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For Love & Country

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Ali is smiling as she holds Ashlyn’s hand. The couple is walking through downtown Montreal with Ali’s Mom, Dad, stepdad and step-mother-to-be. Ashlyn is telling a hilarious story where one of her soldiers accidentally agreed to marry a sheepherder’s daughter.

“So by the time the translator gets through the celebrating crowd, the corporal has flowers around his neck and is dancing with his potential mother-in-law. The translator asked what the hell was going on. And the corporal looks at him, all innocence and ignorance, and says, ‘I guess they are really happy about us rebuilding their town well.’ The translator rolled his eyes and says, ‘You, dumb insert bad word here, that’s an engagement dance. Who the hell are you marrying?’ And the guys face just falls.” Ashlyn pauses, remembering the look on the kids face. “I thought he was going to run the two hours back to basecamp!”

Deb laughs and pats Ashlyn on the arm. “Oh, that poor boy!”

“Poor boy, nothing. What about his ditched fiancé?” Ken’s girlfriend, Vicki, asks.

Ashlyn grins. “Well, since he had insulted her and her family by backing out of the wedding, he had to pay a dowry for her.”

“Oh, dear, that couldn’t have been cheap,” Ken notes as Vicki pokes him playfully.

Ashlyn chuckles. “Nope, it wasn’t. The father demanded the corporal’s head or my watch.” She pauses and winks. “I let Mathers sweat it for 2 hours before I gave up my Ironman Dive Watch.”

“Oooo! Not cheap!” Deb’s husband notes.

“Not at all,” Ashlyn agrees. “Had to do all the official paperwork to dock him $5 a paycheck until he pays me back. And he had to pull the worst duties the next 3 call-outs we had.”

Ken laughs and shakes his head. “I know you all tell these guys to watch what they say and do. Bet it’s a lesson he’ll never forget.”

“No kidding!” Ashlyn states. “Only reason he didn’t lose a stripe is I put him in charge of explaining rules to the newcomers and ordered him to use his story to illustrate why you never make contact with the locals without the translator there to help.”

“And she let me have five minutes with him via Skype since I bought her that watch,” Ali says with a sly grin. “I only needed 3 to have him in tears,” she finishes proudly as the others laugh.

“Well, Ash, your job certainly does have its fair share of ups and downs,” Deb notes.

“Definitely. In fact, did I mention the town where- -”

“HELP! HE STOLE MY PURSE! POLICE!”

The group turns their attention towards the screaming woman. Ashlyn sees a young man racing towards the group and immediately puts Ali back in a protected position. As the guy gets close, Ashlyn throws her cane like a spear right between his knees. She grins as it trips him up and sends him sprawling into the pavement. Two guys who had seen and heard what happened leap on his back and pin him to the ground. Two police officers race up and start to cuff the kid as Deb picks up the woman’s purse.

“Here you go,” she says as she hands it to the woman.

The woman pulls Deb into a hug. “Thank you so much!”

“Actually, it was Ashlyn that stopped him,” Deb points out.

Ashlyn blushes and nods her head towards the men in AOKC shirts who had pinned the guy. “It was a team effort. Just glad we stopped him before he got away with your purse.”

The police pull the guy to his feet. His head hangs low. Ashlyn carefully limps over to him and forces him to look up. He’s maybe 16 at best.

“You did something really stupid today. Trust me when I say when I was your age I had nothing and did stupid things, too. You can either use what happened today to turn your life around or you can continue to do stupid things. The world is a whole lot better when you choose the right path,” she tells him.

The boy just shrugs as the police drag him towards a patrol car that had just arrived. Ali walks up and wraps her arm around Ashlyn’s waist, her chin resting on her wife’s shoulder as they watch the boy get questioned.

“That was sweet of you to say to him, baby. Just another reason I love you.”

Ash smiles and leans her head against Ali’s. “Someone once told me something similar. If they hadn’t...” she turns and kisses Ali’s temple. “...I wouldn’t have you. Maybe someday he’ll tell a kid the same thing, remembering when a stranger gave him some good advice.”

Ali smiles. “I hope so, baby. I hope so.”

As the two turn back to the defender’s parents, they see Ken holding Ashlyn’s cane. The soldier winces.

