Actions

Work Header

Bending the Rules

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

Kandahar Province: Afganistan


Staff Sergeant Harris took a deep breath as the red light in the back of the C-160 started to flash, indicating they were closing in on their target jump location.

Go time.

“Mount up!” she shouted firmly over the loud propeller engines. With a twirl of her index finger, she set her Delta Force mission team into motion. In perfect harmony, 5 highly trained Delta Force operatives prepared to jump. Final checks took place as weapons were secured and goggles pulled down into place. Corporal Jake Archer kneeled down and secured two clips to his harness. When he rose, Deacon, the unit’s 113 pound German Shepard was fastened to his chest.

Harris took three strong strides to the back of the plane and pushed the large red button to drop the ramp. The unit moved into a single file line to prepare for their jump and as the flashing red light turned to a solid green, 5 of the most lethal special forces operatives in the United States Military started their free fall through the Afghanistan night sky.


Carson, California

Ali Krieger’s face broke into an easy smile as she stepped onto the pitch at the US Soccer National Training Center. Countless camps later, the feeling was always the same. The immediate adrenaline rush that came with being surrounded by the best soccer players in the world.

She walked out onto the field with Kelley O’Hara on her left and Julie Johnston on her right. This was their year. Redemption. The chance to right the wrong that happened in 2011. The chance to become World Cup Champions.

Ali laid down on the plush grass and started moving through her warm up stretches. A flash of blonde hair streaked by out of the corner of her eye as Megan Rapinoe tumbled through a graceful somersault.

“KRIEGY!”

“Hey Pinoe” Ali smiled and leaned over to pull the mid-fielder into a hug.

“How’s my favorite German speaking right-back?”

“Feeling like a champ. Ready to get the hardware that matches how I feel.” Ali’s nose crinkled as her grin spread across her face.

On the other side of the pitch, Jill Ellis blew her whistle to indicate practice was ready to begin.

“That’s our queue!” Pinoe grinned and jumped up, Ali right on her heels.

With that, the 2015 campaign to become World Cup Champions officially began.


2 days later, the National Team was assembled in a conference room within the Westin hotel they would call home for the next two weeks.

Ali’s hair was pulled into a loose bun, still damp from the recent shower. Her navy Nike sweatpants hung low on her hips, paired with a red tank top and completed with a pair of flip flops.

She piled her plate high with food carefully selected by the team nutritionist and took her seat at a table surrounded by Tobin, Alex, Sydney, Megan, Kelley, Abby and Hope.

“So, what’s the deal Kriegs? Still seeing that investment banker?” Sydney asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Who? Lauren? Oh, god no. That’s been over for months. A girl can only hear about interest rates for so long.” The table laughed and Ali patted herself on the back for navigating her turn at the gossip mill so skillfully.

“Kelley? What about you? Wasn’t there a surfer?” Sydney continues her inquiries as she looks for a way to live vicariously through her single friends. When Kelley stumbles over her words and a blush creeps up her cheeks, Ali knows she’s officially out of the woods.

In the back corner of the conference room, a reporter comes onto the tv screen with a breaking news alert. “This just in: The White House is confirming the successful retrieval of 6 Americans that had been held hostage for the past 8 days. While details are still coming in, we’re being told the operation was executed by a special forces division of the Military. No casualties are being reported at this time. We’ll have more details with the 10:00 news.”


Over the Pacific Ocean

Ashlyn Harris ran a hand through her short brown hair. It was her second day of Ranger training when she had traded in her long blonde hair for the functional but dapper undercut hair style she now sported. Years later, the hair cut still served it’s purpose.

Being Special Forces afforded some luxuries over the infantry. The rules were closer to guidelines. For example, everyone in her squadron had at least one tattoo. She, however, treated her body like a canvas. Her one arm was covered with a full sleeve. The other sported badges that mirrored the achievements adorned to her uniform. Special Forces, Ranger, Combat Diver all tattooed down her right bicep as a reminder of how permanent those skills are.

With a heavy sigh, she pulls herself out of her seat and bends at the knees to rummage through her ruck sack. Her muscles are well on their way to voicing their displeasure with her, providing that familiar pull after a mission. After a little effort, she finds what she’s looking for and pulls two bottles of Johnnie Walker out. She makes the short journey to the cockpit of the plane.

“Hey there, boys. Do me a favor? Don’t open this until we’re wheels down, hoo-ah?” She sets the bottle down, wedging it securely in place to stop it from rolling around between the pilots.

“Hoo-ah, Staff Sergeant. Do us a favor? Open yours up now. You and that squad of yours are some of the baddest mother fuckers we’ve ever come across and the way we see it, if those college students y’all saved are enjoying a drink on their plane ride home, you oughta do the same.” The pilot gave her shoulder a soft punch before nodding his head back to the cargo area containing the rest of the Delta team.

“Roger that.” She turned on her heel and ambled back to the group. A lopsided grin spread across her face as she looked over her team:

Corporal Jake Archer. Jake is her right hand. They joke about having telepathy for how easily they communicate with just a look or subtle head nod. He’s 28 and looks every bit the part of a special forces operative. The short cropped hair, the facial hair that isn’t quite a beard but is more than a five o’clock shadow, the tattoos and the variety of scars. Everything about him screams lethal.

Operative Michael Palmer. Mikey is the squadron’s resident sniper and the smallest member of the team, including Ashlyn. At 5’8”, he brags that a guy twice his size still doesn’t stand a chance in a fight if they never get within 1,000 yards of each other. The perks of being a sniper.

Operative Sean Duggan is the team’s field medic. Sean comes from a long line of military men. He’s fifth generation Army and responsible for patching up the team in the field when he’s not busy inflicting injuries on the bad guys.

Operative Travis Brooks excels in all things explosive. The team’s demolition specialist makes sure there’s no wall that they can’t breach. He has that tall lanky frame that reminds you of a surfer but with the additional muscle required with a profession in Special Forces.

As Ashlyn’s eyes take in each member of her team, she’s grateful for each and every one of them. In typical fashion, Jake and her are in unspoken lockstep. He raises a subtle eyebrow in question. She gives an almost invisible nod. A split second later, he’s calling their operatives to attention.

While they snap to, Ash grabs a stack of plastic cups from her ruck and hands them out to her boys. Keeping one cup for herself, she holds the bottle of Johnnie Walker in her other hand and uncorks it with teeth.

“Hell of a job out there boys. 6 in, 6 out. Just like we planned.” While the government considers them a 5 man team, it’s an unspoken rule amongst them that Deacon is every bit a member of the team as those with opposable thumbs. She distributes a hefty amount of amber liquid into each cup.

“De Oppresso Liber” She confidently recites the Army Special Forces motto.

“De Oppresso Liber.” They all repeat back and cheers before taking a healthy draw from the glasses.

“At ease, boys” She takes a seat with her squad and settles in for the long plane ride home.

A few moments of silence goes by before it’s interrupted.

“Hey Sarge?” asks Michael Palmer, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“Yeah, Mikey?”

“Same bet as usual?” Now the grin has broken free and spreads across his entire face.

“Yeah, Mikey.” The other four soldiers are matching Palmer’s grin now.

Just like with any other mission completed: The next time they go to the bar, the last one to get a girl’s number will be buying drinks for the whole group that night.

Chapter Text

California

Ashlyn wakes up slowly, taking inventory of herself as she comes out of the fog. ‘Okay…you’re in a bed. Face down.’ She wiggles the fingers on her right hand, scratching Deacon’s ears from where he lays on the ground next to her bed. ‘There’s Deke…that’s good.’ She opens one eye, then the other, slowly to take into consideration how bad her hangover is and how bright the California sun is. She takes a look at the palm on her left hand and a sleepy grin spreads across her mouth. ‘Still haven’t gotten stuck with the bar tab…’

While she was quick to get the phone number last night from the flirty blonde, she knew she’d never actually call her. Truth be told, the bravado with the guys was exactly that: bravado. When it came to women and relationships, she was old school. Courting. Dates. First Kisses. Flowers. And with the nature of the job, the most she could offer was a one night stand. Instead, she settled for some harmless flirting at the bar before returning to the base alone.

With a groan, she flipped onto her back and grabbed her cell phone to send a text.

Harris: 2 mile run. 15 minutes.

Archer: Roger that, Sarge.

With that out of the way, she gets to her feet and Deacon follows suit. The pair of them walk the short distance to the kitchen in the small apartment they’re currently residing in on this base.

“Here you go, buddy” She sets the bowl down in front of the German Shepherd and he quickly goes to work, inhaling the food.

Quickly, she goes about stretching and chugging two bottles of water to prepare for the upcoming run. Then there’s a quick wardrobe change into shorts and a gray Army t-shirt before brushing her teeth. She throws on a tactical Under Armour baseball hat and heads towards the door with Deacon falling into an automatic heel on her left hip.

As she makes her way outside, she finds Jake, Mikey, Travis and Sean waiting for her. She’d expect no less. You don’t make it to this station if you have issues like tardiness.

‘At least I’m not the only one that looks hungover…’ She thinks to herself. Clearing her throat as she approaches manages to grab their attention. “Alright boys. Let’s knock out a run to get our legs moving. After that, the day is yours. I’m meeting with command at 1300. I’ll know more about our future after that, hoo-ah?”

“Hoo-ah, Sarge” comes back in a unified chant. The group turns and starts their jog.

After the run, the group goes their separate ways. Moments of solitude are hard to come by and they’ve all learned to appreciate them when they appear. Ashlyn goes through her normal routine of returning stateside. Always number 1: Call grandma. Once complete, a shower and a meal occupies her time until the meeting with command.

The meeting goes by quickly and she’s given the order for their team. As she walks back to the temporary apartment, Deacon faithfully on her hip as usual, she lets out a chuckle. “Oh, they’re gonna love this…” She mutters to herself.

Entering the bare temporary apartment, she reaches down to her tactical vest and pulls at the velcro to remove it. Two more clips removes the thigh holster from her right leg as she makes her way to the fridge. She grabs a beer and heads to the small living room, flipping on the tv and opening up a text message to her team.

Harris: “Short end of the stick. Finally got our turn at a PR detail. US Women’s National Soccer team. Game is in two days and brass wants us there in tactical load outs.”

Really, this was long overdue. Everyone took turns going to different events and waving to the crowds. For their unit, they’d managed to avoid it up until now but their number has finally gotten called. The orders came down for them to trade in their dress blues for their normal tactical load out, complete with kevlar vest and pistol in an effort to let the American people know just how tough their Armed Forces are.

It’s been 15 minutes since the text was sent when she hears a knock on her door.

“Yeah?” She calls out from her spot on the couch. Deacon tilts his head curiously from his spot at Ashlyn’s feet.

“Open up, Sarge! Red Sox game starts in 10 minutes!” Jake yells from the other side of the door. Ashlyn lets out a chuckle and gets to her feet.

“You better have more beer…” She warns as she opens the door. She’s met with a grinning Corporal who’s holding up a case of beer and a large pizza. “Asskisser…” She smirks but grabs the pizza and heads back towards the living room.

Jake follows her in, cracking open a beer as he flops down on the couch. “So what’s the deal with this detail?”

She lets out a long sigh before responding “Tried to get us out of it…Alpha and Charlie company are already in the sandbox so it’s us…”

“No, no….that’s not what I mean….Women’s national team? We’ve watched some of those games. Pretty, pretty women.” He grins. “I mean…if we hadn’t been over in Baghdad for 6 months, I’m pretty sure Alex Morgan and I would be married by now…”

The Staff Sergeant lets out a hearty laugh. “Yeah, Jake…Baghdad is why you’re not married to Alex Morgan…that’s it.”

As the laughter dies down, the best friends settle in to watch their beloved Red Sox.

 

Two days later, the team finds themselves piling into a blacked out Chevy Tahoe. Even though they’re going out for a public relations event, the nature of their job requires that they travel with the capability to deploy within 6 hours regardless of where they are.

The Tahoe is complete with tinted windows, bulletproof glass, and all of their standard issue equipment. Deacon jumps up into his kennel in the back of the Tahoe and the team piles in. Jake in the driver’s seat and Ashlyn riding shotgun. Travis, Mikey and Sean squeezing into the back seat. As Ashlyn slips on her Ray-Ban aviators, she settles in for the long drive down the coast.

A few hours later, Delta Force Bravo Company was pulling into the Stubhub Center in Carson, California. As they pulled up to the gate, Jake pulled his credentials out for the security guard. “Corporal Jake Archer, US Army. We’re here for the game.”

“Oh, yes sir. Up at the stadium, there’s a large bay door. You guys can just go right in there and park inside of the stadium. We got the heads up that you wouldn’t want to leave the truck out in the parking lot.” The security guard looks past Jake, to Ashlyn. “Oh…Uh…I..I didn’t mean guys, as in guys….I meant…I meant guys as in a group of people…” He rambled on and on.

Ashlyn was looking out the window at the security guard and in the corner of her eye, could see her guys starting to chuckle in the backseat.

Before it got a chance to escalate, Jake took action. “Don’t worry about it…” With that, he put the SUV back into motion and the entire truck broke into laughter at the terrified security guard once they were out of earshot.

The SUV pulled into the stadium and the team eased into well practiced movement. Ashlyn opened the tailgate and released Deacon from his kennel. “C’mon buddy.” She took Deacon back out the way they had entered for a walk through the parking lot. Reaching down into her left cargo pocket, she pulled out a tennis ball and spent the better part of the next half hour playing fetch with the K-9.

From her spot near the bay door, she could see the US Soccer representative speaking to her men. With a quick whistle, Deacon returns to her side and she starts her way back to her group. She can tell as she approaches, Travis is explaining to the team rep that Ashlyn is in charge amongst them.

A woman in her mid-thirties spins around and makes eye contact. “Ah! Yes, of course. Hello! I’m Elizabeth Gerhardt. If you need anything, just let me know.” She holds her hand out to shake Ashlyn’s.

“Staff Sergeant Ashlyn Harris.” She responds with a firm handshake.

“Great. Well, here’s your tickets and press passes for the day. We have you in excellent seats and we can’t thank you enough for coming out here. We’ll come let you know when we’re about 15 minutes away from announcing you.” Elizabeth offers a smile and turns to leave without another word.

Ashlyn looked down the long corridor and watched the Women’s National Team head out of their locker room and onto the field for a light warm up. A slight nod towards their men and they were all in motion to follow the players and watch the warm up. They had made it half way down the hall when a blur of rich brown hair came bursting out of the locker room.

Ali Krieger nearly ran into the group before coming to a halt and offering them a wide, nose crinkling grin. “Hey there!” She looked down at the dog and then back up at Ashlyn. “Can I?” She motioned towards Deacon with a hopeful look in her eyes.

Ashlyn felt her throat go dry as she looked into deep brown eyes for the first time. She swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, of course. His name’s Deacon.”

Ali’s smile went wider, if possible. She kneeled down and held her hand out for him to sniff. With a quick sniff and lick from Deacon, she had the green light to pet the giant shepherd. Both hands quickly went to the ears and neck, ruffling the fur on the dog. “You handsome boy.” She cooed.

“KRIEGER!” Abby Wambach shouted from the end of the corridor.

A final scratch behind Deacon’s ear and Ali straightened out her legs, looking straight at Ashlyn. “Gotta go!” And with that, she was gone as fast as she arrived, leaving a normally confident Staff Sergeant staring at the beautiful brunette’s retreating form.

Her men were on her in a split second. Mikey Palmer threw her over his shoulder. Jake reached over and ruffled her hair as they all started their heckling.

“Sarge has a crush!”

“Better pick up that jaw, Staff Sergeant, you’re drooling!”

“Good thing you shoot better than you talk to pretty women…”

Ashlyn wrestled herself off of Mikey’s shoulder and back onto her own two feet. “Alright, alright. Enough, you assholes. 20 pushups and then let’s go get ready for the game.” The soldiers quickly dropped down and completed their pushups as punishment for ribbing their leader. Once finished, they moved to the SUV and set into motion the preparation for the game. Tactical vests were pulled over their heads and each soldier went over their uniforms with meticulous detail. Elizabeth Gerhardt reappeared to give the 15 minute warning.

The stadium was now buzzing with energy. Fans filled the seats, excited to see their favorite soccer team. The crowd went into a full uproar as the United States Women’s National Team was announced. As the noise died down, the public announcer came over speaker once again.

“And now, ladies and gentleman, it is with great honor that I introduce our special guests of honor. Please welcome the United States Army 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta: Staff Sergeant Ashlyn Harris, Corporal Jake Archer, Operator Michael Palmer, Operator Sean Duggan, Operator Travis Brooks and Operator Deacon.”

“Attention!” Harris called out in a sharp tone and the squad snapped to. They marched out of onto the field in rows of 2. Harris and Deacon. Archer and Palmer. Duggan and Brooks. As they came into view, the entire stadium took to their feet in appreciation of the soldiers. The march continued all the way to the middle of the pitch and they formed a straight line. As the National Anthem started to play, they raised and held their salute.

After the anthem, the USWNT approached the players to thank them for their service. Going one by one through the line, to shake hands with the soldiers. Before long, Ashlyn saw the familiar face from earlier making her way over. With a smile, the staff sergeant offered her hand. As soon as they made contact, Ashlyn felt a spark of electricity run through her body. She leveraged all of her training and contained her shock to the tightening of her jaw and the slight squinting of her eyes but her Corporal picked up on the instant change.

Ali kept her hand in the officer’s as she spoke with a wide smile. “Thank you for your service….And, y’know…for bringing a really really cute, but I’m sure completely lethal, dog with you for me to pet.”

Ashlyn took a deep breath to steady herself before returning the smile. “Yes ma’am. Happy to serve. So is Deke.”

“It’s Ali.” She offers warmly, instantly intrigued by the handsome soldier in front of her.

“Right. It’s nice to meet you Ali. Ashlyn.”

Before they get a chance to say anything else, Carli Lloyd is nudging Ali along so they can start the match.

“Enjoy the game.” The right back offers as she bends down to pet Deacon again.

“I’m sure we will. Good luck!” The officer replies.

As the players head back to the sidelines, the soldiers break formation and start heading towards their seats in the front row. Jake leans in close, so only Ashlyn can hear “You got it bad, huh?” He watches for her response and the way her eyes close for a split second lets him know he hit the nail on the head.

“That obvious?” She asks with a glance over to him.

He offers a comforting smile back. “Just to me.”

That answer satisfies her concern and they settle into their seats for the game.

90 minutes of gameplay later, the team walks away with an easy win. After handshakes and stretches the team gets ready for autographs with the fans. Ali looks over to where the Delta team sits and throws a hand up in a wave. The Staff Sergeant offering a smile and a nod back in return before the brunette heads over to the fans at the other end of the field.

What happened next seemed to escalate in a heartbeat.

Ali was signing a 9 year old’s jersey when a group of men started to push their way closer to the team. It was obvious from a distance that the men had been over indulging in drinks. The frat guy in the Golden State Warriors hat seemed to be the leader and was looking straight at Ali. “Hey baby!” He yelled. Ali shot him an annoyed glance but went back to talking to the young girl in front of her.

From 200 feet away, the Staff Sergeant straightened her back as she monitored the situation, setting her jaw in annoyance.

Frat guy stumbled a little closer. “Listen..listen…here’s the thing…” He shot a confident smirk at his friends behind him. “You. Are. Hot.” He reaches out and grabs Ali’s arm, which she quickly snags away but that only pushes him further. “Oh, no no no honey. It’s a compliment…I’m hot too…you and me…damn.” Now, he was leaning against the railing that separated the stands from the field. “So, I’m thinking….I’m thinking we should get some drinks y’know? Cuz…damn.” His words were coming out with a slur and he reached out for her arm again and when she avoided his reach, he started to climb over the rail. His friends joined him.

The Staff Sergeant had seen enough. “Move!” As soon as the command left her lips, the entire unit was on the move. They vaulted the wall and took off in a sprint across the pitch. As the frat guy clumsily made his way down onto the pitch, a frenzy started to take place. Other fans took the opportunity to break the rules and climb down onto the field, mobbing the players.

The soldiers were closing in quickly. Ashlyn commanded Deacon to stay with her but not engage. With so many civilians around, it was too risky that he would go after the wrong person. As they approached, she took in every detail of the situation. The players were off to the side. She made eye contact with the team captain, Abby Wambach. “Do you have all your players?” She shouted as she continued to close in on the crowd with her men right alongside her.

“Everyone but Ali! She’s somewhere in the middle!” The team was trying to push fans aside but the chaos was too much to work through.

The Delta Force team moved with violent precision. Ashlyn reached the crowd first, dropping her shoulder and using it as leverage to move people around. With all five of them working as a combined unit, they made their way to the center of the mob quickly. As soon as it opened up, they could make sense of what happened. Some fans had tried to help Ali when Frat Guy jumped the wall. Now, fans and friends of Frat Guy were tied up in shoving matches while Frat Guy, himself, had his hand wrapped tightly around Ali’s wrist, still trying to convince her how great a date with him would be.

Ashlyn moved quickly. Her left hand closed in on the wrist of Frat Guy. She dug her thumb in on his pressure point and the hand around Ali’s wrist immediately went limp. As soon as she knew Ali was free from his grasp, her right hand came up and struck him in the throat. The single blow cut his air supply off and dropped him to the ground. “Deke” The dog moved to hover over Frat Guy, baring his teeth at the now terrified man.

As soon as Ashlyn struck the man, her attention turned to the stunning brunette, looking her directly in the eyes. “You’re okay.” It was a statement, not a question. “I need you to just take a knee, ok? My guys are going to clear the crowd.” She put an arm around her shoulder to steady her and pressed her right knee into the back of the defender’s left knee, slowly bending her to the ground. She crouched in front of the brunette, leaving her back to the defender as she surveyed the progress her team has made. The soldiers had formed a protective box around them and they now had 15 feet of space in every direction. Deacon had Frat Guy pinned to the ground.

“Get him in flex cuffs and lets move.” She ordered her crew before turning to the crowd that remained and spoke with a loud command that left no room for debate. “Ladies and Gentlemen. I want every one of you to get back over the wall you decided to jump and get out of this stadium. Immediately. If you have a problem with that, see Corporal Archer.” The crowd knew better than to test her as they scurried over to the wall to leave.

Ashlyn turned around and kneeled down in front of Ali, offering her a lopsided soft smile. “Hi.”

The smile and ridiculousness of saying ‘hi’ was enough to send a chuckle through the brunette as she started to calm down. “Hi.”

Maybe it was the adrenaline rush of what had just happened, but the sergeant’s usual confidence was back, even in the presence of the beautiful woman that had her off kilter all afternoon. She reached out and took the soft hand into hers, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Is this what it’s usually like with you? Mobs of crazy fans trying to get closer to you?” She raised an eyebrow in question.

The right back was humble enough to blush. “Uh…no…no, this is definitely new.” She looked around at the situation. The crowd had dispersed and the soldiers had Frat Guy detained in flex cuffs while bringing the security guards up to speed on what happened. To her left, Ali saw the rest of her team huddled together, unsure if they were allowed to approach the area yet. She gave them a reassuring smile to let them know she was ok.

The sergeant let out a laugh and nodded. “Well, good.” Her face turned a little more serious but still gentle, examining the soccer star’s face to make sure she was really okay. “What do you say we get up?” As she asked the question, she straightened up and grabbed Ali’s other hand. She took note of he spark that ran through her body again at the additional contact.

With a nod, Ali squeezed the hands she was holding and moved back onto her feet. She found herself face to face with the soldier, looking deep into hazel eyes. “Thank you” she whispered out.

Before anything else could happen, the moment was destroyed by a swarm of soccer players. Ashlyn Harris gave the defender a smile and nod before taking a step back to let her team check her over. She spun on her heel and went to her team for a debriefing. “Where are we?” She questioned her corporal.

“Security has Johnny Jackass in detainment, waiting on PD. Everyone else bugged out after you told them to beat it aaaaand you’re officially a hero to the hot brunette.” He tried to contain his grin at the last part of his sentence but it was a losing battle. Duggan joined in with a slap on her back.

“Smooth Sarge. Very smooth.”

She laughed and shook her head. “You guys are idiots.”

Jill Ellis gave her team 10 minutes to talk amongst themselves before it was back to business. “Ok ladies. As much as I’d love to give everyone a pass, we need to spend some time on recovery. Let’s get to our stretches.”

Without a debate, the players moved into their recovery program on half of the field. On the other half, the Delta team waited for the police department to show up so they could provide statements.

 

An hour later, recovery was complete and the statements were given to the police department. Palmer, Duggan and Brooks were off to the side of the field, talking about last night’s Chicago Blackhawks game. Archer and Harris were standing shoulder to shoulder as the sergeant threw the worn tennis ball across the pitch for Deacon.

Archer was the first to notice the right back defender break away from the pact of soccer players and head their way. He smirked and muttered “Don’t fuck it up” to his sergeant before turning to join Palmer, Duggan and Brooks.

Ashlyn turned and met the eyes of the brunette. ‘There’s that damn spark again…’ She thought to herself. She reached down, grabbed the tennis ball and launched it again before turning to face Ali. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Ali smiled and looked down at her feet, appreciating the familiar exchange and the excited flipping she felt in her stomach as a result of it. She took a deep breath and brought her gaze back up to the short haired brunette in front of her. “So, the team is going out tonight. We were wondering if you and your men would like to join us. You know, as a token of our appreciation.” The invitation came out in a mumble that the soldier found incredibly endearing.

“Oh.” She looked over her shoulder to where her squadron was huddled. They pretended to be in a conversation but she could tell they had been staring just a split second earlier. She turned back to the woman in front of her before motion at her feet caught her eye. When she looked down, she found Deacon staring at Ali, not her. “Looks like you made a friend. He’s wanting you to throw his ball.”

When Ali looked down, she found the German Shepherd’s tail wagging happily at her. “Hey buddy” She kneeled down, scratched behind his ears and threw the ball across the field before standing back up in front of Ashlyn.

“I’ll have to check with the guys but, yeah, I have a hunch they’ll be up for a bar night.” Ash ran a hand through her hair and adjusted her kevlar vest on her shoulders. “Where should we meet you guys?”

Ali’s face got brighter at the confirmation she’d get a chance to spend more time with the woman in front of her. She couldn’t explain it just yet but she felt a pull towards the soldier and she wanted a chance to explore it further. “We’re actually still figuring out where we’re going. I could give you my number and text you the info?”

Ashlyn grinned and nodded. “Sounds great.” She reached into a pouch on her vest and pulled her phone out, handing it to the brunette. Ali typed into the soldier’s phone before handing it back.

“I texted myself from your phone. So, I’ve got your number. I’ll text you as soon as we have it figured out.” She ruffled Deacon’s ears one last time and shot a wink at the staff sergeant before jogging back to the locker room. Just like that, she was gone.

Ashlyn took a deep breath before turning to her team. She captured their attention with a sharp whistle. “Let’s go.”

The group made their way back to the SUV in silence. Once inside and back on the road, Harris was counting down the seconds until the interrogation started. ‘3….2….1…’

“So? What’s the deal Sarge?” Duggan was the first brave soul to speak what was on everyone’s mind.

“What do you mean?” Ashlyn kept a blank face, taking the chance to mess with her team.

“What does he mean?! He means Good Will Hunting, Sarge! Are you Matt Damon or that douchey Harvard guy??” Palmer cries out.

Ashlyn can’t help the grin that breaks out across her face. “Do you like apples?”

Palmer barely contained himself as he played along. “Yeah, I like apples…”

“Yeah, well I got her number…how do you like them apples?” She replied in her best Boston accent and the entire car broke out in cheers. “Their team is heading out to a bar tonight. Even you clowns are invited…”

 

Chapter Text

It was an hour and a half after they left the stadium when Ashlyn felt her phone buzz. 1 new message: Ali Krieger. With a lopsided smile, she opened up her phone.

Ali: Hey you. Hope you convinced your men to join us tonight. We’re going to The Copper Mug at 8:00. See you there? :)

Ashlyn: You’ll see me there. :)

She sent a separate text to her squad, to let them know the plan before climbing off the bed in her hotel room and heading into the shower.

15 minutes later, she climbed out the of shower and pulled on navy boxer briefs, followed by medium wash jeans and a sports bra. Then, she pulled a gray t-shirt over her head and slipped on a navy and red plaid button up, rolling the sleeves up to her elbows.
She used up her time putting the final touches on her look. Styling her hair with product and slipping on her gunmetal dive watch. With a spray of cologne and ruffle of Deacon’s ears, she was out the door.

The Delta Force team arrived at the local bar at 20:00 sharp and made their way inside. The blond midfielder, Megan Rapinoe, was the first to spot them. She quickly jumped on top of her stool and started clapping. “Ladies and Gentlemen: Ali Krieger’s personal security detail!” The rest of the team laughed and joined in the clapping. Ali had the grace to blush and shake her head at the joking woman next to her.

Ashlyn laughed as she made her way over to the group, shaking her head as she took the open seat next to Ali. Her eyes took in the stunning brunette: tight jeans with a flowing tank top. Her hair was down, cascading over her shoulders and her makeup was flawless. She had been beautiful at the soccer game but this…this was a different level entirely. “Hi” Ashlyn said with a soft smile.

“Hi” Ali smiled back widely. She greeted the other soldiers with waves and smiles.

The National team had taken over several tables in the bar, securing the entire back section to themselves and the soldiers mixed in easily, breaking up and chatting with various players. Ashlyn subconsciously angled her body towards Ali and leaned against the table, giving the defender her full attention.

“Can I get you a drink? It’s the least I can do after you coming to my rescue earlier.” Ali offered with a nose crinkling smile and put her hand on the soldier’s arm.

“I’d love a drink…but I’m buying. Where I come from, when you join a woman for a drink you don’t let her pay for it.”

Ali felt her pulse spike at the chivalrous comment but kept her bearings “And where do you come from?” She raised an eyebrow at the woman next to her.

At that, Ashlyn smirked up the corner of her mouth. “The United States Army.”

Ali rolled her eyes and let out a hearty laugh “Smooth.”

Ashlyn grinned but kept her word as the waitress approached. She nodded at Ali, indicating for her to order first.

“Oh, um..could I just get a Coors Light?” The waitress nodded and turned to Ashlyn.

“Make it two, please.” She smiled and turned back to the defender. “So, Ali Krieger….what’s your story?” She settles into her chair and takes a long pull from her newly arrived beer, eyes never leaving Ali’s.

Ali sips from her beer before responding. “My story…My story is mostly soccer. I’ve been playing since I was really little. I grew up in Virginia. Went to college at Penn State. Played there. After I graduated, I moved to Germany and played in the Champions League for a couple years. Absolutely fell in love with that country. Now I live in DC and play for the Washington Spirit.”

“That’s a professional team?” Ashlyn asks, eager to learn more about the woman in front of her.

“Yeah. And when I’m not playing with them, I’m playing with these guys for the National team. My brother is my best friend in the whole world and……I think that’s the short version of my story.” She grins back at Ashlyn. “What about you?

Ashlyn finished her beer with a long gulp and flagged the waitress for another round for both of them. “I’m from Florida. Really small beach community. I enlisted right out of high school and that’s been my life ever since.” She summed up with a shrug, trying to downplay her achievements.

“Oh, come on” Ali teased. “I saw all those patches on your uniform…Something tells me you’re not just an average soldier.” She raised an eyebrow, trying to pry open the short haired brunette.

Ashlyn let out a soft laugh. “Okay, okay…I went through Ranger training pretty early in my career, as soon as they started letting women go through the training. Made sergeant as a Ranger and then became a combat diver. So…that’s like the Army’s version of the SEALS.” Ali nodded along to let her know she was keeping up. “From there, I made Staff Sergeant. A year later I was recruited by Delta Force and I’ve been leading these guys ever since.”

Ali’s eyes went wide. “Wait, Delta Force…like…’Delta Force doesn’t exist’, Delta Force?”

Ashlyn let out a chuckle and nodded. “Yeah…JSOC stopped pretending like we don’t exist though..it’s a little less of a secret now.” She grinned.

Ali nodded and raked her eyes over Ashlyn again. Taking her in once more, now knowing this new information and placed a hand on Ashlyn’s knee. “That’s a very impressive resume, Staff Sergeant.” Her voice was an octave lower before she cleared her throat and shook free the fog in her brain. 

Ashlyn felt the heat on her knee from the defender’s hand and reached down to place her own hand on top of Ali’s. The right back appreciated the roughness of the soldier’s hand, taking in the callouses.

They spent the next couple hours talking, sometimes with the group, sometimes just the two of them. The conversation came easily and the soldiers folded into the mix as if they’d all been friends for years. Palmer was in a heated game of darts with Pinoe. Abby and Jake were talking through the different styles of leadership and motivation they’d used throughout the years. Travis and Sean were losing a bet against Sydney Leroux and Kelley O’Hara as the four of them played pool. Ali and Ashlyn were sitting on stools with their shoulders touching, watching the pool game when Ali leaned in to speak into Ash’s ear. “Do you want to go get some fresh air?” She looked up hopefully into hazel eyes.

Ashlyn looked down into brown eyes and got lost. “Yeah, that’d be great.” She nodded and finished her beer before jumping off her stool and helping Ali get down off hers. As they headed out of the bar, into the fresh air, Jake and Abby shot each other knowing smirks.

Once outside, Ashlyn took a deep breath to calm her conflicting emotions. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt this way towards a woman. When she decided to move down the path of an Army Ranger, she made a decision that her personal life was going to be put on the back burner. That meant no emotional attachments. She saw it as a weakness that couldn’t be afforded. Because of that dedication, she managed to excel in a world filled almost exclusively with men. Now she led one of the most elite special forces teams in the world.

With that said, she couldn’t deny the ache that happened in her chest when she looked at the brunette.

Maybe, just maybe, Ali Krieger was the one that could get her to change her rules.

They fell into an easy pace next to each other and headed down the boardwalk towards the water. As the wind came off the ocean, Ashlyn felt Ali shudder and she moved to take off her plaid shirt and drape it over Ali’s shoulders.

Ali looked up at her and smiled appreciatively “Are you always this sweet or are you just trying to show off?”

“I guess you’ll just have to wait and find out…” The sergeant responded playfully. They made their way to the end of the pier and took a seat, dangling their feet out over the ocean. Ali took advantage of their proximity and leaned into the side of the strong brunette. Ashlyn’s arm moved to wrap around her shoulders and tuck her into her side. “Warming up?”

Ali offered a nod into the soldier’s shoulder as she turned into the embrace. “Yeah, you’re warm.” She smiled up at her before returning her head to Ashlyn’s shoulder.

Moments passed by as their minds both raced with similar thoughts. Where was this going? What’s this feeling they can’t shake? How is everything so effortless around one another? As Ashlyn tried to make heads and tails of everything, she went back to a trusted practice: talk it out.

“Ali?” Her voice was low and soft but she wanted to make sure she had the brunette’s attention. A soft ‘mmm’ confirmed she was listening. “I’ve had this rule for quite awhile now…I haven’t let myself get attached to anyone. I didn’t think it was fair for me or for her….y’know? With the job…I never know when I’m going to have to deploy for a mission and it always just seemed easier if I didn’t get attached…but I’ve known you for a total of 9 hours and I find myself wanting to break my own rule…”

Ali lifted her head off Ashlyn’s shoulder and looked up into the hazel eyes staring down at her. Her left hand reached up and traced over the dog tags hanging around the soldier’s neck. In a voice that could barely be heard, Ali whispered “I want you to break your own rule, too…”

The honesty that Ashlyn found in the woman’s eyes were all it took to set her into motion. She brought her right hand up to cradle the brunette’s face and trace her thumb over her cheek. Her eyes glanced between the chocolate brown eyes staring back at her and the soft parted lips she was eager to claim. Convinced that Ali had plenty of time to pull away if she had wanted to, she leaned down and captured the soft pink lips in a gentle kiss.

Ali closed her fist around the dog tags and pulled her closer, eager for more. Her lips parted and her tongue traced the soldier’s lips as she felt the rough hand tangle in her hair. When they had both spent all the air in their lungs, they pulled apart.

Ashlyn pressed her forehead against Ali’s and kept her eyes closed as she took a steadying breath.

Ali’s face split into a grin that made her nose crinkle. “Well…that was something…” She leaned back in, hungry for more.

The next several minutes were spent the same way, exploring each other’s lips. When they broke apart, Ali cuddled back into the strong side and she wrapped her arms around Ashlyn’s midsection. Ashlyn was the first to break the silence. “How long are you in California for?”

Ali took a deep breath “My plane leaves the day after tomorrow. You?”

“Well…we’re supposed to head back in the morning but I bet I can get us an extension. Perk of being team leader..” She grinned and was met with another kiss from the brunette.

“I’d like that…” Ali said as she ran an hand through Ashlyn’s short hair.

“Me too.” Ashlyn closed her eyes at the feeling of Ali’s nails running through her hair. Goosebumps broke out on the back of her neck and Ali traced them with her fingertips.

“Are you cold?” She looked up with concerned eyes and Ashlyn’s face broke out into a wide smile.

“No…I can assure you those goosebumps have nothing to do with the cold.” Ashlyn whispered out before stealing another kiss. “Should we head back to the bar? There’s only an hour until closing time.”

Ali groaned and let out a sigh. “I guess…but for the record, I don’t want to.”

“Me neither.” Ashlyn replied before getting to her feet and helping Ali up. Ali took advantage of the proximity and wrapped her arms around the soldier’s neck, pulling her down for another lengthy kiss.

As they broke apart, Ali’s eyes twinkled. “Just wanted one more before we rejoin the circus…” She grabbed Ash’s hand and intertwined their fingers for the walk back to the bar.

As they approached the bar, Ash reached out and held the door open for Ali to walk through. The defender noticed the gesture and smiled up in thanks. Tightening the grip on the soldier’s hand, she dragged them through the bar and prepared to be heckled by their friends.

The rest of the night went by smoothly, neither woman leaving the other’s side. Ashlyn was letting Ali take the lead on how public she wanted to be with the group considering the brand new developments but if Ali was hesitant, she wasn’t showing it. She leaned into the soldier while Ashlyn was chatted up by Hope Solo and held her hand while talking to Tobin Heath. They slipped comfortably into the affections being traded back and forth.

As the bar announced last call, everyone went about settling their tabs. Ashlyn was true to her word and didn’t let Ali pay for a single drink despite the defender’s protests.

When they all spilled out onto the boardwalk, the lovebirds hung back for a moment alone. Ashlyn pulled Ali tight against her chest and moved her lips to the brunette’s ear. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow?” The nod against her chest filled her with warmth. “Ok. Go get some sleep. I plan on stealing up a lot of your time tomorrow.”

Ali nodded again and pulled back enough to leave a smoldering kiss on the soldier’s lips. “Goodnight, stud.”

Ashlyn could feel the kiss all the way to her toes. “Goodnight, beautiful.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Ashlyn’s internal alarm clock went off at 06:00, just like it always did. As soon as she woke up, her mind was flooded with the events from the previous night and the smile that spread across her face reached from ear to ear. She stretched all her limbs out and pushed herself up into a sitting position.

The guys had been more than agreeable to staying an extra day so their staff sergeant could get more time with the woman that had captured her interest.

She started up a cup of coffee with the small hotel room coffee maker and grabbed her phone off the nightstand to send a text to her favorite soccer player.

Ashlyn: “Good morning, Miss Krieger. I was thinking I could pick you up around 11:00. Let me know if that works.”

She pulled a t-shirt on over her sports bra and grabbed her cup of coffee as she headed towards the door. “C’mon Deke.” They took the elevator downstairs and headed outside. As they walked, Ashlyn started to plan out they could do for the day.

It was two hours later when her phone alerted her of an incoming text message.

Ali: “Good morning, Sergeant. 6 am? Really? Are you a robot? We were at the bar until 2:00! 11:00 sounds great. I just need to know how to dress.”

Ashlyn: “Sorry about that. I hope I didn’t wake you up. Dress casual. We’ll save fancy for the second date. ;)”

Ali: “My, my. Awfully presumptuous…See you at 11.”

