraps an arm around Tobin’s waist and they join their team for a pep talk and cheer before heading out of the locker room to get ready to take the field.


 

“Yeah, it was a good game. Glad you all won,” Ashlyn says with a voice devoid of emotion as she talks to her wife after the England match.

“Gee, thanks. Glad you’re so pumped for us,” Ali snarks back.

For some reason, the last two times they had talked, Ashlyn had seemed to have her mind anywhere but on their conversation. Even her emails had been dull and lifeless. No little quirky comments, no emojis. Basically they were diary entries giving Ali a play-by-play of boring life in Iraq. And the brunette knew that there was more happening there than was making it into the emails. She sighs heavily when Ashlyn doesn’t reply.

“Why won’t you talk to me, Ash? What’s happened to us?” Ali asks, her voice laced with worry.

“I...I’m talking,” Ash protests.

“You’re saying words but you’re not ‘talking’ and you know it,” Ali corrects. “Something happened before the France game. Why won’t you tell me what it was? Obviously you’re okay so it’s not that you’re hurt. So what was it?”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Ash states, rolling onto her side to stare at the wall of her hut.

“Oh fuck that, Ashlyn! I understand you are hurting. And I’m trying to figure out if you’re protecting yourself or me with what is bothering you. If it’s me, get over it. I can handle it. What I can’t handle is you blocking me out!” she insists with anger.

There is a long pause. So long, in fact, that Ali checks her screen to make sure the call hadn’t disconnected. She finally shakes her head in disgust.

“Fine. I thought we were in this life together. Guess not.”

“Damn it, Alex, don’t play that fucking card. Did it ever occur to you that I’m trying to forget something and don’t want to discuss it with you? It just dredges up the memories of my biggest fuck up to date!” Ashlyn says angrily, fighting to keep her tears at bay. “I. Fucked. Up. There, is that enough for you? Or do I have to tell you this fuck up could cost lives? Is that what you need to know? Is it? Well, now you do. Hope it makes you feel better because all it makes ME feel is like a God damn murderer. I just want to fucking die. I could eat my fucking gun for dinner!”

Before Ali can even respond, Ashlyn hangs up. Ali stares at her phone in horror a moment before quickly redialing. She is immediately sent to voicemail.

“Fuck, Ashlyn, I am so sorry. Please call me back. I want to help even if that means talking about something else. Please call me. Please, baby,” she begs as a tear escapes her eye.

She hangs up and stares at her phone for 5 minutes but it doesn’t ring. She leaps up and races out of her hotel room and up the stairs to the next floor. She bangs on a door until it flies open.

“What the fuck, Krieger?” Abby says with a scowl.

Ali pushes past her. “WHIT? Whit, I need help!”

She comes to a halt and looks around the room in a near panic. Abby grabs her by the arms.

“Hey, calm down. She’s over in Kelley’s watching a movie. What’s going- -HEY!”

Ali jerks away from Abby and runs down the hall to the room Kelley and Christen are sharing. She starts to pound on that door. It flies open and a shocked Kelley stares at her.

“What the hell?”

Ali ignores her and the other 8 players in the room and runs right to Whitney. She grabs the other defender’s phone and shoves it in her hand.

“Call Ashlyn. Please, please call her. I fucked up and she’s upset and she thinks she fucked up and won’t talk and I made it worse and now she won’t answer and she is depressed and said she wants to die ...and...and...” Ali’s knees start to give out.

Christie Rampone grabs Ali from behind as the right back starts to hyperventilate. “Easy, Kriegs. Come on now: deep breaths, okay? Deep breaths. Easy now.”

Whitney sees how distraught Ali is and moves into the bathroom for some privacy before hitting her best friend’s phone number.

“Come on...come on...come on...” she mumbles, praying Ash will answer.

“Hi,” Ashlyn says dully.

“Oh, thank God. Honey, Ali is a mess. What’s wrong with you that’s got her so scared?”