“Well, damn...”

The metal can is bent in three places. Ali shakes her head.

“Can’t give you anything nice. First a watch, now a cane. You just can’t keep your things, woman!”

Ashlyn takes the cane, which her wife had, indeed, bought for her. The black one issued by the army was fine for when she was in uniform but Ali had seen one with a splashy array of colours and knew her wife would love it. Ashlyn shakes her head as she looks at it.

“Sorry, honey. I really, really liked it, too.” She glances down at her leg. “Uh, I guess I need to get a cab back to the hotel. No way I can make the walk back without my cane.” She looks at everyone. “You all go on and keep having fun.”

“That doesn’t seem right,” Vicki says. “We can go back with you and then start out again.”

Ashlyn smiles. “Nah, I’ll go and when I get my cane I’ll find out where you are and catch up to you.”

“Are you sure?” Deb asks.

“I’m sure,” Ashlyn insists. She nods towards Ali, who is signing the AOKC shirts and getting pics with the guys. “Besides, let her enjoy the day out. It’s helping to clear her head and it makes her happy to make fans happy. I like when people remind her how wonderful she is because she doesn’t believe it most times. That’s what matters most to me.”

Deb gives her a kiss on the cheek. “Okay, we’ll go. But join us as soon as you can.”

“I will. Promise.” Ashlyn waits until Ali finishes then tells her the plan. “So you go and enjoy your parental units while I fetch my other cane.”

Ali bites her lip. “Are you really sure?”

“I’m really sure,” Ashlyn insists. “Go. That’s an order, Private,” she jokes.

Ali lifts an eyebrow. “Call me ‘Private’ again and you don’t have to worry about catching up to us. I am at least a general in your life, woman,” she teases back.

Ashlyn laughs and pulls her into a hug. “I love you.”

“I love you, too. See you soon.”

Ashlyn nods and steps into the cab Ken has hailed for her. Ali watches it pull away then sighs.

“She has no idea how wonderful she is sometimes,” she notes.

Ken smiles. “She said the same thing about you.”

Ali laughs and rolls her eyes. “Why am I not surprised?”

The group laughs and moves on, looking in little shops and talking, just enjoying time together between games.


 

Ali is looking at some shirt and bowtie sets when her mother walks up and stares down at them. “I like that one,” she says, pointing to a hot pink button down with a dark green bowtie.

Ali nods. “I do, too. I mean, I know she doesn’t get a lot of time to dress up in anything other than her blues and...and she’s...going back to Iraq soon.” She drops the shirt down. She sighs sadly. “She’s going back soon,” she repeats with quiet emotion.

Deb wraps her arm around Ali and leads her to a dressing room so they have some privacy. “We all wondered when that would hit you.”

Ali leans into her mother’s hug, tears rolling down her cheeks. “She wasn’t sitting in her seat, Mom. Major Dalton took her seat. He died and she got injured. But for that strange turn of fate...God, Mom, I almost lost her!”

“I know, baby. But you didn’t. Keep that in mind. Yes, she’s hurt but she’s alive.”

“But what about next time? What if she’s not so lucky?”

Deb holds her daughter a moment. “Baby, I know what you want me to say but I won’t say it. All we can do is pray she stays safe. I can’t promise she won’t get hurt again...or...or worse. I wish I could but I can’t.”

“Lie to me?” Ali pleads.

Deb eases her back and stares into her eyes. “No. Because...because if something does happen, you’ll need to lean on me. And I won’t make you feel like you can’t trust me or that I lied to make it easy for me. I won’t disrespect you that way.”

Ali leans her head on her mother’s shoulder again. “Why do you have to be right all the time?”

Deb smiles. “It’s a ‘mother thing’. When you have kids you’ll understand there are times to lie and times to be brutally honest.”

“Ugh. Remind me to rethink kids.”

Deb laughs. “Right. Something tells me post Olympics next year I’ll be asking Grandma Harris to teach me to knit baby booties.”

Ali grins, blushing. “Yeah, well...hopefully.”

“So, you okay now?”

“Yeah. Let’s go buy Ashlyn a shirt and tie set,” Ali says.