For Ashlyn, the next couple hours dragged on. She took a shower and got ready for the day. She pulled on a pair of navy shorts that stopped at her knees and a gray Under Armour tank top along with her dive watch.

“What do you think, Deke? Want to tag along today?” She grabbed his vest and slipped it on him. A glance at her watch let her know it was time to go. She slipped her dog tags under her tank top, stepped into her brown leather flip flops and tucked her wallet in her back pocket before heading out the door.

The drive to Ali’s hotel took a short 10 minutes and she took a deep steadying breath before walking into the hotel lobby with Deacon on her hip.

Ashlyn: “I’m here, in the lobby. I can pick you up at your door if you give me the room number.”

Instead of getting a text response, she saw the brunette round the corner into the lobby and her heart skipped. Even though it was casual, Ali dressed to impress. Dark denim shorts and a white tank top showed off her California tan. The outfit showed off her toned body in all the right ways.

As their eyes met, they broke out into mutual smiles. Ali strode across the lobby and straight into Ashlyn’s arms for a warm hug. “Hey there.”

Ashlyn’s arms wrapped low around her waist and she breathed her in. “Hey you.” As they pulled apart, Ashlyn’s hands stayed low on Ali’s hips. “I hope you don’t mind…I thought Deacon could tag along.”

Ali looked down and suddenly Ashlyn was chopped liver. “Deacon!” She kneeled down in front of the big dog and started showering him with affection.

Ashlyn laughed and mumbled “I guess that means you don’t mind…”

Ali laughed and stood back up, bumping Ashlyn with her shoulder. “Of course I don’t mind. I mean, look at how handsome he is.” She beamed.

Ashlyn grinned and shook her head at Ali’s antics.

“You’re very handsome too….” Ali leaned in and placed a soft kiss on the soldier’s lips.

“Mmm..” Ashlyn pressed her forehead against Ali’s. “Nice save.” She laughed before adding “You look amazing.”

“Charmer…I’m in shorts and a tank top…” Ali quipped.

“Regardless.” Ashlyn smiled and slipped her hand into Ali’s. “Ready to go? Your teammates are staring.” She grinned and nodded towards the hallway

Ali’s eyes followed Ashlyn’s gaze and she saw HAO, Pinoe, Sydney and Alex peeking around the corner mischievously. She rolled her eyes and turned back to Ashlyn “Yeah…let’s get out of here.” 

Ashlyn gave them a wave and led them towards the Tahoe parked out front. She opened up the passenger door and helped Ali inside before opening the back for Deacon.

Once in the driver’s seat, she looked over at Ali. “So, I was thinking we could spend the day near the beach? Grab some lunch and then go from there?”

Ali reached across the console and laced her fingers through Ashlyn’s. “That sounds great.”

Ashlyn nodded and slipped her aviators on before starting the short drive to the Hermosa beach.

20 minutes later, they found a parking spot and hopped out.

“So, I’m thinking we find a restaurant with a killer patio and enjoy this sun. What do you think?” Ashlyn questioned as she got Deacon out of the back of the SUV.

“That sounds great, but what about him?” She pointed down to Deacon.

“Oh, he’s a working dog. He has all the papers to go wherever we go.”

“Perfect.” Ali slipped her hand back into Ashlyn’s and was met with a gentle squeeze from the soldier.

They found a nice mexican restaurant with a patio on the water. Ashlyn pulled out her chair for Ali before settling into her own seat. Deacon crawled under the table and settled down in the shade.

The waitress showed up moments later and asked if she could get them something to drink. Ashlyn looked over at Ali, signaling for her to go first.

“Hmm..” She crinkled her face as she looked over the drink menu. “I’ll have a margarita, please.”

“And I’ll have a Corona. And then could we start with some nachos?” She smiled back across the table Ali.

Ali felt a flutter in her stomach as Ashlyn took charge and ordered an appetizer for them. Internally, she warned herself to calm down over such a small gesture but she found it endearing.

Ashlyn thanked the waitress when she returned with their drinks before turning her attention back to Ali. “Alright…It’s get to know each other time..” She smiled and took a pull from her beer.

Ali raised an eyebrow and took a sip of her margarita. “Bring it.”

Ashlyn swallowed hard in an attempt to fight down the heat that rose from the brunette’s comment. “Ok…Favorite sports team?”

“Besides my own?”

Ashlyn rolled her eyes playfully. “Yes, besides your own…”

“Hmm….Washington Redskins…You?”

“Boston Red Sox.” Ashlyn said proudly. “Your turn.”

Ali smiled, picking up on how this was going to go. “Let’s see. What kind of car do you drive?”

“Jeep Wrangler.” She raised an eyebrow, signaling Ali to respond.

“BMW M4.”

“Fancy…” Ashlyn grins and gets an eye roll from Ali in return. “Guilty pleasure?”

Ali raises an eyebrow suggestively, letting the silence speak for itself before responding “Cupcakes..”

Ashlyn let out a hearty laugh as she shook her head. “Nice…Mine is macaroni and cheese…I could eat it every damn day.”

Ali thought for a moment. “ What’s something you’re good at that no one knows about?” 

With that question, the shift happened and they moved into a more intimate space with their questions. 

Ashlyn stared at her for a minute, blinking, as she recognized the new space they were moving into. “I can sing. And play the guitar.”

Ali’s eyes went wide but they were interrupted temporarily as the waitress set the nachos down.

“You can sing?” Ali watches as Ashlyn shrugged and grabbed a chip from the plate.

“Yeah…At least, I think I can…” She chuckles.

“Oh, we’ll be coming back to that…”Ali promised. “I can bake. Not like from a mix, but from scratch…not as cool as singing, but…”

“Depends on your perspective…as someone that burns water, I think it’s pretty cool.” Ashlyn waited a second, eating a few more chips before asking another question. “What’s something you’re afraid of?”

Ali looked straight at Ashlyn when she responded. “Vancouver.” Ashlyn raised an eyebrow, asking Ali to explain further. “In 2012, we were playing there and I tore my ACL..while I was on the couch, recovering, my best friends were winning gold medals in the Olympics. That same field is where the World Cup is this summer..” She exhaled slowly and took a sip of her margarita. “Your turn. What scares you?”

“You. This.” Ashlyn motioned between them before taking a long gulp from her beer.

The waitress reappeared, breaking the moment and asking if they wanted refills, to which they both answered yes. When she left to get their drinks, Ali brought her attention back to Ashlyn. “You don’t need to be afraid of me.”

Ashlyn shrugs “Sure I do…” She nods a thanks to the waitress as the fresh drinks appear. “I mean, I feel this insane pull towards you…the kind of pull you can’t really explain…and I want so badly to explore it but tomorrow you head back to the east coast and I head off to who knows where with no clue when I’ll be able to see you again. And I don’t mean ‘off to who knows where’ as in it’s classified..I mean I literally don’t know where I’ll be next…that’s how crazy things are with me…and you deserve someone that’ll be around for dinner and cheering in the stands at your game. And..”

Before she gets a chance to continue her rant, Ali reaches over and places her hand on top of Ashlyn’s. “First, let me be the judge of what I deserve. I deserve someone that treats me right and from what I can tell so far, you’re doing pretty well…Secondly, we both have iPhones, we can FaceTime and email and text….and I have plenty of Skymiles…” She shrugs nonchalantly. “I’m willing to try if you are…”

Ashlyn shakes her head in disbelief. “Are you sure you’re real?” She gives a playfully skeptical look across the table.

Ali let out a loud bark of a laugh. “Yeah…as far as I can tell, anyways..” Her nose crinkled and she took a sip of her margarita.

Ashlyn felt the last of her resolve leave her body as she took in the woman across from her. She smiled wide, her dimple on full display. “Fuck it…let’s give it a shot.” She reached across the table and gave Ali’s hand a squeeze.

Ali responded by lacing their fingers together and leaving them there. “I think it’s my turn to ask a question?” Ali grinned, glad that they had that conversation up front and could now put it behind them.

Ashlyn nodded and rubbed her thumb back and forth over the back of Ali’s hand.

Just as Ali opened her mouth to ask her question, 2 little girls approached the table. The redhead girl spoke up “Hi. Are you Ali Krieger?” Both girls were wide eyed with excitement.

Ali glanced at Ashlyn who had a cheshire cat grin on her face. Ali turned to face both the girls and leaned forward towards them. “I sure am. What are your names?”

Ashlyn felt a warmth run through her body as she watched the interaction between the star and the girls that looked up to her. Ali took pictures with the girls and signed their shirts, even giving them both hugs before sitting back down in her chair. “Sorry about that..”


Ashlyn smiled widely and shook her head. “Nothing to apologize for…that was adorable…”

Ali reached back for the soldier’s hand and took another sip of her margarita. “Do you have a home?” As soon as it was out of her mouth, Ali laughed. “Sorry…that came out wrong…I just meant…” 



Before Ali could dig her hole any deeper, Ashlyn squeezed her hand and stopped her, letting out a laugh of her own. “Yes, I have a home…” She winked. “It’s got a roof and everything.” At that, Ali rolled her eyes playfully. “I have a house on base at Fort Bragg. That’s home when I’m not traveling for the job..Our unit is based out of Fort Bragg so that’s where we do all of our training and whatnot..”

Ali appreciated being let off the hook so easily. “North Carolina, right?” Ashlyn nodded. “See? That’s only like a 4 or 5 hour drive….this is going to be a piece of cake…” Ali smiled, bringing some lightness to the concern about distance.

“Of course….what was I thinking…” Ashlyn laughed and brought Ali’s hand up to her lips, placing a kiss on her knuckles. She looked down at the empty plate of nachos. “What do you think? Go spend some time on the beach?”

“I’d love that.”

Ashlyn stood and pulled a couple bills out of her wallet, leaving plenty to cover their bill and a sizable tip. “Let’s go.” She held out her hand, which Ali happily took and followed the soldier out the door.

They made their way down to the beach and Deacon happily ran through the water. As they walked hand in hand, Ali was the first to broke the silence. “So, I told you yesterday who my best friend is…who’s yours?”

“Oh that one’s easy: Jake. We’re thick as thieves…We met back in Ranger training. He’s the reason this bullet wound went through my shoulder and not my forehead…” She reached up with her free hand and rubbed over the long healed scar.

Ali stopped and turned with an incredulous look. “You’ve been shot?!?!” She reaches up and traces over the scar and then moves both hands up to Ashlyn’s face to reassure herself that the soldier is okay even though she’s obviously fine now.

Ashlyn chuckled softly and nodded. “Yeah…turns out the bad guys have guns too…” She grinned. “They had me all lined up and Jake tackled him right as he pulled the trigger. Made him miss.”

Ali moved her hands from Ashlyn’s cheeks to the back of her neck and pulled her down for a slow, heated kiss. When she pulled away, her hands traced over the scar again. “I could argue that they didn’t actually miss…”

Ashlyn shrugged. “Eh…missed enough..” She smiled and reached up to lace their fingers together again. Ali just rolled her eyes and laughed softly.

As the afternoon turned into evening, they continued to learn more about each other to the backdrop of the ocean. Ashlyn sat down in the sand and pulled Ali into her lap, wrapping her arms around the smaller woman’s torso. “Wouldn’t want you to get sandy…” She grins.

“Of course…such a gentleman…” Ali winks and gives her a quick peck. “So…let’s see. Where were we.” She runs a hand through the short locks of the soldier. “Favorite season?”

“Fall. Definitely.”

“Mmm…mine’s Spring.” She leaned her head against Ashlyn’s shoulder, nuzzling into her neck.

The questions went back and forth, both eager to learn as much as possible as fast as possible. Before long, the sun was starting to set before them. Ashlyn looked down and could tell that Ali was deep in thought. “What’s going on in that head of yours?”



Ali tilted her head up a little to look into the hazel eyes before her. “I don’t want the sun to set…” She blinked a few times before continuing. “I don’t want it to rise tomorrow. I just want to stay right here.” 



Ashlyn tightened her arms, wrapping Ali up against her as tight as possible. “I know the feeling. I’m dreading the drive back to your hotel.” She placed a kiss on the top of Ali’s shoulder.

Ali looked down shyly and mumbled quietly “You could not take me back to the hotel…”

Ashlyn raised an eyebrow. “Why, Miss Krieger…” She smirked.

Ali turned bright red and shrugged. “I dunno…I just don’t want to waste any of the time we have.”

Ashlyn nodded understandingly. “I know what you mean.” She tilted Ali’s chin up so she could see into her eyes. “One condition…no funny business…I want to do this the right way and that includes not rushing into things.”

Ali nodded. “I can agree to those terms.” Inside, her heart was swelling at how sweet Ashlyn was being with her. Gentle and caring. Ashlyn smiled and pressed another kiss to the pink lips before her.

They stayed there long after the sunset, holding each other. Once enough time had passed, they started their way back to the car hand in hand with Deacon tagging along faithfully.

The drive to the hotel went quickly and Ali sent a text to Sydney, her roommate, letting her know not to wait up before turning her phone to silent. The vulgar heckling could wait until tomorrow.

Ashlyn slid the keycard through the lock and held the door open, letting the defender walk through first. Ali smiled as she took in the room. Ashlyn’s stuff was organized with military precision. Boots lined up at the door, tactical vest hung up over a chair, duffel bag tucked away neatly. Ashlyn watched her take everything in and scooted up behind her, wrapping her arms around her waist.

Ali spun in the embrace and wrapped her arms around the soldier’s neck, dragging her down for a kiss which was gladly reciprocated.

Ashlyn brought her hands lower and picked Ali up off the ground with ease, never breaking the kiss. Ali wrapped her legs around the taller woman’s waist as they moved closer to the bed. Ali’s fingers ran through the soldier’s short hair, tugging at it as she deepened the kiss.

When Ashlyn felt her knee hit the end of the bed, she bent at the waist and lowered Ali to the mattress. She broke the kiss and took a deep breath, searching the dark brown eyes below her. “You’re addicting…” She whispered out before claiming Ali’s lips once again. The soft moan that escaped the smaller woman’s lips almost had Ashlyn breaking her own rules again.

With all the self control she had left, she broke the kiss and stood up. She was going to need a little distance if she was going to stick to her guns. Ali sat up on the edge of the bed and ran a hand through her own hair, letting out a chuckle. “Sorry…I know we agreed to terms.” She grinned and winked at Ashlyn.

The staff sergeant took a deep breath before letting out a laugh of her own. “Right…we did…at the time it had seemed like such a good idea..” She turned and knelt down to unzip her duffle bag. She pulled out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt before turning back to Ali. “They’re going to be big on you, but it’s the best I have to offer.”

Ali smiled and took the clothes before heading to the bathroom. A few minutes later she came out wearing a gray t-shirt with ‘ARMY’ stamped on the front of it. As Ashlyn’s eyes traveled down, her jaw dropped. Ali’s left hand was holding the shorts up. “They were too big…so, I just figured this would be okay…”

Ashlyn gulped and took a deep breath. Ali stood in front of her wearing the Army t-shirt and her navy boy shorts. “You’re going to be the death of me…”

Ali grinned as she got the desired result out of the soldier. If they were going to be apart for awhile, the least she could do is give her a nice visual to hold on to. She walked forward and placed a lingering kiss on Ashlyn’s lips before heading back towards the bed.

Ashlyn blinked a couple times before regaining her bearings. She went into the bathroom and decided two can play at that game. When she came back out, her Nike shorts were slung low on her hips so her boxer briefs peeked out of the top and she was shirtless. Her dog tags hung over her sports bra and her defined six pack was on full display.

Ali blinked a few times as she looked over the strong woman. She looked like Ali’s definition of sex appeal: tattoos and muscles everywhere. As Ashlyn walked closer to the bed, she spoke innocently. “I hope this is alright…this is how I usually sleep…”

Ali nodding and grabbed her dog tags, yanking her down into a heated kiss.

When they broke for air, Ashlyn turned onto her back and pulled Ali into her side, wrapping her arms around her and holding her close. She placed a soft kiss on top of Ali’s head. “Goodnight, princess.”

Ali rested her head on the soldier’s chest and breathed in her scent. “Goodnight, stud.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Through the night, they shifted but never separated. When Ashlyn’s internal alarm clock woke her up at 06:00, she found herself spooning the smaller brunette. She tightened her arm around the tiny waist and pulled her snug against her front. She buried her face into the neck of the woman in her arms and smiled when she realized that her other arm, the one that was pinned underneath Ali, was being held by the beautiful soccer star.

They were absolutely wrapped up in one another, literally and figuratively.

Ashlyn took a deep breath and closed her eyes once again. For the first time in a long time, she was going to allow herself to sleep in.

Two hours later, she felt Ali start to stir against her. Ali shifted and turned to face the soldier. Ashlyn shifted onto her back and tugged Ali so she was draped over her, her right leg hitching up over Ashlyn.

“Mmm…good morning.” Ali mumbled out sleepily as she ran a hand through Ashlyn’s short hair.

“Hey you.” Ashlyn smiled brightly and lifted her head off the pillow to claim Ali’s lips with her own. “What time do I need to get you back by?”

Ali scrunched up her face and shook her head. “No.”

“No?”

“No.” Ali said again, matter of factly.

Ashlyn laughed and just raised an eyebrow.

Ali sighed and dropped her head onto Ashlyn’s shoulder. “I need to be at the hotel by 11:00…” She mumbled while tracing her fingertips over the defined torso of the woman beneath her.

Ashlyn closed her eyes at the contact but nodded. “Yes ma’am.”

The next couple hours went by quickly and before they knew it, the couple found themselves parked in front of Ali’s hotel. Ashlyn stepped out of the car and leaned against the back tailgate of the SUV as Ali stepped into her space and took the rough hands into her own.

Ali looked up into her eyes and gave her hands a squeeze. “I was serious yesterday. I want to see where this goes…”

Ashlyn searched the whiskey colored eyes staring back at her and nodded. “Me too. I, um…I probably won’t know until tomorrow where we’re headed next but I’m thinking it will probably be back to Fort Bragg so maybe I can come up to DC or you could come down?”

The hopeful look in Ashlyn’s eyes melted Ali’s heart. “Definitely. We’re technically in our off-season so now that this camp is over, I’ve got some flexibility in my schedule.” Ali reached up and traced the strong jaw of the soldier with her fingertip.

Ashlyn nodded and wrapped her strong arms around Ali, pulling them flush against each other. “Text me when you land, okay?” She mumbled into her neck before placing a kiss there.

Ali nodded into the strong chest. “Of course.” 

Ashlyn took a deep breath and loosened her hold. “Alright…you need to get going if you’re going to make your flight..” She reached up and tucked a loose strand of hair behind Ali’s ear.

Ali leaned into the touch and closed her eyes momentarily before nodding. “I don’t know if this is too soon for me to stay this…but….stay safe, ok?” She stared up into hazel eyes shyly.

Ashlyn nodded as a big smile broke across her face. Even this early on, it felt nice to hear the woman worry about her. “I’ll do my best.” She winked and then leaned down to capture Ali’s lips in a hungry kiss.

The embrace lingered on for minutes and they only broke apart when they heard a loud wolf whistle across the parking lot. As they separated, they found Pinoe holding two thumbs up high in the air.

Ali held up her middle finger before turning back into Ashlyn and pulling her back down for a deep kiss. When they broke apart, Ali raked her teeth over Ashlyn’s lower lip. “Something to remember until I can see you again…” Ali said softly and then turned to head back into the hotel.

Ashlyn closed her eyes and let her head thud against the back window of the Tahoe. “Fuck….I’m in deep.”


One Week Later

Ashlyn felt the Lockheed C-5 plane touch down in Fort Bragg. It had been six months since she had been home. Six months that had sent them to Russia, Berlin, and most recently, Afghanistan.

As they stood to get off the plane she felt Jake’s shoulder bump her. “Feels good to be home, eh Sarge?”

“Yeah…Yeah, it does.” She grabbed her rucksack and secured it over one shoulder before leaning down and grabbing the large rifle case.

They walked off the runway and towards a parking lot where there was a soldier waiting to take them where they wanted. Ashlyn stopped a few feet away from the young soldier that was standing at attention.

She turned around to her squadron. “Alright…Take the rest of the day to get settled in. Tomorrow, we’re going to drill closed quarter combat. Thursday is HALO jumps and then Friday we’re on the range. Weekend is off. Hoo-ah?”

“Hoo-ah, Sarge.” The men responded together.

She nodded and then turned around. As she approached, the private raised his arm in a salute.

Ashlyn returned the salute. “At ease.” She loaded her equipment up in the back of the humvee before climbing in.

One by one, she rode shotgun as her men were dropped off at their homes. When the private finally pulled in front of Jake’s single story ranch, both her and Jake climbed out. “Thanks for the ride, private.” Deacon hopped down and followed Ashlyn, wagging his tail happily.

Ashlyn tapped her fist against Jake’s and started the short walk to her house, two doors down. She unlocked the door and took a look around at her home. It was a single story ranch, like Jake’s. Two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, a small kitchen/dining room and a living room. The walls were still the same boring white that the house came with and she hadn’t really spent any time to make it “hers.”

She carried the rifle case into the spare bedroom and secured the various firearms in her gun safe before carrying her ruck to the master bedroom. She sat down at the edge of the bed and ditched her boots, tucking them into their place at the foot of the bed. She slipped into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt and made her way back to the kitchen.

She opened up her fridge and grabbed one of the beers from the nearly empty box. With a flop, she settled onto the couch and turned on ESPN. Finally settled in, she pulled out her cell phone and a goofy smile broke out across her face.

Ali and Ashlyn had found their rhythm when it came to communicating. Neither one got clingy when there was time between texts or calls when unanswered. Instead, they both just committed to doing their best and so far it couldn’t be better.

Ali: Hey you. Hope you had a good flight. Welcome back to the east coast.

Ashlyn: Just got settled in and Deacon really misses the sound of your voice…free to talk?

Ali: Well if Deacon misses me, I suppose I can’t say no to that big lug.

Ashlyn grinned and took big sip of her beer before hitting dial.

After two rings, Ali’s voice filled her ears “Hi!”

“Hey you. How’s my favorite right back?”

“I’m good. I’m over at my dad’s.”

“Oh shit, I’m sorry…go hang out with your family…”

Ali smiled at the thoughtfulness. “Don’t be silly..I told you I could talk, remember? We just finished up dinner and I stepped outside. They’re just watching TV. How are you? How was your flight?”



“I’m getting better by the minute…just got settled in. Traded out those ACUs for sweatpants and I was smart enough to leave a couple beers in the fridge before I left. Short of you being here, I can’t really ask for more.” She flirted through the phone with a grin.

“Oh? So maybe it wasn’t just Deacon that missed my voice?” Ali played back.

“Well…I mean….” Ashlyn laughed. “Seriously though, I was thinking…I have the weekend off. Maybe I could drive up or you could come down?” Ashlyn found herself holding her breath as she waited for the response.

“That sounds great, Ash.” Ashlyn felt like she could hear the smile over the phone. “Why don’t I come down to visit? If that’s okay…I don’t know if I’m allowed on base or how that stuff works..”



Ashlyn smiled widely. She had been concerned that the BMW driving, Nike sponsored, world class athlete wouldn’t want to be bothered with military life but so far, Ali had been nothing but supportive and interested. “You can definitely come down. I’ll add you to my list of visitors. You’ll just have to give them my name at the security booth when you drive in. Want to come down Friday night?”

“Friday night sounds great. I’m training with Crystal for the next couple days but other than that, I’m free. “

“Perfect…maybe I’ll even get some groceries.” She laughed. “Go spend some time with your dad, ok?”



Ali sighed but agreed. “Fine…text me later?”



“Of course.”

“Bye Ash.”

“Bye Ali.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

 

When Ashlyn wasn’t busy drilling with the team, she was trying to get her home ready for her weekend visitor. She had just washed the sheets and put them on the bed when she heard the knock on the door. “It’s open.” She called from the master bedroom.

A moment later, Jake appeared in the doorway to her bedroom.”Hey Sarge.” He looked over as she was straightening out the sheets. “Ah….fresh sheets.” He grinned. “Big plans for this weekend?”



She rolled her eyes and laughed “Shut it, corporal.” She walked past him with a playful shove.

He laughed “I’m just saying…clean sheets, going grocery shopping…It’s almost like you’re trying to make a good impression.”

Ashlyn smiled as her mind went to the brunette. “Maybe I am…” She was thoughtfully quiet for a minute and then shook her head to clear her thoughts. “I dunno, Arch…” She shrugged. “I’ve never felt this before. I get all gooey and shit when I think about her.” A lopsided smile makes it’s way onto her face.

Jake looks over his best friend, happy to hear that she’s finally letting someone in. In the past years anytime a woman tried to get close, her walls went up before they even got a chance. She definitely never let anyone on base. This was different already. “Well, as long as it doesn’t affect your trigger finger, I’m all for it.” He winked and headed towards the front door. “C’mon…guys are already at the bar for the game.”

Ashlyn pulled on her desert camo fitted baseball hat and followed Jake out the door with Deacon on her hip like always.

The next morning, she was up by 5:00 with a burst of energy despite the bar night with her squadron. It was Friday and the woman she couldn’t get her mind off of would be here before the day was over. She hopped up and let Deacon out into the backyard before taking an ice cold shower to wake up.

She made a cup of coffee as she walked through her house in her boxer briefs, sports bra and dog tags. As had become customary in the last week, she grabbed her phone and fired off a good morning text to Ali.

As she sipped her coffee, she pulled on her bootcut jeans and khaki Under Armour t-shirt. Delta Force had it’s perks. Among them, the latest and greatest in gear. She wasn’t stuck with standard issue boots or uniforms. They were constantly provided with the most cutting edge gear from clothing to weapons.

She slipped her tactical vest onto her shoulders and fastened her thigh pistol holder around her right leg, sliding the Glock 19 into place. She pulled her curved brim khaki hat into place and slung the McMillan TAC-338 sniper rifle over her shoulder. “Alright Deke, let’s go hunting.”

8 hours later, the five soldiers were covered in dirt and sweat. The once loaded magazines were now all empty, having spent hours and hours shooting from great distances. As they walked down the street, Jake elbowed Ashlyn to get her attention and pointed down the street towards her house. “Looks like your visitor is here.” Even from a distance, they could see the white BMW parked in the driveway.

“Can’t get enough of that Delta Force charm, eh Sarge?” Travis grinned.

Ashlyn smiled wide. “She’s early…”

Palmer reached into his vest and tossed a pack of gum at her. “Always be prepared, Sarge.”

She laughed and tossed a piece of gum in her mouth. “Good looking out, Mikey.” She was now just two doors down from her house. “I’ll see you guys later. Good work out there today.” She acknowledged each of them with a pat on the shoulder or fist bump before heading to her house.

Ali had arrived 30 minutes ago and had gotten comfortable on Ashlyn’s porch, sure that she was in the right spot when she saw the Jeep in the driveway. When she looked up and saw Ashlyn approach covered in grime with a rifle slung over her shoulder, she had to stop her jaw from hitting the ground. “Oh wow..” She mumbled to herself.

Deacon trotted ahead and climbed up the porch to greet his favorite civilian. Ali leaned forward in her chair and showered the dog with affection.

As Ashlyn climbed the stairs to the porch, Ali stood to her feet with a warm smile.

“Fair warning…I smell.” Ash grinned.

“I don’t care.” Ali closed the distance and wrapped her arms tightly around the Staff Sergeant’s shoulders.

Ash reciprocated happily. She wrapped her strong arms low around the brunette’s waist and clung her tightly against her frame. “You’re early” She mumbled into Ali’s neck.

Ali shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “I missed you…”

Ash leaned down and captured Ali’s lips in a soft kiss. “I missed you too…C’mon, let’s go inside.” She unlocked the door and held it open for Ali to enter. “It’s not much, but it’s home.” She shrugged.

Ali smiled and took in the living room. There was a couch and a flat screen tv but not much else. She set her weekend luggage next to the couch and turned around to slip back into the strong arms she had missed.

Ash placed a kiss on her forehead and breathed in her sweet fruity scent. “Let me just get out of all this stuff.” She took her hand and pulled her down the hallway to the spare bedroom. “I’ll give you the full tour in a minute, but this is the spare bedroom. It’s really just a storage room.”

Ashlyn took the sniper rifle off her shoulder and punched a code into the large gun safe against the far wall.

Ali walked up behind her and slipped her arms around the soldier’s waist. “Can I see?” She stood on her tip toes to look over Ashlyn’s soldier into the case. “I want to learn more about what you do…”

Ashlyn turned into the smaller woman. “Oh. Yeah. Of course.” She smiles and puts her hand on the muzzle of the McMillan. “So, this is my sniper rifle. We were doing distance shooting today.” She undoes two clips around her thigh and holds the Glock 19, still in it’s holster. “Sidearm. It’s a 9 millimeter Glock.” She looked down into Ali’s eyes and found them staring right back in her.

Ashlyn set the handgun into the safe and then placed her hand on another rifle muzzle. “And then, this is an M4. It’s an assault rifle. This is the one we use the most.”

Ali reached out and placed her hand on top of Ashlyn’s, tracing over the muzzle of the gun.

When Ashlyn pulled her hand off the gun, she took Ali’s palm and placed it high on her chest. “Tactical vest. Holds all of our extra magazines and what not.” She closes her fist and hits the vest a couple times with a ‘ting’ noise. “Doubles as body armor.” She smiles and watches Ali’s eyes take in every detail of the vest.

When Ali looked up, Ashlyn swallowed hard as she got lost in the deep brown eyes. Ali looked back down and found the clip on the side to release the vest. Ali grabbed both shoulder straps and started to lift up. Ashlyn ducked down and out of the vest.

Ali was surprised by the weight. “It’s heavy.” She lifted it up and down a couple times. Ashlyn grinned and took the vest before placing it on the gear rack next to the gun safe.

Now relieved of her gear Ashlyn turned and wrapped Ali in a tight hug, picking her off the ground.

Ali was quick to react and wrapped her legs around the staff sergeant’s waist. In two long strides, Ashlyn had her pinned against the wall and was rewarded with a soft moan.

Their kisses were urgent and needy. A mess of teeth and tongues. Ali reached up and turned around Ashlyn’s hat to get the brim out of the way with a grin on her lips.

A few minutes later, Ashlyn broke away from the kiss and pressed her forehead against Ali’s. “You’re beautiful….” Ash grinned. “And testing every boundary of my self-control.”

Ali’s nose crinkled in response to the wide smile on her face. She held Ashlyn’s strong jaw in her hands, tracing her thumb over the soldier’s cheeks.

Ashlyn turned into the touch and placed a kiss on the inside of Ali’s palm before slowing setting her back down on her own two feet. “Let me take a quick shower and get all this dirt off, ok? Then I’m all yours.”

“Deal.” Ali smiled and followed Ashlyn back into the living room.

“Before I hop in, let me give you a quick tour.” She grabbed Ali’s hand and walked her through the house. “Make yourself at home. Fridge is full of beer and food for the first time…ever.” She winked at Ali before pulling her down the hallway. “Here’s the bedroom and the bathroom is across the hall.”

Ali smiled and placed another kiss on her lips. “It’s great.”



Ashlyn rolled her eyes and laughed. “Uh huh…It’s empty but it serves it’s purpose.”

Ali shrugged and gave her a playful shove. “Go shower. I’ll be on the couch.”

Twenty minutes later, Ashlyn walked down the hallway to the living room. The sight she was greeted with stopped her dead in her tracks.

Ali was sitting on the couch watching tv, a beer was dangling from her fingertips. Deacon was fast asleep with his head on her lap as she scratched his ears.

Ashlyn took a minute to appreciate how effortlessly Ali folded into her life. She had just gotten done cleaning up after a day on the range and was rewarded with the most beautiful woman she’d ever laid eyes on sitting on her couch.

Months and years later, when people asked her, she’d describe this as the moment she fell in love with Alexandra Blaire Krieger.

She was pulled out of her daze when Ali turned and smiled at her. Ali must have noticed the goofy look on her face. “You told me to make myself at home.” She gave her a wink.

Ashlyn closed the distance between them and placed a strong kiss on her lips. “And I meant it.” She perched next to her on the arm of the couch. “So, I thought we could do dinner here tonight? I got some stuff for the grill.”

Ali leaned into her side and nodded. “That sounds great.”

“Perfect. I’ll start the grill.” She kissed the top of Ali’s head and headed towards the kitchen. When she grabbed a beer and the steaks, she felt arms wrap around her torso and a smile spread across her face from ear to ear. She set the steaks and beer down on the counter before turning into the smaller brunette.

Ali let out a squeal when she felt her feet leave the ground.

Ashlyn had her off the ground and perched on the counter in a split second. The soldier stepped between Ali’s legs and leaned in close.

In turn, Ali laced her fingers together behind Ashlyn’s neck and played with the short hair on the back of the tall woman’s head.

Ashlyn hummed contently and pulled her in for a hungry kiss. It was 20 minutes of exploring each other’s mouths in a heated make out session before a loud stomach growl pulled them apart.

Ali grinned wide and raised an eyebrow. “Hungry, sergeant?”

Ashlyn chuckled and nodded sheepishly. “I’ve had a couple pieces of beef jerky today and that’s it…” She helped Ali down from the counter before grabbing two cold beers from the fridge. “C’mon. There’s a deck out back where the grill is.” 

Ali followed after her and settled into one of the adirondack chairs, crossing one leg over the other.

Ashlyn went about the task of getting the grill turned on and warmed up. “So, if you’re up for it…the guys are all going out to a bar tonight.” She took a sip of her beer. “If you’re not, that’s totally fine. I just promised the guys I’d mention it.”

“No, I’d love to see them.” Ali stood up and stepped into Ashlyn’s space. “I’m here to learn you…” She smiles up and touches her cheek. “And I’ve got a pretty good hunch they’re a big part of your life.” She winks playfully and gives her a quick kiss.

Ash feels her chest tighten, ecstatic to hear that Ali is up for getting to know the guys better. Ali’s eagerness to learn and understand her life is endearing and she can’t get enough of it. She grins and takes a pull from her beer. “Be careful what you wish for…they can be a bit much.”

Ali smirks “Oh I can only imagine.” She presses her body up against Ash’s. “If only I had a big tough soldier to keep me safe.”

Ash bit her bottom lip and wrapped an arm around Ali’s waist. “Yeah, if only…” She studied the playful eyes of the brunette in her hold.



“Can you think of anyone? Maybe Special Forces?” Ali raised an eyebrow, challengingly.

Ash pretended to be deep in thought. “Hmm…are tattoos a problem?”



“No…the more the better.” Ali smirked, her palms flat against Ashlyn’s upper chest.

“Staff Sergeant Harris, reporting for duty.” Ash grinned and leaned down for a needy kiss, leaving Ali’s lips puffy when she was done.

Ali took a deep breath and raked her nails across the back of Ashlyn’s neck. “I feel safer already.”

 

Chapter Text


A loud knock from the front door pulled Ashlyn and Ali apart from their spot on the back deck. Deacon let out a loud intimidating bark and ran through the open sliding door, back into the house.

Ashlyn furrowed her brow and gave Ali a quick squeeze. “I’ll be right back.” She trucked through the house as another loud knock rung out. “I’m comin’, I’m comin’….” She opened the front door and was bum rushed by her squadron.

They plowed right through the door, brushing past her and into the home.

“We’re here for dinner!” Sean announced.

“Uh…no you’re not.” Ashlyn shook her head. “Absolutely not.”



“Absolutely yes.” Mikey responded, holding up a grocery bag. “We even brought our own steaks.”

“And beer.” Travis added, hoisting up a cooler.

Ashlyn looked at Jake, hoping to get a little help from him.

He just shrugged in response. “Sorry, Sarge…”

Ali picked that moment to appear from the kitchen.

“There she is!” Mikey scooped Ali up into a fireman’s carry over her shoulder, spinning her around a couple times as Ali shrieked in laughter.

“Hi Mikey” She pulled him into a hug once her feet were back on solid ground. She looked up and smiled. “The whole gang is here. Hi Guys!” She went around and gave hugs to Sean, Travis and Jake.



“Yep…whole gang is here…and they were just leaving…” Ashlyn raised an eyebrow at Mikey.

“Nuh uh…we were just getting here…” He turns to Ali and holds up the grocery bag. “We brought our own stuff for the grill.” He winks and walks through the kitchen and out to the back deck with Travis and Sean in tow.

Jake gives Ashlyn an apologetic slap on the back. “Sorry, Sarge.” He can’t quite bite back the grin on his face as he goes to join the guys outside.

“Fuckers…” Ashlyn mutters under her breath before turning to Ali, who has an amused grin on her face. “Al…I’m sorry. I just need a minute to get rid of them..”



Ali quirked up the corner of her mouth and closed the distance between them, wrapping her arms around the sergeant’s torso. “Are you kidding? Your boys are here to interrogate me. If you send them home now, they’ll smell blood in the water.” Ali shot her a confident wink. “Besides…” She slipped her hand into Ashlyn’s and laced their fingers together. “I’ve got a big tough bodyguard to keep me safe. I can handle it” She leaned up and placed a smoldering kiss on Ashlyn’s lips before heading to the deck to join the group.

Ashlyn was left shellshocked and completely enamored with the stunning creature that is Ali Krieger.

Ashlyn took a deep breath to gather herself and followed Ali out on to the deck. She grabbed two beers out of the cooler and sat down in one of the patio chairs, pulling Ali into her lap.

Ali took the beer and leaned in to kiss her cheek to thank her. Ashlyn wrapped an arm around Ali’s waist and sucked down a long gulp of beer.

The guys were moving around and settling in like this was their home instead of the sergeant’s. Travis grabbed a bluetooth speaker and started to play Jason Aldean through Pandora. Jake stacked up wood and started a bonfire in the metal pit in the yard. Sean disappeared in the kitchen for a few minutes before coming out with 6 seasoned steaks and started to oil the grill.

Ali watched the familiarity they all had with their tasks and raised an eyebrow at Ashlyn when Sean brought the food out. “You’re not cooking?”



Ashlyn shook her head. “Oh, hell no…not when Dugg is here…” She let out a soft laugh.

Mikey chimed in as he chopped up potatoes per Sean’s instructions. “Yeah, Dugg here is a real gourmet chef.”



Sean performed an exaggerated bow before creating foil packets for the potatoes and vegetables.

“Not to mention Sarge can’t even cook a frozen dinner right…” Travis quipped.

Ashlyn gave Travis the middle finger as they all laughed.

Jake settled into the chair next to Ashlyn and Ali and looked them over. He had been worried for his best friend back in California. He was worried that the adrenaline of the events at the stadium was really what was behind Ali’s interest in his staff sergeant and Ashlyn was getting set up for heartbreak. But here she was, two weeks later and the soccer star was curled up in his best friend’s lap. She had driven 5 hours from her home to spend a long weekend on a military base.

Ali felt the stare and met Jake’s eyes. She gave him a soft smile and a head nod in understanding. She knew that every one of these soldiers would die for each other and with that, came a fierce loyalty and protectiveness of each other. She also knew that Jake was Ashlyn’s best friend. If she needed somebody’s approval more than anyone else, it was his. It was one of the reasons she wanted to come down to Fort Bragg instead of Ash coming to DC. She wanted the soldiers to know she was committed to pulling her weight in this.

Jake returned the knowing nod and smiled before taking a sip of his beer. Yeah, he’d allow her to steal his best friend’s heart.

Ashlyn caught the exchange but stayed silent. Truth be told, she had to let it happen. When Jake brought a girl around, she’d be doing the same thing to his potential girlfriend. When she glanced over at Jake, he gave her a wink and all three of them understood that that was as good as a written endorsement.

Sean spoke up from his position in front of the grill. “So, Ali, you’re a defenseman?”

“Yeah, I play right back for the National team and the Washington Spirit up in DC.”

The group dipped into easy conversation and Ali folded right into the mix. She chimed in when it made sense but didn’t try to force her way in unnaturally. They’d all put down a couple beers already and when dinner was ready, Ali stayed right where she was on Ashlyn’s lap as she ate.

“Alright, Alexandra….this one’s important…” Mikey warned as he pointed his fork sternly at her to indicate how serious this next question was.