“Are you fucking calling to make her feel better?” Ash asks venomously.

“No. I’m calling because if she’s that scared I’m fucking terrified. I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine.”

“And I’m planning to give up soccer for professional surfing,” Whitney says.

Ashlyn sighs. “Not the best career choice for you,” she finally says.

“No. But I’ll always have a great tan,” Whit notes.

Ashlyn actually grins. “Yeah instead of the soccer tan.”

“Exactly. So there would be benefits to going that route. Maybe I’ll look into it,” Whitney says, as if actually considering it.

Ashlyn chuckles...then starts to cry. “I fucked up, Whit. I fucked up bad.”

“What happened, honey? You can tell me and I will not judge you. You know that.”

Ashlyn bites her lip a moment, then tells her about abandoning the build site and leaving behind materials that can be used in bombs. By the time the infantry had arrived to help defend the town, the site had been gutted. Tools and hardware all gone.

“Whit, they use the nails and shit as shrapnel in bombs. Hundreds could be hurt or killed because I didn’t secure that shit before we left. The colonel ripped me a new asshole over it. My major and captain both lit into me. And I can see it in the eyes of the soldiers in my unit: they’ve lost respect for me. I could cause death of soldiers and civilians because I ordered the retreat without giving a damn about securing the building materials. They think...they think I fucking panicked. They think...I’m a coward,” she finishes, her voice hitching.

“Oh, Ashlyn...honey, you are not a coward. Your first thought was to save your people. There’s nothing wrong with that. I think...I think you feel bad about this and you’re reading into people’s faces what you want to see, not what they really think,” Whitney says.

Ashlyn barely hears her. “I can kiss my captain’s bars and my career goodbye. And I have to do the rest of my tour branded a coward and an idiot,” she sobs.

“Honey, you need to listen to me: I doubt you are the first person to make that mistake. You’ve gotten your reprimand. Have you talked to your captain since then?”

“No.”

“Have you talked to your team? Especially Andrews?”

“No.”

“You need to talk to them, Ash. Especially the ones with experience over there. I can’t imagine they are blaming you for saving their lives even if it meant losing that other stuff. Tell me this: were you the first one hightailing it out of there?”

“No. I was last in a Hummer because I had to make sure all my soldiers were taken care of,” Ashlyn says, not recognizing the significance of that statement.

“Then how the hell can you think yourself a coward?” Whitney asks pointedly.

Ashlyn frowns, trying to find an argument for that statement and can’t. “I guess...I don’t know...maybe I can’t.”

“Damn right you can’t. Ashlyn Michelle Harris: you have never been and will never be a coward. I’ll kick anyone’s ass that says differently, including yours,” Whitney states.

Ashlyn slowly smiles, the fog of guilt starting to lift for the first time in nearly 2 weeks. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Whit assures her.

Ashlyn wipes the tears on her cheeks. “I...I fucked up with Alex, Whit.”

“I know. She’s in the other room.” She pauses. “Ash, you made it sound like you were going to commit suicide. She panicked.”

“Fuck. I don’t even remember what I said. I just know I was angry and I lashed out at her. She deserves so much better than me,” she laments.

“Don’t even go down that road with your apology. We’ll both kick your ass. I’m going to get Ali now, okay?”

“Yeah, okay. And Whit? Thank you. I love you.”

“Love you too, hardhead.”

Ashlyn smiles as she hears a door open. Everyone in the hotel room looks at Whitney expectantly. She holds her phone out towards Ali.

“It’s for you, Kriegs.”

Ali races over and grabs the phone. “Ashlyn?”

“I’m an asshole. I love you and you are the best thing in my life. But I’m an asshole. I don’t really remember everything I said but I am so sorry I scared you, Alex. Bad shit went down and I’ve been stewing on it and I guess I just finally exploded and I am so, so sorry that it was you that had to deal with that. Please tell me I haven’t finally fucked up so bad you’re going to leave me?” she finishes fearfully.