“Perfect plan,” Deb says.

Ali checks the mirror and touches up her make-up. As they open the door of the dressing room, they find Ashlyn standing there. The blonde frowns, recognizing her wife has been crying.

“Your Dad said you two walked this way. What’s wrong?”

“Oh, um, I, uh...was trying on these clothes but they looked terrible,” Ali says, grabbing items left by the previous user of that room.

Ashlyn looks at the clothes, then to her wife, then the clothes again. “Uh...probably because they are the wrong size? And, well, are hideous?” she suggests.

Ali and Deb take a look at the clothes. Deb starts to giggle as Ali blushes. The gaudy style was definitely not what the defender normally wears. Not to mention they were at least 5 sizes larger than she normally wears. Ali looks to her wife.

“I...was...thinking of changing my look.”

“Don’t. Trust me,” Ashlyn states, her eyes filled with horror at the idea of her wife in those clothes.

The trio heads out and finds everyone else. Ali grabs the shirt set and smiles at her wife.

“For our next date night. You can wear your black slacks and a black blazer with them.”

Ashlyn smiles. “Perfect, honey. I love them.”

As the group walks on, Deb walks with her daughter as Ashlyn walks with Ken. After a few moments, she has to ask.

“So, am I right about post-Olympics?”

Ali laughs and rolls her eyes. “Mom! Geez, are you kidding me? Kinda thinking about the World Cup right now.”

“Right. Right. I know. Sorry,” Deb apologizes. She pauses a moment. “But if you weren’t thinking about the World Cup or the Olympics would you be- -”

“MOM!” Ali blurts, laughing.

Deb laughs and pulls her close. “Okay, Okay, I’ll stop. For now. But I’m not getting any younger and would love to start spoiling grandkids sooner rather than later.” She holds up her hands to stop Ali’s rant. “Just making it known I’m there for support when you two start the process.”

Ali shakes her head, grinning. “Good to know. I promise: when it does happen, whenever it happens, I will keep you in the loop, okay?”

“Okay. At least I have time to learn to knit.”

The two giggle and follow the others into a coffee shop.


 

Two days later, Ali is lacing up her cleats. Her iPod is playing her pump up music and her mind is running down what she knows about their German opponents. Some she had played with. Many she had played against. And all were dynamic players who could create the perfect chance to upset the Americans. Once her cleats are tied, she sits up and her eyes immediately lock with JJ. The blonde smiles and mouths.

“We got this!”

Ali smiles. It had become a thing with the two of them since JJ’s first cap. Ali nods. “Damn right,” she mouths back.

And for the first half of the game, the backline had proven that they did, indeed have Germany’s number. They were fearless, quick and seemingly read their opponents mind. Shots were taken from distance, making life easier for Hope. And the few times the Germans did break through, the line quickly converged to stop the advance. The teams were evenly matched and it became apparent something big was going to have to happen in the second half to break the stalemate.

And in the 59th minute, the American fans held their collective breaths. Popp was breaking free so JJ did what she had to do and “accidentally” pulled down from behind. No one breathed easy until the yellow card was lifted. Everyone knew a red card could easily have been shown. (And maybe should have been.)

Ali hurries to get into position to block any possible rebound. Her heart is pounding and she’s taking note of where Mittag and Popp are positioned as Sassic steps up to the line. Hope plays every mind game she can think of to knock the reliable German off her game.

And it works.

The crowd goes wild when Sassic misses. Ali hurries over to JJ, adding encouragement to what Hope and Alex had already told the young defender.

And when Alex is taken down (maybe just outside the 18 but who’s counting), Carli Lloyd steps up and buries her penalty kick. The crowd goes wild again as the US celebrates going up 1-0 over their longtime rivals.

When it came time to ice the cake, Kelley O’Hara picked the 84th minute to score her first international goal off a Carli assist. The bench could barely contain themselves in their excitement for the defender turned middie.

The Germans knew at that point that, barring a miracle, it was over. And when the final whistle blows KO drops to her knees and is swamped by her most of her teammates. Others race to Hope, knowing her pk-delaying antics had been the key to keeping the Germans off the board. It is a win to remember for sure!

And even better...THE US WAS GOING TO THE FINAL!