Ali raised an eyebrow and glanced at Ashlyn and Jake who both had serious looks on their face. Not one to avoid a challenge, she turned back to Mikey. “Well let’s have it, Michael.”



At that, Ashlyn bit back a grin. It was a huge turn on to see her fitting in to her life so easily.

“Worst collegiate football team?”

There was a second of complete silence as all of the Delta Force Operators watched the brunette.

“Navy, duh.”

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she was out of Ashlyn’s lap and on top of Sean and Travis’s shoulders. She screamed as they ran around the yard, and tossed her up and down. Mikey ran along with them and high-fived her as he yelled “Beat Navy!”

Ashlyn laughed hard and shook her head at their antics. She met the brown eyes of her defender and caught the wink that Ali threw her way. 



Jake raised an eyebrow as he looked over at Ashlyn. “Staff Sergeant….Did you prep her for the interview?” He tried to give her a stern look.

Ashlyn leaned back into her chair and took a long gulp of her beer. “I have no clue what you’re talking about, Corporal.” Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t keep the grin off her face.

Ali was finally allowed back down to the ground and she grabbed two more beers out of the cooler before climbing back into Ash’s lap. She put a short but deep kiss on the sergeant’s lips before handing her a new beer.

“Holy shit, Sarge…she might be perfect…” Travis teased as they caught the exchange.

Ali blushed and tucked her head into Ashlyn’s neck. Ash wrapped her arms around Ali and gave her a squeeze. “Yeah, she just might be..” She grinned and placed a kiss on her temple. 

The guys got up and headed to the horseshoe pit on the far side of the yard, leaving the two women alone.

From a distance, Ali could hear the trash talking as Mikey and Sean teamed up against Jake and Travis. She shook her head and laughed at the antics.

Ashlyn reached up and cupped Ali’s face, tilting her head in and leaving a tender kiss on her lips. “How are you holding up?” She stayed close so her lips moved against Ali’s as she talked.

“I’m great. They’re being gentler than I expected.” Ali grinned and leaned in for another longer kiss.

Ashlyn laughed “What did you expect? Waterboarding?”



Ali shrugged and laughed. “I dunno…I mean, you guys know how to do that stuff right?” She joked back.

“I mean…technically…” Ash winked at her. “You’re doing great…they like you.”



“Yeah?” Ali looked down into Ashlyn’s eyes from her spot on her lap, surprised.

“Yeah. Absolutely. You’d know if they didn’t like you.” She leaned down and placed a kiss on Ali’s shoulder.

Ali hummed happily at the affection and skimmed her fingers across the sergeant’s six pack.

Ashlyn gulped at the contact and ran a hand up Ali’s thigh, giving the leg a firm squeeze.

Ali’s eyes darkened and she ran a hand through the soldier’s hair before pulling her in for a passionate kiss.

When they broke apart, they shared a look and both stood. It was time to send the guys home.

Luckily, Jake had caught a glimpse of the interaction and was already in the process of corralling the team towards the door. “Hey Sarge, we’re gonna head out.”

Ashlyn gave him a thankful look and nodded. “Alright fellas. Have a good night.”

When they were starting to head out the front door, Sean turned back around. “We’re hitting the bar tomorrow night, if you guys want to join us.” She turned back to ask Ali but didn’t see her.

“I’ll let you guys know.”

With that, the guys headed home.

Ashlyn shut and locked the door before turning to go in search of Ali. She poked her head into the kitchen. Nope.

She started towards the master bedroom and her mouth went dry at what she saw when she entered the room. “Fuck…” she whispered out.

Laid out on the bed, leaning against the headboard, Ali was flawless in a black lace bra and underwear set.

“Alex…” Ashlyn’s voice was deep and raspy. She blinked a few times and swallowed hard.

Ali raised an eyebrow seductively. “You’re staring…”

Ashlyn nodded. “I know.”

“You like what you see?”

“Yes.”

Ali smirked, pleased with the result she was getting from the soldier. “Staff Sergeant?”

Ashlyn blinked once more and brought her eyes up to Ali’s. “Yeah?”

“Stop staring and come make me yours…”

When Ali bit her bottom lip, Ashlyn’s self restraint shattered and she was on her in a heartbeat.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Ali woke up the next morning to the sun streaming through the window. She stretched out and appreciated how her muscles were sore in the best possible way. She rolled over and found a note written out in Ashlyn’s neat handwriting.

Hey you -

You looked too peaceful to wake up. Went for a quick run.

Call me if you need anything.

Ash

She flopped her head back against the pillow and smiled from ear to ear. Last night had been perfect. Surpassing her wildest dreams.

While she was remembering last night’s events, she heard the front door open and then click close.

Ashlyn had gotten up at 06:00, like always. This morning, instead of jumping out of bed, she stared at the beautiful naked woman in her arms. After awhile she slid her way out and went for a run.

She slipped back into the house and brought the two cups of Starbucks to the bedroom. A wide smile broke out across her face when her eyes met warm brown ones.

“Hey you.” She bit her bottom lip and sat down on the edge of the bed, handing Ali one of the cups.

Ali sat up and let the sheet pool around her waist. She took a sip of the coffee and let out a satisfied groan. “Ugh…you remembered…” She closed her eyes and let the coffee run through her system.

The groan from Ali’s lips sent a rush of heat through the soldier before she could gather herself. “Of course I remembered your order…” She winked and took a sip of her own coffee. Ash had paid special attention to things like that, filing it away for future use. She reached across and set her hand on the bare skin of Ali’s hip, tracing the bone with her thumb.

Ali placed her hand on top of Ashlyn’s and let out a content sigh. “Going to come back to bed?”

“I’m pretty sweaty from the run.”

Ali quirked an eyebrow. “We were pretty sweaty last night, together.”

“Um…touché.” Ashlyn smirked and kicked her Nike’s off before climbing back onto the bed. She leaned against the headboard and Ali scooted into her side.

The right back leaned her head onto the strong chest of the soldier and closed her eyes. “You called me Alex last night.” The voice was quiet and mumbled.

“Oh. Yeah. I’m sorry, is that a problem?” Ashlyn tilted her head down to read Ali’s expression.

Ali looked up and gave Ashlyn one of the most sincere smiles the soldier had ever seen. “No…it’s great. I really like how it sounded. You’re the only besides my family that has ever called me Alex.” She leaned up and captured Ash’s lips in a tender kiss.

 

They stayed wrapped up in each other for hours as they sipped their coffee and exchanged touches. After sharing a shower, they were getting ready to head out for lunch and to explore the base.

Ashlyn walked back into the bathroom and stepped in behind Ali as she finished applying her mascara. Ashlyn set her chin on Ali’s shoulder. “You’re beautiful.”

“You’re charming.” Ali winked.

“It’s easy when it’s true..” She nibbled on her shoulder and pulled her in tight. “What all do you want to do today?”



Ali capped the mascara and put it back in her makeup bag before turning in the strong arms that were holding her. “I want to learn as much as I can about this place and what it means to you.” She placed her hands around the back of the soldier’s neck, playing with the short hair there. “Ashlyn?”

“Yeah?” Ash ran her hands up and down Ali’s back soothingly.

“Now I’m the one that’s scared…” Ali’s big brown eyes looked up vulnerably into soft hazel. “I’m falling for you so hard…and so fast…”

Ashlyn reached up and cradled Ali’s face with both hands. “Alex.” She waited until Ali looked back up into her eyes. “I feel it too. In ways I can’t put words to, I am completely wrapped up in you. You don’t have to be scared of falling for me. I’m in this…and I’m falling right alongside you.”

The soldier leaned down and poured all of her feelings into the most tender, loving kiss Ali had ever experienced.

 

An hour later, they were climbing out of Ashlyn’s jeep in the middle of a field. Ashlyn grabbed a blanket and spread it out before laying down and pulling Ali down into her side.

“A picnic?” Ali asked as she draped a leg over Ashlyn and ran a hand over her stomach.



“Not exactly. You said you wanted to learn more about what I do…” She checked her watch and then pointed to the top of the tree line.

In the distance, a C-160 started to come into view. “They’re about to do a HALO jump. High Altitude, Low Opening.” She sat up and pulled Ali into her lap, resting her chin on Ali’s shoulder.

Ali leaned into the strong frame and watched the plane. “What does that mean? High altitude, low opening?” 



“It means they’re going to jump from really high and then not open their parachute until the last possible minute. Opening low speeds up the jump time and lowers the risk of detection.”

Ali shook her head in wonder as she watched soldiers pour out of the back of the plane. “Sounds terrifying.”



“Oh no. It’s actually a lot of fun.” Ashlyn smirked. “Assuming you’re not afraid of heights.”

“Assuming…” Ali chuckled and laced her fingers with Ashlyn’s. “So…do you do deployments like the rest of the military…or?”

“Why? Worried you’ll miss me while I’m gone?” Ashlyn grinned and nudged her playfully.

Ali smirked “Maybe.”

Ash placed an open mouth kiss on Ali’s neck, causing the deep brown eyes to close. “We don’t do normal deployments…We go as needed. Otherwise, we’re training.”

 

They stayed in the field for hours, learning birthdays and favorite books. Explaining what their tattoos meant. Sharing touches and kisses.

When the afternoon turned into evening, they headed back to the jeep. Ali payed close attention to the driving tour she was getting from the staff sergeant, all the while enjoying the loving hand on her thigh.

Once Ash had shown Ali the base they headed back to the house. As they walked through the door, Ash remembered what the guys had said before they last night.

“Hey babe, I forgot…the guys invited us to the bar tonight.” Ash looked up and caught an amused grin on Ali’s face.

“Babe?”



Ash grinned cockily and lifted the smaller woman off the ground. “Yeah. Babe. Is that a problem?”

Ali squealed and draped her arms around Ash’s shoulders “Not at all…” She rewarded the soldier with a kiss. “Next thing I know…you’re going to be calling me your girlfriend.” 



Ash looked up at the woman in her arms and bit her bottom lip. “Would that be so bad?” She whispered out.

Ali wrapped her legs around the soldier’s waist and ran her fingers through her hair. “Mmm…no.” She leaned back and looked down into Ashlyn’s eyes. “But are we crazy? Is this moving way too fast?”



Ashlyn knew better than to take it the wrong way. She had a point. They were just barely at the 3 week mark.

Ash shrugged “I dunno. Maybe. But I’m not interested in seeing anyone else…especially after last night.” She winked up at the soccer star and got a teasing slap in return. “Besides…I need to get you locked down before you realize how out of my league you are.”

Ali laughed and shook her head at the soldier’s antics. She leaned down and took Ash’s breath away with a fiery kiss. When she pulled back, she pressed her forehead against Ash’s and kept her lips close. “Consider me locked down, Staff Sergeant.”

 

Chapter Text


When evening turned to night, Ashlyn and Ali were still under the covers. They’d spent the better part of the evening exploring every inch of skin the other had to offer. Ashlyn was lying on her back, tracing the lines of Ali’s german side tattoo when the soccer player spoke up. “So, this bar we’re going to tonight, what should I wear?”



Ash laughed and gave the brunette a squeeze. “It’s not the kind of place that has a dress code. Just a dive bar that a lot of SpecOps guys hang out at. The guy that owns it is retired Delta. Mostly stale beer and whiskey…so no blended margaritas for the princess.” Ash teased Ali about their first date and the fruity margaritas she had drank.

Ali dropped her jaw in mock offense. “I’m appalled…” She grabbed a piece of skin on the side of Ash’s stomach and twisted.

“Ow!” Ash rubbed the pinch mark.

Ali rolled her eyes “Big baby…” She used the Sergeant’s shoulders to push herself up and off the bed. “I’m getting in the shower…Gotta look good now that I’m a Staff Sergeant’s girlfriend.” She winked and disappeared into the bathroom.

Ashlyn flopped back on the bed and ran a hand through her hair. “Yep…I’m addicted.”


An hour and a half later, Ashlyn pulled her Jeep into a parking spot. She looked over at Ali and blinked a few times before shaking her head.

“What?” Ali questioned.

“I should’ve brought a gun…You’re going to start a frenzy…” Ash didn’t hide when she raked her eyes over the right back’s body.

Ali rolled her eyes and laughed before leaning over and placing a lingering kiss on Ash’s lips. “Let’s go.”

Ash placed a hand flat on Ali’s lower back and led her to the bar. A quick scan of her eyes found the guys settled into a table towards the back of the bar. As they made their way past the bar, Ashlyn heard a familiar voice.

“Harris!”

Ashlyn snapped her head around and caught sight of the familiar face behind the bar. Her hand low on Ali’s back redirected both of them to the bar top.

“Hey Tommy” She roughly shook the man’s hand. “Ali, Tommy. Tommy, Ali. Tommy owns the bar. He let’s me drink for free…” Ash shot a wink at the older man.

“You wish, kid.” He laughed. “Nice to meet you, Ali. Sorry you couldn’t find better company to keep.”

Ali laughed and elbowed Ashlyn in the side. “Tell me about it.”

Ash pretended to be offended before leading Ali over to their table and pulling out her chair for her. When they sat down, the guys all shared a look and then Sean and Mikey both pulled out a $50 and handed it over to Travis and Jake.

Ash just shook her head. “Unbelievable….” She laughed and poured two beers from the pitcher on the table, handing one over to Ali.

“What?” Ali looked around, looking for an explanation.

“These two idiots..” Travis pointed between Sean and Mikey who looked down at their beers. “Bet us that you two wouldn’t have clothes on long enough to leave the house, let alone make it all the way to the bar.”

“Oh.” Ali laughed and took a sip of her beer as a blush crept up cheeks.

It was about an hour in when the door busted open and bunch of young soldiers bursted through the door. In unison, the Delta team let out a groan. Ali took in the young soldiers walking in before turning to Ashlyn. “What?”



Before Ashlyn got a chance to answer, Mikey piped up “Fucking graduation day…bunch of kids thinking they’re tough shit cuz they made it through two weeks of training.”

“Green Berets” Jake added.

The graduates were rowdy but stayed away from the Delta team. As the night went on, each person at the table took their turn getting a fresh pitcher of beer from the bar. When Ashlyn emptied the current pitcher into glasses, she went to stand and get a refill.

Before she could get out of her chair, Ali was on her feet and taking the pitcher from her hand.

“I’ll get it.” Ali kissed her cheek and headed to the bar.

Ashlyn turned back to the group and was met with four pairs of eyes staring at her.

“We all talked…” Sean spoke up.

Ashlyn just raised an eyebrow and took a sip of her beer, looking over her team.

“All of us.” Mikey added for dramatic effect.

Ashlyn bit down the inside of her cheek to stop her grin. “Uh huh….and?”

They all leaned in and whispered together in a huddle, excluding Ashlyn. When they broke apart, Jake took a deep breath and exhaled. “You can keep her.”

Ashlyn laughed and nodded. Deep down, it meant the world to her that the guys approved of Ali. Gender aside, they were a brotherhood and everyone knows how hard it is when you don’t like your brother’s girlfriend. “Well good. I’d hate to have to end things over you mother fuckers.”

They all laughed and cheers’ed.

Ali was at the bar watching the interaction between the squadron while she waited for pitcher to be refilled. Her attention was pulled away when she felt a hand on her arm.

“Hey beautiful…” A soldier in his early twenties gave his best flirtatious smile. “What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a bar like this?”



Ali let a bark of a laugh before she could stop herself. “Seriously? That’s what you’re going to go with?”

The newly graduated Green Beret smirked and nodded. He took a sip of his beer and raked his eyes over her frame.

“Okaaaay.” Ali raised an eyebrow. “I’m actually here with someone…so…” She turned back to face the bar and see what was taking so long for the refill.

“Well, I don’t see them. If you were mine…I’d never let you out of my sight.” He slurred back.

“I guess that’s one of the million reasons I’m not yours then…”

Ashlyn looked over to find her girlfriend. When she saw the hand on Ali’s forearm, she was out of her chair but before she could take a step she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“We got this, Sarge.” Jake patted her shoulder and nudged her back into her seat.

The other four members of Delta Team Bravo company walked over to Ali with body language that moved people out of their way without a word. Their jaws were set and their eyes hard. They looked like they were getting ready to interrogate a prisoner, not scare a fellow soldier.

Jake stepped confidently to Ali’s side, flanked by Palmer, Duggan and Brooks. “Ali, is this guy giving you trouble?” He glanced between them and when his face was out of the Green Beret’s vision, he shot Ali a wink.

For their part, Mikey, Sean and Travis all had their arms crossed and were fixing the Green Beret with a lethal stare. The arrival of the team had started to capture the attention of other graduates and the bar got a little quieter as the spectators watched on.

Ali fought hard to keep the grin off her face. She knew she’d never been in any real danger but this was too good to pass up. How often does a girl get a chance to have a Delta Force squadron defend their honor? “Oh Jake, there you are. I was trying to let him know that I’m not available and I was here with someone but he persisted…” She was embellishing the damsel in distress act as she recounted the events with a straight face.

Jake turned on the poor soldier in a minute, getting in his personal space and forcing him off his stool and onto his feet. “Is that true, private?” Jake growled out.

“Listen….Jake…” The graduate started.



“It’s Corporal, private.”



“Yes sir. Sorry sir.”

A fellow graduate noticed the matching tattoos on the team’s right forearms and leaned in to whisper to his buddy in trouble. “Nick…those guys are Delta Force…”

Nick’s eyes snapped forward in fear as Jake took another half step closer. “Listen up, private. When a lady tells you that she’s taken, listen to her. At a minimum, it means she’s not interested in your sorry ass. Unfortunately for you, she happens to be taken by our Staff Sergeant. So get out of my fucking face before I decide to teach you this lesson the hard way.”

Nick was out of the bar in 5 seconds flat.

A few of his friends ran off after him.

Ali tilted her head to the side and grinned at the men in front of her. “You might have enjoyed that a little too much…”

Jake shrugged and grabbed the now full pitched of beer, slinging his other arm around Ali’s shoulder. “We’ve never gotten to do that for Sarge before.” He grinned. “It was fun.”

When they turned and headed back to the table, they laughed at the shit eating grin on Ashlyn’s face. She reached out and pulled Ali onto her lap “Trouble follows you….you know that?” She raised an eyebrow and wrapped an arm around the woman’s waist.

“That’s a good point…” Mikey chimed in. “We’re going to have to start charging…Mercs make a lot of money for personal security like this…”

“Hey now! I was handling that perfectly fine, thank you very much…you guys just had some testosterone to burn off.” Ali playfully defended herself.

“Better us than Sarge.” Travis chimed in. “I don’t think she would’ve been using words.” He winked at their Staff Sergeant.

“I have no clue what you mean…” Ashlyn grinned and sipped her beer.

 

Chapter Text

Ashlyn found herself in a large tent in the middle of Bogota, Colombia.

It had been almost a month since she’d seen Ali.

Two weeks after Ali headed back to DC, Ashlyn had gotten the orders to head to South America. They’d been there for two weeks and had finally secured enough intel to confirm where their target was.

The tent was full of various officers from each military outfit that was taking part in the operation. As the Major General stepped into the tent, everyone stood at attention.

“At ease.”

Ashlyn settled in next to her squadron. For most units, the officer sat in on briefings like this and then relayed information. For Delta Force, they all sat in and heard the same message.

The Major General went to the board at the front of the room. “Alright ladies and gentleman. We have the green light. Operation will start at 0400. Night Stalkers will transport Delta Force Bravo Company to the favelas, here” He pointed to a circled part of the map. “Delta Force will rope in at 0412. 4 Ranger chalks will secure all four corners of the building via ground support. Lieutenant Colonel Smith will provide exfil via humvee through the south. Exfil at 0420. That gives you 8 minutes to clear the building and secure both high value targets, Staff Sergeant.”



“Roger that, Major General. We’ll get it done in 7.” Ashlyn responded.

“Back on base by 0435 with two high value targets in custody. Questions?”

“Any air support on this one, Major General?” Ashlyn asked.

“Negative, Staff Sergeant.”

“Copy that.”

“Anything else?”

Everyone was silent and the Major General spoke again “Mission launch code word is Lauren. Good luck out there.” With that, he turned and exited the tent.

Ashlyn stood and turned to her squadron. “Full gear in 30. Extra flash bangs and the GoPro on Deke. Hoo-ah?”

“Hoo-ah.”

Ashlyn turned and started to get ready. She slipped on her vest and fastened the clip on the side. She grabbed a piece a duct tape and ripped off a foot long piece. She wrote ‘O-NEG’ on the tape with a permanent marker before wrapping it around the top of her right boot.

30 minutes later, the team was completing final weapons checks and heading out onto the tarmac. “Palmer, you’re on breach. Dugg & Brooksy, I want you two on the HVTs. Archer, you’re on point once we’re inside. Clear?”

“Roger that, Sarge.”

“In and out, boys. Let’s try to be stateside before sundown tomorrow.”

 

15 minutes later, Ashlyn’s legs were dangling off the side of the MH-6 helicopter as they buzzed across the rooftops in Bogota.

The pilot’s voice came through over her headset. “Eta: 2 mikes”

“Copy that, 2 mikes.” The squad chambered rounds into their M4s and flipped the safety into the off position.

120 seconds later, they were off the helicopter and advancing to the rooftop door.

Ashlyn pressed down her throat mike. “Blackbeard main, Blackbeard main. This is Blackbeard actual. Radio check. How copy? Over.”

“Blackbeard actual, this is Blackbeard main. We have you loud and clear, actual.”

“Copy that, main. Any traffic for me at this time, main?”



“Negative, actual. You are clear to engage.”

“Copy that.”

Ashlyn held up three fingers. Then two. Then one. The squadron breached the door and moved quickly through the hallway. At the first door, Ashlyn pointed to Palmer and Duggan, then pointed to the door on the right. They nodded and split off to clear that room.

“Contact.” Palmer and Duggan rushed into the room. Palmer brought the butt of his M4 up to the man’s chin.

“Tango 1 secure.” Duggan flipped the man over and secured him with flex cuffs.

Ashlyn, Archer and Brooks continued down the hallway and down a flight of stairs, careful to clear the corners. The Staff Sergeant pointed at Archer and Brooks and signaled them to enter the room on the left.

With a nod, they disappeared into the room. Ashlyn and Deacon continued down the hallway and turned right into another bedroom.

She entered, rifle at the ready. As she swept to the right a man charged her, slamming her into the wall. She brought her elbow up and drove it into the side of the man’s head.

Deacon launched himself onto the man’s arm, clamping down and dragging him to the ground.

Ashlyn ground her foot into the man’s sternum and depressed her throat mic. “Contact. 2nd story. Right.” She leveled the M4 right between his eyes.

A split second later, Brooks and Archer were in the room securing the man’s hands. Ashlyn spit out the blood from inside her mouth and pressed her mic down again. “Blackbeard actual to Blackbeard main.”

“Go ahead, actual.”

“Two tangos secure and ready for exfil.”

“Copy that, actual. Exfil ETA is 90 seconds.”

“Copy that, main.” Ashlyn released the mic and spit another mouthful of blood.

“You okay, Sarge?” Duggan, the team medic, spoke up.

“Yeah…fucker just caught my lip when he rushed me. Let’s get stacked up on that door and ready for exfil.”

Less than a minute later, she was riding shotgun in a humvee. The exfil team was responsible for driving the humvee and manning the .50 caliber gun on top of the humvee as they made their way back to base.

8 minutes into their drive, Archer shouted out “Contact Rear! Contact Rear!”

A truck peeled out onto the street, racing after them. The truck bed was full of men shooting at them.

Ashlyn slapped the leg of the soldier on the .50 cal gun. “Return fire!” She pressed the throat mic. “Blackbeard main. This is actual. We are taking fire. I repeat. We are taking fire.” When she turned around, the soldier still wasn’t shooting and she was furious. “Palmer! Get on that fucking gun!”

Palmer reached up and yanked the soldier down into the bed of the humvee. The sniper aimed and launched a downpour of bullets to the hood of the truck. Almost instantly, the engine exploded into a ball of fire. “Tango down!” Palmer yelled. 



5 minutes later, the humvee pulled into the secured base. A team of soldiers were waiting to unload the truck and take custody of the targets.

Staff Sergeant Ashlyn Harris looked like a caged animal when she got out of the vehicle. She unclipped her helmet and threw it against the wall. “PRIVATE!” She paced across the large bay and grabbed fistfuls of the soldier’s vest, pulling them face to face. “I tell you to return fire, you pull the fucking trigger! Do you understand me??”

The soldier was shocked into silence.

“I asked you a fucking question!” She yelled.

All eyes in the bay were on the two of them.

“Yes…I understand Staff Sergeant…”

“Well I fucking hope so because you acting like a scared shitless little kid could’ve gotten us all killed.” She released him with a shove and walked out of into the night air to calm down.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Ali was in the locker room with her Washington Spirit teammates, sitting next to Crystal Dunn after practice.

“So, Ali….” Crystal grinned mischievously. “How are things with the hot soldier?”

“Ugh…” Ali sighed dreamily like a 17 year old teenager and let her head hit the back of her locker. “She’s like…perfect. I mean it’s hard. I haven’t seen her in a month because she’s been in South America but…ugh”



Crystal laughed and Jo Lohman sat down on the bench to join them. “What are we talking about?” Jo asked.

“Ali’s hot perfect girlfriend, apparently…” Crystal grinned and Jo raised an eyebrow.

“Like when she found out she was going to have to go down to South America and miss her trip up here? That morning she had flowers and my favorite coffee made to order delivered to my door…” Ali bit her lip at the memory.

“Aww.” Crystal cooed.

“Oooh! What are we “awwing?” Lori Lindsay asked as she plopped down next to Ali.

“Krieger’s in luuuuuv” Jo teased.

Ali laughed but didn’t outright deny it, something the other women noticed.

“Whatever. Let’s go get some lunch.” Ali laughed and grabbed her purse, slinging it over her shoulder.

The four women walked out of the stadium and headed into the parking lot, discussing where they should go for lunch.

Ali looked up and stopped in her tracks, blinking.

“Ali?” Lori asked.

The brunette dropped her purse and took off in a sprint across the parking lot.

Ashlyn had left Colombia the next day on a flight back to Fort Bragg. The squadron had spent the day getting all their gear back in order and when Ashlyn woke up this morning she packed a bag and started her drive north.

Ashlyn set her feet in a steady stance and smiled wide as she caught the flying brunette. Ali had run across the parking lot at full speed and launched herself into her soldier’s arms, burying her face into Ash’s neck and wrapping her legs around her waist.

Ash wrapped her arms tight around Ali, holding her tight and placing a kiss to her neck. “God, I missed you…” She breathed out.

Ali leaned back and grabbed Ashlyn’s face with both hands before crashing their lips together. She finally pulled back after she heard the catcalls from her teammates. “What are you doing here?? I thought you were still in South America!”


“I know. I was. We got in yesterday and as soon as I got the leave cleared with my CO, I was in my car on my way to you.” She leaned in and captured her lips again.

Ali wove her hands through the soldier’s hair and deepened the kiss, tugging on Ash’s lower lip with her teeth. The hiss from Ashlyn caused her to pull back and look down at the puffy lip. She traced the lip with her thumb and looked up with concern filled eyes. “What happened?”

“Oh…” Ash let out a soft chuckle. “You should see the other guy…” She smiled to ease Ali’s mind. “Really, I’m fine. Just caught a shoulder to the mouth.”

“And that’s it? No other bruises or wounds to find?” Ali didn’t look quite satisfied.

“That’s it…” A grin broke out across Ash’s face. “But you can strip search me later if you want to see for yourself.”



Ali raised an eyebrow and smirked. “I just might take you up on that, Staff Sergeant.”

“So…Ali…who’s your friend?” Lori teased as they made their way over to the couple.

Ali loosened her hold and dropped back down to her own feet, tucking herself into Ashlyn’s side. “Guys, this is Ashlyn. Ashlyn, this is Lori, Jo and Crystal”

Ali smirked to herself when Ashlyn practically snapped to attention and held her hand out. “Hey guys. Nice to meet you.”

They all shook her hand and Jo spoke up “We were going to get some lunch. Can you join us?”

Ash looked down at Ali with a raised eyebrow. When she got a small smile and nod from the brunette she turned back to the group. “That would be great.”

Lori gave an exaggerated fist pump. “Yes! Let’s go!” 


Ali gave Ashlyn a side hug. “We can take my car and come get yours later.” She grabbed Ash’s hand and dragged her towards the BMW.

Ash walked alongside Ali towards her car. When they got to the car, Ashlyn opened up the driver side door for Ali but stopped her before she got in the car.

“Is that my hoodie?” Ashlyn raised an eyebrow and looked down at the sweatshirt as she asked the rhetorical question.

“What this? No…no, this is mine…” Ali grinned mischeviously. She looked down at the Combat Diver crest on the top left of the shirt. “I’ve had this since way before I met you.” She winked and climbed into the car.

Ashlyn shut the door and shook her head as she walked around to the passenger side. “When the hell did she steal that?” She muttered to herself.

20 minutes later, the group was settled into a restaurant while they sipped on cocktails.

Crystal and Ali were swooning over how chivalrous Ashlyn was. The way she held the door open for Ali or made sure that Ali ordered before her. How she kept her hand on the defender’s lower back and pulled out her chair for her.

“So hot.” Crystal said quietly as Ashlyn was wrapped up in a conversation with Lori and Jo. “And so sweet. I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life…”



Ali laughed and rolled her eyes. “Y’know…she’s got 4 guys on her team…” Ali shot her a suggestive look. “I could put in a word..”

“So Ali said you were in South America?” Jo asked as she took as sip of her vodka tonic.

“Yeah, we were over there for 2 weeks.” Ash sipped her beer and leaned back into her chair.

Ali caught the conversation. Her and Crystal turned their attention back to the other three.

“Oh that’s not too bad. I thought deployments were usually long?” Lori asked.

“They can be, yeah, but my unit is a special forces tac team so we go as needed.”

Ali’s eyes shone with pride and she leaned into Ash’s side, who automatically wrapped an arm around her.

“Holy shit. That’s crazy.” Jo said in amazement. “Like Navy Seals kind of stuff?”

Ash chuckled but shook her head. “Definitely not Navy Seals. Delta Force.”

Ali laughed at the stunned look on her three teammates. “Yeah..that’s how I reacted.”

Ashlyn took another sip of her beer as if it were nothing and shrugged.

“So…like…can I ask you why you were in South America?” Lori asked.

Ali squeezed Ashlyn’s thigh. “It’s okay if you can’t talk about it honey.”

“No, no it’s okay…it wasn’t classified.” She placed a kiss on Ali’s temple. “We grabbed a couple heavy hitters for a cartel that’s been funding a terrorist cell.”

“Welp….that’s the most badass thing I’ve ever heard…” Lori laughed, obviously impressed.

“Yeah, you’re like a real life action hero..” Jo added.

Ali just beamed up proudly at her girlfriend and watched her blush.

“No…no…Just, y’know..doing our jobs.” Ash had never really been comfortable accepting the praise that came with her position. “Deke did most of the work anyways.”



“Oh yeah! Where is he?” Ali glanced up, realizing Ashlyn was without her normal sidekick.

“I left him with the guys. I didn’t know if your place could have dogs.” She shrugged.

When Ali caught the confused glances, she explained “Deacon is the K-9 dog on their unit. He’s adorable.” 



“He’s not adorable! He’s…intimidating and lethal…” Ashlyn pouted. “You’re going to make him soft.”

Ali huffed. “Well…I think he’s adorable…and for future reference, he’s more than welcome at the apartment.” She added before giving the soldier a quick kiss.

The group enjoyed their lunch together before parting ways to give the couple some alone time.

Ashlyn and Ali picked up the Jeep before heading back to Ali’s apartment. Ashlyn parked the Jeep and slung the desert camo duffle bag over her shoulder before catching up with Ali.

Ali grabbed her hand as she headed to her apartment. “Y’know…a little head’s up and I would’ve cleaned.” She teased.

“I’ve spent most of my adult life on an army base…I’m sure it’ll be more than satisfactory.” Ash smirked.

As they stepped inside, it was confirmed that Ali’s wish to clean was completely unnecessary. Her apartment was the opposite of Ashlyn’s home. It was warm, inviting and incredibly stylish. There were pictures everywhere. Her couch was complete with throw pillows and a cozy blanket. The walls were an industrial worn brick and the kitchen was brand new.

Ash took in the space. “Alex…this is amazing.”

Ali smiled widely, proud that Ash liked it. She reached up and pulled the taller woman’s lips down for a kiss. “I’m glad you like it.”

Ashlyn hummed into the kiss, deepening it as the arm not balancing the bag on her shoulder pulled Ali in tight. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make the trip we originally planned.”



Honestly, Ashlyn had been feeling some guilt over the exact thing that had kept her from getting into relationships once she took her position on Delta Force.

For her part, Ali was wondering if this would come up. She grabbed the duffle bag, slipping it off of Ashlyn’s shoulder and onto the ground before stepping closer to the soldier. She reached up and cradled her face with both hands. “Ashlyn, I came into this with eyes wide open. I knew exactly what I was signing up for. Don’t you ever apologize. When you have to go, I don’t want you worrying about whether or not I’m upset… I just want you focused on getting back to me in one piece.”

“Yes ma’am.” Ashlyn looked down into soft understanding brown eyes.

“Now…if we’re done with all that, I’ve got a couple ideas on how to make up for lost time.” Ali whispered seductively.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

The next morning, Ali woke up alone in her king size bed. She slipped on a pair of yoga pants and a tank top before heading into the living room. She bit her bottom lip at the sight that greeted her.

Ashlyn was covered in a layer of sweat and was half way through her workout when Ali walked in. She smirked when she felt the smaller woman sit down on her back but kept doing her push ups as if no extra weight had been added.

“Oh, come on!” Ali laughed, secretly turned on at the display of strength.

Ashlyn laughed and did a couple more for effect before Ali stood back up and watched the soldier roll onto her back.

“Am I ever going to wake up with you actually still in the bed?” Ali asked.

Ashlyn got up to her feet with a chuckle. “Sorry about that…internal clock gets me up at 6 whether I want to or not.” She leans in for a quick kiss. “Good morning.” She winks.

“Mmm..good morning.” Ali grins into the kiss. “I’ll make us some coffee.”

“That’d be great. I’m going to go rinse off.”

20 minutes later, they were curled up together on the couch as the DC sun poured through the window.

Ali cuddled into Ash’s chest from her spot on the soldier’s lap and took a sip of her coffee. “I never got a chance to ask you how long you’re here for.”

“Well that depends how long you want me here for..” Ashlyn smirked and took a sip of her coffee.

“What do you mean?”

“I got clearance for up to two weeks, granted that I do some consulting for the CIA a couple days while I’m here.”

“Two weeks?! Really?” Ali’s eyes shone brightly as they checked for signs that Ashlyn was kidding.

“Two weeks.” Ashlyn took another sip of her coffee with a grin. “Assuming you want me here that long.”

“Of course I want you here that long! That would mean you could be here for the home opener!” Ali beamed.

“I’d love to come watch you play.” She placed a kiss on Ali’s neck. “I’ll call Jake this afternoon and let him know. He does the consulting with me.”

“What kind of consulting do you guys do for the CIA?”

“Mostly distance shooting and CQC. Helping them with their technique.”

“CQC?”



“Sorry. Closed quarter combat.” She took another sip of her coffee. “It’s usually a pain in the ass. They think their Ivy league education makes them better than us but it’s fun knocking them down a peg.”

Ali ran a hand through Ash’s hair and set her mug down on the coffee table before turning and straddling the soldier’s lap. She looked down into the hazel eyes and shook her head in amazement. “I’ve just scratched the surface of who you are, haven’t I?”

Ashlyn looked up into the deep brown eyes and shrugged, placing her hands low on Ali’s hips before smirking playfully. “Is now a good time to tell you I can speak 3 other languages?”

Ali let out an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes. “Of course you can…”

“If it helps, I’m only fluent in two of them…the third is just conversational…” Ash fought back a grin.

“Oh yeah…yeah, that helps. Let’s have it..what are they?”



“Russian, Farsi and Korean. The Unit makes you learn at least two. The guys all know at least two each so there’s pretty much nowhere in the world we can’t communicate.”

Ali shook her head. “Unbelievable…”

“Well…it’s all in context…I mean, if you put me on a soccer field, I’d look like an idiot.” She leaned up and claimed Ali’s lips. “And I definitely couldn’t talk my way through Germany.” This time the kiss was on her jaw.

Ali closed her eyes at the sensation and tilted her head back to give Ashlyn easier access.

“And I don’t have kids running up and asking for my autograph.” She placed a rough kiss on Ali’s neck which was met with a moan. Her rough hands slipped under Ali’s tank top and make their way up her back.

An hour later, they were naked and satisfied as Ashlyn held Ali in her arms and traced her fingertips up and down her back. 



Ali rested her chin on Ashlyn’s collarbone and looked up at her. “I’ve never felt so safe in my entire life..”



Ash reached up and tucked a strand of Ali’s hair behind ear, waiting patiently to see if there was more that Ali wanted to talk through.

Ali reached up and took one of the rough hands into her smaller soft ones. She traced the lines across her palm. “You’re so gentle with me..and loving…and tender…” She blinked up into Ash’s eyes. “And then there’s this other side that’s protective and aggressive and in command of four of the deadliest men on the planet.” She leaned down and placed a smoldering kiss on her soldier.

As they were wrapped up in the kiss a phone buzzed across the table, causing them to break apart. “I think that’s you..” Ali whispered out.

“Ugh.” Ashlyn groaned and grabbed the phone. “It’s Jake..”

“Tell him to bring that cute pup with him when he comes up.” Ali grinned.

“For the last time, he’s not cute! He’s a warrior.” Ash laughed and picked up the phone. “Hey buddy.” 

As Ashlyn started to talk to Jake, she had to bite her lip to keep the moan from her lips when Ali left hot open mouth kisses across her stomach.

With a smirk and a wink, Ali stood up and walked back down the hallway.

Ashlyn shook her head to clear the fog before turning her attention back to the phone call. They spoke for a couple minutes. Jake would be driving up in a couple days to help with the CIA consultation.

When they said goodbye Ashlyn got up in search of her girlfriend. When she heard the sound of the shower, she smiled wide and slipped in to join her.

Within seconds, the soccer star was pinned against a shower wall in the best possible way.

 

Chapter Text


Chapter 13

Ali and Ashlyn spent the afternoon exploring DC and visiting some of Ali’s favorite places. In the same way that Ali had learned Ashlyn’s life in Fort Bragg, Ash was now learning Ali’s life in DC.

They were sitting in a park, drinking coffee together when Ali’s phone rang. She pulled the phone out of her purse and glanced at Ash. “It’s my dad.”



“Take it.” She wrapped an arm around Ali’s shoulders and pulled her tight against her frame. 



Ali smiled warmly and cuddled up before hitting the green answer button. “Hey dad!”

Ashlyn placed a kiss on the top of Ali's head as she listened along to Ali’s side of the conversation.

“Ash surprised me and came up to DC so I’ve been showing her around.”

Ash grinned a little, impressed that Ali had shared their relationship with her family.

“Yeah I had no clue she was coming.” Ali shot a wink up at the soldier. “Oh okay. Yeah, we’ll be there. Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”

When the phone call was over, Ashlyn sent a questioning glance Ali’s way.

“Tonight, we’re going to find out if the big bad Delta Force Staff Sergeant can handle meeting the parents…” Ali grinned.

Ash relied on her training to keep her face neutral. Inside, she was a ball of emotions: nervous, excited, loved. “Oh really now?”

Ali could tell that a lot was going on inside the soldier’s mind. She ran a comforting hand across Ashlyn’s jaw. “Mmhmm. They’re making dinner and they’d like us to join them. They’re eager to meet you.”

“Been talking about me?”

Ali grinned. “Don’t sound so surprised. You’re easy to brag about.” She placed a kiss on her soldier’s jaw. “Nervous?”

Ash shrugged “I don’t know…should I be?”

Ali laughed. “This time I’ll keep you safe.” She hopped up and held her hand to Ashlyn. “Come on. We have to go get ready.”