“Never, baby,” Ali responds. “But you have to talk to me. What the fuck happened?”

Ashlyn takes a deep breath. “Got a few minutes?”

“I’ve got forever for you, Ash. Forever.”

Ali goes into the bathroom and shuts the door as Ashlyn starts to tell her what sent her to such a dark place. In the main room, everyone looks at Whitney. She sighs and relates what went down, knowing Ash and Ali both will need the support of their friends to get over this little bump in the road. When she finishes, Kelley just shakes her head.

“Poor Ash. It’s gotta suck so bad to have no one close to vent to.”

“Yeah,” Christen agrees. “And poor Ali to be so far away and feel so helpless.”

The group all looks around. Pinoe finally smiles.

“Okay, here’s what we do: another care package for Ash. Let’s get her shit that helps us all deal with stress: colouring books, toys, shit like that.” Everyone nods. “And let’s do one for Kriegs. Stress balls, make-up, maybe one of those ref dolls you can rip the arms off and stuff; just ways to help her vent when she needs it and we’re not around.”

The team quickly agrees and starts coming up with more items for both packages. The plan is to try to have Ali’s ready before they leave England the next day and to work on Ashlyn’s for a few days and send it all to Pinoe for her to send out at one time. They all quiet and look up as Ali walks out of the bathroom. She hands Whit her phone back and looks at the others sheepishly.

“I am so, so sorry I interrupted your movie night.”

“Don’t even go there,” JJ says. “We’re here for you, Kriegs.”

Ali wipes her cheeks. “I know you all are. And I honestly don’t know what I’d do without you guys.”

“Not even worth contemplating,” Boxxy tells her. “Even when we get back and split up across the country, we’re all just a call away when you need us.”

“Damn right,” Kelley agrees.

“Now, get over here and watch the rest of this movie with us. It’s cute and pointless and doesn’t take much thought,” Whitney says, opening her arms to her friend.

Everyone nods and Ali just sighs and goes to cuddle up between Whit and Pinoe as Kelley turns the sound back up on the movie. Ali can’t stop the tears but this time they are of love and thankfulness for the women in this room.


 

Ashlyn pulls on her ACU’s and heads out of her hut. She had done her best to avoid her people for the last 2 weeks and after the talk with Whit (and scaring the shit out of Ali) she realizes for her own peace of mind she needs to reach out to those around her. She finds Andrews at the outdoor work out area. She waits until he finishes his reps with the barbells before gesturing him to come over.

“Hey, LT, how’ve you been?” he asks with a smile.

She stares at him a second. “Not pissed I’ve been avoiding you?”

“Maybe. Was giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

She grins. “Shouldn’t have. I was avoiding you.”

“You bitch,” he teases.

She chuckles. Her smile falls away. “So, uh, I got my ass handed to me for leaving the tools and shit behind. Especially stuff easily used in bombs.”

Andrews sits down on a nearby bench. “Fuck. I had no idea, Harris. They never asked me about what happened.”

Ashlyn shrugs. “How many times did they say tell us not to leave it behind and why?”

“Still. We were under heavy fire and about to be overrun by 3 to 1. You got all our asses out of there. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Apparently not,” she answers.

The two sit there in silence for a few minutes before Andrews suddenly stands. “I’ll go talk to them,” he offers.

She shakes her head. “Nah, I don’t need that.” She thinks a second. “The colonel kept on about...about people dying and shit because of me. Is...do you think...is...”

“Oh, fuck that, LT,” he interrupts. “People die all the fucking time over here. The asshole insurgents didn’t need help from you to make a deadlier bomb. If people die it’s because insurgents wanted to make a fucking statement, not because you saved your fucking squad!”

“So...you don’t think I’m a coward for ordering the retreat before securing the hardware?”