Ali was going to get the chance to erase the tears of heartbreak that watered the BC Place turf during 2012 Olympic Qualifiers and replace them with the tears of jubilation. When the team comes together in the middle of the field, Abby makes eye contact with each player.

“One. More. Game. Tonight was fucking awesome and let’s enjoy it. Then tomorrow back to work. One. More. Game. One. More. Win. The job is almost done, ladies, but it’s not fucking done yet. LET’S DO IT!”

The team cheers and breaks up to walk the stadium to thank their fans. Ali stops to talk to Nadine and check on Popp, who had an ugly collision with Morgan Brian in the first half. But mostly she enjoys time with her teammates. When she gets to the family section, she waves to her parents, bummed to see Ash is already gone.

“Where’s Ashlyn?” HAO asks.

Ali rolls her eyes. “There’s some sort of VIP reception after the game she has to go to. She even had to wear her dress uniform to the game.”

“Ugh. Not fun to cheer in.”

“No kidding. She doesn’t plan to stay long so maybe she’ll be back at the hotel by the time we finish pressers and everything.”

HAO grins. “Let me guess: You’re doing the German ones, right?”

Ali chuckles. “Yep. Something tells me I won’t be feeling the love from the German press tonight.”

“No kidding. Expect a lot of questions about why JJ didn’t get a red.”

“Ugh. Definitely.”

The two continue to chat as they wave. Ali breaks away and heads into the locker room with the others who will be doing the press appearances. In her mind she’s already formulating the reason for the yellow instead of red and trying to remember all the German words to say what needs to be said.

“Ready for the German press gauntlet, Kriegs?” Carli asks with a grin.

“Sure.”

“Good. Make sure you defend me when they say I got lucky with that pk.”

Ali laughs. “I’ll tell them you’re doing okay and are showing potential.”

“Perfect,” Carli says with a grin.

The grab their things and head for the shower. It was going to be a long press conference for both of them.


 

Ashlyn had been hoping to be in the stands for the final whistle. She hoped to wave as the team passed, giving a special shout out to her surfing buddy KO for the amazing goal. But with a minute plus stoppage time to go, an official had appeared at her elbow.

“Lieutenant Harris? I’m here to escort you to the bus going to the mayor’s reception,” he says.

Ashlyn had groaned, hugged her in-laws goodbye, and followed the man up the stairs and to a security-only elevator that took her straight to the loading zone.

And now she finds herself at yet another reception when she would rather be back at the team hotel rehashing the game with all the families and friends in attendance while they await their players. Since she is finally off her heavy meds, Ashlyn is treating herself to a rum and Coke. But only one since she hasn’t had a drink before leaving for Iraq. Last thing she wants to do is accidentally cause a scene because her tolerance is shot.

“Lieutenant Harris?”

Ashlyn had been watching a TV showing the postgame interviews when a woman’s voice startles her. She turns and sees a curvy, gorgeous redhead smiling at her. The woman’s cocktail dress is cut low in the front and hugs her so tightly it leaves little to the imagination.

Ali would look bangin’ in that dress,” Ashlyn says to herself. She places her drink on the tall table beside her as the woman extends her hand. “Yes?”

“I am Monique LeRoux, no relation to your team’s LeRoux,” she adds with a grin.

Ashlyn smiles. “Good to meet you.”

“I am the press secretary for the mayor but that isn’t why I came over. My brother is serving in Afghanistan with our forces. I just wanted to thank you for your service and your sacrifice for the greater good.”

Ashlyn straightens proudly. “It’s my honour to serve. But thank you for the support. How long has your brother been over there?”

Monique rolls her eyes. “Would forever seem the right amount of time?”

Ashlyn chuckles. “It can definitely feel that way sometimes.”

“Good to know. He left in January for his third tour as a helicopter pilot.”

“Ah, good men those pilots. Saved us on more than one occasion in Iraq and I’m sure it’s the same in Afghanistan. Nothing more lifting when you’re on the ground in a bad situation and you hear those ships appear above you,” Ashlyn says sincerely.

Monique smiles and places a hand on Ashlyn’s arm. “Thank you for saying that. I read up on how you were injured. I’m glad you’re mostly okay and able to be here to cheer on the US Squad.”