 

An hour and a half later Ashlyn was putting the final touches on her hair and sprayed some cologne. She stepped out of the bathroom as she shouldered on the gray collared shirt, buttoning it up and folding the sleeves up to her elbows. She ran the brown leather belt through the loops on her jeans and slipped on her brown leather boots.

Ashlyn walked into the bedroom, finding Ali putting earrings in. She stepped up behind her and wrapped her arms tight around Ali’s torso. “You’re beautiful, Alex.” She whispered into her ear before placing a kiss there.

Ali closed her eyes and breathed in the masculine scent, taking comfort in it. It reminded her of cedar and the smoke from a bonfire. Her heart skipped at how careful Ashlyn was with her words. She didn’t say that she looked beautiful, she said she is beautiful. Ali knew it wasn’t a coincidence. She turned in the embrace and ran her fingers over the dog tags hanging around Ash’s neck. “And you’re handsome, stud. C’mere.” She tugged on the dog tags and pulled her down for a lingering kiss.

Ali tossed a couple things into her purse and gave Ashlyn a wink. “Ready?”

“Always.” Ashlyn smirked.

45 minutes later, they pulled up in front of a beautiful colonial style home, bordering on mansion. Ashlyn parked the Jeep and trotted to the passenger door, helping Ali down which earned her a quick kiss.

They walked hand in hand to the porch and Ali walked through the door. “Hello!” She called out loudly, looking around. “They’re probably in the den.” She pulled Ashlyn through the house and found her dad and Vicki in the kitchen. “Hey guys!” She released Ashlyn’s hand and pulled her dad into a hug, then Vicki.

Ashlyn stood tall, her hands clasped behind her back as she smiled through the greeting Ali gave her family.

Ali turned back and gave Ashlyn a thousand watt smile. “Dad, Vicki. This is Staff Sergeant Ashlyn Harris.” She gave Ashlyn a playful wink when she used her title.

Ash took a step forward and extended her hand out to give Ken’s a firm shake. “It’s nice to meet you, Sir.” She turned and shook Vicki’s hand. “And you, ma’am.”

“Please, it’s Ken and Vicki.” Ali's dad offered with a warm smile.

Ashlyn nodded. “Thanks for having me. You have a beautiful home.” 



Vicki beamed and looked at Ali. “I see why you like her. Her manners match her looks.” She winked, leaving both Ali and Ashlyn shocked.

Ken laughed “Please excuse my wife. Can I get you something to drink? Wine? Beer?”

Ashlyn turned back to Ali. “Alex?”



“I’ll just have a glass of red. Whatever you have open.”

“And a beer for me, would be great.” Ashlyn responded, feeling Ali’s hand slip into hers.

They settled in around the kitchen island, sitting on stools. “So, Ali told us that you’re with a special forces part of the Army?”

Ashlyn took a drink of her beer. “Yeah, I’m the Team Leader for Delta Force Bravo Company.”



Ken glanced from Ashlyn to Ali, then back again. “Really? Alex didn’t mention that. That’s very impressive, Staff Sergeant.”

“Thank you, sir. We’re very proud of what we do.” Ashlyn added with a quiet but strong sense of pride.

Ali leaned in to Ash’s side. “I didn’t know if it was classified.” She squeezed her hand as she explained why she didn’t tell them.

Ash gave her a reassuring smile. “It’s okay.” She offered a loving wink.

“So, Delta Force. What does that mean?” Vicki asked, apparently the only one out of the loop.

“We mainly deal with hostage rescue and counter-terrorism. We’re part of the Joint Special Operations Command. We get most of our directives either from the Secretary of Defense or the President.”

Ken took a sip of his wine. “Anything you can talk about? Sorry. I’m a little addicted to the Military channel. This is really interesting to me.” He smiled.

“Dad…” Ali warned and shot her father a look. 


“Alex, it’s okay.” Ash reassured her with a smile. “We actually just got mission civilian clearance on one of our ops, yesterday.”

She was met with confused looks and she let out a soft chuckle. “Sorry…Um, sometimes I forget that there’s English and Military English…It means we can talk about it now..”



They all laughed and Ali added in “You should hear her when she’s with her team…it’s a different language entirely.”



“Those students that were taken hostage in Kandahar about two months ago?”



“Oh yeah, that was all over the news!” Vicki responded, remembering it on CNN.

Ashlyn cleared her throat humbly. “That was us. We were the recovery team.”



Pieces of information started to fall into place for Ali. “That’s why you were in California…”



Ash nodded.

Ali just shook her head in amazement, staring up at her soldier.

“That’s incredible. Thank you for what you and your team do.” 

Ken said in awe.

Ashlyn nodded, shyly. “Yes sir.”

Ali placed a hand on her forearm, looking up into her eyes. “He’s right. It’s incredible.”

Ashlyn gave her a heartwarming smile in return.

Vicki gave Ken a nudge to the side and a knowing smile at the way the women were interacting.

Ali bit her lip and then snapped herself out of it, turning back to her dad and Vicki. “Oh, wait. Where’s Cody and Tanner?”

“They should be home soon. They had baseball practice.” Ken responded.

As if on queue, the front door opened and the teenage boys barreled through the house.

“Hey, who’s badass jeep is out front?” Cody asked as he walked into the kitchen.



“Uh, that’s mine.” Ashlyn smirked, immediately amused by the two of them.

“That thing is awesome! Is that a custom paint job?” Tanner added.

“And what about those tires? Are those 33s?” Cody asked.

“35s…” Ashlyn laughed and glanced at Ali who was grinning from ear to ear.

“Hey boys. How about some manners, huh? ‘Hi, my name is…?” Vicki scolded.

“Sorry.” They both said, shaking Ashlyn’s hand one by one.

“I’m Cody.”



“I’m Tanner.”



Ashlyn smirked and shook theirs hands. “Ashlyn.”

Tanner turned on Ali and gave her a playful shove. “You didn’t tell us you were bringing someone cool…we figured it’d be another investment banker or something…”



Ashlyn felt like her face was going to break from grinning so wide.

Ali blushed and shoved Tanner before turning to Ashlyn. “I…it…” She sighed and buried her face into Ashlyn’s chest.

Ashlyn laughed and kissed the top of Ali’s head. “Investment banker, huh?” She shot the boys a wink.

“It was a long time ago.” Ali huffs and takes a sip of her wine. “You guys suck.” She playfully scolds the boys who high five each other.

“So, mom said you’re like special forces or something?” Cody asked.

Ken piped up. “She leads the most elite special forces team on the planet…so you guys better not have gotten fingerprints on that Jeep.” He laughed.

“Navy SEALS?” Tanner looked impressed.

“Ugh…oh god…” Ashlyn grabbed her chest like she had been shot.

Ali laughed and shook her head at the soldier’s antics. “Delta Force. Army.”

“That’s a real thing?? I thought that was only like in the movies!” Cody looked at Tanner and then at Ashlyn. 



“It’s a real thing.” Ashlyn laughed and took a sip of her beer.

Vicki laughed and turned to Ali and Ken “Well, I guess we’re chopped liver…”

Ali just smiled and leaned her head onto Ashlyn’s shoulder. This was perfect. She hadn’t really been worried but seeing her family take so warmly to Ashlyn made her heart feel like it could explode.

“Hey, do you play Xbox? We just got the latest Call of Duty game.” Tanner asked eagerly.

“Yeah, I play.” Ashlyn glanced at Ali, trying to gauge whether it would be appropriate for her to disappear to play video games with the boys or if she needed to stay with the ‘grown ups’.

Ali just rolled her eyes and laughed. “Oh my god…go…” She shoved her off the kitchen stool playfully.

Ashlyn gave her a peck on the cheek and started to follow the boys.

“Here, you better take this…” Ken handed Ashlyn a fresh beer with a smirk.

“Thank you.” 

And just like that, the three of them disappeared to the basement.

Ken turned to Ali. “I like her, Alex.”



“I like her too, dad.”


An hour later, Ali walked down the stairs with a full glass of wine and a new beer for her girlfriend.

Ashlyn, Cody and Tanner were all sitting on the edge of the sectional with controllers in their hands.

Ali bit her bottom lip as she took in her girlfriend. Ashlyn had taken off her button up shirt. The tight white shirt outlined every defined muscle on the soldier’s defined upper body. She took a sip of wine and stayed hidden for a minute.

“Contact right! Contact right!” Ashlyn announced as she pulled the trigger on the controller.

Tanner pulled his trigger before announcing. “Tango down!”

“Moving!” Cody shouted before moving his guy on the screen. 

Ali couldn’t hold in her laugh as she watched them.

Ashlyn gave her a quick wink before going back to the game. “Two on the roof.”

“On my mark. 3, 2, mark.” Cody ordered before they both pulled the trigger. With that, they won the round and the screen went back to the main menu. Cody and Tanner fist bumped their new friend with a victory cry.

“Dinner’s ready, guys” Ali announced as she walked over to the sectional.

Cody and Tanner sprinted up the stairs, leaving Ali and Ashlyn in their dust.

Ashlyn stood up with a smirk and took the beer that Ali offered. “Thanks babe.”



Ali bit her lip. “You’re welcome.” She pushed Ashlyn back down onto the sectional and climbed on top of her, straddling her lap. Ali claimed Ashlyn’s lips in a deep hungry kiss, pressing her body tightly against the strong frame of her soldier.

When they separated, Ashlyn was left breathless. “What’d I do to deserve that?” She licked her lips, enjoying the trace of wine left in her mouth. Her free hand rested on Ali’s hip, tracing circles with her thumb.

“Just being you…” Ali ran a hand through the soft short hair. “They all love you and that means so much to me…” Ali blinked a couple times and palmed Ashlyn’s cheek to look into those captivating hazel eyes. “…because I love you..” She whispered.

Ashlyn searched Ali’s eyes to make sure she’d heard her correctly. When she saw the vulnerability and tenderness in her eyes, she new she’d heard right. Ashlyn reached up to the back of Ali’s head and crushed her lips in a bruising kiss, pouring all of her feelings into it. When she finally pulled apart, it was just enough to whisper out. “I love you too…”

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

 

The rest of the dinner had been perfect. The Krieger family was absolutely enamored with Ashlyn and couldn’t get enough of her. Once back home, they spent the rest of the evening and the next day expressing just how much they loved one another through their actions.

When Ali woke up the next day, a content smile broke out across her face. She was in the strong arms of her favorite soldier. When she looked up, she was met with soft eyes and a smile. “Hi” Ali croaked out, her voice still rough from sleep.

“Hey you.” Ashlyn ran a hand through the long brown hair.

“You’re here.” Ali beamed.

“You said you wanted to wake up with me. Here am I.” Ash smiled and placed a tender kiss on her lips.

Ali sighed dreamily. “I swear to god…you’re straight out of a fucking Nicholas Sparks book..”

Ashlyn laughed and gave her a squeeze. “I don’t know about that…”



Ali smirked. “You know what day today is?”



Ashlyn raised an eyebrow in question.

“Today my favorite soldier arrives.” Ali tried to keep a straight face before she busted out laughing.

“Unbelievable…Even a Nicholas Sparks character can’t keep up with Deacon…” 



“Nope.” Ali laughed and kissed Ash’s nose before getting up. She pulled on a pair of shorts and Ash’s Combat Diver hoodie before heading into the kitchen and starting a pot of coffee.

She came back 5 minutes later with two steaming mugs of coffee.

“Mmm…what a woman.” Ash hummed appreciatively as she sipped the coffee.

Ali grinned and climbed onto Ash’s lap, taking a sip from her own mug. “What time are they getting here?”



“Probably around noon. What time do you need to be at the stadium?”

“Around 3:00. And a lot of the girls from the National Team play for Kansas City so they’re probably going to go out later if you’re up for it.”

“Of course. I mean, you had to put up with the boys so it’s the least I can do.” Ashlyn grinned.

“And Deacon can come to the game?” Ali asked hopefully.



“If you want him to, and it won’t be distracting, yeah.” Ashlyn smiled.

“I’d like that. I got you guys passes into the family suite. Dad, Vicki, Cody and Tanner will be there so you’ll have some familiar faces.”

“Thanks Alex. You didn’t have to do that.” Ashlyn gave her thigh a squeeze.

“Well I can’t have you sitting in bad seats.” Ali got up from the bed. “I’ll make us some breakfast.”

When Ali walked out of the room, Ash stared at the now empty doorframe. “God, I love you…” She murmured.


10 minutes to noon, there was a knock on the door. When Ali opened it, there was no one at eye sight. When she glanced down, the sight split her face in a wide smile.

Deacon was sitting perfectly but his tail was wagging so hard, his butt was shaking back and forth.

“There he is! Did you drive here all alone?” Ali joked and kneeled down in front of him, laughing when he started licking her face.

Jake rounded the corner and laughed. “Sorry. Couldn’t help it.”

Ali stood and pulled Jake into a hug. “Hey stranger!”

“Hey Ali.” He returned the hug and followed her inside. “Where’s Sarge?”

“She’s in the shower but should be out soon. By the way, you know you don’t have to stay in a hotel right? You can stay here.” Ali plopped down on the couch, playing with Deacon.

“Oh, thanks. Uncle Sam is putting me up in a Hilton so I’m okay”

“You mean you got an upgrade from the Motel 6?” Ashlyn asked as she joined the group.

“Hey there Sarge.” They clasped hands tightly.

Ashlyn ruffled Deacon’s ears before sitting down on the couch.

Jake watched with amusement as Ali automatically tucked herself into his Sergeant’s side and Ashlyn immediately wrapped an arm around her. “Man…you guys are gross.” He laughed.

“Jealously looks bad on you, Arch..” Ashlyn winked.

 

The trio caught up until it was time to leave. They headed to the stadium, taking separate cars so Jake could go straight to the hotel.

When they pulled into the parking lot, Ali and Ashlyn took a minute to appreciate the privacy. Ash reached over and gave her hand a squeeze. “I’m excited to see you play.” 



Ali smiled warmly. “You saw me play in California.” She reminded.

“Well yeah…but now I’m watching my girlfriend play. Takes it to an entirely different level of sexy.” Ash smirked.

“Yeah?” Ali asked shyly.

“Hell yeah. And when all the guys…and some girls… are staring at you, I’ll get to sit in the stands and know I’m the one you’re going home with.”

“Mm. I like how that sounds.” Ali smiled.

Ashlyn leaned across the center console and placed a deep kiss on Ali’s lips. “Good luck out there. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Ali beamed before getting out of the car with her soccer bag over her shoulder. She was half way across the parking lot when she heard Deacon let out a loud bark.

When she turned around Ashlyn, Jake and even Deacon were all sporting number 11 Krieger jerseys with big cheesy grins on their faces.

“You guys are too much!” She shouted across the parking lot. She laughed and shook her head before turning back to enter the stadium.


Ashlyn, Jake and Deacon spent the next hour in a bar catching up.

Ashlyn was thoughtfully quiet for a minute while she took a sip of her beer. She blinked a couple times. “I met her parents.”

Jake took a side glance at his best friend from his spot next to her at the bar. “That’s great, Sarge.” He glanced at her one more time. “Did it not go well? You don’t look thrilled about it.”

“No, that’s the thing. It went great. Her dad is great. His wife is great. Her step-brothers are great.” She took another drink of her beer.

“So what’s the problem?” 



Ashlyn shrugged. “I just keep waiting for the other foot to drop, you know?”

Jake sighed. “Do you trust her?”

“Yeah, of course.” Ashlyn responded immediately.

“No, Sarge…think about it. Really think about the answer.”

Ashlyn glanced over at Jake, trying to figure out what he was getting at. She looked down for a minute and thought through the question. “I do…I mean, I trust her the way I trust you guys…”


“Then stop thinking so much. She’s obviously really into you. And she can handle the team.” He shot Ash a playful grin. “Super hot..”



“Super hot.” Ashlyn agreed with a chuckle.

“The point is…I don’t think she’s just experimenting with Military life..or with you…and I don’t want you to fuck this up because you’re overthinking it.”

Ashlyn took a deep breath and released the tension as she exhaled. “You’re right.”



“I know.” Jake grinned.

Ashlyn rolled her eyes and threw some cash on the bar top before putting him in a headlock. “C’mon, let’s go. Don’t want to be late to my girl’s game…”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

Ashlyn, Jake and Deacon walked into the family suite to find it already pretty full. Ken was the first one to recognize the familiar face.

“Ashlyn, hi!” He extended his hand.

“Hey Ken. This is Corporal Jake Archer and that’s Deacon, our K-9.”

Jake nodded in greeting and offered a firm handshake. Ken took them around the suite, introducing them to other families.

“Ash! What’s up!” Tanner walked up and high-fived the Sergeant, followed by Cody.

“What’s up guys. This is my buddy Jake.” Ashlyn was still amused at how eager the boys were to ‘bro-out.’

“Hey man.” Cody shook Jake’s hand.

“Sup.” Tanner shook his hand as well.



Jake suppressed a chuckle, glancing over to Ashlyn and then back to the boys. “Sup guys..”

The soldiers both grabbed beers and when the overhead speaker announced the team, Ashlyn beamed with pride at the sight of Ali walking out in her soccer kit. She was rewarded with a small wave and wink from her favorite soccer player.

Halfway through the game, Cody and Tanner re-approached the soldiers. Tanner nudged Cody to speak up.

“Hey Ash, we were thinking…if you guys are still going to be around on Saturday. Tanner and I are in a paintball league. We’re going up against the best team in the league. Would you guys be up for playing?”

Ash bit the inside of her cheek to hide her grin and glanced at Jake. When he gave her a shrug in response, she turned and smirked. “Yeah man, we’ll play.”

Cody and Tanner high fived each other. “Sweet! Those guys won’t know what happened!”

Ash and Jake laughed before turning back to watch the rest of the game.

Ali was playing like a woman on a mission. Nothing got past her and her runs up the field were flawless. When the game was over and they had secured a victory, she waved up to the family suite and motioned for them to come down.

Ali smiled when she felt someone climb on her back yelling “Right side!”

“Strong side!” Ali yelled back before turning to give HAO a hug. “Good game!” 



HAO rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. You were playing out of your mind. I heard a rumor you might have had some extra inspiration in the stands.” She winked.

Ali laughed and a small blush crept up her cheeks. “Maybe…” She met eyes with her soldier in the stands and bit her lower lip.

“So it’s going well? I kinda figured it was just a fling in California.” HAO studied her friend’s face, seeing nothing but happiness.

“Definitely not a fling.” Ali smiles wide. “It’s still pretty new and we’re both all over the place with our jobs but we’re committed to making it work and..” Ali grins, looking at HAO. “I’ve never felt this way before. The way my stomach flips when she looks at me, or how safe I feel when I’m with her.”

HAO smiled wide “Aw! You look so happy!” She reached out and pinched Ali’s cheek. “I’m happy for you. And now we can double date!!”

The players signed autographs and took pictures with their fans for 20 minutes before Ali broke from the group and trotted over to where her family and friends were, on the sidelines of the field.

Ashlyn smiled wide as she watched Ali stride right up and wrap her arms tightly around the soldier’s neck. “You had a great game.” She placed a kiss on her cheek and gave her a tight hug.

After chatting with her family and showering, Ali walked into the parking lot to find Ashlyn leaning against her jeep chatting with HAO, Amy Rodriguez, Lauren Holiday and Becky Sauerbrunn. Whatever was being said, Ali smiled when she saw them all laugh at Ashlyn’s joke. Ali sidled up to Ash and wrapped an arm around her stomach.

“Ash was just telling us about her team crashing her attempt at a romantic dinner.” Lauren filled Ali in.

“Oh yeah.” Ali laughed. “Their hearts were in the right place.” She beamed up at Ashlyn.

“So where are we headed? I’m starving!” A-rod asked.

The group enjoyed dinner and drinks at a nice bar in Georgetown, spending hours catching up and learning more about the woman that had captured their friend’s attention. Jake had left after the game to catch up with some friends in the DC area but had promised to meet up for the CIA work Monday morning.

When they were ready to leave, Ash helped Ali into her Jeep and opened the back for Deacon to hop in. When she climbed into the driver seat, she laced her fingers through Ali’s. “So..your step-brothers roped Jake and I into playing on their paintball team on Saturday…” 



Ali laughed and rolled her eyes. “Oh god, those poor kids won’t know what hit them. I don’t suppose you’ll go easy on them?”



Ash shook her head and grinned. “No chance.”

 


Two days later Ashlyn was sitting on a bench next to Jake, filling the paintball guns with ammo.

Across from them, Cody and Tanner’s team were staring at them in awe, talking in hushed tones about the soldiers and their impressive physiques.

Ashlyn looked up at the big window where spectators gathered to watch the match. Apparently news had traveled of their presence because the normally empty viewing area was now packed, including Ali, Ken, Vicki, Lori, Jo and Crystal.

Ash stood up from the bench and turned to the group of boys. “So, what’s the game plan guys?”

The guys all looked around one another, finally Tanner spoke up. “We uh…we were kinda hoping you would tell us…we usually just run around and shoot.”

Ashlyn glanced at Jake, who was sporting a boyish grin, before turning back to the group. “Okay, sure. Let’s pair up in two man teams. The course is a maze, so be careful about rounding corners..that’s where shooters will be stacked up. Jake and I will take the middle..that should be the choke point..or the hardest passage. You guys clear the edges and watch the friendly fire.”

She turned back to the bench and grabbed her paintball gun and helmet before glancing up at her ‘fan section’ only to be met with some very amused grins. She shot Ali a wink before pulling her helmet on and turning to Jake.

“Let’s go get some, Sarge.” Jake grinned and gave Ashlyn a playful headbutt.

“Hoo-ah” Ashlyn grinned.

A loud buzzer started going off as the lights dimmed, signaling the game was about to start.

Ashlyn crouched low and kneeled down towards the doorway in the middle of their entranceway, Jake kneeling behind her.



The final buzzer signaled the game had officially started.

Ashlyn tapped the top of her helmet twice before pointing forward, indicating they were ready to move. She pivoted onto her feet and raised the gun before rounding the first corner.

Jake positioned himself on her right shoulder so they were nearly back to back. The tactic allowed them to see nearly every direction as they moved through the hallway. Ashlyn and Jake knew the other team had 10 players and they needed to shoot each one of them with paint to win.

As they came to the first corner, Ashlyn held up her first for both of them to stop. She tilted her head as she heard footsteps. Two sets of footsteps. She held up two fingers on her left hand and then grabbed her right forearm.

Jake nodded his understanding: two enemies waited around the corner.

As Ashlyn pivoted off her spot on the wall, she raised up her gun and fired short bursts of shots from her crouched position. Jake was crouched behind her, shooting as well. Before the other team knew what happened, the two players were covered in neon green paint.

“Two down. Move.” Ashlyn started moving again when she felt Jake back in position on her shoulder. Another player moved into their sight. “Contact front.” Ashlyn squeezed the trigger, sending a cluster of paintballs right into the center of the players. “Tango down.”

“Contact right.” Jake fired off a few rounds, shooting down another player. “That makes 4..”

Ashlyn nodded and walked up to another corner. As they were moving, in the distance they heard another 2 players for the other team go down but they had lost 4 players of their own in the process. Ashlyn creeped up to the corner and peeked her head out quickly before returning to cover.

Ashlyn grinned. “They’re panicking. They’re stacked up in wedge formation, protecting their flag.” She looked around, taking in the scenery around them. “Alright…here’s the plan…”

30 seconds later, Jake turned his hands into a cradle. Ashlyn put a hand on his shoulder and stepped onto his hands. She used the lift to vault herself silently over the 8 foot wall. She was officially behind enemy lines. She heard the telltale sign of Jake drawing their attention with cover fire.

Ashlyn moved quietly and quickly to get into position behind the other team. She grabbed the flag undetected and tucked it into her pocket. She allowed herself a glance up at the spectator section and gave Ali, her family and her friends a quick thumbs up before pulling the trigger and shooting down the remaining 4 players on the other team.

“All clear!” She yelled out, prompting Jake to step out of cover and pull off his helmet.

Ash did the same and gave him a quick fist bump. Before they knew it, their entire team was mobbing them in a flurry of compliments.

Upstairs, the spectators were in shock. Ali, for her part, was doing her best to control her arousal as she watched her girlfriend move flawlessly through the course.

“Holy shit! That was amazing!” Lori cried out.

“Did you see her climb over that wall???” Jo asked.

“Yep..” Ali bit her lower lip with a grin. “That’s my soldier…”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 16

 

Ali was pouring coffee into two mugs while she watched Ashlyn get Deacon’s food together. They were on day 9 of their 14 days together and it had been nearly perfect. Ashlyn came and watched practices when she wasn’t busy working with the CIA. They’d done workouts together, playfully pushing each other. There’d even been romantic dinners at dimly lit restaurants and nights out on the town spent dancing. 

Ali was pulled out of her daydreaming by a phone buzzing across the countertop. Ali took a sip of coffee and picked up the phone. She took a deep breath and steadied herself. “Babe. It’s for you…it says JSOC…” 

Ashlyn walked over and checked the phone screen before answering. “Staff Sergeant Harris.” Her eyes were serious as she listened to the other end. What she heard next caused her eyes to close. “When?”

Ali watched Ashlyn’s jaw set and she reached a comforting hand to her bicep. 

“Understood. Lieutenant General…my team’s going to want this one.” Ashlyn nodded when she heard the response on the other end. “Copy that.” She ended the call and took a deep breath.

Ali just watched patiently, rubbing her hand up and down the soldier’s arm.

“I have to go.” Ash whispered out.

“I figured as much..” Ali stepped in to hug Ashlyn tightly before leaning back to look up at her soldier.

“It um…” She cleared her throat. “Alpha team has been taken hostage in Nigeria…” Ashlyn blinked a couple times. “We’re going in for rescue.”

“Ash…” Ali swallowed hard and looked up sympathetically. Ashlyn had told Ali all about how her first 6 months on Delta Force had been with the Alpha team. Ali had listened intently as Ashlyn described Brad, the Alpha company team leader. She had been amazed at how Ash talked about him. He had been her idol from the minute they met and she tried to lead her team in a manner that would make him proud.

“Yeah…I know…” She blinked a couple more times. “It has to be me, Alex…It has to be us…I can’t let anyone else do it for me…”

Ali reached up and placed a finger on her lips to silence her. “I know. I wouldn’t expect anything different.” She cradled the soldier’s face in her hands, memorizing the contours and soaking in the sight before she had to give it up. 

Ashlyn took a deep breath and checked her watch before looking back at Ali. “I’ll have a satellite phone with me so if you see a weird number, answer it.” She sighed. “I’m going to catch a chopper back to base with Jake and then we’ll be taking off before sundown.”

Ali nodded, soaking in all the information. “Okay.” Inside she was a ball of emotions, but she was doing her best to put on a strong front. 

Ashlyn moved quickly through the apartment, throwing all of her stuff into the proper bags as she called Jake and informed him of the situation. He had promised to meet for the helicopter in 35 minutes. 

Once everything was packed up and sitting by the door, Ashlyn turned and walked up to Ali. She cradled Ali’s face gently in her hands, rubbing her thumbs over the brunette’s cheeks. “Alex.” 

Ali looked up softly, leaning into the touch. “Just promise me something, Ash.”

“Anything.”

“Clear eyes…full hearts.”

Ashlyn let out a bark of a laugh that cut the tension in the room. “Really? That’s your advice? We binge watch Friday Night Lights for two days and you steal Coach Taylor’s pep talk?”

Ali smiled as she tried to stay tough for her soldier. “Okay, technically I’m stealing.” She got serious once again. “But think about it…I’m not going to tell you to be safe because I know that’s not something you can promise. And I’m not going to tell you to hurry home because I know you’ll stay over there for as long as you need to.” She reached up and ran a hand through Ash’s hair. “But if you have clear eyes, you’re the most qualified team leader on the planet for this. And if you have a full heart, you’ll do whatever it takes to rescue Alpha team, keep your men safe and get back to me in one piece.” 

Ash clamped down her jaw and squinted her eyes to keep the tears at bay. She took a deep breath and nodded. “Clear eyes. Full hearts.”

“Can’t lose.” Ali mumbled out before pulling the Staff Sergeant down for the most intense kiss of her life. It was full of love and fear and every emotion in between. 

When they broke apart breathless, Ash whispered. “Alex.” 

Ali met Ashlyn’s eyes and blinked back a few tears that were fighting to fall.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.” 

 

Ashlyn took one more long look at Ali, committing everything about her to memory before grabbing her bags and disappearing out the door with Deacon.

Chapter Text

The AH-6 helicopter touched down at Fort Bragg just an hour after Ashlyn had left Ali’s apartment. When Ashlyn, Jake and Deacon stepped onto the tarmac, they were met with the remaining members of Bravo Company.

“Where are we?” Ashlyn asked as she tossed her bags into the back of the truck and climbed into the passenger seat. Everyone else piled into the truck as Mikey hit the gas, tearing down the runway towards their Delta Force command center.

Brooks spoke up first. “We already went to your places and got all your shit. It’s in the back of the truck. Lieutenant General has everyone on standby and ready for briefing. C-130 is ready for wheels up whenever we are.”

Ashlyn nodded and rubbed a hand over her face. “Everyone have their personal shit tied up?”

“Roger that, Sarge.” came a chorus of voices.

Mikey screeched to a halt in front of their command center and all 5 of them piled out of the car, Deacon tagging along. As soon as they entered a voice called out “Staff Sergeant.”

Ashlyn snapped her head around and caught sight of Lieutenant Commander Miller. “Yes sir.”

“A word.”

She nodded and turned to her men. “Get everyone in the briefing room and ready to go.” She turned back and entered the office. She offered a salute and stood at attention.

“Harris. I need to know that your judgment and ability to lead your team won’t be impaired by your relationship with Alpha team.” The tall stocky man asked bluntly.

“It won’t be a problem, sir.”

“Good. Now that that’s out of the way, you have full operational control of this mission. All of JSOCs resources are at your disposal, including Seal Team Six. I know I don’t have to tell you what’s on the line.”

Ashlyn nodded. “Roger that, sir.”

“Go brief your team Staff Sergeant. Good luck.”

Ashlyn nodded and turned on her heel. When she entered the command center, the 30 plus people in the room stood at attention. 

“At ease.” She met eyes with each member of her team before accepting a folder from an intelligence officer. 

“Okay, here’s what we know…Delta Force Alpha Company was in Nigeria, tracking down a known terrorist cell specializing in human trafficking. At 1900 local time, they were ambushed while gathering intel in a small village. They were able to send two transmissions before comms went down. Team leader reported 30-40 insurgents. Then reported 15-20 locals taken as hostages. After that, we lost radio contact.” 

Ashlyn glanced around to make sure everyone was following along before continuing. “We are now 18 hours in since abduction. At this time, we’ve received no contact from their captors. I want wheels up in 30 minutes. Bravo company will run point. Night Stalkers Echo Company will provide air support. Ranger Regiment will handle reconnaissance. Seal Team Six is currently in Brazil. They’ll be headed our way ASAP. Their ETA is 34 hours. Failure is not an option on this one, boys and girls.”

Ashlyn took a deep breath and looked at the floor for a minute to collect her thoughts. When she spoke again, her voice was a shade gentler. “Listen…we all know Brad and his team. This is personal for all of us…but if you can’t put that shit in a box and do your job I need to know about it right now.” She scanned every pair of eyes in the room for understanding.

When she was met with silence, she nodded. “We’re out of here in 30 minutes.” With that, the briefing was over and everyone started preparation to leave.

“Bravo company, on me.” 

The men nodded and huddled around her. “Guys, we have full JSOC clearance on this one. You need something, you just let me know and we’ll get it ok? Whatever it takes on this one…” She took a deep breath. “Let’s get to it.” 

 

20 minutes later, Ashlyn climbed into the back of the C-130 plane and sat down next to Jake. She fastened her seatbelt and closed her eyes for a minute.

“Sarge?” Jake called.

Ash rolled her head to look at Jake and raised an eyebrow. 

“We’ll get them back.”

She nodded and closed her eyes as they started to taxi down the runway. She knew that she would need all the rest she could get. 

 

 

The flight took just under 12 hours. When they touched down at the military base, the team was met with an officer waiting for them. “Staff Sergeant Harris. I’m Lieutenant Colonel Samuels.” They shook hands. “Sorry you’re hear under these circumstances.”

Ashlyn gave the man in front of her an accepting nod. “Thank you Lieutenant Colonel. We’re looking to hit the ground running. I need four transport vehicles. My team and the Ranger Recon team want to see the abduction site first hand.”

Samuels nodded. “Yes ma’am.”

“I also need to see where Alpha team was staying on base…” 

“Right this way.”

Ashlyn followed the officer, her team right behind her as they walked. Ashlyn took a deep breath and entered the tent Alpha team had been calling home. She looked around the tent and went over to Brad’s bunk. She blinked a few times and reached out to pluck a picture off the table next to his cot. She ran a thumb across the picture of Brad and his wife Sarah and closed her eyes for a minute to clear the thoughts of Ali and how she would feel if it was Ashlyn held hostage instead of Brad. Clear eyes she reminded herself.

She opened up Brad’s trunk and rifled through it until she found a dirty t-shirt. She tucked it into a bag and stuffed it into one of the cargo pockets on her pants. “Let’s go guys. Full combat load out. We don’t know what we’re going to see out there.”

 

20 minutes later, Ashlyn climbed off the Humvee and looked around. The team walked around, taking in every detail: ingress and egress options, pinch points, plants that were snapped over indicating a struggle. 

Ashlyn reached back into her pants and pulled out Brad’s shirt. “Deke.”

Deacon perked up his ears and tilted his head to the side. 

“Find it buddy. Find it” She held the shirt up to his nose, letting him get a good whiff before putting it back in her pocket. She watched him closely as he put his nose to the ground and started walking. 

He walked around in a little bit of a maze before letting out a whine to indicate he picked up a scent. He followed the scent another 150 feet. He spun in a circle four times, trying to pick the scent back up. When he sat down where he was and looked at Ashlyn, she couldn’t contain the sigh.

“Fuck.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I was hoping for a little more.” She reached into her pocket and tossed Deacon a tennis ball. “Good boy. Jake, anything?” 

“Negative, Sarge. There’s a little bit of blood but nothing beyond scrapes. No indication of heavy trauma.”

“Palmer?”

“Tire marks point east but there’s no way to know it’s their transport. There could’ve been cars on this road since then.” 

Just then, Brooks walked up. “I just talked to a couple locals. All they know is that there was a whole bunch of commotion. When they looked, they saw 4 or 5 old trucks driving off that way.” He pointed to the east.

“Okay.” She walked the entire site one more time, looking for any detail that they could have missed. When she was satisfied that there was nothing else to find, she motioned for everyone to pack back up and head back to base. 

 

Back on base, she got settled in to the tent her team would call home for now. She pulled off her vest and hung it on her gear rack. She sat down on the edge of her cot and rubbed her face roughly before looking at her watch. It was 4:00 am in DC. 

She pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes for a minute. 

“Just call her, Sarge.” Duggan piped up, throwing a ball of socks at her head to break her free from her thoughts. 

“Yeah…and make sure she knows she can’t send nudes through a Sat phone.” Palmer smirked. 

Ashlyn laughed and shook her head. Leave it to them to bring her out of her funk. “You guys are assholes.” She chuckled and stepped out of the tent. She took a deep breath and dialed. 

Her heart skipped a beat when she heard the call get answered on the other line. 

Halfway around the world, Ali had been sleeping with her phone in her hand just in case Ash got a chance to call. When the phone rang, she bolted upright and nearly dropped the phone in the process. She saw an unfamiliar number and answered it quickly. “Hello! Ash?” Her voice was still laced with sleep.

Ashlyn closed her eyes. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest at the sound of Ali’s voice. 

“Ash?” Ali asked again, starting to worry that maybe it wasn’t her.

“Yeah, it’s me. Sorry. You were sleeping weren’t you?

“No. I mean yeah, I was but it’s okay. I’m glad you called. I was hoping you’d be able to.” 

“It’s good to hear your voice, Alex.” Ashlyn took a deep breath. “We’re here now. Nothing so far…Deacon found a scent at the site but lost it pretty quick.”

“Aw. Give him a biscuit for me…” Ali rubbed at her eyes sleepily.

"I will." Ashlyn replied, soaking in the comfort that Ali's voice brought.

“I have a confession.” Ali added as she looked down at her shirt.

“What’s that?” Ashlyn held her breath as she waited.

“I stole another one of your shirts…” Ali grinned as she looked down at the big block ARMY printed across the chest. “It smells like you.” 

Ashlyn exhaled in a big laugh. “Yeah? Is this the part where I’m supposed to ask you what you’re wearing?” 

Ali grinned and bit her lower lip. “Maybe…” 

Ashlyn shook her head with a smile. “That reminds me…Mikey wanted me to make sure you knew you can’t send nudes over a sat phone..” 

Ali laughed “He’s just jealous…”

“So true. Listen, I have to go…I just wanted to tell you that I’m here and I love you.”

Ali took a deep breath “I love you too. Clear eyes, full hearts.” 

“Can’t lose.” Ashlyn smiled. “Get some rest.” 

“You too. Bye baby.”

“Bye Alex.”

 

Chapter Text

 

It had been a month in the African heat and Ashlyn was reaching her emotional limit. She was starting to lose hope. They had made little to no progress. Every time they thought they had a lead, it turned out to be nothing. She knew the statistics and time was not working in their favor.

Not to mention, they’d been running themselves ragged trying to find something…anything. They only slept when it was necessary and even then, never more than 4 hours at a time. As far as she was concerned, if Alpha team wasn’t sleeping none of them were.

Today was no exception. Her team was inside a hut, talking to a man that had tried to get money for information. Now that they were all there, he suddenly had nothing to say. 

Ashlyn grit her teeth. “Does he think this is a fucking game?? You explain to him that if he doesn’t start talking, getting paid is going to be the least of his fucking worries.” 

Sean Duggan turned back to the man and relayed the message in Hausa. He listened to the response and shook his head. “He says he was confused before..that he didn’t actually see anyone transporting Americans.” 

Ashlyn was frustrated. This was the first real break they had and now it was vanishing in front of her eyes. She brought her boot up to the man’s chest and pushed hard, sending him backwards in the chair he was sitting on. She was on him in a heartbeat, her knee grinding into his sternum. “Listen to me. You speak English?”

The man nodded, his eyes wide with fear. 

“Right now you’re trying to figure out who you should be more afraid of…us or them. Let me help you.” She pulled her pistol from her thigh holster and pressed it hard against his forehead. “Those guys are a walk in the fucking park compared to what I’ll do to you. Now where did they take the Americans?” She spat out.

The man’s eyes shot around at the other soldiers, hoping one of them would come to his aid. No such luck. 

Ashlyn raised her free hand and slapped him hard across the face. “You have 5 seconds.” She blinked. “4. 3.”

“Okay, okay!” He held up his hands to his stinging cheek. “They took them to Bayelsa two days ago. That’s all I know! They were hoping to sell the soldiers as prisoners.” 

“What else?” Ash growled out, pressing the barrel harder into his forehead.

“That’s all I know! I swear! Please! That’s all!” 

Ashlyn squinted as she watched his face for a sign that he was lying. Satisfied that he was telling the truth, she stood up and holstered her gun. “Let’s go.” 

The team nodded and loaded back up into the truck for the drive to base. 

Ashlyn rubbed a hand over her face. “Why do they always have to insist on doing it the hard way?”

Palmer shook his head. “No clue…”

Ashlyn grabbed her radio and pressed the mic button. “Blackbeard main, Blackbeard main, this is Blackbeard Actual.”

“Actual, this is main. Go ahead.”

“Be advised main, we are en route. ETA 20 minutes. Have recon ready upon our arrival.” Ashlyn wanted to make sure that they moved on this information as fast as possible.

“Copy that, Actual.” 

 

20 minutes later, they were pulling on to base. They were greeted by the leader of the Recon Ranger team. “Lieutenant.” Ashlyn acknowledged. “We just obtained intel that they moved Alpha team to Bayelsa two days ago. We need everything we can get on that town. Cameras. Boots on the ground. Drones. Everything we have. If this turns out to be true, I want us to have a location within the next 12 hours. If they’re trying to sell them, we don’t have much time.” 