He looks at her like she’s insane. “FUCK NO! My life means a fuck lot more to me than tools and shit. Not to mention, there’s a chance the insurgents won’t get a chance to use that shit. You saved lives, LT. That’s a fact. Everything else is a ‘potential threat’ and there is no damn way you can beat yourself up over something that may not ever happen.”

Ashlyn lets out a breath of relief and turns to her friend. “Thank you for saying that. And, more importantly, thank you for believing that. I have to admit...I’ve been...doubting myself since that dressing down.”

Andrews rolls his eyes. “Well of course you were, LT. How many other times has it happened?”

“Uh, well, uh, that time we saved that girl in the riot.”

“Exactly. It’s about time you proved you’re human,” he says with a grin.

She chuckles. “Uh, I guess I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“Menninger and Nettles were your fucking fan club. The shit we did for them wasn’t as fucked as this shit over here,” he points out. “Over here they aren’t just thinking about setting up supplies and getting out of here. They are thinking about way more shit than we do on the Fast Response Teams. Bigger picture means bigger chance for an ass chewing. Welcome to the world of shit rolling downhill.”

Ashlyn laughs, actually feeling the cloud of doubt in her heart starting to lift. “Hopefully I’m just passing through.”

“Maybe. Doubt it, but maybe,” he says with a grin.

The two sit in companionable silence for a few minutes while Ashlyn considers what he’s said. She finally stands and pats him on the shoulder.

“Thanks for the talk, Andrews. You’re a damn good man...no matter what others may say.”

He laughs. “I’ll remember that, LT.”

“Enjoy the day, Sergeant,” she says as she heads off to find another member of her team, one that had done a tour in Iraq already.


 

Dear Alex,

I can never say sorry enough for the shit that happened on the phone. You didn’t deserve my anger and you didn’t deserve the fear that I was going to, you know, kill myself or something. I promise you, sweetheart, my head is in a much better place now.

After I talked to you and Whit, I tracked down Andrews. He made sure to let me know he has respect for me as an officer and a leader. He thinks I did the right thing even though technically it was wrong. I saved lives in real time without stopping to think about things that may or may not happen. He thinks I did the right thing.

I then tracked down Staff Sergeant Newton. He told me I made the right decision for the situation and even said had any of the brass been there, they’d have done the same damn thing I did. He said their chewing me out was a way of covering their own asses but that they’d have also ripped me a new one if I had delayed the retreat to get the supplies and lost lives because of it. I guess it was pretty much a no win situation for me and all I can do as I move forward is act in what I believe to be the best interest of my squad and the civilians we are serving at that time.

And I can also remember not to take out shit on you. I can never apologize enough for what I did.

Also...I kinda lied to you. I was so upset about things I hadn’t watched the streams or highlights of the France and England matches. I now have watched them and, baby, you are freaking amazing! The team is looking good and Alyssa was great! No one could have stopped those French goals. They were just world class strikes. I hope to hell I can stream some Spirit games before you head to Canada. The MWR officer has told me they will be showing all the World Cup games in the canteen so cross your fingers I am not on builds when you all win the Cup and bring it back to the USA. Because, baby, I know you guys are going to do it. The drought ends this year!

Well, I need to send this because I have a meeting about the next 3 builds that are planned. There is one right here in Baghdad so cross your fingers I get that one. Then I can be in my nice, comfy cot each night instead of a sleeping bag. Ugh.

Have a good day, baby. I love you so much and I promise I am done being an asshole. Well...I am working on that one. :o) I will talk to you soon as I can. I miss you so much. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Love, hugs and kisses,
Ashlyn


 

Ali smiles as she finishes reading the email. “I love you, too,” she whispers.

She looks down in the seat beside her and sees the hastily but lovingly put together care package her teammates had given her. Pinoe had told her they were working on another one for Ash but Ali decides to keep that to herself.

She turns back to the computer and hits “Reply” on the email from her wife. She would tell her all about the package from the team and also fill the email with lots of funny stories about the team. It would be happy, hopeful, and light.

And, of course, full of love.