Ashlyn shrugs. “I swing from being glad to be here to feeling guilty for being here at events like these while my men are back there. It’s been...tough some days.”

Monique runs her hand up and down Ashlyn’s arm. “I’m sure it is. But I bet they are happy for you.”

Ashlyn nods. “They are. And I send care packages from every city for them. They probably like that the best,” she says with a laugh.

Monique leans forward as she laughs. “I bet! Well, I need to continue to make the rounds. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you.”

“I appreciate it. Uh, out of curiosity, where would I find the restroom?”

Monique offers her arm. “How about I show you? It’s a bit confusing.”

“Perfect. Thank you.”

Ashlyn hooks her arm into Monique’s and the two head out of the room, still speaking about care packages and doing things that the troops appreciate. When they get to the restroom, which is several zig-zags from the reception room, Monique looks at Ashlyn.

“Think you’ll find your way back?”

Ashlyn nods. “I got it from here. Thank you.”

“Have a good evening, Lieutenant Harris. And tell Ali congratulations on the win.”

“I will. Thank you, Ms. LeRoux.”

Monique heads back to the reception while Ash goes in to use the facilities. When the soldier returns to the reception 10 minutes later, she gets a Coke from one of the bars and wonders how soon is too soon to leave. She is about to wander over to one of the small tables to sit down when a conversation catches her ear.

“Let’s face it, the US obviously had that ref in their pocket! No red for Johnston? A penalty for that outside the box hit on Morgan? Deep pockets buy the right calls.”

Ashlyn frowns. She decides to keep her mouth shut even though she wants to give the jerk a piece of her mind. Then he says something to stop her in her tracks.

“And what about Krieger? Best right back in the world my ass! All her training came from Germany and she STILL doesn’t have the talent to make our squad. She’s mediocre at best.”

Ashlyn slowly pivots and lasers onto the blowhard. She takes precise, measured steps towards him.

“I have the utmost respect for the German team, players and coaches alike, but they lost tonight because they weren’t as good as the US team,” Ashlyn states harshly. “If you had any sort of respect for your team, you’d stop making excuses for them and simply praise them for doing the best they could. Well, except for that botched pk. That was pretty crappy,” she finishes.

The man’s face turns red. “Your keeper should have been carded for the crap she pulled!”

“It’s called gamesmanship. Maybe Nadine, who I know personally, ought to consider it sometime. Not that she’d have shaken Carli. She never falls for that kind of crap,” Ashlyn adds.

The man steps into Ashlyn’s space. “You saying your keeper is better than ours?”

“I’m saying that the two best keepers in the world faced off tonight. Final score shows who the better one is,” Ashlyn points out.

“Look, soldier, I don’t know why you think you know anything about soccer. You’re just here as a feel good measure so US Soccer can show they support the troops. So why don’t you go on and play with your Barbie’s while those who know soccer discuss it,” he snidely remarks.

Ashlyn’s eyes narrow. “Listen you, pompous fool, I used to be part of the US National Team Pool, I played against Nadine and other members of your team, I lead my team to the WPS championship by stopping the final kick in the championship shoot-out, and my WIFE is Ali Krieger-Harris! So if you really think you have a CLUE about US Soccer, or soccer at all, I guaran-damn-tee you I know more than you ever could!”

“Ladies, gentlemen! Is there a problem here?” Monique asks, appearing suddenly at Ashlyn’s side and putting her arm around the soldier.

Ashlyn grits her teeth, suddenly remembering where she is and what she represents. “No problem. Just giving a soccer lesson to the gentleman here.”

“Lesson. Bah!” The man snorts. “Just standing up for her subpar wife.”

Monique’s arm tightens when she feels Ashlyn bow up. The press secretary glares at the man. “Mr. Stanislaus, I believe it might be best if you leave. You’ve had a bit too much to drink and you’re becoming an embarrassment to your delegation.” She locks eyes with a man beside the blowhard. That man nods quickly.

“Mr. Stanislaus, let’s head to the car, shall we?” the short, wiry man suggests.

Stanislaus knocks back the drink in his hand. “Fine. Company here has gotten a bit...boorish.”