The Lieutenant nodded. “We’ll get to work right away, Staff Sergeant.” 

“If you need any help, you come find me or Corporal Archer.” She nodded and turned to walk away. When she got back to her tent, she found that the rest of her team already in there. 

Brooks unlaced his boots and looked up. “I really hope this intel pans out…” He sighed. 

“Me too, Brooksy. Keep our heads up, yeah? Rangers are giving me an update within 12.” 

He nodded. “Hoo-ah, Sarge.”

Ashlyn nodded and grabbed the sat phone before going for a walk. She found a quiet spot on base and sat down on the ground. She took a deep breath to steady herself before dialing. 

 

 

Ali was back in California for a National team camp. She’d explained her situation to Jill and gotten permission to keep her cell phone out on the bench, just in case. She sighed and smiled as she looked around. This was the same field she had met Ashlyn on. The same field where the soldier had come to her rescue. 

She must have been looking nostalgic because Pinoe and HAO sandwiched her in a hug, squeezing her tight. 

“Oh Kriegy, are you missing your lady friend?” Pinoe teased lightly. 

“Maybe…” Ali sighed and placed her head on HAO’s shoulder.

“When’s the last time you got to talk to her?” HAO asked.

“About a week and a half ago. She warned me that it would be awhile before she could call again..but..” She shrugged. “I worry about her.” 

“I’m sure.” HAO nodded. All the team knew was that Ashlyn was on some really important, highly classified mission.

Pinoe gave her a squeeze. “Well let’s see if we can distract you with some soccer” 

 

They were in the middle of a scrimmage when Abby yelled out. “Kriegs! Your phone is going off!” 

Ali took off in a dead sprint. “Answer it!!”

 

Ashlyn heard the line connect but wasn’t met with the voice she expected.

 

“Ashlyn? It’s Abby.”

“Oh, hey Abby.”

“Sorry, Ali’s coming. Hang on. Here she is.”

“Ash! Baby?” Ali breathlessly cried into the phone.

Ashlyn closed her eyes, instantly soothed by the voice. “There she is…hey you.” 

“Are you okay?” Ali caught herself from saying how worried she was and how much she missed her soldier. 

“Yeah. I’m okay. Just a rough week.” Ash rubbed the back of her neck. “We’ve been chasing our tails for almost two weeks. All of our intel has been like quicksand…but I think we might’ve caught a break. The intelligence team is going over it now.” 

“Can I do anything to help? Send you a care package? Or a maybe a cleavage picture?” Ali chuckled, trying to ease the tension. 

“Ugh…don’t tease…I miss you…” Ashlyn smirked as the offer flooded her brain with images.

“I miss you too.” Ali smiled. 

Ashlyn reached over and ruffled Deacon’s neck. “Deke misses you too…No one here loves on him quite like you do…then again…no one here loves on me quite like you do either…so…” 

Ali threw her head back in laughter. “Well, I’ll tell you what…when you get home, I promise to give you both my best stuff…in very different ways..” She giggled.

“Mmm…I’ll hold you to that.” Ashlyn smiled and looked up to see one of the intelligence officers walking towards her. “Hang on a sec, Alex.” 

“Staff Sergeant, we think we know where they are. We’ll be ready to brief in 5.”

Ashlyn nodded before returning to the phone. “Alex, I have to go. We have a line on where the team might be.”

“Okay. All the girls say hi. Good luck, baby. Clear eyes, full hearts. I love you.”

“I love you too, Alex.” 

 

Ashlyn hung up the phone and stayed still for another minute to collect her thoughts. She reached into her cargo pocket and pulled out a tin. She could never really get into chewing tobacco. Countless soldiers swore by it…it helped pass the time and take the edge off but she found it pretty gross. A year ago, when a soldier had introduced her to a similar version that was coffee grounds instead of tobacco, she was in. She opened up the can and took a hearty pinch of coffee grounds, tucking it under her lower lip. 

She let the caffeine flow through her veins and took a deep breath before standing up and heading towards the briefing tent. “Please let this be the break we’ve been looking for…”

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 19

 

The intel had actually panned out. The Ranger Reconnaissance team was able to narrow down the location to 3 blocks based on satellites and thermal imaging. Ashlyn watched the intelligence briefing with rapt attention. 

“Best we can figure, you should expect 30-40 men defending the building armed with a variety of weapons including 50 cals and RPGs. At this time, we cannot confirm which building Alpha team is being detained in but based on security details we have 67% probability they are held here” The officer circled a building on the board with a red marker. “In the center of the block.” 

Ashlyn looked over at Lieutenant Rorke, the team leader of Seal Team Six, who gave her a nod. Ashlyn cleared her throat. “Okay. We can’t afford to wait for any more information to come in. If it’s true and they’re trying to sell them, we need to get them back ASAP. Night stalkers..” She looked at the team leader of the aviation team. “We’ll use Blackhawks for insertion. I want to make sure at least one of them is an aero-med config. We don’t know what kind of shape they’ll be in when we get there.”

“Roger that, Sarge.” The leader of the Night Stalkers team confirmed.

“Seal team Six. You’ll rope in to the street on the northeast corner. Bravo company will rope in to the roof. Synchronized breach. We’ll meet in the middle.”

Lieutenant Rorke nodded his confirmation. 

“Palmer and Weimy on sniper overwatch. Northwest and Southeast corners.”

“Copy that, Sarge” Palmer responded. 

“Ranger company, you’re on containment on the streets. No one in or out. I don’t want runners all over the place. Chinooks will be on standby for air support. We leave in 30 minutes. Questions?”

Ashlyn looked around and was met with silence. “Then let’s get to it.” She turned and headed back to the Delta tent for preparation. Once inside, she picked up the picture of Brad and Sarah “We’re coming for you, buddy.” 

Ashlyn took a deep breath and pulled her tactical vest on, fastening it tightly around her chest. The M4 was clipped to the shoulder harness and the pockets were filled with grenades and extra magazines. Once she was satisfied with her gear, she ripped off the piece of duct tape and fastened it around her right boot to identify her O-Negative blood type. 

She took a look at her team as they finished their final equipment checks. One by one, they all completed their tasks and turned their attention to their Sergeant. “Listen guys…this one doesn’t need a pep talk…we all know what’s on the line. They’ve been at those fucker’s mercy for 34 days…we do what we need to and ask for forgiveness later.” She met eyes with Mikey, then Sean, Brooks and lastly Jake. “De Oppresso Liber.”

“De Oppresso Liber.” They all repeated.

10 minutes later, they were nearing their target location as they sat in the back of the MH-60 Black Hawk. Just to their right was a matching Black Hawk containing Seal Team Six. 

Ashlyn looked over at the neighboring chopper and pressed down her throat mic. “Whiplash, this Blackbeard actual. How copy?”

On the neighboring plane, LT Rorke pressed his mic down. “Blackbeard, this is Whiplash. We have you loud and clear.”

“Copy that, Whiplash. ETA 2 mikes.”

“Roger that. Stay frosty, Blackbeard.”

Ashlyn turned to her team and held up two fingers before starting to unclip her seatbelt. She pulled the night vision goggles down into place and chambered a round in her M4. Mikey’s voice came over her headset as they came close to the target building.

“Blackbeard actual, this is Overwatch.”

“Go ahead, Overwatch.” Ashlyn responded.

“In position. Thermal is showing movement on floors 2 and 3.”

“Copy that, Overwatch.” 

“Rope out.” Brooks yelled as he tossed the thick rope over the side of the helicopter.

One by one, Delta team slid down the rope onto the roof of the building. Brooks opened his bag and started laying down wide strips of explosives in the shape of a box with an ‘x’ in the middle. There was no door, so they’d be creating a hole in the roof to breach through. 

“Blackbeard Actual, this is Whiplash. We’re in position.”

Ashlyn pressed the mic back down. “Standby, Whiplash.” 

Brooks gave the nod that they were ready. The remaining four members of Delta team, five if you counted Deacon, crouched down on the other side of the roof from where the explosives were. 

Ashlyn pressed down her mic. “Overwatch, sit rep?”

“This is Overwatch. Activity is picking up, Sarge. I think they heard the choppers. We now have 6-7 tangos mobile per floor on all three floors.”

“Copy that. Whiplash, standby for breach.”

“Standing by.” Lt Rourke confirmed, with the rest of Seal Team Six stacked behind him outside the front door of the building.

“3. 2. 1. Execute.” 

With the command, Brooks pressed down the detonator and created a 5 foot wide hole in the ceiling. 

“Flash, out!” Duggan yelled as he tossed a flash bang grenade into the hole. As soon as the flash went off, the team flooded the building with guns raised. The team cleared the room at an alarming pace, firing tight groups of bullets into enemies chests with lethal accuracy. 

Three floors down, Seal Team Six started a similar barrage as they cleared the lower level of the building. 

Ashlyn stacked up at the doorway of the room they entered through. As she rounded the corner into the hallway, she was met face to face with a member of the cartel. Before she could react, the man collapsed into a lifeless pile.

“Tango down.” Mikey called over the radio.

“Thanks, Overwatch.” Ashlyn called into the radio before stepping past the man and into the hallway. The team cleared the rest of the third floor with no sign of Alpha team. Ashlyn tried to swallow down the doubt as she headed to the stair case. “Moving to second story.” 

Jake took point down the staircase, squeezing the trigger as more enemies came from every direction. They cleared the room, still unable to locate the soldiers that had been taken hostage. As they started towards the next room, Seal Team Six rounded the corner. 

“All clear, Sarge.” 

Ashlyn looked up and Rorke, eyes wild with adrenaline. “Do you have the package?”

“Negative. 1st floor was empty.”

“FUCK.” Ashlyn grabbed the nearest chair and threw it across the wall, shattering it. “Overwatch, give me a thermal read.”

There was silence for a minute before Mikey came over the radio. “Negative, Sarge. I’m not picking anything up.”

Ashlyn took a deep breath. “Think….” Suddenly, she remembered what was in her cargo pocket. She pulled out the dirty t-shirt she had taken from Brad’s locker. “Deacon. Deacon, find it.” She pushed the shirt to the front of his nose, then tucked it back into her pocket.

Deacon sniffed the air a few times, then put his nose to the ground. He weaved around the floor and then took off towards the stairs to the first floor. 

Both teams followed him down the stairs, rifles at the ready. Deacon followed his nose into the kitchen/dining room. He crawled under the table and started digging at the rug while letting out a loud bark. 

“Get this table moved!” Ashlyn commanded. Quickly, four of the Special Forces soldiers moved the table.

She couldn’t believe what she saw next. She pulled back the rug to uncover a hatch door and had to fight every instinct to just rip it open. It could be trip-wired for explosives. There could be men with guns on the other side of it, just waiting to shoot. 

Instead, she gave the door a quick check for wires. Once satisfied that there wasn’t a boobytrap, she grabbed the handle and looked up at the two teams. 9 of the most lethal soldiers on the planet raised their rifles to the hatch. She held up 3 fingers, then two, then one. With the countdown complete, she threw the hatch open.

Looking back at her handcuffed, gagged, but alive was the entire Delta Force Alpha Team. 

“Blackbeard main, Blackbeard main, this is Blackbeard actual.”

“Go ahead, actual.”

“Package is secure. I repeat. Package is secure.” 

Chapter Text

Ashlyn had to stay in Nigeria for 3 more days while she tied up loose ends and completed her operational report. Not only had the raid rescued Alpha team, it also successfully destroyed the entire human trafficking cartel that Alpha team had originally been hunting down. She managed to text Ali to let her know that she was safe and they would be headed back soon.

Four days since the last text Ali was back in DC, having completed their training camp the day before. Hearing that Ashlyn was safe and heading back home had done a lot to ease her nerves. Now, she was trying to keep herself busy. She figured if she could just make it to Thursday, she’d be able to drive down to North Carolina and see her favorite soldier…and Ashlyn, too.

She was just getting home from the grocery store in an effort to restock her empty kitchen. Her arms were bogged down with bags as she climbed the stairs. When she rounded the corner, she couldn’t stop the yell that came from her mouth. “ASH!”

Leaning against her door in gray sweatpants and a navy t-shirt, her soldier was sound asleep with Deacon’s head in her lap. 

Ashlyn jolted awake and took in her surroundings, quickly readjusting. Deacon was up and running towards Ali, tail wagging, as Ashlyn climbed up to her feet and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes

Ali dropped all the bags to the floor in the hallway and gave Deacon a quick squeeze before tackling her soldier. Ali wrapped her arms around the strong shoulders and jumped up to hook her legs around Ashlyn’s waist. “I’m so glad you’re here! Why didn’t you call?! I can’t believe you had to sleep out here!”

Ashlyn closed her eyes, breathing in the comfort that Ali brought. She buried her face in the soft neck and wrapped her arms tightly around the woman she adores. “I tried. I think your phone is dead.” 

“Shit, I’m sorry baby. Let’s get inside.” She lowered herself down and started picking the groceries back up. With Ashlyn’s help, everything was picked back up and Ali unlocked her apartment. “I can’t believe you’re really here!” 

They set the groceries down on the counter and as soon as Ashlyn’s hands were free, she scooped the brunette up by the waist. She had Ali pinned against the fridge, feeling a rush of heat when the strong thighs wrapped tight around her waist. Their lips crashed in hungry kisses, nipping and moaning against each other. 

Ali reached down and grabbed the hem of her own shirt, stripping it off and throwing it to the ground before biting down on Ash’s lower lip. Ashlyn dug her fingers in to Ali’s back with a groan, urging her closer as she removed her bra, discarding it next to the shirt on the ground. 

“Fuck, Ash…” Ali moaned out, yanking Ashlyn’s shirt off and adding it to the pile. “I need you…” 

Ash bit down on Ali’s pulse point where her neck met her shoulder. When she felt Ali scrape her nails down her back, her eyes rolled into the back of her head. “Fuck…Alex…” She held Ali tight as she walked them down the hallway to the bedroom. Ashlyn worked hard to maintain control as Ali sucked on her neck before laying her down and climbing on top of her. 

The sex was needy and eager. There would be time for tenderness and patience later. Clothes were stripped fast and thrown in every direction. The desperation to feel one another overrode everything else and before long they were quick to fall apart at the same time in each other’s arms.

As they came down from their high, sweaty and satisfied, Ali took in the face of her soldier and ran a comforting hand across her forehead. She was tan from her time in the African sun and her eyes had dark circles around them. A tell tale sign of how little sleep she had gotten in the last month. “Ash..” She whispered out.

“Mm.” Ashlyn grunted out as she fought away the sleep that was trying to claim her. “Yeah, baby?”

Ali ran a hand through the short hair. “Get some sleep. I promise, I’ll be right here when you wake up.” She kissed Ash’s forehead. 

Ash blinked a couple more times before giving up the fight. She adjusted her position, laying half on top of the defender with an arm wrapped securely around her Alex. “I love you…” She murmured into Ali’s neck before drifting off to sleep almost immediately. 

“I love you too…” Ali sighed happily, giving the top of Ash’s head a gentle kiss. 

 

 

Three and a half hours later, Ashlyn started to stir. Her arm tightened around the waist she was holding, drawing Ali closer with a satisfied hum. 

Ali smiled wide and traced the muscles of Ash’s back with her fingertips. “There she is…” Ashlyn had slept like a log, not moving from her position unless it was to bury her face further into Ali’s neck. “I was starting to wonder if you’d get up before tomorrow morning.”

“Ugh..” Ash lifted her head up and looked at Ali sleepily. “How long was I out?” 

“About three and a half hours.” Ali smiled and leaned in for a kiss. 

“Shit. I’m sorry.” Ashlyn started to sit up but was dragged back down by Ali.

“Don’t apologize. I can’t explain how happy I am that you’re here.” She leaned in for a slow, lingering kiss. “Now…you go take a shower. I’m going to make the most romantic dinner I can muster considering I only bought groceries for one and when you get out, there’s going to be a glass of Johnnie Walker waiting for you.” She winked. 

“You. Are. Perfect.” Ashlyn punctuated each word with a kiss. 

Ali giggled and gave Ashlyn a playful shove. “Go!”

Ashlyn lumbered to the bathroom and took the hottest shower the apartment complex could offer. 

As soon as Ash was in the bathroom, Ali hopped up and got dressed.  “C’mon Deke. Let’s take you for a quick walk before we start dinner.” Ali had always wanted a pup of her own but with her schedule, it just didn’t make sense. Loving on Deacon was the perfect compromise. “PS, don’t tell Sarge…but I bought some treats for you.” She ruffled his ears and took him down the stairs to the park across the street. 

With Deacon all settled back in, gnawing on a toy filled with peanut butter, Ali started a playlist full of acoustic music like Ed Sheeran. She hummed along to the music as she moved through the apartment, lighting candles everywhere she went. She uncorked a bottle of merlot for herself, pouring a glass and taking a sip. She closed her eyes and exhaled a deep breath, releasing tension she didn’t realize she had been holding for over a month. Her soldier was home. Safe. Where she belonged. 

Ali bit her bottom lip, smiling wide as she let her mind drift to the possibilities the future held. If she was lucky, one day this would become the new normal. Ash would come home and take a shower while Ali made dinner and took care of Deacon. It sounded pretty perfect. 

She let the idea linger for another moment before pouring a glass of whiskey and setting it out on the counter. Then she opened up the fridge and grabbed all the ingredients for dinner.  

Ash finally stepped out of the shower when the water started to turn cool. She towel dried her hair and pulled on a pair of navy shorts and a red t-shirt, both Under Armour. With one last glance in the mirror, she headed in search of her favorite brunette. When she reached the end of the hallway, she leaned against the wall and took in the sight. 

Deacon was happily chewing on some toy she didn’t recognize, something Ali must’ve gotten him. Speaking of Ali, she was dancing around her kitchen as she prepared dinner. Every so often she would stop and take a sip of wine before going back to chopping vegetables. 

“I could get used to this…” Ash muttered under her breath before walking into the kitchen. She snuck up behind Ali, wrapping her in a tight hug from behind. “Hey beautiful.” She mumbled into her ear before placing a kiss there.

“Hey stud.” Ali beamed, placing her hands over the large rough ones splayed on her abdomen. She leaned back into the strong frame and closed her eyes happily. “Your drink is over there.” She nodded to the opposite countertop. 

Ash placed one more kiss on Ali’s cheek and then went to grab the glass, hopping up to sit on the countertop. She took a sip of the amber liquid and hummed in appreciation. “This is good…Thank you.”

“Of course.” Ali moved through the kitchen with ease, putting chicken into the oven and starting to sauté veggies.  

Ashlyn watched as she sipped her drink. “I noticed Deacon might’ve gotten a new toy…” 

Ali grinned sheepishly. “I couldn’t help it.” Ali turned and stepped into the space between Ash’s legs as the soldier sat on the counter. The brown eyes turned darker as she looked up into hazel ones. She bit her lip seductively and husked out “He’s not the only one I bought presents for….you should see what I’m wearing underneath these clothes…” 

 

Chapter Text

 

The next morning, it was Ashlyn’s turn to wake up alone. She stretched out with a groan and took in her surroundings. The light was streaming brightly through the windows of Ali’s bedroom so it was definitely later than 6:00. She ran a hand roughly over her face, trying to brush away the sleep. She sat up against the headboard and let out a chuckle. “Jesus…”

There were clothes everywhere.

Ashlyn bit her lip with a proud smirk. Dinner last night had been rushed and handsy. They managed to make it through half the meal before they relocated to the bedroom. The navy lace thong hanging from the ceiling fan was a perfect summation of the night’s events. 

Ashlyn relived the memory for another minute before pulling on shorts and a sports bra. She brushed her teeth and took in her appearance. “Good god, Alex…” She tilted her head and laughed at the various marks all over her neck and collarbone. 

When she walked into the living room, she was met with emptiness. The smell of coffee led her into the kitchen. Next to the coffee maker was an empty mug and a note, making the corner of her mouth tug up into a smile

 

Ash - 

Took my favorite boy with me to the bakery. Be back soon with breakfast.

Your Alex.

 

Ashlyn let out a content sigh and filled the mug with fresh coffee, creamer and sugar before flopping down on the couch. She fired off a couple text messages to Jake and Brad, checking in on both of them. 

5 minutes later, Ali walked though the door with a bag of pastries and two paper coffee cups. Deacon was trotting alongside her, looking utterly pleased with himself. Ali beamed from ear to ear and strode straight to Ashlyn, giving her a kiss. “Hey you. You’re up.” 

“Yeah, finally.” Ash tugged Ali down into her lap, getting a squeal from the smaller woman as she balanced the coffees. “I can’t believe I slept that long…”

Ali smirked proudly. “You were exhausted.” She handed Ash one of the fancy lattes.

“Mm..you made sure of that..” Ashlyn nipped at her shoulder before taking a sip of the coffee. “Speaking of…I look like I lost a fight with a Dyson…” She raised an eyebrow.

“Oh please! Like you have room to talk! Do you know how much shit I’m going to catch in the locker room?” Ali laughed and pulled down her shirt to show some of the hickeys on her neck.

Ashlyn laughed and placed a soft kiss over one of the darker marks. “Call it even?” 


“Deal.” Ali grinned and pulled a muffin from the bag. She took a bite before speaking again. “Y’know…Deke is kind of a dude magnet.”

Ashlyn quirked an eyebrow up and stole a bite of muffin, earning a playful glare from Ali. “Really? I’ve never gotten that reaction with him…chick magnet maybe…” Ash fought the grin tugging at her face.

Ali rolled her eyes and laughed. “Of course…” She took another sip of her coffee. “Yeah, 3 different guys” She deepened her voice to mock the one guy in particular “How’s a pretty girl like you handle a big dog like that?” before breaking out into giggles.

“Ugh…gross…Think he’s still there? I can go have a conversation to him.” Ashlyn asked.

Ali turned a little so she was straddling Ash’s lap. “Aw, my big protective soldier wants to defend my honor.” 

“Damn right, I do…” Ashlyn wrapped her hand around Ali’s hip, tracing her thumb back and forth. 

“Well, he’s probably gone by now but I promise to let you scare the next person that hits on me…” Ali grinned and gave Ash a quick peck.

“Fine…” Ash agreed and stole another bit of the muffin.

Ali leaned down, brining her lips to Ash’s ear. “You should know that I find your protective side very sexy…” 

Ash groaned and closed her eyes, savoring the feeling of Ali’s mouth on her ear. 

“Speaking of your protective side…” Ali nipped at her ear. “What are the chances of you taking some leave? We have a game coming up in Orlando. I was going to fly down early into Miami and spend a couple days with my mom. I could use a personal body guard…” 

Ash hummed, pulling Ali closer by the waist, as she pretended to think it over.

“I promise to pack a lot of skimpy bikinis…”

“Sold.”

Ali laughed and shook her head. “You’re ridiculous.” She placed a long deep kiss on Ash’s lips, cradling her face in her hands. 

Ash ran her hand up Ali’s back, dragging out the kiss for as long as possible. When they broke for air, Ashlyn looked up into those deep brown eyes she loved so much “So, time to meet Deb huh?”

“Yup…it’s time. And Kyle…dun, dun dun…” Ali joked.

“Oh boy. Kyle too? Putting me through the gauntlet…” 

“Oh staaaahp. If anyone was going to be difficult, it was dad and he loves you. These two will be a walk in the park.” Ali giggled and ran a hand through the soft brown hair

Ash doubted it would be quite that easy but she’d do anything for her girl. “I’ll just check with my CO about taking leave.”

Ali sighed happily. “That’d be great.” She laid her head on Ash’s shoulder “We never really got into detail about Nigeria…” Ali approached the topic cautiously, unsure if Ash was comfortable talking about it. 

Ashlyn ran a hand through her own hair before returning it to Ali’s waist. “Brad’s doing well. Couple of bumps and bruises…mild concussion. Pretty much the same for the rest of the team.” Ashlyn sighed. “I started to get worried we weren’t going to find them…We had been there for so long with no progress…Deacon was actually the one that found them.”

Ali looked back and forth between Ash and Deacon in disbelief. “What? Really? That’s my boy!” She ruffled his ears with a big smile.

“Yeah…We cleared the entire building but couldn’t find them…Deke found a hidden hatch where they were being held.” Ash smiled proudly. 

“That’s amazing.” Ali beamed. 

“Speaking of work…I’ve got to head back tomorrow..” Ash admitted hesitantly. “I’ve got to go to a debriefing. I just couldn’t wait to see you..”

“You’re the cutest ball of mush…” Ali adored “And you save it just for me…And I absolutely love that.” Ali claimed her lips again. When she broke apart, she traced her fingertip down Ash’s jaw. “Could I come down to Fort Bragg? I miss you….”

“Yeah, of course. You can always visit but what about the Spirit?” Ash tried not to get hopeful.

“We’re on a bye week. I don’t have a game this weekend.” Ali blushed and added in a mumble “I was kinda planning on coming down anyways.” 

“What was that?” Ash grinned, having heard her just fine the first time.

“I was planning on coming down anyways.” Ali mumbled out, just barely clearer. She buried her face in the soldier’s neck to hide her blush.

“Now who’s a big ball of mush, huh?” Ashlyn smirked and started to tickle her sides. 

Ali squealed and swatted away at the hands. “Shut it. I missed you. Sue me.” 

Ash turned sappy in a heartbeat, hearing that she was missed. “I like that. I like that you miss me when I’m not around. I like thinking that I’m a part of your life. It’s not something I’ve really had historically.” She blinked up into the soft brown eyes.

“Ash, I miss you like crazy when you’re not around.” She placed a gentle kiss on her lips. “And you are a big part of my life.” She cradled Ash’s face in her hands. “When I think about the future, you’re in it.” 

“Yeah?” Ash whispered out.

Ali noticed that it was the most insecure she’d ever heard the normally confident soldier. “You sound surprised.” 

Ash shrugged, trying to shake the vulnerability. “I dunno…maybe a little.” She looked down at the floor. “Growing up, anytime I let someone close…they always ended up leaving.” She took a deep breath. “And that was just small town family members…now I’ve managed to fall in love with a world class athlete. You’re on ESPN and Nike ads…little girls idolize you…your family is amazing…It’s just hard sometimes to believe that you picked me out of all your options.”

“Well, believe it.” Ali waited until Ash’s eyes met hers to continue. “You live your life in a way that makes me proud to be yours, Ashlyn. You treat me in a way that makes me feel like a princess. I love you. I’m proud to love you.” 

Ash blinked a few times in an effort to push the emotion back. “I love you, too.” 


Chapter Text

 

Ali and Ashlyn decided to drive down to Fort Bragg that afternoon. Ashlyn pulled onto base with the white BMW in her rearview mirror. As she pulled up to the security booth, she laughed at the sight behind her. Deacon was sitting proudly in the passenger seat of the BMW. “Unreal…” She grabbed her wallet and rolled down her window. “Corporal.” She greeted the soldier manning the security station as she handed over her credentials. “The BMW is with me, too. She’s on my approved guest list.”

“Yes ma’am.” He nodded and handed the credentials back. 

Ashlyn pulled up a couple feet so Ali could check in. Then, instead of heading towards her house she pulled right and headed towards the commissary. When she got out of the car, she was met with a look of confusion from Ali. “Groceries. My place is empty so if you’re going to be here for a couple days we need to remedy that.” 

“Oh? Because if I wasn’t here, you wouldn’t need to eat?” Ali raised an eyebrow as she slipped her hand into Ash’s. 

“Well, I would eat…but I would just raid Jake’s kitchen..” She smirked and lead Ali and Deacon into the commissary. 

Ali laughed and rolled her eyes. “Been together for months and you still act like a stereotypical bachelor…” 

Ash grabbed a cart and started to push it through the store. “Years of practice.”

“Mmhmm. We’ll work on that…” Ali smirked and started grabbing various ingredients. “I’ll make dinner. Maybe invite the guys over?” 

“Yeah, sure. I think the teams are having a bonfire tomorrow if you want to go to that.”

“The teams?”

“Yeah, all the special forces teams. 3 Delta Force teams and Seal Team Six. Spouses, kids, that kind of thing.” Ash grabbed a case of beer and tossed it in the cart.

Ali bit back the grin threatening to spill over. “Spouses, huh?” 

Ash laughed. “You know what I mean…you wouldn’t be the only significant other there…” She nudged Ali playfully. 

Ali let her mind wander off for a minute. She pictured living on base, getting the house ready to host a barbecue full of the other soldiers on the team. Ash in the backyard with Jake, pushing their kids on the swingset. When she looked up, she knew she was busted by the look on Ashlyn’s face. 

“You were totally just picturing us married…” Ash teased. “Admit it.”

“No…” Ali mumbled out.

“Excuse me? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of you lying…” Ash grinned. 

“Okay, fine. Maybe I was.” Ali blushed, busying herself with putting more groceries in the cart.

“And what exactly were you picturing?” Ash put her hands on Ali’s waist, pulling her in close. 

“I dunno….” Ali buried her face in Ash’s neck, trying to hide.

“Alex…” 

“Ugh…” Ali groaned, realizing she wasn’t going to be let off the hook. “Fine. Fine. We were married and hosting a barbecue and maybe you and Jake were in the backyard with our kids. Happy?” Ali rushed it all out in a rant.

Ashlyn lit up. “Very.” She snuck a quick kiss. “That sounds perfect.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Ash kissed her forehead one more time before returning to the task of grocery shopping.

 

30 minutes later, the groceries were unpacked and they were settled into the house. Ash leaned against the wall as she watched Ali move through the kitchen like she lived there. It was easy to imagine. She took a sip of her beer and ran her eyes over the beautiful brunette in the kitchen. 

Ali grinned as she felt the eyes on her. She kept dicing the tomatoes as she scolded. “Stop staring at my ass and text the guys about dinner…”

“Yes ma’am.” Ash smirked and pulled out her phone.

 

Harris: Ali’s here and willing to make dinner for you idiots. 

Mikey: YES! Be there in 10!

Brooks: I’ll bring beer.

Duggan: I’ll bring tequila!

Archer: I knew I liked her...

 

Ash smirked at the responses. “They’ll be here any minute…”

Ali laughed and shook her head as she made the pasta sauce from scratch. “Can you grab me a beer?”

Ash grabbed two more beers from the fridge and snuck up behind Ali, placing a kiss on her neck. “Smells good.” 

Ali leaned back into the embrace and smiled wide. She dipped the spoon into the sauce before holding it up to Ash’s lips for a taste test.

Ash tried the sauce, closing her eyes. “Mhmm.. Tastes good too.” She leaned in for a heated kiss, feeling Ali spin in her arms to make them face to face.

Ali snaked her hands up into the short hair on the back of Ash’s head, dragging her down to deepen the kiss. 

Ashlyn set the beers down on the counter and moved her hands down to back of Ali’s thighs, hoisting her up off the ground. 

Ali let out a moan and wrapped her legs around the strong frame of her soldier as she felt her back press against the fridge. “Baby…”

The two got completely wrapped up in one another. Just as Ashlyn started to slip her hand under Ali’s shirt, they broke apart to the sound of applause and wolf whistles. 

Ali buried her face into Ash’s neck, biting her lip to stop the grin breaking across her face. They were both really worked up and she knew it. 

Ash just shook her head, groaning. 

“Nicely done, Staff Sergeant.” Mikey praised. 

“Great technique…” Duggan added. 

Ali laughed and lowered herself back to her feet. She took a dramatic bow before walking up to the guys and giving them hugs. “Hi boys.” 

“Hi Al.” Jake scooped her up in a hug.

In the background, Ash gave them all the middle finger as she sipped her beer. 

“Y’know…you’re a lot nicer to us than Sarge is…” Mikey explained to Ali as he hugged her.

Ali shot a glance back to Ash, then laughed “Well, you just call me when she’s being mean…”

Mikey shot Ash a taunting look. “You hear that? Mom says I can call her when you’re being mean…” 

Ali smirked and shot Ash a wink. “Pasta’s on the menu. Sauce just needs to simmer for awhile.” 

“Sounds great.” Duggan smiled, stirring the sauce as he inspected Ali’s creation.

“Up to your standards?” Ali questioned.

“So far.” He grinned and grabbed a beer. 

The group headed out to the back patio, Ash pulling Ali into her lap. Sean reached into his bag and pulled out the bottle of tequila, along with small plastic shot glasses. 

“It’s get to know Ali time….Never have I ever style.” Sean grinned as he opened up the bottle. 

Ali looked around, trying to figure out if this was some kind of joke. “I thought the hazing was already over?”

Travis smiled. “Oh this isn’t hazing. This is intel gathering.” 

“Don’t worry. You get to ask questions too.” Ash offered.

Ali sighed, resigned to her fate. “Fine…who starts?”

Sean filled the shot glasses and passed them out. “Never have I ever….played a professional soccer game.” 

Ali rolled her eyes and took the shot, scrunching up her face. “That was cheap. Never have I ever shot a gun.” She fired back with a grin.

The five soldiers threw back the shots. 

Mikey was the next to speak, while Sean refilled the glasses. “Hmm….Never have I ever….had phone sex over a sat phone…” 

All eyes snapped over to Ali and Ash, but they didn’t take a shot.

“Really?” Travis asked. “We figured that one day when you guys were on the phone for like an hour…” 

Both women laughed and shook their heads. Then, Jake tossed back his shot.

“WHAT?!” Ash cried out. “When??”

Jake laughed. “Remember Valorie?” 

“How could we forget Valorie…” Sean laughed, remembering a girlfriend of Jake’s from last year.

“Sarge, your turn…”

“Hmm…Never have I ever….had sex with a guy.” Ash glanced at Ali with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh you suck.” Ali rolled her eyes and took the shot but then caught movement from across the table. 

Mikey was throwing back a shot with a sheepish grin on his face.

Travis, Sean, Jake and Ali were all gaping at the sniper. Ashlyn slapped her palm down on the table. “I fucking knew it! It was that guy in Coronado wasn’t it?? The one that kept buying you drinks to thank you for your service!” 

“Listen, I am a grown man who is confident in his sexuality…” Mikey smirked. “I have nothing to hide…” 

“I can’t believe you never told us!” Travis shoved him, jokingly.

Mikey shrugged with a grin and took a sip of his beer. “Never have I ever….” He drummed his fingertips across the tabletop as he thought. “Fantasized about members of my girlfriend’s team…” 

Ali laughed loudly. “You wish, Mikey.” She smirked and took a sip of her beer. “Sorry, but your sergeant has the starring roll in all my fantasies.” She winked. 

Ash took a long sip of her beer to cool down the heat rushing through her body. She grinned smugly, like a kid that just scored a date with the prom queen. 

“On that note, dinner’s ready.” Ali stated as she got up to saunter inside, leaving the members of Delta Force Bravo Company gaping in her wake.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 23

 

When Ashlyn woke up at her normal 6:00 am, Ali was draped over her like a blanket. The smaller brunette had her face buried in her neck and was clutching tightly to the dog tags hanging around her neck. 

“I could get used to this….” She mumbled out quietly as she ran her fingertips up and down Ali’s bare back. Ali shifted a little before nuzzling back in tighter. 

“Mmm…me too.” Ali sleepily muttered, placing a kiss on the warm neck beneath her.

“Sorry, baby. I didn’t meant to wake you.”

“It’s okay.” Ali played with the dog tags, tracing her fingers over the information on them. “What’s your day like?”

“I have a run with the guys in 30 minutes. Then the debriefing is at 0800. Once the debrief is done, I’m all finished for the day.” Ash rubbed at her eyes, clearing the sleep away.

Ali rolled over to her side and traced the lines of Ash’s abs. “Can I join you guys on the run?”

“If you want to, yeah.” Ash sat up and swung her legs over to the edge of the bed. “I’ll make us some coffee.” She pulled her boxer shorts and sports bra back on before lumbering to the kitchen. 

Ali came to the kitchen 5 minutes later, in a pair of shorts and another one of Ash’s military hoodies.

“Y’know, it’s really sexy seeing you in my clothes.” Ash took a sip of coffee and admired the sight in front of her. 

Ali smiled and accepted the coffee mug that Ash handed her  “Mm…thank you.” She took a sip, closing her eyes as the warm liquid made it’s way through her body.

Ash reached out and dragged Ali into her arms, pulling her snug against her frame. She closed her eyes and just breathed in the moment. “You sure you’re ready for a run with these guys?”

Ali grinned, nuzzling into Ash’s embrace. “If there’s one thing I’m confident in with you guys, it’s my ability to keep up on a run.”

Ash laughed. “Fair enough.” She placed a kiss on Ali’s forehead. “I’m going to go get dressed.” 

10 minutes later they stepped outside to the sight of Jake, Sean, Travis and Mikey stretching on the front lawn. 

“Oh, shit! Soccer star’s joining us, boys!” Mikey grinned. 

Ali smirked and shot Mikey a teasing look. “You just try to keep up.” She winked as she stretched out her quad. 

Jake shot Ash an approving smile before they all started their run down the street. The four mile run went by at a quick pace, leaving the group covered in a layer of sweat. Ash looked at her watch. “Okay guys, debrief in 45. Lieutenant Commander will be there. Let’s make sure we’re early.”

“Roger that, Sarge.” The guys all took off towards their homes to get showered. 

Ash and Ali opted for the environmentally friendly route, sharing a shower together when they got back to the house. Ash was pulling on her ACU pants and tucking them into her boots as she thought out loud. “You know…you’re ruining things for me…” 

Ali was leaning against the bathroom door frame, watching the morning routine in her underwear and bra while she drank a cup of coffee. “How so?”

“Well, like the shower…Now when you’re gone and I have to shower by myself, it just won’t be the same.” Ash stated matter of factly as she laced up her right boot. “And when I’m getting ready, there won’t be a beautiful, half naked woman leaning against the door for me to stare at.” She continued as she laced up the other boot. “And who’s ass am I going to stare at during runs? Sean’s? I don’t think so…” 

Ali laughed and grabbed the quarter zip camo shirt off the dresser as she walked over to Ashlyn. “I guess I’m just going to have to come around as much as possible then…” She set the coffee down and pulled the shirt down over Ash’s head before placing a kiss on her lips.

“I guess so.” Ash bit her bottom lip as she looked up into the warm brown eyes twinkling with mischief. She slipped on her watch and sighed when she caught the time. “Gotta go. I’ll leave Deke here with you.” She gave Ali a long kiss and a tight hug before heading out the door. 

Ash returned home a couple hours later, smiling to herself at the sight of Ali's car in the driveway. When she walked in, she found an empty house. She checked the bathroom and bedroom but no luck. When she walked out to the backyard, a smile tugged at her eyes. Ali had cones set up all over the backyard and was running soccer drills with Deke chasing after her. Her hidden vantage point was busted when Deke spotted Ash and ran over to greet her. "Hey buddy. Were you helping Ali?" She ruffled his neck and glanced up at Ali with a smile. 

Ali trotted up to Ash, still breathless from her workout. "He was definitely helping."  She wiped at her face with a towel before leaning in for a kiss.  "He's a tough one to evade. How'd your meeting go?"

"It was fine. Just had to talk through the op one more time for the records. Should be all buttoned up now. Bonfire starts at 1900.” 

Ali smiled internally. She had already gotten use to military time and how Ash didn’t even realize she was using it around her. “Sounds good. I’ll go get in the shower.” She gave Ash one more kiss and then disappeared into the house. 

45 minutes later, Ali walked back into the living room looking flawless. Tight jeans, form fitting tank top, perfect makeup, hair cascading over her shoulders. Ashlyn was in the middle of cleaning her M4 when she looked up at the approaching brunette. “For fucks sake, Alex…” 

Ali smiled and tilted her head, innocently. “You like?” 

“I…yes, I like.” Ash laughed. “You look incredible.” She ran the brush through the barrel of the rifle and started to put it all back together. 

“Thank you.” Ali smiled and heard the buzzing of a phone across the coffee table. “Your phone is going off babe.” 

“Can you check it for me?”

Ali grabbed the phone and opened the text message. “It’s Sarah. She says: Bring your Gibson. What does that mean?” Ali asked 

Ash rolled her eyes and groaned. “She’s talking about my guitar…She must want to sing at the bonfire…” 

Ali lit up, beaming from ear to ear. “You still haven’t played for me!! I get to hear you play tonight? Will you play something now?”

Ash laughed at the rush of words that came out of Ali all at once. “Um…” She cocked her head to the side and let out a contemplative sigh. “Sure. That way if you don’t like it, you can heckle me now instead of in front of the group." Ash winked and took the rifle to the spare bedroom. She returned a minute later with her acoustic guitar in hand. She sat down on one end of the couch and started tuning it. 

Ali curled up on the other end of the couch, pulling her knees up to her chest and watching intently. 

“Any requests?” Ash asked as she started to tune the strings.

“Nope. Whatever you want.” 

Ash raised an eyebrow and mentally worked through the songs she knew. “Hmm..Okay…” She played a couple notes before slipping into the song. 

Almost immediately, Ali recognized the cover of Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud and broke out into a wide smile. She couldn’t take her eyes of Ash’s fingers as they moved over the strings effortlessly. She was taken back by the sound of Ash’s voice. It all exceeded her expectations. 

Ash finished up the song, letting the last note ring out and then looked up at Ali for the first time. She let out a shy shrug. “So…that’s pretty much it…”

Ali blinked a few times, trying to suppress the awe enough to be coherent with her words. “That….Ash, that was amazing! How could you think I was going to heckle you?” 

Ash shrugged “I dunno.” She played a couple notes mindlessly.

“Well, bad news Sergeant. Now, I’m going to make you play all the damn time.” Ali laughed and leaned in for a deep kiss. 

“You’re in luck then…Apparently Sarah is in the mood to play tonight. She ropes me in to duets.” Ash sighed with a chuckle. 

“Perfect!” Ali beamed. “Will you play another one?” She bit her bottom lip, having learned that it was a weakness of Ash’s. 

Ash smirked and shook her head. “One more. Then we’re going to lunch…”

“Deal.” Ali grabbed her phone and started the voice recording app on it. 

Ash grinned and started to play again. 

When Ali heard the first couple notes, she tilted her head. “Is this…” 

Just then, Ash started singing Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen as she fought off a grin.

“Yep, sure is..” Ali muttered to herself with a smirk. 

Ashlyn shot her a wink as she sang, playing all the right notes and emphasizing certain words throughout the song. When the last note rang out 3 and a half minutes later, she moved the guitar to lean against the side of the couch. 

“So, I get to hear that all night long?” Ali asked eagerly. 

“Uh…I don’t know about all night…but yeah, we’ll play some more stuff. Assuming I haven’t died of hunger by then.” Ash joked as her stomach growled. 

“You big baby. Fine, let’s go get some lunch.” Ali teased and stood up, dragging Ash to the door. 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 24 

At 19:15, Ashlyn, Ali and Deacon pulled up in front of a big beach already full of people. There was a massive bonfire with flames peaking over 8 feet high and a grill with a couple guys huddled around it. 

Ash parked the Jeep and glanced over. “Ready for this?” Ash raised an eyebrow. 

Ali looked out the window at the activities and then back at Ash. “If I’ve learned anything about you, it’s that you won’t let anything bad happen to me. I’m not worried about it.” She smiled wide and leaned across the center console for a deep kiss.

Ash soaked in the kiss before hopping out of the car and grabbing the cooler and guitar from the back. She draped the guitar over her shoulder and slipped her free hand into Ali’s. 

Ali leaned into the strong frame as she walked along side Ash. She was fascinated by the family like environment. If she didn’t know better, she would think she was walking up on an actual family reunion. Kids were playing together in the sand at the edge of the lake. A group of guys were playing football. A group of women were sitting together around the fire, drinking wine. Ali recognized familiar faces spotted throughout the groups. Sean and Travis were at the grill, cooking up food. Mikey was in the middle of the football game. Jake was standing with a group by the fire. 

Deacon ran off ahead, eager to see the rest of the team. Jake was the first to notice the dog and, in turn, the two women. “Hey Sarge, Ali.” He smiled and gave Ali a hug before giving Ash a hard handshake. 

“Hey Jake.” Ali returned the hug with a smile. 

Ash set the cooler down and pulled out two beers, handing one to Ali. She leaned the guitar against the cooler. When she stood back up, she was engulfed in a breathtaking bearhug by a stunning redhead.

Ali glanced at Jake and then back at the embrace, raising an eyebrow when the woman cradled Ash’s face in her hands. 

Ash swallowed hard, looking down softly into the blue eyes staring back up at her. 

“Thank you for bringing him back to me.” The redhead loudly whispered, her voice thick with emotion and tears stinging at her eyes. 

“He would’ve done the same for me, Sarah.” Ash brought her back in for another hug.

‘Of course.’ Ali thought and internally rolled her eyes at herself for the jealous pang she felt at first. 

When Ash and Sarah broke apart, the redhead was back to her usual happy-go-lucky demeanor. “Is this her?” She looked at Ali, to Ash, and then back to Ali. “Ashlyn….she’s gorgeous…” 


Ash laughed and took a sip of her beer. “I know…Ali, this is Sarah, Brad’s wife. Sarah, Ali.”

Sarah elbowed Ash in the ribs. “He’s my husband, not the other way around.” She said with sass before pulling Ali into a hug. “It’s great to meet you! She gets all adorable when she talks about you.” Sarah added with a scandalous tone. 

Ali laughed and hugged Sarah back. “Good to know! It’s good to meet you too. And thanks for making her bring her guitar. She still hadn’t played for me!” 

Sarah snapped her head around and glared at the Staff Sergeant. “Ashlyn Harris.”

“What?” She shrugged and sipped her beer. 

Sarah rolled her eyes and turned back to Ali. “If she gives you trouble, just text me…I’ll take care of it. Come on, you have to meet the girls.” She grabbed Ali’s hand and dragged her to the group of women. When Ash started to follow, she was met with a raised hand. “Ah ah ah…She doesn’t need a guard dog. We’re going to gossip about you…you go play with your boys…” 

Ash stood there dumbfounded.

Ali shot her a wink and followed Sarah to the group. 

Ash was snapped out of her daze when Jake tossed his arm over her shoulders. 

“Well…I hope you really like her. Now that Sarah has her hooks in, you’re never getting rid of her.” Jake laughed. 

Ashlyn laughed and took a big gulp of her beer. “I don’t think that’ll be a problem…I’m in for as long as she’ll have me.”

“Heads up!” Mikey yelled before launching the football straight at Ash.

Ash moved her beer from her right hand to her left and caught the ball easily.

“Let’s go, Sarge! You and Jake are on my team.” 

Ash shot a look at Ali. The right back met eyes with her and fired over a confident wink to let her know she was doing just fine without her. “Alright Jake…let’s go do this.” 

They walked over to where various members of Delta Force and Seal Team Six were playing football. 

Meanwhile, Ali was busy meeting all the spouses and girlfriends of the soldiers.

“So how’d y’all meet?” Beth, the wife of Dave, a Navy Seal, asked in a heavy southern drawl. 

Ali sat down in one of the camping chairs around the fire and crossed one leg over the other. “Oh, she was actually at one of my soccer games representing the Army.”

“Soccer games?” Theresa, a girlfriend of one of the Delta Force operatives, asked.

“Yeah. I play for the US National team.” Ali clarified. 

“Wait. Is your last name Krieger?” Beth asked

Ali blushed a little and nodded.

“Oh my lord. Samantha is going to just die. My daughter has a poster of you in her bedroom!” 

Ali smiled widely. “Oh, that’s so sweet! Is she here?”

“Naw, she’s spending the night at my sister’s. I’ll be sure to tell her though. She’ll be jealous.” Beth laughed. “But enough of that, back to the good stuff!”

The whole group laughed. “Right. Well, she was at the game and some guy got a little too aggressive trying to get my number. Long story short, she showed up like a knight in shining armor and defended my honor.” Ali gushed, biting her lower lip in memory of the event. “The rest is history.” 

The women all responded in a chorus of oohs and ahhs. 

 

The next hour went on the same way. Ash played football with the guys. Ali chatted it up with the women. It was seamless. 

When the game finally ended, Ash grabbed two fresh beers and walked up behind Ali. She handed her the fresh beer and leaned down to steal a kiss before wrapping an arm around her shoulder. Ali smiled and leaned into the side of her soldier. Next to her chair, Deacon was leaning against Ali’s leg. 

The rest of Bravo Company showered Ali with affection when they came over to the group around the fire, giving her kisses on the cheek or hugs. 

“Harris.” Sarah said sternly. “You go get that guitar. I’m ready to sing.” 

Ashlyn offered up a crisp salute, disappearing momentarily before returning with the guitar. She sat down on a tree stump next to Ali and started tuning. 

“Oh man, Harris is going to play tonight?” Lt Rorke asked as he sat down next to his wife.

“Do you not play that often?” Ali asked curiously.

Ashlyn shrugged a little, bringing the B string in tune.

“No, she doesn’t” Brad, the Alpha company team leader spoke up. “Who knows why…” 

Ash rolled her eyes. “Well, I’m playing now because of your bossy ass wife…so…” 

Jake walked over with a wood box called a cajon drum and sat down on the other side of Ashlyn on top of that box. Everyone settled in around the fire, getting ready for the mini makeshift concert. 

Sarah gave Ash a nod, to let her know she was ready. 

Ash started to play and one by one, all of the various conversations stopped while they played. Ash, Sarah and Jake played through We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus, grinning through the entire song. 

The next 45 minutes, they played all sorts of covers: I Knew You Were Trouble and Mean by Taylor Swift. Name, Iris and Slide by The Goo Goo Dolls. Want to Want Me by Jason Derulo. Latch by Sam Smith. Lastly, Not a Bad Thing by Justin Timberlake.

When they finished the last song, Ash set the guitar down and stretched her hands out a couple times. A radio turned on, filling the beach with music. Everyone broke out into conversation amongst themselves.

Ali stood, moving to sit in Ash’s lap and took her hands into her own, massaging them. 

Ash watched intently, wrapped up in the care and tenderness Ali was taking with her hands. When Ali looked up, Ash was taken back by the look in her eyes. 

Ali’s voice was husky and low when she spoke. “I fall more in love with you every time I learn something new.” She reached up and caressed her cheek before leaning in to whisper against Ash’s ear. “I can’t wait to be at the mercy of those hands later…”

Ash closed her eyes and took a long pull from her beer to cool down, counting down the minutes before they could leave. 

 

Chapter Text

 

It had been four days since the bonfire. Four perfect days that had allowed them to play house like two normal people, instead of the international athlete and special forces operative they really were. Ali was straddling Ash’s waist, enjoying the firm hands on her hips after their last romp under the covers. They were both breathless, naked and covered in sweat, completely exhausted. 

“I don’t want to leave…”Ali whined as she traced Ash’s tattoos with her fingertips.

“I know. I don’t want you to leave…but it’s only a week and a half and then we’ll be back together and headed towards Florida.” Ash tried to comfort her, fighting down her own similar feelings. 

Ali sighed and snuck a long drawn out kiss. “I know. You’re right…” She studied Ash’s face contemplatively “This is a whole new feeling for me. I’ve never really minded physical distance before. Even with my family, when I moved to Germany. I missed them but I never felt this…this ache in my chest that I feel when I know I have to leave you.” 

Ash nodded, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind the smaller woman’s ear. “I get it. I feel it too. I never really thought twice about enlisting and leaving Florida.” She ran her palms up and down the soccer player’s strong thighs soothingly. “Now, as soon as we’re apart I’m trying to figure out how to get us back together.”

Ali nodded. “I love that about you, by the way.” She smiled warmly down at her soldier. “You always make sure I know that I’m important to you.” 

“You are important to me. You’re….Alex…” Ash took a deep breath, trying to gather her thoughts. “I don’t know…maybe this is crazy. Maybe it hasn’t been long enough. Maybe I’ve lost my fucking mind, but when I think about the future, images of you flood my brain.”

“Yeah?” Ali smiled shyly

“Are you kidding? Yes.” 

“Like what?” Ali bit her bottom lip, a smile tugging at her lips.

“You’re really going to make me say them out loud?” Ash raised an eyebrow.

Ali just nodded, still nibbling on her lower lip.

Ash took a deep breath and traced the muscles of Ali’s thigh. “Like getting down on one knee and asking you to spend forever with me…like watching you walk down the aisle in the perfect white dress…” She glanced up to see how Ali was reacting but was met with nothing but pure love and adoration in the soft brown eyes, urging her to continue. “Like seeing you hold our child for the first time…or drinking coffee together while we watch them open Christmas presents from Santa.” 

“I want every single one of those things you just said.” Ali whispered before leaning down to crush their lips together. 

Ashlyn reached up and tangled her hands into the long brown hair, tugging her down. When they finally broke apart, Ash whispered out. “Yeah?”

“Every.” Kiss. “Single.” Kiss. “One.” Kiss. 

Ashlyn sighed contently, leaving her eyes closed and just memorizing the feel of Ali’s skin on hers. 

“And maybe a few others.” Ali smiled down at the handsome face beneath her. 

“Mmm. Spill.” Ash grinned.

Ali ran her fingers through the short soft hair. “I picture you being the one I run to when we win the World Cup..or gold at the Olympics…watching you teach our son how to ride a bike…”

“A son?” Ash raised an eyebrow.

Ali just shrugged. “I don’t know. When I imagine it, we have a son.”

“We’ve never talked about kids before…” Ash observed.

“We have now…” Ali smiled.

“I suppose we have.” Ash grinned and stole another kiss. 

“I’ve always known that I wanted kids but I’ve never imagined them with someone specific…” Ali realized out loud. “I can imagine them with you.” 

Ash smiled. “Me too.”

 

 

A week and a half later

 

Ali had gotten to Miami International Airport an hour and a half ago. The original plan to fly with Ash had gotten put on the back burner when her team got sent to Mexico so Kyle came to the airport and kept Ali company while they waited for Ash to arrive.

“Girl….I haven’t seen you glow like this since Nick Carter touched your hand at that BSB concert when you were in high school.” Kyle gossiped as he sipped his coffee.

“Staaaahp.” Ali groaned, fighting back the blush threatening her cheeks. 

“She’s got it baaaad.” He grinned, enjoying watching her squirm. 

“Ky, she’s so great and so hot and like…such a gentleman…y’know? Not like a guy…but..” Ali rolled her eyes at herself. “Jesus…I just mean that she treats me so well. She always holds my door open, and texts me goodnight…she sends me flowers and never lets anyone bump into me when we’re walking on the street. I didn’t think people with manners like that existed anymore.” 

“They don’t. You found a unicorn, honey.” Kyle laughed. “Seriously, though.” He reached out and put a hand on her knee. “I’m happy for you.” 

Ali leaned over and pulled Kyle into a hug. “Thanks, Ky.” She took a deep breath before her emotions could get the best of her. She waved her hand in front of her face a couple times to clear the feelings. “Ugh okay. Enough about me. What about you? Who’s the latest and hottest?”

Kyle rolled his eyes and threw his head back. “Oh please, honey. It’s like the damn sahara over here! All dried up! Luna and I are just going to live together forever.”

Ali laughed and checked her phone when she felt it buzz.

Ash: Just landed. Waiting to get off the plane.

Ali smiled from ear to ear at the thought of seeing her soldier, which Kyle immediately picked up on.

“Ah! Goo!” He pointed accusingly. “Look at how gooey you get!”

“Staaaahp!” Ali pulled up the collar of her shirt over her face to hide. 

Kyle grinned from ear to ear. “Ah! There she is!” He got up and took off in a run towards the person he’d seen in countless pictures from his sister. 

Ali pulled down her shirt just in time to see all hell break loose. “Kyle, no!”

 

 

 

Ash had barely slept in the last 3 days. She caught some shuteye on the plane but the last minute op had definitely run her down. The team busted their ass to make sure their Sarge would still make her trip but it had come at a cost. They worked non-stop while they were in Mexico to get the intel needed to head back to the States. 

When the plane touched down, Ash grabbed her Digi-camo backpack and fired off a text to Ali. All she needed now was a cup of coffee and her favorite human. She made her way quickly through the terminal and took the escalator down to the baggage claim section. 

She was headed to the luggage carousel for her checked bag when she felt someone roughly grab her shoulder.

What happened next was all instinct.

She reached her left hand up and over her right shoulder to grab the stranger’s wrist. She pulled them tight against her back before bending over and launching them through the air and onto their back. At the same time, she reached into the small of her back and pulled out the Springfield XDS 9mm that she travelled with, leveling it on the man who was now trapped under her boot.

It was when he was flying through the air, letting out a high pitched scream, that Kyle realized just how badly he’d misjudged the greeting. He was just so excited to meet the person that had stolen his little sister’s heart, he hadn’t thought of much else besides wrapping her up in a bear hug. Now as he laid on his back with a gun pointed in his face, the best he could muster was a sheepish smile and laugh. 

Ash blinked a couple times. Her eyes scanned the area for any other threats before looking back down. That’s when the recognition set in. Shit. Ash let out a nervous laugh and moved her boot off Kyle’s chest. She tucked the gun back into the holster at the small of her back and reached down to help him up off the ground. “Kyle?” She bit her lip and closed one eye, feeling terrible about what had just happened.

“You know it.” Kyle smiled and took the offered hand as Ashlyn hoisted him back up to his feet.

Ali had made it within 10 feet of the entire fiasco in an effort to stop her brother before Kyle was flying through the air. Now she was on the ground, laughing so hard that tears were streaming down her face. “Oh. My. God.”

Ash saw the approaching security guards coming from every direction. “Um. Hold that thought.” She told Kyle before turning to the crowd. She pulled out her government ID, held it up in the air and spoke loudly. “Department of Defense.” This caused the security guards to slow down and approach her much calmer than they had been a second ago. She scanned the guards, quickly figuring out who was in charge. She confidently walked up to him and shook his hand before handing over her ID. “Staff Sergeant Harris. Joint Special Operations Command.”

“Staff Sergeant.” He nodded as he looked over the ID before handing it back. “Everything okay here?” 

“Ah, yes sir. Just a little misunderstanding. Caught me off guard is all.” She smiled warmly to diffuse the situation. 

“Bet he won’t do that twice..” The man smiled.

“You can bet on that…” Kyle mumbled, sending Ali into another fit of laughter.

“I’m sure he won’t.” Ash fought down the grin at the sound of Ali’s laughter. “Think your team can do me a favor and disperse this crowd?”

“Absolutely, Staff Sergeant. Anything for a fellow Ranger. Did two tours in Desert Storm in my glory days. Rangers lead the way.” He saluted.

“All the way.” Ashlyn saluted back and watched the man order everyone to move along. When she turned around, her eyes danced with amusement. “So much for a good first impression….”

Ali laughed and launched herself into her soldier’s arms. “Hi baby” She cooed, giving her a long warm kiss and leaned in to whisper in her ear. “It’s really sexy when you’re all authoritative like that.” She bit her lip before letting her go. “Ash, this is Kyle. Kyle, my girlfriend, Staff Sergeant Ashlyn Harris.” She beamed teasingly, trying to keep her fits of laughter at bay.

“Yeah, we’ve met.” Kyle teased. “Permission to hug?” 

Ash laughed and pulled him into a hug. “Permission granted. Hey, listen I’m really sorry about that. Instincts and all…”

Kyle laughed. “It’s okay. I learned a very valuable lesson about sneaking up on people today.” He shot a scandalous look to Ali. “She’s strong, honey…”

“Don’t I know it.” Ali grinned and slipped her hand into Ash’s, leaning into her side and breathing in the scent she missed so much. “C’mon….let’s go. I can’t wait to tell mom this story!”

Chapter Text

 

The triple espresso Ashlyn was drinking in the back seat of Deb’s BMW was another reason she loved her woman. Ali knew how tired Ash would be and how high energy the Deb/Kyle/Ali trio could be when she handed over the liquid boost.

“Okay! So, Deb Deb is mom-ing out today! She’s all busy baking and cooking.” Kyle explained as he drove the car. 

“Is she?”

Before Ali could finish her question, Kyle nodded dramatically. “She is.”

Ash quirked an eyebrow at the broken communication that seemed to make perfect sense to the Kriegers.

Ali caught the look on Ash’s face and giggled. “Chicken Carbonara. Mom makes the best chicken carbonara. All from scratch. She makes it every time we’re all under one roof.” 

“It’s THE best” Kyle praised as he navigated through the streets of Miami. After another 15 minutes, they pulled into a beautiful beach house right on the ocean. Ash hopped out of the car and opened Ali’s door, offering her hand to help her up. 

“You’re so sweet.” Ali beamed and gave her a quick kiss.

Ash shot her a wink and moved to the trunk. She blinked twice when she saw the contents. “Did you bring my guitar down?” 

“Maaaaaybe.” Ali bit her bottom lip and leaned against Ash. “I have this picture in my head of us sitting on the beach, you playing, while the sun sets.”

Ash placed a kiss on the top of her head and grabbed all the bags. “Anything you want, baby.” 

Their tender moment was interrupted by the opening of the front door. “AAAAAHHH!” Deb ran out the front door screaming, with her arms in the air. “My baby girl!” 

Ali ran towards her mom and engulfed her in a hug, spinning them both. “Mom!” 

Deb broke apart and held her daughter’s face in her hands, taking her in. “As beautiful as ever.” She kissed her cheek before looking over to the soldier. “And this must be Ashlyn.” She walked over and pulled Ash into a big hug. “Good lord, woman. You’re made of stone!” She put her hands on Ash’s biceps and squeezed. She shot an approving look to Ali who laughed.

“It’s nice to meet you ma’am.” Ash smiled warmly, chuckling at the matriarch’s antics.

“She has nice manners, Alex.” Deb praised with a smirk, earning a slight blush from Ashlyn. “You call me Deb. Ma’am makes me feel ancient.” 

Ash nods “You got it.” 

“Now let’s get inside! Happy hour starts on the patio in 10 minutes!” Deb patted Ash’s arm one more time before heading into the house. 

Ali looped her arm through Ash’s and led the soldier into her mother’s house. 

“Alex, your room is all set up. Ashlyn, we have rules in this house. You’ll be in the guest room at the end of the hall.” Deb stated seriously . 

Ali just gaped at her mother, flabbergasted. 

“Of course.” Ash nodded without hesitation. 

A second later, Deb doubled over in laughter. “Alex, honey, your face is going to freeze like that! I’m kidding, I’m kidding! You’re both grown ups…just keep it down.” She winked and then disappeared into the kitchen, leaving a trail of laughter in her wake. 

Ash blinked a couple times. “Well, she’s a tornado.” She laughed. “Now I know where you get it from.” 

“Yeah, it’s genetic. C’mon stud. We’re upstairs.” Ali grinned and headed to their room. 

 

 

Ashlyn followed her up and set the bags down inside the room once the door was closed. As soon as she stood up, Ali was draped all over her. “Mm, baby.” 

Ali ran her hands up into Ash’s short hair and moaned into the kiss. “I missed you.” She raked her nails down the back of Ash’s neck as she felt the strong arms wrapped around her. 

“I missed you, too.” Ash sighed, pressing her forehead against Ali’s. 

“Let’s get you into something more comfortable.” Ali said quietly, pulling at the hem of Ash’s camo quarter zip shirt to lift it up and over her head. With the shirt gone, she raked her eyes over the muscular frame. Her fingers reached out and touched a dark nasty bruise on her rib cage. “Baby…” She whispered.

“It’s okay. I’m okay.” Ash reassured her. “Nothing some time with you can’t fix.” She leaned down and claimed another kiss. 

Ali leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on the bruise, glancing up to make sure she isn’t hurting her. 

“Mmm.” Ash hummed appreciatively, running her hand through Ali’s hair. 

“What happened, baby?” Ali caressed her cheek gently, searching the soft hazel eyes. 

“I was daydreaming about you pinned underneath me, screaming my name, when a car t-boned us…” Ash grinned.

“What? Really?!” Ali asked incredulously.

“Which part are you questioning? The dirty image or the car?” Ash smirked.

“Um….both?”

Ash laughed and shrugged. “Both true…The truck that hit us was trying to intimidate us from digging into their cartel. I was on the impact side. The bruise is from the arm rest. The bitch of it was that they hit us before I could get to the good part of the daydream…” She smirked mischievously.

“You’re ridiculous.” Ali pushed her gently onto the edge of the bed and climbed in her lap, straddling her waist. “This dream of yours…” Ali reached down and pulled her own shirt off, exposing her lacy bra. 

“Yeah…” Ash croaked out, feeling her mouth go dry.

Ali reached down to grab Ash’s hands, placing them on her lace covered breasts. “Tell me more.” 

Ash bit back a groan and squeezed Ali’s breasts, leaning up for a heated kiss. “We uh…we were at your place…”

“Mmhmm” Ali encouraged, leaning down to suck on Ash’s earlobe. 

“And I had ripped off that red satin number you have…” She recalled, as she ran her thumbs back and forth over Ali’s nipples.

“Yeah…” Ali pressed her hips down into Ash’s to get friction between them.

“Oh fuck, Alex…” Ash whispered out, trying to be mindful of the other people in the house. 

“What else, Sergeant?” Ali husked out, nipping at Ash’s neck.

“You were so wet for me, baby.” Ash slipped her hands under the lace, seeking direct contact. 

Ali moaned quietly into Ash’s neck, grinding harder into the soldier’s lap. “Ash…” 

“Happy hour, bitches!” Kyle called loudly from the bottom of the stairs.

Ash flopped back on the bed with a loud sigh. “Fuck…” 

“Well, that had been the idea, but….” Ali giggled and crawled on top of her, giving her a much more innocent kiss. 

Ash rubbed her hands roughly over her face to get her libido back in check. 

Ali stood up and stripped her jeans off, exposing the thong that matched the bra. 

“Are you trying to see if my brain will just stop working….or?” Ash blinked, soaking in the sight of her girlfriend. 

Ali winked and went over to her bag. “I need shorts. It’s Miami.” She stated simply. 

“Uh huh…” She tilted her head to enjoy the view of Ali rummaging through her luggage. 

“I can feel you staring.” Ali grinned as she pulled out a pair of shorts and a tank top. 

“Wasn’t hiding it.” Ash smirked and sat up, taking in Ali’s shirt. “Is that new?”

Ali beamed as she looked down at the fitted black tank top with “ARMY” scrolled across the chest. “Do you like it? I wanted to represent…but all of your stuff is a little big on me, so…I ordered this.” She bit her lip, proud of her purchase.

“Alex. I love it.” Ash smiled and stood up, pulling her in for a soft kiss. “You’re adorable.”

“Well, it’s Under Armour…don’t tell my sponsors at Nike.” Ali grinned. “It’s tough finding fashionable Army apparel…you should talk to someone about that.” 

“Yes ma’am. I’ll make sure I get to it as soon as I get back.” Ash chuckled. She went to her bag and grabbed a pair of board shorts and loose tank top, changing quickly. “Let’s go, before that brother of yours comes barging in.” 

Ali laughed and slipped her hand into Ash’s, lacing their fingers together. “Good idea.” She leaned up and placed a brief but smoldering kiss on Ash’s lips before dragging her back down the stairs. 

Ash tagged along, using the journey down the stairs as time to get her composure back together. With one last deep breath, she followed Ali out onto the patio.

 

“Welcome to the Krieger Cabana happy hour!” Kyle announced as they walked out, spreading his arms wide across the table filled with appetizers. 

Ali beamed and offered a mock bow. “Thank you for having us. Pleasure to be here.” 

Ashlyn laughed and glanced at Deb “Are they always like this?”

Deb smirked and poured a margarita from the pitcher. “Why do you think my hair is gray?”

Ali and Kyle both gasped in mock offense. 

“Rude! I offered to dye your hair and you know it!” Kyle scolded. 

“And you!” Ali pointed at Ashlyn. “You can get your own beer, now!” She said in mock offense, pouring herself a margarita.

“I swear, I tried my best raising them…” Deb teased and took a sip of the blended margarita. 

Ash laughed and grabbed a beer from the cooler before sitting down in one of the adirondack chairs. 

Ali shot Ashlyn another glare but climbed into her lap, nonetheless. “Thin ice, Staff Sergeant.” She warned with a grin.

“Yes ma’am.” Ash smirked back, taking a sip of her beer and wrapping an arm around Ali’s waist. 

“OMG…” Kyle said, dramatically. “I think I have diabetes...or a cavity...or both...this is too sweet.” He rolled his eyes playfully. “I’ll just be over here, drinking my haterade.” 

Ali shot him a glare and hurled a dinner roll at him, which he caught and took a bite of.

Ashlyn leaned back into the chair, soaking in the warmth of the Florida sun and enjoying the feeling of Ali in her lap. The perfectly manicured nails were rubbing back and forth over her shirt where the bruise was. 

Deb took in the sweet interaction and smiled to herself, happy to see her daughter so content and comfortable. 

“Where’s Mike?” Ali asked, snapping Deb out of her thoughts.

“Oh, I sent him up to the store for firewood and tequila.” Deb smiled “He should be back soon.” She glanced at her watch. “I need to go check on the chicken.”

“I’ll help.” Ali smiled and gave Ash a quick kiss before following her mom in the house. 

 

Deb and Ali made their way through the house to the kitchen. Deb checked the food quickly before turning to meet Ali’s gaze. “You’re going to marry her aren’t you, Alex?” Deb’s eyes were twinkling.

Ali sighed dreamily. “Ugh, I hope so. Mom, she’s so great.” She leaned against her mom, putting her head on Deb’s shoulder.

“She looks at you like you hung the moon, honey. And you look at her like there’s no one else around.” Deb fanned her face, trying to push away the tightness in her throat. “It’s just what I’ve always wanted for you…” 

“Oh, mom.” Ali pulled her in to a tight hug

“Well, and that damned World Cup…” Deb laughed to break the mood. 

“Right…and that.” Ali smirked and took a sip of her margarita. They headed back to the patio and Ali stopped Deb before they walked through the french doors. “Wait…” Ali grinned and pointed at Kyle and Ashlyn in the sand.

 

“Okay, so…” Ash stepped in front of Kyle, turning her back to him. “You want to pull me flush against your back.” She demonstrated and reached her arm over her right shoulder like she had at the airport. “And then you squat down a little bit, twist and throw.”

Kyle clapped his hands together and jumped up and down twice. “Okay, okay. I wanna try.” He smiled wide and stepped in front of her.

Ali stepped in. “Kyle…” Her mind flashed to the nasty bruise on her soldier’s side.

“It’s okay, Alex.” Ash smiled and shot her a comforting wink. 

“What?” Deb asked Ali as she watched their antics.

“She got this nasty bruise down in Mexico…” Ali sighed and took a sip of her margarita.

Kyle grabbed her wrist and pulled her flush against his back. “Like this?” He beamed.

“Yep. Now launch me.” Ash laughed, ready to tuck and roll through the flip.

“Hiiiii-yah!” He screeched as he flipped her up and over into the sand. “You can all call me Killer Kyle now. Thank you very much.”

Ashlyn dropped her shoulder as she landed, tucking at the right moment and popping right back up to make sure Ali knew she was okay. “Nice!” She gave him a high five before trotting back over to Ali.

“You sure you’re okay?” Ali raised a skeptical eyebrow, placing her palm flat against the bruise. 

“Absolutely.” She grinned wide and whispered loudly so everyone could hear. “He throws like a girl..”

The women busted out into laughter, leaving Kyle appalled.

Chapter Text

Chapter 27

“Oh my god, that was incredible.” Ash praised, leaning back into her chair with a cleared plate in front of her. 

Deb laughed. “I guess so, you had three plates.” 

Ali reached over and laced her fingers through Ash’s, smiling. 

“In my defense…you did say ‘help yourself’.” Ash laughed and took a swig of her beer. “Sorry. First real meal I’ve had in almost two weeks. Those MREs and protein shakes just don’t have quite the same effect.” 

“You poor thing.” Deb squeezed her forearm. “Well, make a little more room. I baked dessert too. We’ll get you nice and fat before you have to go back.” 

Ali laughed and shook her head, sipping her margarita and enjoying the feeling of Ash’s thumb running across the back of her hand. 

“I’m sure I can manage to find space.” Ash grinned and brought Ali’s hand up to her lips to kiss her knuckles. 

“Stupid season diet…” Ali mumbled. 

“I don’t see any trainers…” Kyle looked around, checking under the table for effect. “Cut loose, girl…” 

Mike laughed, from his spot next to Deb. “Yeah, your secret is safe with us.” 

Ali looked at Ash with a raised eyebrow. 

“Don’t look at me.” She laughed. “I just had 3 plates of Chicken Carbonara…I’m the last person to talk about self-control..”

Everyone laughed and Deb got up to get dessert. Ali followed suit, standing up and giving Ash a brief kiss before heading into the kitchen.

Kyle groaned loudly, looking at Ashlyn “Ugh, does she ever leave a room without kissing you first?”

Ash thought about it for a second. “Not really…” She grinned. “Sorry…” 

Kyle rolled his eyes and sipped his club soda. “Gross…”

“I’m not exactly complaining.” Ash smiled.

“You two seem happy.” Mike observed, taking a sip of his beer. 

“We are. Or, at least I am.” Ashlyn smiled. 

“No, you had it right the first time. We are.” Ali corrected with a smile as she walked back onto the patio and curled up in Ashlyn’s lap, handing her a bowl of berry cobbler. 

“Thanks, Alex.” Ashlyn beamed up at Ali before digging into the cobbler. 

“So, how’s the team coming along? You guys only have a month and a half until the World Cup starts!” Deb asked excitedly.

“Really good. Way better than the Spirit.” Ali rolled her eyes at her flailing NWSL team, taking another bite of the dessert. “We have camp at the end of the month. I’m feeling really good about our chances but we need to just take it one game at a time, one win at a time.”

“Alex. You’re not in front of a camera…” Deb reminded her daughter with a smile.

Ali took a deep breath and sighed, her shoulders sagging a little. “Everything on paper says we should win. I just..I dunno, I think I’ll have this nagging feeling until I get through an entire game on that field…Once that’s done, I’ll be fine.” 

Ash rubbed her hand up and down Ali’s back reassuringly, pulling her tight against her frame in an effort to offer her silent comfort. 

“Are you going to be able to make any of the games, Ashlyn?” Mike asked.

“I’m definitely going to try. It’s a little tough with work but assuming nothing crazy happens, yeah, I’ll be there.” Ash smiled up at Ali.

“Y’know…assuming she’s not busy wearing her super hero cape” Ali teased.

Ashlyn rolled her eyes and laughed. “Uh huh…” 

“And Alex told us you have a dog? I wasn’t sure if he was going to be here. I might have gotten him some toys…” Deb admitted with a grin.

“I do, yeah. Deacon. He went home with the guys to rest up a little.” Ash smiled. 

“She gets upset because he’s technically my favorite soldier…” Ali grinned and poked Ash’s unbruised side.

“It’s true. And it’s not a technicality. You two are soul mates.” Ash laughed and took a sip of her beer.

“Well, his hair is softer than yours…” Ali tried to keep the smirk off her face as Ash faked offense.

“Girl, I’ve got some conditioner that can fix that…” Kyle offered with a wink. “Fix that right up.” 

Ashlyn just shook her head and laughed. “Unbelievable. My hair is super soft...” 

“Of course it is, babe. Take a walk with me?” Ali smiled down at Ashlyn from her spot in the soldier’s lap. “Work off that dessert?” 

“Definitely.” Ash responded immediately, keeping the part about following Ali anywhere to herself. 

“Okay. I’ll just clear the table and then we can go.” Ali said.

“You’ll do no such thing. You girls get out of here. Kyle can clear the table.” Deb smiled, sipping her margarita. 

“I won’t say no to that.” Ali grinned and got up. “I’ll get drinks and sweatshirts. You go get your guitar.” 

“Yes ma’am.” Ash smirked and headed inside.

“She’s trained well.” Kyle smirked once Ash was inside.

Deb smacked him upside the head. “It’s not training, it’s manners. You wouldn’t recognize them in their natural habitat. It’s romantic, Alex. Don’t listen to him.”

“I don’t plan to…” Ali grinned and headed inside for refills on their drinks.

 

5 minutes later, Ali and Ashlyn were walking down the beach hand in hand. Ash wearing a US Soccer sweatshirt, Ali wearing her favorite combat diver hoodie. They found a secluded piece of beach and settled in to watch the sunset, Ali curling up in Ash’s lap. 

“I’m so glad you’re here.” Ali whispered against Ash’s lips before claiming them with her own, lacing her fingers through the short brown locks.

“I know, baby. Me too.” Ash murmured back against her lips, slipping her hands under the hoodie and caressing the bare skin of Ali’s torso. 

“Do you really think you can make it to Vancouver?” Ali asked quietly, playing with the strings on Ash's hoodie. 

“Short of getting deployed, I promise to be there Alex.” Ash said with a quiet confidence. “We’ll just play it by ear. I’ve already got my plane ticket to Vancouver. The plan is to watch my girl win gold.” 

Ali smiled and ran her fingertips along Ash’s jaw. “You’re so sweet to me.” 

“Well, I’m hopelessly in love with you…so…y’know, it’s easy…” Ash smirked and kissed the palm of Ali’s hand.

“For the record, I’m hopelessly in love with you too.” Ali beamed down into those hazel eyes she adored so much. “This is what I always thought it would feel like as a kid, daydreaming about what it would like to be in love.” She paused for a minute, just taking in Ash’s features. “Then when I started dating, it was never like that and I figured I just guessed wrong…I didn’t guess wrong. I just hadn’t found you yet.” 

Ash smiled warmly up at Ali, running her fingers through the long brown hair. “Your mumble is one of the sexiest things on the planet…” 

Ali blushed and looked down at her lap shyly.

“I’m serious. When I’m gone and I’m missing you more than normal, I play back your voicemails that you’ve left me. Adorable.” 

“Aw, really?” Ali nuzzled into the neck of her soldier, resting her head against the strong shoulder.

“Yes, really.” She cuddled right back against Ali, smiling at bashful behavior. 

 

A few minutes later Ali shifted in Ash’s lap, pressing her back against Ash’s front so the two of them could look out at the sunset on the horizon. Ali reached back and took Ash’s hands in her own, wrapping the strong arms around her and holding them in her lap.

Ash pulled Ali tight against her and rested her chin on the right back’s shoulder. They sat quietly, breathing in each other and watching the sunset. When the sky turned a bright array of orange and red, Ash broke the silence between them. “So, I have some news.” 

Ali leaned further into the embrace. “Yeah? Did you get another tattoo in Mexico?” Ali teased.

Ash smirked and played along. “Yeah. I got the back of your jersey tattooed on my back so it looks like I’m always wearing it….but they spelled Krieger wrong.” 

Ali laughed. “Figures…I before E. Always I before E.” She grinned, running her thumbs over the back of Ash’s hands. “What’s this news?” 

“Um…I’m getting a medal for leading the mission to rescue Bravo company. It’ll be at the White House.” Ash spoke quietly, shying away from the attention. 

“Baby! That’s amazing!” Ali spun around in Ash’s lap, cradling the soldier’s face in her hands. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?!” She pulled her in for a tight hug. 

“I dunno. I’ve never really shared anything like this with someone before. Grams could never really make the trip…but I thought maybe you could come? It’s next week.” Ash asked quietly.

“Of course! Baby, of course!” She leaned down and crushed her lips against Ash’s. “What’s the medal?”

“It’s the Silver Star. The President is going to give it to me. More importantly, Deacon is getting the K9 medal for Exceptional Service.” Ash smiled, proud of her boy.

“Well, then I’ll definitely be there…” Ali grinned, running her hands through Ash’s hair lovingly. 

“Thanks, Alex.” 

“Any excuse to get all dolled up.” Ali replied with a wink. “You don’t seem that excited about it.”

Ash shrugged. “I don’t know…I mean, I was one of 15 people that got him out…it doesn’t seem right that I’m getting the medal.”

“But you were in charge of the whole thing right?”

“Yeah”

“Honey.” Ali ran her hands across Ash’s cheekbones. “You did something incredible. You put yourself and your team in harms way to bring others home. The country just wants to recognize what you’ve done.” 

Ash nodded, closing her eyes and leaning into the touch. “I’m glad you’ll be there.”