He slams his cup on the table and starts to march to the door, his pace a bit wobbly. Monique is glad to see his contingent follow him. She turns to Ashlyn.

“Are you okay?”

Ashlyn takes a deep breath. “Fine. Yes. Thanks for the save.”

Monique smiles. “No problem. My job is diffusing tense situations.”

“Then I’d have to say you do so very well,” Ashlyn says with a grin.

“Thanks. He has been here the whole game partaking of the open bar. The more he drank, the louder he got. I’m just glad you weren’t here when he saw the penalties. It was...ugly to say the least.”

“I can imagine. Well, I don’t want to monopolize your time. Thank you again for stopping me before I embarrassed myself and my country.”

“My pleasure. See you later, Lieutenant Harris.”

Ashlyn nods as the woman walks away. She takes a couple deep breaths. No one, and she means NO ONE, will dog Ali or the team when Ashlyn is around. Still, she knows she should have held her temper better. She makes her way over to the bar and orders another Coke. It is going to be a long evening.


 

Ali had weathered the German press junket. She had sung the praises of her team, especially Hope, Carli and KO. She had acknowledged the strength of the backline and admitted relief that JJ had only gotten a yellow. The press might have still been questioning her but Heif had thankfully intervened and said she had to go.

As Ali walks into the conference room at the hotel, her eyes immediately find her family, minus her wife. She smiles as she walks over to them. Her Dad greets her first.

“Great game, Honey!”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“You were just great out there, baby!” Deb adds, getting her hug in.

“Aw, you’re just saying that because it’s true,” she jokes, making the others chuckle. “So Ash isn’t back yet?”

“Nope. Still out repping the country at one of those receptions she LOVES so much,” Vicki jokes.

Ali rolls her eyes. “Loves. Right. So, I need food. I’ll be back in a second.”

Ali goes to the buffet line to grab a post-game light meal and some PowerAde. As she is finishes filling her plate, she sees a TV in the corner showing scenes from the mayor’s reception. She walks over to see if she can see her wife. She never does but there is also a website in the corner promising photos and videos of the event. She smiles, figuring she’ll look them up later to see her wife looking hot in uniform.

Ali has just finished her meal and is contemplating a dessert when hands cover her eyes.

“Guess who?” a deep voice says.

Ali starts to giggle. “You can disguise your voice all you want but I know those hands anywhere, baby.”

Those at the table laugh as Ali stands and turns to give her wife a hug. Ashlyn pulls her close.

“You were awesome, baby. I am so proud of you,” Ashlyn tells her, kissing her cheek.

“Thanks. Did you have fun at the reception?”

Ashlyn’s eyes flicker as she thinks about the blowhard. “Oh, you know, same old same old,” she says.

Ali can see there is more to the story but her wife obviously wants to drop it. The brunette figures she can find out more later.

“Do you want anything from the buffet?” Ali asks.

Ashlyn sits down and pulls Ali down into her lap. “Nope. Just you.”

Ali giggles as those around the table laugh and roll their eyes.

“You’re insane,” Ali states.

“Maybe. But it’s your fault. I lost my mind the day I first laid eyes on you.”

“Ooooo, that’s smoooooth!” Deb’s husband jokes.

Ashlyn just grins as Ali gives her a peck on the cheek. Ali glances up as Jill walks over.

“Kriegs? A quick word?”

Ali nods and follows her coach, concern on her face. That concern quickly turns to excitement. As Jill walks away, Ali turns lusty eyes on her wife.

“Well, I think our girls are about to leave us,” Deb notes, making Ashlyn blush.

Ali practically bounces back over to the table. “So, Coach is giving teams the night with their families.”

Ashlyn lifts a brow. “Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah,” Ali says, her eyes dark with desire.

“Well, don’t mind us. I’m sure you two have lots to talk about,” Ken jokes.

Ali pulls Ashlyn up. “Definitely. Love you guys. See you tomorrow,” the brunette says though her eyes never leave her wife.

Ashlyn doesn’t speak, just gives a wave as the two hurry out of the room, giggling as they notice other couples making quick exits, too. They stop briefly at Ali’s room so she can get a change of clothes for the next morning. Sydney is in there pouting.