“I wouldn’t miss it. It’ll be a story we tell our kids someday.” Ali beamed.

 

The couple stayed on the beach long after the sun had set, exchanging loving touches and catching up on what they’d missed of each other’s lives since they were last together, all to the soundtrack of Ash strumming on the guitar.

Chapter Text

 

The remainder of the trip went by seamlessly. Ash and Kyle got along like they’d known each other for years. The three of them starting every morning with a workout on the beach. Ash sported her Krieger jersey at the Spirit/Pride game as she sat next to Servando, wearing his Morgan jersey. The two traded phone numbers, promising to hang out while their Alexs were busy with National Team duties in Vancouver next month. Before they knew it, Ali was back in Washington while Ash was back on base in Fort Bragg.

 

Ash walked through her front door, kneeling down to greet Deacon as he ran up. “Hey buddy. Did Jake drop you off this morning?” 

“Jake dropped him off right now.” Jake chuckled as he walked in from the kitchen.

“Oh, hey buddy.” Ash stood up and clapped her hand into his. “How’s everything here?”

Jake flopped down on the couch. “We’re all good. Ran through some drills with the team but nothing crazy. How was Florida? Did you guys run off and get hitched yet?” 

Ashlyn laughed and grabbed a beer out of the fridge before joining Jake on the couch. “Not yet.” Ash grinned.

“But soon?” Jake asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No, not soon but…she’s end game for sure.” Ash turned on the tv, finding the Red Sox game. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you’re there…”

“You better.” Jake warned. “I haven’t watched your back all these years just to miss you getting hitched.” 

Ashlyn laughed and sipped her beer. “It’s been like 7 months, Jake.  Pump the brakes.”  She ruffled Deke’s ears as he plopped his head in her lap. “You still good to join me in Vancouver?”

“Yeah, man. I’ll be there.” Jake nodded.

“Sweet. I met Alex Morgan’s husband during the trip to Florida. We can hang out with him while we’re up there. He's a cool guy.” 

“Works for me. Did you tell Ali about your medal?” Jake asked curiously, knowing that she never really had family at milestones in her career.

“Yeah. She’s coming to it.” Ash took a sip of her beer, eyes staying on the baseball game as she felt Jake look at her.

“I’m glad.” Jake said simply. 

“Me too.” Ash glanced at Jake before going back to the game.

The two sat together, watching the game and catching up. “So, does this ‘end game’ mean the team is going to need a new leader? Or?” Jake asked.

Ash smirked to herself. “How long ya been sitting on that question?” 

“About 4 months…” Jake chuckled. “Maybe longer. When I saw how you look at her…I just figured it’s a matter of time before you decide to settle down in DC.” 

Ash shrugged. “I dunno, Arch. I mean..the team can't last forever, but I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. Alex and I will figure out the distance…it is what it is. But she knows how important you guys are to me and I know how important the National team is to her. We’ve got more bad guys to catch before I consider hanging ‘em up.” 

“That’s what I like to hear.” Jake grinned, clinking his beer bottle against hers.

 

 

 

4 days later, Ashlyn pulled her Jeep into the parking spot next to Ali’s BMW. She hopped out of the car and grabbed her luggage, including the garment bag holding her Class A uniform. “C’mon Deke. Let’s go see our girl.”

Deacon hopped down out of the car and the trio headed up to the loft apartment. 

Ash and Deacon headed down the hallway, a grin breaking across Ash’s face at the sounds coming from the apartment. Music was pumping down the hallway. Ash walked up and knocked on the familiar door. A minute later, she knocked again. 

“I don’t think she can hear us, buddy…” Ash smirked and tried the door knob, rolling her eyes when it opened right up. “Damn it, Alex…” She muttered to herself and headed in with Deacon next to her. She placed her bags in the foyer and hung up the garment bag, going in search of her brunette. When she rounded the corner into the kitchen, a wide smile broke across her face. Dancing to the music and whisking a bowl full of ingredients was Ali Krieger in all her glory. 

Ash held up a hand to freeze Deacon before sneaking up behind Ali. “You should really lock your door, Miss Krieger.” Ash grinned, wrapping her arms around Ali’s waist.

“AAAH!” Ali let out a loud scream before turning in Ash’s arms and slapping her playfully on the chest. “Yeah? Well, my girlfriend is really protective and tough so you better not try anything!” 

Ash smirked and raised an eyebrow. “Is that right?”

“Yeah, that’s right!” Ali replied sassily.

“I bet that protective girlfriend of yours would really appreciate you locking the door when she’s not around….” Ash grinned.

“Okay, okay. I will from now on. Scouts honor.” Ali smiled, biting her lower lip in an attempt to get off the hook.

“Ugh, that’s cheating.” Ash laughed and leaned down to claim Ali’s lips.

Ali took her opportunity and leaped up, wrapping her legs around Ash’s waist. She deepened the kiss and pulled on the short brown hair, hungry for her soldier. 

Ash grabbed Ali by the back of the thighs, moving her to the countertop and pulling away enough to rip the t-shirt up and over her head. “Fuck, you’re beautiful.” Ash raked her eyes over the beautiful body. 

“You think so?” Ali asked, grabbing Ash’s shirt and adding it to the pile hers was now in. 

Ash rolled her eyes and sucked hard on the defender’s neck. “Are you kidding me?”

Ali’s eyes rolled to the back of her head at the sensation of Ash’s mouth. She swallowed hard before being able to talk again. “Beautiful enough to be in the ESPN body issue?” She asked, almost shyly, tilting her head to give Ashlyn more access.

Ash’s hand skimmed up the torso, palming her breast roughly. “Of course.” She nipped at Ali’s collarbone, her mind hazy as her senses were filled with the brunette. Suddenly, she realized what Ali was getting at and pulled away. “Wait.” She looked into Ali’s eyes, searching for confirmation. 

Ali watched Ash’s eyes, trying to understand how she felt about the opportunity. “They called this morning.” She blinked a couple times. “They want to know if I’m interested.”

“Alex, that’s amazing.” Ash moved her hands down to Ali’s hips, running her thumbs back and forth over the bare skin. “Are you going to do it?” 

Ali shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I’m not ashamed of my body”

“You shouldn’t be.” Ash interjected before Ali could continue.

Ali smiled and gave Ash a brief kiss, cradling her face in her hands. “Thank you. But, right now my body is something I only share with you and…this would change that…and I want to make sure you’re okay with that. I would never do it if you were uncomfortable with it…I want you to know that I'm yours completely and if this changes that for you, I won't do it.” 

“Sorry, could you repeat all of that? I was distracted by how sexy your mumble is again…” Ash smirked.

Ali gave her a shove. “I’m trying to be serious!” She whined.

Ash laughed and leaned right back in, resuming her spot between Ali’s legs. “I’m kidding. Listen, it’s beyond sweet that you took me into consideration. It means a lot.” Ash mulled it over in her mind. “It doesn’t really bother me. I trust you and it’s not exactly a Playboy magazine…I’ve seen editions in the past, it’s really tasteful. Quite frankly, it's a display of how hard you work at being such a world class athlete. Besides, people can drool all they want. I’m the one that actually gets to touch you.” 

“You’re sure?” Ali asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m sure.” 

“Then let’s get back to the part about you touching me…” Ali dragged the soldier down into a smoldering kiss, using her legs to pull her flush against her as she started unbuckling the belt around Ash's waist. 

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter 29

 

Ash was sitting on the edge of Ali’s bed drinking a glass of Johnnie Walker in her jeans and sports bra, hair still wet from their recent joint shower. Deacon was laying next to her, both watching their girl get ready.

“Ugh…these hickeys are getting harder and harder to cover up..it’s like your lung capacity is getting better.” Ali teased as she applied her make-up. 

Ash grinned “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She said coyly as she sipped her whiskey.

“Uh huh…” Ali mumbled, moving on to her mascara. “I’m going to have to stay away from you before the Body Issue shoot…I don’t need marks gracing the pages of ESPN for eternity…” 

“Just think of them as symbols of my immense love for you.” Ash winked.

“Well, in that case, you can explain your symbols of love to my father when he sees them…” Ali quipped.

“Um…uh…” Ash took a sip of her drink. “No marks before the shoot. Got it.” Ash conceded before adding “In my defense, you weren’t exactly complaining…In fact, I distinctly remember you requesting ‘harder’” Ash smirked, looking awfully proud of herself. 

Ali threw a wad of balled up socks at Ash’s head. Deacon mistook this as a game, causing him to jump up and catch them, trotting back to Ali and dropping them at her feet. Ali huffed but showered Deacon with affection. “You’re a good boy. And you behave much better than your Sergeant.” 

“Sergeant First Class.” Ash piped up from her spot on the bed.

“What?” Ali turned her head, looking back at Ashlyn who was grinning. 

“Sergeant First Class. Turns out I’m not just getting a medal on Thursday.” Ashlyn smiled. “And before you yell, I just found out before I drove up.”

“Ash! We need champagne or something!” Ali praised and walked over to Ashlyn, leaning down to give her a tender kiss. “Man…The Krieger/Harris combo is killing it this week.” Ali grinned. “So, what does that mean?”

“Mostly, just more money and I have to change out the patches on my uniform.” Ash offered. 

Ali rolled her eyes but peppered Ash with kisses. “I love you and I am so proud of you.” She pulled her in for a hug and then caught a glance of the clock. “Shit. The girls are going to be here soon for dinner! I need to finish getting ready and you need to put a shirt on.” 

“Yes ma’am.” Ash took another sip of her drink and went to her suitcase, digging out a Red Sox t-shirt and pulling it over her head before pinning Ali against her dresser. “I’m all done with my job…what about you?” Ash grinned down at her wolfishly.

Ali sighed out dreamily, wrapping her hands around the soldier’s neck. “Good enough…” She muttered before claiming Ash’s lips fervently. 

 

5 minutes later, Ash’s left hand was under Ali’s tank top cupping her breast, the other holding both of Ali’s hands against the wall above her head. 

The passionate make out session was interrupted by a knocking on the door and Deacon’s protective bark. They broke apart with mutual sighs, gazing at each other with lust filled eyes.

Ali grinned and wiped away her lipstick on Ash’s lower lip with her thumb. “I’ll get the door.” She gave Ash one more quick kiss before heading down the hallway, leaving Ashlyn to collect herself. Deacon was staring at the door, letting out a couple more loud intimidating barks when Ali approached. “My big protective guard dog.” She cooed, petting his ears. “These are friends though, so don’t eat them.” She giggled before opening the door. “Hey guys!” 

“Shit, Kriegs! Is that a bear?” Lori laughed. “We thought he was coming through the door.”

Ali laughed and hugged Deacon into her side. “He’s just a teddy bear, aren’t you Deacon?” She turned back to the group. “Come in, come in!” She hugged Lori, then Crystal and Jo.

Ashlyn walked down the hall, joining the group. 

“Hey Harris!” Jo clapped her on the shoulder, pulling her in for a side hug.

“Hey Jo, Lori.” Ash hugged Jo and Lori before turning to Crystal. “Crystal.” 

“What’s up, Ashlyn? Ready to leave Germany for a good New York girl?” Crystal grinned and winked, sauntering up to her. 

“Hey, hey hey! I’m watching you, pint size.” Ali joked as she headed to the kitchen.

“Sorry, you heard the woman.” Ashlyn laughed and hugged Crystal. 

“So, will he, like, bite me if I try to pet him?” Lori asked, eyeing the giant dog. 

“Nah, he’s harmless unless I tell him not to be.” Ash grinned and accepted the beer Jo handed her “Thanks.” 

“No worries. How ya been?” Jo asked as she flopped down on Ali’s couch.

“Been good.” Ash sat on one of the stools at the kitchen island where she could see the living room and kitchen. 

Ali rolled her eyes as she opened a bottle of wine. “She’s been more than good. She’s just the most humble person I’ve ever met. She’s getting a promotion and the President is awarding her a medal this Thursday.” 

“Holy shit. Really?” Lori asked, wide eyed.

“Um, yeah.” Ash took a sip of her beer and shrugged.

“See? Humble.” Ali grabbed two glasses from her cupboard.

“Sexy.”  Crystal whispered to Ali.

“Don’t I know it.” Ali grinned back, pouring the wine for Crystal and herself before heading out to the living room, leaning against Ash. 

When there was another knock on the door, Deacon’s bark made everyone but Ashlyn jump. Instead, Ash tilted her head and looked at Ali with the silent question.

“Whitney. She was going to come over. They play us this weekend so she was coming down early to hang out.” Ali explained, getting up and going to the door. “Whit!” She greeted the tall blonde with a big hug. “Hey lady.”

“Hey hey.” Whitney returned the hug. “Does this big ol’ guy mean your lady is around?” She smiled and petted the dog that she recognized from California.

“Yeah, this is Deacon.” Ali smiled. “Ash is in the living room with Lori, Jo and Crystal. C’mon” 

Whitney followed her in and greeted the players before turning to Ashlyn. “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Whitney.” She reached out her hand politely.

Ashlyn laughed, glancing at Ali before turning back to Whitney and shook her hand. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.” She said with a British accent and an exaggerated bow before returning to her normal voice. “Of course, I remember you…” She grinned and pulled her into a hug. “How’ve you been?” 

Whitney laughed and rolled her eyes. “Listen, with the way you were staring at Kriegs, I wasn’t sure if you even knew there were other people at the bar that night…”

Ash smirked. “Fair enough. Can I get you a beer?” 

“That’d be great.” Whitney smiled and watched Ash give Ali a quick kiss before heading into the kitchen. 

 

As the night progressed, Whitney and Ash talked the entire night. Swapping stories about North Carolina, Whitney from her time in college and Ash from her time at Fort Bragg. Countless times throughout the night, Ali looked over to see both of them with tears streaking down their faces from laughing so hard. 

Ali grinned and walked over, sitting on Ash’s lap and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “Do you want to just break up with me now so you and Whit can live happily ever after?” She teased.

Whitney laughed and took a sip of her beer. “Hey, if I thought I could swing that way even a little bit I might take you up on that.” She winked

Ash held her stomach from laughing so hard. “On the count of three, name your favorite dinosaur. Don’t even think about it. One, two, three.” 

“Velociraptors!” They both shouted, causing the other girls to laugh at their antics.

“Did we just become best friends?” Ash asked.

“Yup!” 

“Do you want to go do karate in the garage?” 

“Yup!” Whit exclaimed before they were both bent over in fits of laughter.

“Ali, I think your girlfriend just found her soul mate…” Lori teased.

“I think so.” Ali laughed, wiping tears from her own eyes. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 30

Ash stepped out of the bathroom in her full Class A uniform, buttoning up the last button. When she looked up, she saw Ali take her in for the first time. She smirked playfully as the brunette took a deep breath. 

“I’m…that…” Ali licked her lips subconsciously. “I can’t believe I’ve never made you wear that for me before…”

Ash grinned, well aware of the effect this uniform generally had and knowing it must be multiplied tenfold for her girlfriend. “You like, huh?” Ash stalked towards her. “You don't look so bad yourself, Ms Krieger.” Her eyes raked up and down the classic black dress that ended halfway down her calves. “Go hurry this thing up so we can put all these clothes on your bedroom floor?”

“Deal.” Ali placed a lingering kiss on Ash’s lips before grabbing her clutch. “Let's go. I need to go swoon over my favorites in the White House.” 

 

40 minutes later, the couple and Deacon were standing outside the Oval office waiting to be ushered inside. When the door opened, they were met by the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Ashlyn offered her hand, giving him a firm handshake. “Mr. Secretary.” 

“Staff Sergeant. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.” He said.

“Pleasure’s mine, sir. This is my girlfriend, Alexandra Krieger.” 

“Of course. Miss Krieger.” He reached out and shook her hand. 

Ali gave a thousand watt smile. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Secretary.” 

“And this must be Deacon.” He leaned down and pet the dog. “Come on inside.” 

Ali reached over and gave Ashlyn’s hand a quick squeeze before following the Secretary into the office. As they walked in, they took in the sight before them. Behind the beautiful desk, was President Barack Obama. As soon as he saw them, he stood tall and walked around the desk. “Ah, Staff Sergeant. Thank you for coming up” He walked around and firmly shook Ashlyn’s hand.

“The honor is all mine, Mr. President.” She returned the handshake and turned to Ali. “This is Alexandra Krieger. You’ll be seeing her again in a few months.”

“Is that right?” He asked as he shook Ali’s hand. 

“Yes sir. She’ll be winning the World Cup for the U.S. in July.” Ashlyn stated confidently. 

Ali blushed, shooting a shy smile Ashlyn’s way. 

“Well, I can’t wait to see you again Alexandra.” He smiled.

“Ali, please.” She smiled. “It’s a pleasure, Mr. President. We hope to do the country proud but today isn’t about me.” She beamed at Ashlyn. 

Just then, a side door opened and the First Lady walked through. “So sorry I’m late! You must be Staff Sergeant Harris.” She said, offering a friendly handshake to Ashlyn. 

“Yes ma’am. Nice to meet you. This is my girlfriend Ali Krieger.” 

“Ali. So nice to meet you.” Michelle smiled.

“You too. It’s an honor.” 

The President turned back to the desk and grabbed a box. “Let’s start with the four legged soldier, shall we?” He kneeled down in front of Deacon. “In recognition of his dedication and service to this country, it is my honor to present Delta Force Operator Deacon with the K9 Medal for Exemplary Service for his efforts in the recovery of Delta Force Team Alpha.” He pinned the medal to Deacon’s vest before petting him. 

Ashlyn and Ali were both beaming with pride, Ali snapping a couple photos in addition to the White House photographer. 

The President grabbed the other medal and turned to Ashlyn, watching as she snapped to attention. “Staff Sergeant Harris. It is with great honor that we recognize your work in the rescue and retrieval of Delta Force Alpha Company. Your leadership and tenacity led to the successful recovery of all members of the team. Not only that, you are the only female in the history of the Armed Forces to lead a Special Forces operational detachment. It is with great honor and an immense sense of pride that I award you with the Silver Star Medal.” He reached up and pinned the medal on her ribbon rack before raising his hand in a salute. 

Ashlyn returned the salute crisply and shook his hand. “Thank you, Mr. President.”

“Now, one more.” He smiled and turned to Ali. “Mind giving me a hand?”

Ali, having been warned by Ashlyn about her duties, stepped forward and grabbed the new rank medal for her left shoulder. Together, her and the President pinned the Sergeant First Class medals onto Ash’s uniform.

“Congratulations, Sergeant First Class Harris.” 

“Thank you, sir.” Ashlyn saluted a final time as the flash went off. 

Ali looked on proudly and then pulled Ash into a warm hug. “I love you. I’m so proud of you.” 

“I love you too, Alex.” Ash squeezed her tightly. “So much.” 

When they broke apart, the President spoke up again. “Ali, would you mind if we spoke to the Sergeant for a moment?”

“Oh, of course…” Ali glanced at Ashlyn. By the look on her face, she could tell the soldier didn’t know what it was in regards to. 

“C’mon, I’ll show you around.” Michelle smiled, linking arms with Ali and leading her out a door. 

Once the door was closed, the Secretary poured three glasses of bourbon. Ashlyn was led to the couches and took a seat, unbuttoning her jacket. “Thank you, Mr. Secretary.” She took a sip of the bourbon, savoring the flavor. 

“Sergeant, we wanted to speak to you about your career.” The President started. “We’ve been watching you with great interest. We’re very impressed with your abilities both mentally and physically. We’d like to offer you a position within our Orion Team. It’s an off-books operation that reports directly to myself and Secretary Carter with the sole mission of combating terrorism. In short, you’d be doing very similar work with a lot less red tape.” 

Ashlyn sat quietly, doing her best to keep her facial expression neutral. She sipped the bourbon, glancing to the Secretary and back.  

“It should be noted that you’d be based in Washington DC.” President Obama added. “And would see a substantial increase in your income.” 

Ashlyn couldn’t deny the thought of being in DC with Ali was very attractive. “To even consider the offer, I would need to bring my entire team with me. My success doesn’t rest solely on my shoulders and I just promised them I wasn’t leaving them any time soon.” 

The President and Secretary shared a look, silently communicating. President Obama turned back to Ashlyn. “I figured as much. He’s just mad because now he owes me $100.” He smiled. “If you want your team, you got it. You’re not just the first choice for this position. You’re our only choice. Take some time, think about it. Talk to your team, talk to your girlfriend. Decide what’s best for you and when Ali wins that World Cup, join her for the World Cup trip. We’ll talk then.” He stood, offering his hand. 

“Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Secretary.” She shook both their hands. 

“No, Sergeant. Thank you. For your service and for considering our offer.”

Just then, the door opened and Ali and Michelle walked through both laughing. A moment later, their goodbyes were complete and they were heading out the White House. “What was all of that about?” Ali asked softly, slipping her hand into Ash’s and leaning into her side as they walked.

“How about I tell you over a nice dinner?” Ash offered. “You look amazing and I want to show you off.” 

“That sounds perfect.” Ali smiled. 

 

 

Two hours later, they were sitting at a beautiful table for two at Charlie Palmer Steak. They had ran home to drop off Deacon and let Ashlyn change into a navy suit. Their waiter set Ali’s glass of merlot down before placing the Johnnie Walker down in front of Ashlyn. 

Ali raised her glass. “To the most amazing woman I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I love you so much and I am so so proud of you, Sergeant First Class.” Ali emphasized the new title. 

Ashlyn clinked the glass with her own and took a sip. “Thanks, Alex. It meant so much having you there.” 

“Wouldn’t have been anywhere else.” She promised. “Now, what was this secret meeting about? Am I allowed to know?” 

Ashlyn smiled and reached across the table, taking Ali’s hand into her own. “Yes, you’re allowed to know. I’m still kind of in disbelief.” Ash admitted, taking a sip of her whiskey before continuing. “The President offered me a job…”

Ali stared at her, blinking a couple times. When she realized that Ashlyn was serious, her jaw dropped. “Really? Doing what?” 

“Essentially what I’m doing now but reporting directly to him and the Secretary of Defense.” 

“Ash…” Ali whispered out.

“I know, it’s crazy. I don’t know what to think.” She blinked a couple times, running her thumb back and forth across Ali’s hand. “Alex?” 

Ali stared right into the hazel eyes she loved so much, urging her to continue.

“I’d be based in DC….” She whispered out.

Ali felt her eyes water up as the wave of emotions flooded her. She swallowed, trying to keep the tears in. “Really?” She choked out.

“Really.” Ashlyn confirmed, squeezing Ali’s hand. 

Ali was scared to ask if she was going to take it. It was too good to be true. Luckily, Ashlyn didn’t make her ask. 

“Alex.” Ash waited for Ali’s eyes to meet hers again. “I just need to talk to the guys. I can’t do this without them.” She prayed that Ali would understand. “They’re my family.” 

Ali nodded, squeezing her hand. “I know, baby. I wouldn’t expect anything less. Would they be coming with you?” She took a sip of her wine.

“Yeah. They’re willing to bring my entire team.” She blinked, still not really believing it as she said it out loud.

“So….if the guys are interested, you’d take it?” Ali asked hesitantly, a little afraid of the answer. 

“I mean, yeah. It’s a no-brainer. You’re here. My future is right here.” Ashlyn said with quiet confidence.

In that instant, Ali felt all of her concern disappear and her face split in a beaming smile from ear to ear. “I love you so much.” 

“I love you too.” Ash promised. 

The rest of the dinner was amazing. The wine and whiskey flowed freely and they dreamed openly about the possibilities the future now held with this new opportunity. When Ashlyn flipped over the check at the end of their meal, she shook her head in disbelief. 

“What?” Ali asked. 

Ash slid the check over to Ali. She opened up the book and looked down, her eyes going wide. 

 

Ashlyn and Alexandra,

Please accept this dinner as a token of our appreciation for your service to our country. We hope you’ll accept our job offer and look forward to the World Cup coming home!

Love,

Barack and Michelle.

 

Ali picked it up and tucked it carefully into her purse. “That’s going on the fridge…” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 31

 

A week and a half after the trip to the White House Ali, Ashlyn and Deacon were in an upscale hotel in NYC for Ali's Body Issue photoshoot. “Are you nervous?” Ash asked from her spot on the bed.

“Actually, I don’t think so…” Ali replied honestly. “Had my fresh wax…” She winked. “Been working out like crazy. I feel good about it. Have my two big bad bodyguards to protect me.” She added as she crawled up Ash’s body. 

“A fresh wax, you say?” Ash grinned up at the body hovering above her. 

“Mmhmm.” Ali confirmed, giving Ash a rough passionate kiss. “But we don’t have time for what you’re thinking…” 

Ash sighed. “Tease.” She watched Ali roll off her and get up. “You sure you want Deacon to come?” 

“Yeah. I already gave them a heads up. He’s precious and he’s half of my security team…so….he has to come.” She grinned, leaning down to kiss the top of Deacon’s head. “We need to get going.”

“Yes ma’am.” Ash got up off the bed and pulled a fitted t-shirt over her head. She tossed her backpack over her shoulder and held the door open for Ali and Deacon, getting a kiss from Ali as she walked past. 

 

20 minutes later, the trio walked into a large warehouse where the shoot was set to take place. A person from ESPN approached. “Ali! Thanks so much for coming! I’m Sarah. If you need anything, just let me know.”

“Thanks Sarah.” Ali smiled warmly.

“If you want to follow me, we’ll get started with hair and makeup.” Sarah stated as she started towards a room. 

Ali turned to Ash. “Are you good?” She placed a hand on Ash’s forearm.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re good. We’ll just hang out off to the side.” Ash smiled.

“Okay, I love you.” Ali leaned up on her tiptoes and gave her a quick kiss before heading to the makeup chair. 

Ash watched her girlfriend walk off. “There she goes, buddy.” She looked down at Deacon who was also watching Ali walk off. “Let’s go find a spot out of the way.” She found an area off to the side and sat down on the concrete floor, leaning against the wall and stretching her legs out in front of her. She grabbed a book and relaxed.

 

45 minutes later, Ali walked out in a robe with her hair and make up done. Ash was in the middle of a paragraph when Deacon’s head perked up. The minute Ali came back into view, the German Shepherd had his eyes on her. Ash followed his gaze, feeling her heart skip at the sight. She marked the page she was on and stood up as Ali approached. “Wow…” 

Ali blushed and walked right into her soldier’s arms, burying her face in Ash’s chest. “Do I look okay?”

“Are you kidding?” Ash asked, running her hands up and down Ali’s back. “You look absolutely stunning. I’m the luckiest kid on the planet to be able to call you mine.” 

“I am yours…You know that right?” Ali asked. “You’re still good with all this?” 

“Of course I’m still good with this. And I know you’re mine. I adore you.” She whispered into Ali’s ear. “Now, I want to see that Krieger confidence back. You are the sexiest person here by a nautical mile. Go get ‘em” 

Ali took a deep breath, drawing confidence from her soldier. “You got it!” She gave Ash a quick kiss before heading back towards the set. Ash shoved her hands in her pockets and watched her girl as she moved around. A minute later, a guy in a suit walked up to her. 

He held out his hand which Ashlyn shook firmly. “You must be Ashlyn. I’m Dan Levy, Ali’s agent.” 

“Ah, nice to meet you Dan.”

“Just wanted to introduce myself.” He smiled. “I should go check on things.” 

“Of course.” 

 

Ashlyn kept her distance but made sure to stay close enough that she could see everything and hear almost everything. She was very impressed at the lengths ESPN and the photographers went to make sure Ali felt comfortable and respected. She felt at ease when she saw Ali laugh for the first time after the robe came off. 

It was about an hour later when Ashlyn’s attention was drawn to a man in his early twenties. She casually took a few steps to the left, changing her vantage point subtly. Her hands were in her pockets, blending easily in the background. She watched for another 5 minutes or so as the man tilted his head to get a better angle at the Sergeant’s girlfriend. A quick glance towards Ali confirmed that she hadn’t noticed the man staring at her. 

When Ash saw him take out his phone and open up the camera she closed the distance, striding up to him with a friendly smile but making sure that her body blocked his view of Ali. “Hey man. What’s up?” She held her hand out in the ‘bro’ high five, which the man returned.

“Sup.”

“Ashlyn” She said with a smile.

“Tommy.” He offered back, thinking Ashlyn was trying to bro-out with him.

She nodded back towards Ali. “Hot, right?” 

“Dude…so hot.” Tommy confirmed. “Gonna be thinking about that later…if you know what I mean.” 

Ashlyn’s false friendly manner was gone in a second, replaced with the hard special forces demeanor. She took a step forward so she was nose to nose with the man, even after he stepped back. Her words came out in a low growl “I’m going to tell you this one time, Thomas, so listen closely. The woman you’ve been drooling over for the last 15 minutes is my girlfriend. She’s not for you to look at like that. Your job is to do whatever the fuck it is you do and not look at her again for the rest of the day. If I even think that you’re opening up your phone to take your own personal photo of her, I’ll break both of your fucking knee caps and make it look like self defense. Do I make myself clear?” 

“Yes…yes, sorry…” He muttered, completely terrified. He ran off with some excuse about getting an extra memory card for the photographer. 

Ash rolled her eyes as she watched him scurry away. “Dick…” She muttered. Before she turned around, she put a big smile on her face. She shot Ali a small wave before heading back over to where Deacon was sitting. The last thing Ali needed was to worry about her or some production assistant. 

After another couple thousand photos, the photographer called a wrap on the shoot. Ali was immediately wrapped up in a robe, soaked from head to toe by the artificial rain. She trotted over to Ash and walked straight into the waiting arms, soaking up the soldier’s warmth. “How’d it look?” She mumbled, her face buried into Ashlyn’s shoulder.

“Incredibly sexy. You looked amazing.” Ash ran her hands up and down Ali’s arms to warm her up. “My beautiful, beautiful girl.” She kissed the side of her head. “Deacon was bummed he didn’t get to play in the rain.”

Ali pulled back and looked down at him “Aw. My poor little man.” She kneeled down and ruffled his ears, getting a lick from him in return. “Come on. Let’s go get them to turn it back on.” Ali stated as her and Deacon headed towards Sarah, the ESPN representative. 

Ash rolled her eyes with a smile. “Al…” The look she got in return was enough to stop her protest. “I guess we’re playing in the rain…” She watched as Ali pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt instead of the robe and at her request, the rain was suddenly back. Ash laughed and snapped photos with her phone as Deacon jumped in the air, trying to catch the raindrops. Ali held her hands together to collect the water before tossing it up for the German Shepherd to catch. Most of the crew stopped what they were doing to watch the interaction with big smiles. Even the photographer grabbed his camera again and snapped a bunch of photos. 

“Probably won’t end up in the magazine, but we’ll make sure you guys get copies…” He told Ashlyn with a smile. 

Ashlyn just stared in amazement, a dopey smile stretched across her face. “I find new ways to fall in love with her every day…” She muttered to herself.

 

Chapter Text

 

3 days after the trip to NYC, Ashlyn was walking through the front door of her home in North Carolina. She looked around and immediately missed Ali’s apartment. This place was bare. There weren’t photos of them together or warm blankets and toss pillows on the couch. Most important, there wasn’t a beautiful brunette waiting for her inside. There was bare necessities and not much else. She reached for her phone and fired off a text to Ali.

Ashlyn: Hey you. I miss you. It sucks here without you…

She smiled when almost immediately, she got a response. She smiled at the selfie that Ali sent her with luggage in the background. Ash felt her heart swell when she recognized Ali was wearing her Red Sox t-shirt.

Ali: I miss you too. Packing for Vancouver! 

Ash smiled and sent off a text to the guys.

Harris: Hey guys. BBQ at my place?

 

After receiving a chorus of confirmations for the barbecue, Ash jumped in her Jeep with Deacon and headed to the commissary to get groceries. She wanted to treat the guys as she pitched the job offer. She grabbed 6 filet mignons, including one for her boy Deacon, all the stuff for loaded baked potatoes and a couple cases of beer. Before checking out, she stopped and grabbed a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. 

 

By the time she got home, the guys were just 10 minutes behind her. They came barreling through the house like a tornado in a variety of greetings. Ash smiled and cracked open a beer, happy to be back in the company of her team.

Sean headed outside and started the grill, taking up his usual task as team chef. The country music channel was playing outside and the group settled in around the table on the patio. 

“How’d it go up in DC?” Jake asked, taking his spot on the right of Ashlyn as he sipped his beer.

“Really good. Ali says hi.” 

“Is she ready for the World Cup?” Mikey asked, balancing on the back two legs of his chair.

“Yeah, she flies out tomorrow. It’s pretty crazy.” Ash smiled with pride. 

“And you guys leave on Friday?” Travis asked, glancing between Jake and Ashlyn. 

“Yup.” Jake responded with a smile. 

 

The group caught up on recent events as they ate dinner. Once that was done, Ash went inside and grabbed the bottle of Johnnie Walker. She passed out the glasses and filled them with the scotch. 

“Blue label? You going to ask us to be in your wedding?” Mikey teased, noticing the fancier than usual bottle.

Ash rolled her eyes. “Uh…no. We do need to talk though.” Ash poured her own glass and sat down. At her last statement, all of her men sat a little straighter, giving the Sergeant their full attention. She took a deep breath before talking. “While I was at the White House, the President and Secretary of Defense offered us a very unique job opportunity.” She glanced around at the facial expressions. “They would like us to become part of The Orion Team.” 

The Delta Force operators all glanced at each other. Sean was the first to speak up. “I didn’t think that really existed…” 

“Apparently it does. For the most part, they operate as single agents. We would be their first full team detachment.”  Ashlyn responded before sipping her Scotch, letting them think through the proposal.

“Would we be able to stick together?” Mikey asked.

“That was my first non-negotiable to even considering it. We’d be staying together.” She confirmed. She watched them all soak in the information. “This is all or nothing boys. Either we all do it or none of us do.” She glanced at Jake who was looking right back at her. “I’d never go without you guys.” 

“What do you think we should do, Sarge?” Travis asked.

“It’s not like that with this, Trav….I’m not your commanding officer on this. We’re all equal here.” She shrugged, sipping again. 

“Where would we be based?” Sean asked.

“DC…” Ash said quietly, as her mind drifted off to the other place her heart called home. 

“I’m in.” Jake stated firmly, having heard enough.

“In.” Sean added.

“In.” Travis confirmed.

“In. Definitely.” Mikey added. 

Ashlyn took a deep breath, fighting to keep her emotions in check. She rubbed her hand back and forth across her jaw as she pushed down the tightness in her throat. “Just like that?”

Jake reached over and clasped his hand around her shoulder, forcing her to make eye contact. “We’d follow you anywhere, Sarge.” 

She blinked a couple times, trying to push away the tears. When she spoke, her voice was thick and raspy with emotion. “You guys are the best brothers I could have ever asked for. It’s an absolute honor to lead you.” 

“We’d never make you pick between us and her, Sarge…” Mikey said quietly, verbalizing how impactful this move would be on her personal life. 

Ash took a sip of scotch, willing herself not to let a tear slip out. “She wouldn’t either…” 

“We know.” Sean confirmed with a soft smile. 

Ashlyn looked at Jake and the nod she received was the last bit of assurance she needed. She took one more steadying breath. “I guess we’re moving to DC.” She grinned and the team broke out into a loud cheer. 

Ash settled back into her chair, feeling like a thousand pounds had been lifted off her shoulders. Everything was falling into place perfectly. She’d get to do the work she loved with her best friends while living in the same city as the woman she loved. 

 

 

3 days later, Ash and Jake were sitting on a plane to Vancouver. The flight attendant handed them both their beers and then Jake turned to Ashlyn.

“I’m proud of you.” Jake stated.

Ash shot a glance at him, raising an eyebrow. 

“You’re finally chasing your own happiness and you deserve it. I mean, think about it. You finally opened yourself up enough to let someone besides us in and now we’re on a flight to Vancouver to watch your girlfriend compete in the World Cup.” Jake explained. 

“I couldn’t do it without you, Arch.” 

“You won’t have to.” He smiled and clinked his bottle with hers. 

 

A few hours later, they had checked into their adjoining rooms and were unpacking with the door in between their rooms open. They had managed to get rooms at the same hotel as the National team. Ash popped her head into Jake’s room. “Hey, before I forget, I wasn’t going to tell Ali about Orion until after the World Cup’s over.”

“Got it.” He shot her a thumbs up. “So, I know you’re all monogamous and in love and stuff but you’re still allowed to be my wingman, right?” 

Ash grinned. “Definitely. Does that mean you’re on the hunt?” 

Jake shrugged and grabbed two beers out of the mini fridge. “I think so.” 

Ash noticed his body language and tilted her head. “Long term?” She took the offered beer.

“Maybe.” Jake admitted. “I see you and how happy being tied down has made you…”

“Being tied down does make me happy…” Ash grinned devishly.

Jake laughed. “You know what I mean. Wait, Ali’s into that kind of thing?” 

She laughed. “You wish I’d give you those kind of details…” 

A knock on Ashlyn’s door broke their attention. She walked back into her room and opened the door. Quick reflexes allowed her to catch the flying brunette. Ali wrapped her arms around Ash’s shoulders and her legs around her waist, clinging on. “You’re like a spider monkey.” Ash laughed, squeezing her tightly. 

“You’re here!” Ali squealed. She pulled away just enough to take in Ash’s face before leaning down to kiss her. They broke apart. “I’m so glad you’re here.” 

“Me too.” Ash smiled, gently setting her down. “How’s my girl?” 

“Better now.” Ali replied sweetly, tracing her fingertip down Ash’s jawline. “I’m glad you’re here.” 

“Wouldn’t be anywhere else.” 

“Where’s that best friend of yours?” Ali asked, looking around. 

“Over here” Jake called from the other room. 

Ali walked into the other room “Hey Jake!” She gave him a hug before tucking back into Ash’s side. “My family is going to dinner tonight for my dad’s birthday. Can you make it?” 

“Definitely.” Jake responded. “But if it’s some family family thing, I don’t have to tag along.” 

“Oh please.” Ali rolled her eyes. “You’re coming.”

“Oooookay.” Jake laughed. “I’m going to shower the plane off…you two get out of my room.”  He gave them a playful shove into Ash’s room and closed the door to get ready. 

Once they were alone, Ali looked like a lion stalking down it’s prey. “And you? Do you need to shower?” She raised an eyebrow suggestively. 

“Absolutely.” Ash replied, stripping Ali’s shirt off and carrying her into the bathroom. 

Chapter Text

 

“There she is!” Deb cried out, arms engulfing Ashlyn in a big hug. “How are you, dear?”

“I’m good. Really good. How are you?” Ash smiled.

“I’m ready to watch my baby girl win the World Cup!” She beamed. 

“Of course.” 

“Ashlyn” Kyle called out in a clear voice as he walked slowly and deliberately towards her. “I will now be approaching you from the front.” He held his hands up in mock surrender. “Please do not mistake this as an act of aggression. My intent is to hug you.” 

Ashlyn laughed and pulled him into a big hug. “Real nice…”

Kyle giggled and hugged her back. 

Ashlyn made all her rounds of greetings: Mike, Ken, Vicki, Cody and Tanner. “Guys, this is Jake. Jake, you met Ken, Vicki and the boys up in DC.” 

“Yeah, of course. It’s nice to meet you” He said to Deb, Mike and Kyle. “And it’s nice to see you guys again” He told the other Kriegers.

Just then, Ali appeared in the lobby. “Sorry. I decided to take a quick shower and I had to redo my hair.”  She announced as she walked up to the group. 

Ash had to bite her cheek to stop from grinning when Jake elbowed her in the side, knowing the true reason Ali had to redo her hair. She smiled warmly when Ali walked up and gave her a quick kiss. “Hey you.” She smiled at the shorter brunette. Ali slipped her hand into Ashlyn’s and followed her family down the street to the restaurant. 

 

They headed onto the patio and Ashlyn shuffled around towards the corner to take a seat, Cody was heading towards the same chair from the other direction.

“Hey man, would you mind?” She asked politely. 

“No, go for it.” 

Kyle looked at Ashlyn and then Ali, tilting his head in question. 