“You two suck. Dom won’t be here until tomorrow.”

“Then be glad Ash has her own room,” Ali states with an unapologetic grin.

“Oh, and, Syd?” Ashlyn says.

“Yeah?”

“Phone sex is fun, too. Trust me,” she says, wiggling her eyebrows.

Sydney busts out laughing as Ali pulls her wife out of the room. As soon as they get in Ashlyn’s room, the blonde pushes the brunette up against the wall and is kissing her deeply. Both women moan as their hands start to roam. When the kiss ends they are breathless.

“I...I gotta...uniform needs...we...fuck I can’t talk,” Ashlyn mutters.

Ali giggles. “I get it.”

Ali grabs the hangers for Ashlyn’s dress uniform as the lieutenant starts to undress. Ali carefully hangs up each piece, noting she’ll need to iron her wife’s pants when they get to Vancouver so they will be crisp. When Ashlyn hands over her white dress shirt, Ali starts to hang up then pauses. She frowns and looks closer at a stain on the collar. She turns to look at her wife.

“Is this LIPSTICK?”

Ashlyn looks over and blushes. As she had finally left the reception, she had run into Monique. The press secretary had given her a friendly hug and wished for her to have a safe rest of tour when she returned to Iraq.

“Uh, it’s probably Monique LeRoux’s.”

“Who the HELL is Monique LeRoux?” Ali demands.

Ashlyn stares at her wife in shock. “Are you...jealous? Fuck, Alex, she is the mayor’s press secretary, her brother is in Afghanistan, and she kept me from decking a German official who was badmouthing you and the team. She gave me a hug and wished me well on my return to Iraq.”

“And that’s all she did? And you did nothing more?”

Ashlyn feels like she’s been slapped. “I’m going to go into the bathroom, wash my face, and brush my teeth. If you’re still here when I get out I’ll assume you’ve pulled your head out of your ass and regret asking those two questions.”

Ashlyn turns and limps into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. Ali stares at the door. Was she overreacting? But then why had Ashlyn blushed? And what about that earlier look when asked about the reception? Why get so defensive? Or was she just offended? No, no she was definitely defensive, Ali decides. She walks over and picks up her wife’s iPad, her mind on that website she had seen earlier.

By the time Ashlyn comes out of the bathroom, Ali is sitting on the bed in tears. Ashlyn feels sorry for her...at first. Then Ali stands and throws the iPad at Ash, who drops her cane to catch it, then falls back into the wall as she loses her balance.

“What the FUCK?!”

“Just talking the war? BULLSHIT!”

Ashlyn braces against the wall and starts to look at the photos that Ali had downloaded. They show Ash and Monique talking. Ashlyn groans when she sees the hand on her arm in several shots. She hadn’t even thought about it at the time.

“Watch the video,” Ali orders, her mouth set in a hard line.

Ashlyn glances at her then scrolls to the video. It is the mayor being interviewed about the influx of tourism money due to the Women’s World Cup. Ashlyn shrugs.

“I don’t get it.”

“Watch BEHIND him,” Ali orders.

Ashlyn rolls her eyes and watches again. This time she sees what Ali has seen and she pales. She tosses the iPad on the bed and looks up.

“I know it looks bad but it’s NOT what you think! She was escorting me to the bathroom. You had to go out, then to the right, to a left and another right because the bathrooms right outside the room were out of order,” Ashlyn explains.

“And she had to hold your arm to do that?” Ali presses.

Ashlyn throws her hands in the air. “I don’t fucking BELIEVE you! Why the FUCK would I cheat on you? Not to mention, do you think I’m that big a fucking idiot that if I DID cheat on you I’d do it in front of fucking photographers? There were like 4 or 5 at that reception! What have I done to deserve this mistrust?” Ashlyn pauses. “Or did you cheat on me and this is YOUR guilt showing through?”

Ali stomps over to her. “How DARE you try to turn this back on me! I’m not the one out flirting with some hot redhead!”

“We WEREN’T flirting! We were TALKING! Fuck, Alex, when did you become such a possessive shit that I can’t TALK to anyone?!”

“Talk to whoever you want!” Ali says storming towards the door.

“If you walk out like this, don’t even THINK about walking back in!” Ashlyn warns.

Ali spins around. “Oh, you giving me ultimatums now? Bad idea! Go ahead and call your hookup. I won’t be back!”

Ali blows out of the room, wishing she could slam the door. Ashlyn slams her fists into the wall and screams in frustration. She limps to the bed and removes her brace. She carefully takes off her uniform pants and lays them aside. After pulling on sleep shorts she puts the brace on again. She reaches for the iPad and studies each picture Ali had seen. Yes, out of context they could look bad. And the video could look suspicious.

“But what did I do to make her hate me this much?” Ashlyn asks as her tears finally start to fall.


 

After leaving her wife, Ali has no desire to see anyone on the team. She skips going back to her room, instead going down a back stairwell and heading for the hotel bar, hoping no one from the US Contingent is in there. She finds a secluded table for two and orders a tonic water with lime.

With tears in her eyes, she pulls out her phone and decides to Google the press secretary. The woman is gorgeous! Curved in all the right places, well-educated, well-spoken from the video clips Ali watches, and also recently engaged to a local businessman.

“So what?” Ali mutters. “Doesn’t mean she’s not bi and likes to have a tryst or two on the side,” she justifies.

She starts to read through some other articles until she finds one showing her with her arm around a man in a Canadian Army uniform. She reads about how proud Monique is of her brother going off for his third tour in Iraq. It mentions her work with a local Veteran’s group, making sure they get the help they need if they have been wounded in action. It even shows her with several of the men she has helped to get adaptations done to their houses to accommodate their injuries.

“She’s a fucking saint,” Ali mutters. “No wonder Ash fell for her.”

“Ash fell for who?”

Ali looks up to see Abby and Sarah standing beside her. The defender blushes and looks down. She hands her phone to Sarah.

“For her,” Ali states.

Abby sits down across from Ali. “Al, what are you talking about? Ash wouldn’t cheat on you.”

“She had lipstick on her collar, she blushed when I mentioned it, and I found pics and videos that show her and that woman all over each other,” Ali explains.

Sarah, who had found the link to the reception, glances at her own wife. “Uh, Abs?” Abby looks up and Sarah hands her the phone.

“So you see it, too?” Ali confirms.

Sarah sighs. “I see...things you could use to draw that conclusion. But, Ali, I just don’t peg Ash as the cheating type. She’s never done that to a girl.”

“Always a first time,” Ali mumbles.

Abby looks up from the phone. “Why would she cheat on you like this, Kriegs? Think about it! Has she ever done anything to make you think she’d cheat on you?”

“No,” Ali notes.

“And has she been anything other than happy and supportive since being here?” Abby asks.

“Uh, no.”

“And in your relationship, has she ever even looked twice at another woman? Ever?”

Ali rolls her eyes. “No. But she used to- -”

“DON’T even finish that statement,” Abby interrupts. “A lot of Ashlyn’s past was because she was a scared kid who thought she was nothing and was always looking for validation.”

“And to her credit, any woman she was with knew it was just a fling. She never lead them on mostly because she didn’t think she was worthy of being loved by anyone,” Sarah adds. “That’s why she was so scared when she fell for you. She knew she wanted more but she never in a million years thought she was worthy of someone like you. When she finally got the strength to make her move she swore to me, to Abs, to anyone who questioned her, that you were more than a fling and that she’d be yours as long as she’d have you. That hasn’t changed, Ali. She’s here, dealing with guilt about being safe while her men are in danger, because of how much she loves you.”

“Guilt?” Ali asks quietly.

Abby rolls her eyes. “Yes, guilt. Geezus, Ali, did you not even press her about her feelings? She’s alive because Dalton took her seat and that’s fucking weighing on her. And then for getting hurt instead of dying, she gets a trip to follow you around Canada while her unit stayed behind, their lives still in danger.” She taps the tablet. “Talking to someone who has a loved one over there may have been a little cathartic for her. But instead of you trusting her you spew accusations at her! I’d say the problem is you, not her! What the hell has gotten into you? Why do you suddenly not trust her?”

Ali swallows a couple of times. “Because...because I cheated on her,” she finally admits quietly.