“It’s a military thing.” Ali explained. “She can relax if she can see the exits.” Ali gave Ash’s hand a squeeze and gave Jake a warm smile as he took a similar seat that showed their exits.

“Badass…” Tanner praised, earning a small laugh from the group.

 

Dinner went by easily, Ali’s hand never leaving Ashlyn’s and the group laughed easily in each other’s company. Ali took a moment to just soak it all in. Never in her wildest dreams could she have written such a perfect moment. She was surrounded by her family, which had come to include Ashlyn and Jake, on the eve of the biggest tournament of her career. She was immersed in love and in the best shape of her life. 

Ash watched her for a moment before squeezing her hand to get her attention. “You okay?” She asked quietly. 

“I’m perfect.” Ali promised, giving her a thousand watt smile. She leaned her head on Ash’s shoulder and enjoyed the company. When Kyle snuck out his phone, Ali smiled straight into the camera as Ashlyn was the victim of a candid shot. For years and years, that would be one of Ali’s favorite photos and the background of her phone. 

 

 

 

The team had advanced to the Round of 16 and had a free day in Vancouver before heading to Ottawa. A handful of the girls decided to go explore the city and Ashlyn and Jake agreed to tag along. The morning of, Ash heard a knock on door as she was in the middle of a bodyweight workout. She glanced at the clock. It couldn’t be Jake because it came from the hallway, not the adjoining door. She trotted over and looked through the peephole, smiling wide and opening the door. “You’re up early”

“I come bearing gifts.” Ali held up two venti Starbucks cups. 

“That’s exactly the price of admission to this room.” Ash grinned and took the cup before leaning down for a kiss. Ali placed her free hand on Ash’s cheek and savored the kiss before heading into the room. 

Ashlyn shut the door and crawled onto the bed, holding her arm up for Ali to tuck herself under. She wrapped the arm tightly around Ali, drawing her in close. “This is nice.” 

“It is.” Ali mumbled, burying her face in Ash’s chest. “We haven’t really had any time to ourselves.”

“Well I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re kind of this international soccer superstar…” Ash teased as she sipped her coffee.

“Staaahp” Ali whined playfully.

“It’s true and you know it.” She rested her head on top of Ali’s and took a sip of her coffee before sighing contently. 

“You guys are still coming today, right?” 

“Yeah, of course.” Ash confirmed. 

“And Jake’s having an okay time?” Ali asked, sipping her latte.

“He is. You know what he told me the other day? He wants to meet someone…” 

Ali sat up quickly and threw one leg over Ash’s waist so she was sitting in her lap, facing her. “What?!” 

Ash blinked, taking in the flash of motion with a laugh. “I said…” 

“I heard what you said. How long ago did he say it?” She slapped Ash lightly on the chest. “I’ve got a whole soccer team of women down there!” 

Ash laughed and sipped her coffee, her other hand caressing Ali’s hip. “Um…the day we got here?” 

Ali dropped her jaw in shock. “The day you got….I swear to god…sometimes you’re like dating a guy…” She teased. “Okay, okay….let’s see…Not Crystal. They already met, no sparks. Allie is dating…I secretly think Christen has a thing with Tobin….Oh my god, Whitney!” She exclaimed. 

Ash laughed at her girlfriend’s antics. She tossed the potential match around in her head. “I mean…she’s his type…” 

Ali smacked her thigh. “Of course she’s his type. I’m so excited. She’s coming with us today!” Ali hopped up. “I have to go shower! There’s so much to do! I need to talk to Whitney and see if she’s looking to date. I need to make sure she wears something cute. You need to make sure Jake shaves.” She ranted as she headed out of the hotel room, leaving the soldier in the wake of Hurricane Ali. Before the door could click shut, Ali turned around and sped back into the room. “What am I thinking?” She shook her head and took a big sip of her coffee, finishing it. “We’re showering together.” She threw out the Starbucks cup and peeled her shirt off. 

“I’m up!” Ashlyn hopped off the bed, tossing her own shirt next Ali’s as she made her way into the bathroom.

 

 

 

Four hours later, the group was all having lunch together. Ali expertly worked the seating arrangements so Jake and Whitney were next to each other. She smiled proudly as she watched them chat. Ashlyn laughed, trying not to roll her eyes at her girlfriend’s antics.

“You can just call me cupid…” Ali whispered into Ash’s ear. 

“Uh huh…” Ash grinned, placing a kiss on top of her head. 

“So you live in Boston?” Jake asked Whitney. Ashlyn picked up on his body language, turning towards the blonde with as he asked the question. 

“I do, yeah.” Whitney smiled wide, turning towards him as well.

“Ash and I are both pretty big Red Sox fans.” Jake added, taking a sip of his beer. 

“Oh, you guys should come up for a game!” Whitney offered.

Ali found her opportunity. “That’d be fun! We should totally do that!” 

Ash just chuckled at Ali’s eagerness. 

“Babe, don’t you think that’d be fun?” Ali asked, kicking her lightly under the table.

“That would be a ton of fun.” Ash smiled, draping an arm around Ali’s shoulders and laughing at the whipping noise Abby was making. 

 

As the afternoon progressed, the group continued to explore the city. Jake and Whitney stayed side by side, touches to the arm or shoulder becoming more frequent as time went on. Ali couldn’t be more proud of herself, reminding Ash over and over how great she is at matchmaking. When the two of them broke off to go for a walk by themselves, Ali let out a victorious fist pump. 

That evening Ash followed Ali down the hallway of the hotel, the hand not laced with Ali’s full of shopping bags from the day’s events. She smirked to herself when Ali got to her door. The defender turned back to Ashlyn and plucked the key card out of Ash’s back pocket with a teasing squeeze. They moved into the room and Ali was on Ash in a heartbeat, pressing her against the door and tracing Ash’s lower lip with her tongue. 

Ash scooped her up with her free arm easily, holding her up with the one arm. The action caused Ali to break apart with a soft moan as she hooked her ankles together around Ash’s waist. “Fuck…your strength is a turn on…” 

Ash grinned and walked them back towards the bed as Ali ran her hands through the soldier’s hair. Ash was almost to the bed when she stopped and blinked. 

“Baby…” Ali pleaded, canting her hips against the soldier. 

Ash raised a finger and pressed it against Ali’s lips, urging her to be quiet. She took three long strides backwards until she was at the door that adjoined her room to Jake’s. The door had been left open earlier this morning, giving them access to the room. 

Ali’s jaw dropped as she took in the sight. Jake and Whitney were sitting on the edge of the bed in a PG-13 make-out session. Ash grinned and quietly clicked their door shut to provide some privacy. "Okay, cupid....good work." 

 

Chapter Text

The team made their way through the round of 16 and flew back to Vancouver. Ali woke up well before her alarm went off on July 5th. She pulled on her sweatpants and snuck out of her room, leaving HAO sound asleep in the other bed. It was 5:30 in the morning when she knocked lightly on Ash’s door. A minute later, Ash opened the door with her sleepy hair shooting in every direction. 

Ash rubbed her face, trying to rid it of sleep. “Hey you. Everything okay?” 

Ali walked right into Ash’s arms and buried her face in her chest. “Yeah.” 

“Come on in.” Ash ushered her inside. Ali watched curiously as Ash went to her dresser and grabbed two hoodies. She pulled one on before tossing the other to Ali. “Put that on.” 

“…I’m not cold.” Ali said, a little confused. 

“Yet.” Ash mumbled, still waking up. “Just work with me here…” Ash brushed her teeth and splashed some cold water on her face before pulling a hat on. She grabbed her cell phone, room key and small pouch. “Come on.” She held her hand out for Ali to take. Ash guided them towards the elevators and Ali raised an eyebrow when Ash pressed the up arrow instead of down. 

The couple took the elevator and rode in silence to the top floor of the hotel. Ash turned to Ali. “You trust me?” 

“With my life.” Ali replied sincerely, beaming up at her girlfriend even though she still had no clue what they were doing. 

Ash gave her a quick kiss and guided her to the stairwell. Once inside, they headed up another flight. When they got to the top of the stairs, they reached a locked door. 

“Baby, it’s locked.” Ali observed out loud as she looked at the door. 

“You’re cute…” Ash grinned as she unzipped the pouch she brought. She kneeled down and after a minute the lock was successfully picked. Before opening the door, she ripped off two pieces of tape. She slid a thin piece of metal down the door jamb, depressing the sensor for the alarm. She opened up the door and taped down the sensor to prevent the alarm from going off. “Open sesame…” She grinned, holding the door open for Ali. 

Ali blinked in shock. “I….you….Okay, I’m just going to roll with it.” She laughed and walked through the door. 

Ash followed her and carefully shut the door behind them. She took Ali’s hand and walked across the rooftop to face the east. She brought Ali around to her front, pulling the shorter woman’s back flush against her chest and wrapping her arms around her. “In about 10 minutes, the sun’s going to rise over that horizon. And if you look right over there…” Ash pointed. “There’s BC Place.” She placed a kiss on Ali’s ear. “I thought it might be nice to enjoy the sunrise together….watch the best day of your life begin…” 

Ali felt like she was about to melt into a puddle of goo right on the roof top. “You’re so sweet.” She leaned back into the strong embrace and took in the city before here. “I feel calm.” 

“Yeah? Good.” Ash gave her a squeeze. “Have you been doing what we talked about?”

Ali nodded. “It seemed to help…It was hard at first, but then all the fear lost it’s edge…” 

Two months ago, Ali had been starting to freak out about the World Cup. It had been late at night in the DC apartment when Ali quietly asked Ashlyn how she coped with fear in the Army. Ashlyn explained how instead of trying to avoid her fears, she faced them head on like the samurai do. It had shocked Ali to hear that Ashlyn had visualized her own demise so many times that eventually she found peace with it. Ali had listened closely as Ashlyn encouraged her to picture her worst nightmare happening in the middle of BC Place in the final. Since then, Ali had imagined a devastating loss over and over and over again until finally, she didn’t feel any emotion at all over it. She remembered sitting on her couch, blinking in amazement when she felt the fear leave her body just as Ashlyn promised her it would. 

Now, just hours before the biggest game of her life, she felt an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. She felt ready.

“I’m glad it worked.” Ash said softly, leaning down to press a kiss on her shoulder. The pair of them just stood and watched the sun come up over the horizon in a beautiful array of oranges. They stayed there for well over an hour, enjoying the calm of the city while it’s citizens still slept. 

“I’m so in love with you.” Ali whispered out, still looking out at the city. “This is perfect, Ash…” 

“I’m in love with you too, beautiful.” She smiled, nuzzling into the soft brown hair. “I can’t wait to watch you out there today. Don’t tell your family, but I’m claiming the title of your biggest fan.” 

Ali grinned. “Your secret is safe with me.” She soaked in the confidence provided by the strong soldier behind her. “I never saw you coming…” She reflected out loud. “I was so focused on football and the World Cup…my love life was the last thing on my mind and then before I knew what happened, my heart was yours…” 

“I know the feeling…” Ash agreed. “Best possible kind of surprise.” 

“Mmhmm.” Ali smiled and turned to give her a kiss. “We should probably get going.” 

They headed back to the door, Ashlyn taking a minute to remove the tape and re-lock the door as if they were never there.

 

 

 

8 hours later, Ash was wedged between Jake and Kyle sporting her number 11 Krieger jersey as the final minutes of the game ticked down. Her eyes never left the brunette as she watched the final minutes of the game tick down. The entire stadium was bouncing on their feet in anticipation. 

When the whistle blew, Kyle had Ash off the ground in a bear hug as they screamed and jumped around. “Our girl’s a world champion!” He screamed. Ash felt her chest swell with pride when she watched Ali fall to her knees. The Kriegers, Ash and Jake all exchanged hugs as Ali ran around hugging her teammates. 

 

Suddenly Ali started spinning around, looking in the stands for her family. When she spotted them, she took off in a sprint. Ash planted her feet and leaned down as Ali launched herself up the 8 foot wall. Ash caught her easily and hoisted her up and over the wall but Ali never let go over her, she just wrapped her legs around the soldier’s waist. “Kiss me.” Ali demanded. 

“Alex…” Ash warned. She knew that Ali’s agent had warned her about the possible repercussions of coming out and up until now, they’d both been fine with just keeping it private between them. 

“Sergeant. I don’t give a fuck about the sponsors or the media…Kiss. Me.” 

Ash, never one to deny the woman she loved, crashed their lips together as flashes went off all around them. Ali snaked her hands to the back of Ash’s head and deepened the kiss. They laughed against each other’s lips as they heard Deb’s wolf whistle. 

When they broke apart, Ali moved her hands to Ash’s cheeks. “I love you so much.” Tears streaked down her cheeks. 

“I love you, Alex. I’m so fucking proud of you.” She wrapped her arms tight around her, burying her face in Ali’s neck as she spun her around. 

“Alright, alright! Stop hogging her!” Kyle cried, bouncing up and down waiting for his hug. 

 

 

That night after hours and hours of celebration, first with family, then privately, the two of them laid in a sweaty heap under the covers. Ali’s head was resting on Ash’s chest as she traced the lines of her abs. “This couldn’t get any more perfect…” She reached over and grabbed the champagne flute, sitting up enough to take a sip.

“You don’t think so, huh?” Ash grinned, as she watched the happiness smeared across her love’s face. 

Ali sighed happily. “No…this was perfect….” She admitted dreamily, unaware of the soldier’s surprise. 

Ash bit her lower lip and took a sip of her own champagne before looking into those deep brown eyes. “I’m taking the job in DC….” She said casually. 

Ali straightened her back, looking into the hazel eyes for confirmation that she had heard correctly. “What did you just say?” She set the glass down on the night stand. 

“I’m taking the job in DC.” Ashlyn repeated, a smile breaking out across her face.

“You’re taking the job?!” Ali shrieked out in disbelief.

“I’m taking the job.” Ash confirmed again, catching Ali as she threw herself into Ash’s arms.

When Ali pulled back, tears were streaming down her face. “They’re good tears, I promise” She assured Ash when she saw the look of concern. “You just had to prove me wrong..” Ali laughed out. “You just made this day more perfect….”

Chapter Text

Chapter 35

Ash and Jake were with the National Team in LA just two days after the World Cup victory when the call came through. Ash ducked into an alleyway and held her other ear shut to hear the phone better. “Copy that, sir.” When she straightened and turned to Jake, he knew their trip with the team was about to be cut short. Ash rounded the corner out of the alleyway and took in the sight of the team jumping up and down on stage. 

“Where are we headed?” Jake asked as he watched the women from his spot next to Ashlyn. 

“Pakistan” Ash smiled as Ali’s eyes caught hers. “I suppose I’m not the only one that has to say bye to a soccer player now, huh?” Ash teased, shooting a glance at Jake. 

He grinned and shrugged, trying to play it cool. 

“Uh huh…you’re not fooling anyone with that tough guy shit.” Ash laughed. 

 

10 minutes later, Ali walked up to Ashlyn after the rally. When she caught the look in the soldier’s eyes, she let out a soft sigh. “You have to leave.” She’d come to recognize the look over their time together. “Jake, I think Whitney headed over there.” She watched as Jake headed towards the direction Ali pointed. “Where?” She asked Ash.

“Pakistan.” 

“Okay.” Ali took a step closer and wrapped her arms around Ash’s neck. “Clear eyes, Full hearts, right?” 

“Always.” Ash smiled and leaned down to kiss her, wrapping her arms tightly around the defender’s waist. “You’re going to be so busy, you won’t even know I’m gone.” 

“I always know when you’re gone…” Ali countered, running her fingers through Ash’s hair. “I’m just glad you were able to be there for the game.”

“Me too. You were amazing.” Ash murmured against Ali’s lips. “You know how much shit I’m going to get for that kiss, right? It’s plastered all over the papers right next to Abby and Sarah.” Ash chuckled. 

Ali let out a loud laugh. “Ah, fuck ‘em…they’re just jealous.” She leaned up on her toes and kissed the soldier again.

“Definitely.” Ash grinned. A moment later, she let out a sigh. “Ok…we have to go.”

Ali traced the lines of Ash’s jaw one more time, staring up into the hazel eyes. “I know it’s really early for them…but I’ll keep an eye on Whit.” Ali remembered what she went through the first time Ash had to leave unexpectedly. It wasn’t easy. 

“Thanks, babe.” She pressed her forehead against Ali’s. “I’m so madly in love with you.” 

“Mmm…feeling’s mutual, Sergeant.” She leaned up and placed a smoldering kiss on the soft lips. 

“Bye beautiful.” Ash whispered.

“Bye stud.” Ali sighed out, watching her turn and leave with Jake. 

A minute later, she felt Whitney lean in against her. “Does that get any easier?” 

“No.” Ali answered honestly. “But they’re really good at looking out for each other.” 

 

 

 

A week later, Ashlyn found herself laying flat on a rooftop doing surveillance while she let the guys catch some sleep. She looked through the scope of the sniper rifle, taking in the land. “Nothing…” She muttered out and then looked at her watch, doing the conversion in her head. It would be about 4:00 pm in New York. She reached into her vest and grabbed her headphones, plugging them into her phone and hitting dial. While she waited for the line to connect, she tucked a pinch of coffee grounds under her lower lip for the much needed caffeine boost. 

“Ash?!” Ali answered excitedly. 

“There she is…” Ash breathed out, feeling instant relief at the sound of her favorite voice. “How’s my girl?” 

“Ugh, I’m good. I’m so glad you called.” Ali flopped down on the bed in her hotel room. “Have you gotten my pictures?”

“Yeah. Ticker tape parade? That’s crazy!” Ash grinned as she looked through the scope again to make sure nothing had changed. She tried to stifle a yawn but Ali’s ears caught the sound.

“Oh babe…what time is it there?” Ali sighed, worried about her soldier.

“Um..” Ash looked up at the stars. “About 2:15…It’s my turn on overwatch for the night.” 

Ali fought back her frown. “I promise to take extra special care of you when you get home” 

At that, a grin broke across Ash’s face. “Extra special, huh? What does that entail?” 

“I’m thinking massages…maybe a steak dinner…maybe I’ll go shopping before you get home…” Ali thought out loud. 

“Mmm…that sounds nice…” Ash let the mental images of Ali in whatever new lingerie she picked out tumble through her mind. 

“Any idea how long you’ll be gone?” Ali asked quietly, unsure if she wanted to know the answer.

“Um…we’re supposed to have another intel drop tomorrow. It’ll depend on how that goes but I’m hoping just another week or two. How’s Whit holding up?” 

“Pretty good, actually. We’ve definitely gotten closer.” Ali smiled. “She’s trying to act cool but I think she’s got it pretty bad for Jake.”

Ash laughed. “Don’t worry…same thing over here…I caught him looking at a picture of her on his phone yesterday.” 

“We’ll have to do a double date when you guys get back.” Ali smiled. “Think you’ll be back in time for the White House visit?” 

“That’s the plan…” Ash promised. “Deke misses you….no one here loves on him the way you do…” Ash laughed.

“Ash…you have to take care of my boy…he likes shredded cheese sprinkled over his food.” Ali admonished.

“Well, I like shredded cheese sprinkled over my food too….neither of us are getting what we want.” Ash chuckled before turning quieter. “I love you, Alex.” 

Ali let out a soft sigh. “I love you too, Ash. So so much.” 

“I have to get going, ok?” 

Ali nodded, even though Ash couldn’t see her. “Ok.” She suddenly perked up. “Oh my god, I forgot to tell you! We’re going to the Taylor Swift concert tonight!” 

Ash grinned, imagining her girlfriend fan-girling. “Take pictures for me, ok?” 

“Of course! Sorry, I know you have to go. I love you. I love you. I love you.” Ali gushed.

“I love you too. Be safe. I’m not there to stop those fans that are trying to steal a date with you…” Ash teased as she thought back to how they met. 

“I promise….they don’t even stand a chance.” Ali bit her lower lip, conveying just how taken she was with Ashlyn. 

“I’ll call next chance I get.” Ash promised. 

“Bye stud.” Ali whispered through the phone.

“Bye babe.” Ash kept the sigh in until after she ended the call. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 36

 

Ashlyn roughly ran her hand over her face, trying to push away some of her exhaustion. She gave Travis a thankful look at the cup of coffee he set down in front of her. She took a long gulp and watched the tent open up as members of the intelligence team entered. 

Lieutenant Evans strode to the front of the room. “Sergeant First Class.” He nodded to Ashlyn. “Bravo company.” He greeted the rest of the team. “We’ve confirmed the location of Al-Hazeem. We’re currently tracking him via satellite, 300 miles off the shore of Pakistan in the Arabian Sea.” He drew an ‘x’ at the approximate location. “Currently traveling south, southwest at 15 knots an hour.” He glanced around to make sure no one had questions at this point. “Our intel shows 6-8 tangos on board in addition to Al-Hazeem. D.O.D. is only requesting Al-Hazeem alive. Rest are shoot on sight.” 

“Alright guys…” Ash paused and took a sip of her coffee. “Let’s draw it up.” She ran a hand through her hair. “We’ll need to dive in. Even at night, that’ll have to be at least a 5 mile swim to avoid detection.” 

“And we’ll have to use Draeger Rebreathers…You have to expect patrols…” Sean added. 

“Personnel retrieval only or are we gathering intel as well?” Mikey asked, chewing on a coffee stirrer. 

“Personnel only. We don’t anticipate any information onboard.” Lieutenant Evans confirmed. 

“We’ll need a SWCC team for exfil…” Jake noted.

Ash nodded. “I’ll call it in. Brooksy, we’ll need to blow the ship when we leave. Anything else?” She glanced around and was met with silence. “Okay. We’ll splash at zero dark thirty. I’m going to hit the rack for a little bit.” She stood up and ruffled Deacon’s ears before exiting the tent with him in tow. She grabbed her phone, called in the SWCC boat request and fired off a text to Ali before laying down on her cot. 

Ash: Hope T-Swift was all you dreamed. Catching some sleep. Hopefully you show up in my dreams. 

 

 

Six hours later, the alarm on her watch went off and Ash rolled onto her back. She sat up and flung her feet back onto the ground. Checking her phone caused a smile to break out across her face: One new message: Alex.

She opened the phone and saw it was a video message. She felt a warmth spread through her body as she hit play and Ali’s face came onto the screen.

“Hey baby! I hope you’re taking care of yourself over there! I miss you like crazy.” She blew a kiss at the phone. “I’ve got a friend that wants to say hi!” 

Ali panned over a little and Taylor Swift came into the screen, next to Ali. “Hey Ashlyn, it’s Taylor! I was talking to Ali about that awesome picture of you two at the World Cup final and she told me what you do! I just wanted to say thank you so much for your service and I’ll be thinking about you and your team! And good choice with this one…She’s fierce.” 

Taylor disappeared from the screen and Ali dropped her jaw in disbelief. “Can you believe that? I love you and I miss you! And I’m thinking about you all the time.” Ali blew a kiss at the camera one more time. “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts.” 

“Can’t lose…” Ashlyn murmured out as the video ended, a big smile across her face. As she stood, Jake walked through the tent. “How’s prep coming?” 

“We’re good to go.” Jake confirmed. He checked his own phone and a smile broke out across his face. 

“Busted.” Ash smirked.

Jake grinned and looked down at his phone again. “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” 

Ash grabbed a towel and her fresh set of ACUs. “I’m going to go take a shower but don’t get too weird…the guys could walk in any minute.” She teased before walking out. 

 

 

 

At 0020, Ashlyn was doing final checks over her equipment in the back of the C-160 as it flew over the Arabian Sea. She checked her watch and fastened her M4 to her vest. 3 minutes later, the red light started to flash as the ramp opened. The other four members of the team fell into a single file line to prepare for the HALO jump. When the light turned from red to green, they started their free fall into the night sky one by one. 

As they landed in the water, the team went through the process of disconnecting from their parachutes. Ashlyn bunched the parachute into a bag and clipped it to a weight, sinking it to avoid detection. The rest of the team did the same and they moved their goggles and rebreathers into place. 

Ashlyn took in the state of her team and pressed down her throat mic. “Blackbeard main, Blackbeard main, this is Blackbeard actual. How copy?”

“Blackbeard actual, this is main. We have you loud and clear.” 

“Copy that, main. Be advised, we are going subsurface.” 

“Roger that, actual.” 

Ashlyn held up her hand with her thumb and forefinger making an ‘o’, the other three fingers upright, to signal they’re ready for descent. Silently, the Delta Force team submerged and started their descent. They swam in a ‘V’ formation for the 5 mile trek. As they approached the ship Ashlyn tapped on her throat mic, communicating via morse code to let them know they were about to engage. 

Mikey very slowly popped his head above the surface, just enough for his night vision goggles to clear the top of the water. He smoothly descended back down and held up two fingers before pointing to the back of the yacht. Ashlyn gave him a thumbs up before swimming to the back of the ship with Jake, Travis and Sean. Ash and Travis floated up a little closer to the surface as Jake moved under her feet and Sean moved under Travis’s. Ashlyn and Travis both adjusted their positions so they were underneath the two guards keeping watch on the ship. Sean and Jake maneuvered themselves perfectly underneath Ash and Travis. Jake’s hands came up and grabbed onto Ash’s feet, Sean doing the same to Travis. Ash reached up and pressed her throat mic down three times, clearing Mikey to engage. 

With the cue, Jake and Sean both started kicking up, bringing Ashlyn and Travis above the surface simultaneously. With a silenced pop, and then another, the two guards fell off the ship in lifeless heaps. Before they could hit the water, they were caught by Ashlyn and Travis as Jake and Sean kicked harder to slow down the descent. In perfect precision, they lowered the bodies underwater in complete silence. Jake and Sean both looped weights around the guards, sending them down into the sea while Travis placed explosive charges to the bottom of the ship for later. 

Mikey rejoined the group and they swam to the ladder at the back of the ship. The five of them all unclipped their rifles and brought them up towards the yacht. One by one, they removed their fins and Jake climbed up the ladder. The team entered up the ladder and moved through the ship in a low crouch. 

Ashlyn pressed down her throat mic and talked in a low whisper. “Blackbeard main, this is actual. We are onboard. ETA for ex-fil 3 mikes.” 

“Copy that, actual.” 

Ashlyn sent the team into motion, splitting them up. Jake and Mikey moved to the left while Ash, Sean and Travis went right. Jake’s voice came through Ash’s headset. “Two tangos down.” 

“Copy.” Ash responded as they moved forward. As she rounded the corner, she pulled the trigger twice, dropping two more men. “Two tangos down. That makes six.”  Their intel had placed 6-8 men on the ship in addition to their target. “Switching to thermal.” 

“Copy. Switching to thermal.” Jake replied as he switched his night vision goggles to read body temperature. He scanned through the walls. “Negative, port side.” 

Ashlyn scanned the wall for a heat signature. “One starboard side, that should be our target. Arch, circle around front, meet up with us on the north door.” 

“Copy that.” 

Ash crouched low at the door and waited for Jake and Mikey to round the corner in front of her. Once they were stacked up on the other side of the door, she tapped Sean’s shoulder and then pointed at Jake, indicating that they would be going through the door with her while Travis and Mikey kept watch outside. She held up three fingers, then two, then one. They spun through the door, entering quickly with their rifles raised. Their target, Al-Hazeem, was fast asleep in his bed given that it was 4:00 am. Sean moved to the bed and plunged a needle into the man’s neck, slipping the man into a drug induced slumber. 

Ashlyn watched closely, scanning the room again as Jake slipped a hood over the man’s head and Sean secured his wrists with flex cuffs. “Main, this is actual.”

“Go ahead, actual.”

“Package is secure. Ready for ex-fil.” Ash confirmed.

“Copy actual. ETA 30 seconds.” 

“Let’s move.” Ashlyn commanded, watching as Sean slung the man over his shoulder. They were heading out the door they came through when a noise caught Ashlyn’s attention. In pure reflex, she spun around and raised her rifle to scan the room. Her eyes squinted but she didn’t see anything. 

“Sarge?” Jake asked as he watched Ashlyn, bring up his own rifle. 

“I heard something in the corner…cover me.” Ash walked slowly towards the corner. She reached up to her M4 and turned on the LED light attached to the muzzle. She reached down to the box she thought she heard the noise from and threw the blanket off of it. She blinked a couple times, taking in the sight. 

“Sarge?” Jake asked from his spot at the door. “SWCC is pulling up.” 

Ashlyn kneeled down. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me…” She opened up the kennel and pulled out the tiny Rottweiler puppy.  “Hey little guy…” She cooed as the puppy licked her face. 

“Sarge.” Jake repeated. 

Ashlyn stood and loosened up her vest a little, tucking the puppy inside so his head was popping out of the neck. 

Jake took in the sight and raised an eyebrow. 

“I can shoot terrorists all day long, but dogs? No chance. He’s coming with.” Ash reached up and scratched the top of his head. “Huh buddy? Yeah…you’re one of us now.” The small puppy bark she got in response turned the Special Forces Sergeant First Class into a puddle of goo as she loaded onto the SWCC boat. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ash had called Deacon’s K9 vet as soon as she got back to base. Once she got the green light to soften some of Deacon’s food for him, she fed him and introduced the little puppy to the massive German Shepherd. He managed the flight back to the States just fine, curled up in Ash’s lap. 

When Ash got home, she had about 6 hours before Ali and Whitney would be arriving. They had a week off in between appearances so the soccer stars were coming down for a couple days. 

“Okay, guys…Let’s get ready for our girl to arrive.” Ash started a quick load of laundry and put fresh sheets on the bed. “We need to get you” She pointed at the puppy. “Some stuff. Collar, name tag…I’m thinking Finn.” She tilted her head as she looked down at him. “What do you think? Finn?” He let out a bark and jumped up and down. “That settles that.”

She grabbed her wallet and headed out the door with her boys in tow. Ash walked both of the dogs through the pet supply store, grabbing a small digital camoflage collar, leash, puppy food, another dog bed and two name tags that were printed on actual military dog tags. She grabbed a couple toys and treats for both of them, making sure to keep Deacon included. 

With that complete, she headed back home and got settled in. She reached for her phone when she heard it go off and laughed at the message.

 

Alex: You’re really not going to tell me what this surprise is?

Ash: If I do, it stops being a surprise.

Alex: You’re the worst. Just kidding. Cant wait to see you!

 

The knock on the door pulled Ashlyn out of her thoughts. She trotted over to the door and opened it up. “Captain Taylor. How are you?” She smiled and shook the man’s hand.

“I’m good Sergeant, how are you?” 

“Good. Come on in.” She opened the door wider for him to come through. “Thanks for coming over so fast.” 

“I just wanted to check him out real quick.” He kneeled down as the puppy bounded up to him. “Oh look at this guy.” He grinned and picked him up. “Sarge…he’s going to be huge.” He noted as he looked at the paws. 

“I figured. He’s clumsy as hell right now until he grows into those paws.” She laughed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up 120-130 pounds…” He admitted and set the pup back down. He reached into his bag and handed over an envelope. “Here’s his paperwork as a service dog in training.” 

Ash took the papers and peeked into the envelope. “This is perfect. Thanks Rick.” 

“No problem. Have a good night, Harris.” Captain Taylor added before heading out the front door. 

“Oh, I plan to…” She grinned to herself. 

 

 

 

An hour later, her phone rang. “Sergeant Harris.” 

“Evening, Sergeant. This is Lance Corporal Stevens. Calling to let you know that we just cleared your guests through security. Notifying you as requested.”

“Thank you Lance Corporal.” She hung up the phone and started to move quickly around the house. “Okay buddy. You’re going to stay in the bedroom and be good. You can’t blow the surprise.” She set the puppy down in his bed and put a deer antler in the bed to keep him occupied. She closed the door and headed back down the hallway with Deacon. “And you. You have to act like nothing’s different. Cool?” She put her hand down for a high five, which was met with a slap of Deacon’s paw. She grinned. “That’s my boy.”

She opened the front door and stepped out onto her porch with Deacon next to her. She smiled wide as she watched the white BMW drive down the street and laughed when it stopped two doors down for Whitney to jump out. Whitney gave Ash a huge smile and wave as she walked up Jake’s sidewalk. 

“Unbelievable..” Ash laughed and trotted down the stairs to meet Ali when she parked in the driveway. She opened up the door. “Hey beautiful girl.” She beamed and pulled Ali into a tight hug.

Ali wrapped her arms up around Ash’s neck, breathing in the soldier. “Hey Stud.” She leaned up and placed a smoldering kiss on Ash’s lips. When she pulled away, she turned and kneeled down. “And there’s my favorite boy. I got you something!” She leaned into the car and came back out with a giant bone, handing it over to the dog who took it gently in his jaws. 

Ash laughed as she watched Deacon take the bone onto the porch and lay down with it. “Well, he’s busy for the rest of the day.” She went to the back of Ali’s car and grabbed her bag. “C’mon.” She took Ali’s hand and led her inside. 

“So, what’s this surprise?” Ali asked as she looked around, trying to figure out what was different. ESPN was playing a Red Sox game, everything seemed the same. She turned back to Ash and placed her hands high on the soldier’s chest. 

“Eager?” Ash smirked, leaning down for a deep kiss.

Ali moaned into the kiss and ran her hands up the strong chest to the back of Ash’s neck. “Maybe.” She mumbled as she broke apart. 

“The surprise is in the bedroom.” Ash stole another kiss.

Ali raised an eyebrow suggestively. “Sergeant….” 

Ash laughed and rolled her eyes. “Get your mind out of the gutter, Krieger.” She nudged her down the hall, towards the closed door. 

Ali stopped at the closed door and turned back to look at Ash. She’d never seen such a goofy grin on the soldier’s face before. “Can I go in?” 

“Yeah.” Ash smiled and stepped up behind her, wrapping her arms around the small waist and stepping with her through the door. She laughed when Ali’s hands went up to her mouth and a shriek escaped. 

“Oh my god!” Ali squealed and ran over to the puppy, breaking loose from Ash’s grasp. “Who. Is. This.” She scooped him up and giggled as he licked her face. 

Ash snapped a couple pictures of Ali’s first meeting with the pup before tucking her phone away. 

“I have so many questions!” Ali cried excitedly as she sat on the floor and let the tiny Rottweiler jump on her. “He’s so cute! Seriously, what’s his name??” 

“Why don’t you check his tag?” Ash offered, feeling a little nervous suddenly. She took a sip of her beer and bounced a little on the balls of her feet, running a hand through her short hair.

Ali shot Ash a thousand watt smile before moving to the puppy’s collar. She turned it over so she could read it out loud. “Will you be my other mom?” Ali dropped her jaw and looked up at Ash.

Ash kneeled down in front of Ali and took the soft hands into her own. “When I move to DC, I’m going to have to get a house with a yard for these guys. I was hoping you’d move in with me…that maybe we could get a place together…” 

Ali bit her bottom lip, feeling her eyes get glassy. “Ash…” She whispered out. She reached up and caressed the strong jaw of the soldier. When she saw the look of disappointment flash across Ash’s face, she could tell that Ash misread the pause and she was snapped into action. “Baby, no! Of course! God, of course! I would love to!” She launched herself into the soldier, sending Ash tipping over onto her back. 

Ashlyn laughed as Ali flattened out on top of her. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. Baby, yes. A hundred times, yes.” Ali smashed their lips together, exploring the soldier’s mouth with her tongue. 

Ash moaned into the kiss, running her hands up Ali’s back. Before they could get any further, they were attacked with puppy kisses. 

Ali laughed and rolled to her side, picking up the puppy. “You handsome little boy!” She glanced at Ash. “You still haven’t told me his name…” 

“I think there’s another tag on that collar…”Ash hinted.

Ali looked at the collar and flipped it to the other tag. “Finn…” Ali whispered out and held her hand to her heart. 

“You remember?” 

“Ash, of course I remember!” Ali beamed and reached over to her purse. She pulled out a takeout menu and held it up. 

“You kept a takeout menu from our first date?” Ash grinned as she took the menu for Finn’s Bar & Grill, the restaurant on the beach they had gone to in California.

“Maybe…” She admitted as she showered the puppy with love. “He’s so tiny.” She held him up as he wiggled. “He looks like a Finn.”

“I thought so.” Ash agreed. “How about we go have a drink in the backyard and I’ll tell you his story.” 

“That sounds perfect.” Ali agreed, standing up with Finn in her arms. “You are going to be so so spoiled little man.” 

Ash went to the front door and whistled for Deacon to come inside. The german shepherd trotted in with the bone still in his jaws, tail wagging. She reached down and handed Deacon the frisbee. “Go give this to Ali, buddy.” 

Deke scampered over to Ali and sat down with the frisbee hanging out of his mouth. The frisbee had ‘Will you be my mom, too?’ written on it in permanent marker. 

Ali covered her heart with her hand for the second time in the last five minutes. “Oh, Deacon. Of course.” She kneeled down and hugged him with one arm while she held Finn in the other arm. “My sweet German boys.” She cooed at the Rottweiler and German Shepherd. 

Ash felt her heart melt at the sight before her. With a deep breath, she headed into the kitchen and grabbed two beers before following Ali out into the backyard. She watched as her girlfriend ran around the backyard, chasing the dogs and let out a content sigh. “This is what happiness feels like..” 

 

A few minutes later Ali came over and climbed into Ash’s lap, crashing their lips together. “I love you so much.” She whispered. 

“I love you too.” Ash murmured against Ali’s lips and handed her a beer. 

“So tell me how Finn became a Harris.” Ali said before taking a sip of her beer.

“Not even going to petition for Krieger-Harris?” Ash asked with a smirk. 

Ali gave a confident shrug. “I mean, I want to be a Harris one day so I can’t deny him that honor…”  She husked.

Ash felt her heart pounding in her chest at Ali’s words. “You want to be a Harris?” 

“Of course, I do.” Ali stated matter of factly. “That’s a surprise?” 

“I just figured at most, when the time came, you’d hyphenate.” Ash admitted.

Ali shrugs. “I’d be proud the be a Harris, Ash.” She leaned in for a heated kiss. A minute later, Finn was climbing on her like a jungle gym. “I know, Finn. I keep asking her about you but she won’t give me any details!” Ali teased.

Ash grinned and placed another kiss on her shoulder. “The op we were on in Pakistan, the guy we were looking for ended up being on a yacht. We got there and captured him. We were just getting ready to leave when I heard a noise.” Ash reached out and scratched the top of Finn’s head. “This little guy was locked up in a kennel and I couldn’t leave him behind. I tucked him into my vest and brought him back with me.” 

Ali reached up and ran her hand down Ash’s face. “I love your heart…” She praised. “And you, you handsome little devil….” She picked up Finn so he was nose to nose with her. “You just hit the jackpot. You and your brother are going to be soooo spoiled.” 

“So you like your surprise?” Ash asked as she sipped her beer, enjoying Ali and Finn in her lap. 

“You mean officially becoming a dog mom and moving in with you three? Yeah, I love my surprise.” She glowed.

Chapter Text

A week later Ali and Ashlyn were back in DC walking hand in hand through Metro Mutts, a local pet store. Ash loosely held Deacon’s leash while Ali held Finn’s. Ali was in her element as soon as she walked through the doors. 

“Oh my god. There’s so much cute stuff here. We need a cart.” She handed Ash Finn’s leash and pressed a quick kiss to her lips before turning to go get a cart. 

Ash headed down the aisle with Deacon and Finn, checking out the different dog toys. As she looked around, a blond woman in her mid twenties walked up. 

“Oh my god, your dogs are so cute.” The woman smiled widely at Ashlyn. 

“Thanks.” Ashlyn quickly noticed that the smile was more flirtatious than friendly. 

“I’m Claire.” She held out her hand, tilting her head to the side.

Ashlyn shook the hand and then slipped her hand into her pocket. “Ashlyn.” 

The woman bit down on her lower lip and batted her eyelashes a few times. “Do you live around here, Ashlyn?” 

“Not yet. I’ll be moving up here soon.” She glanced down at the dogs and then back up, trying to tow the line between polite and disinterested.

“Oh, maybe I could show you around.” The woman offered, tilting her head to the other side and shooting Ash another flirty smile. 

Ali was coming back down the aisle with the cart when she spotted the blonde flirting with her girlfriend. 'Oh Hell no…' She thought. She ran a hand through her hair, flipping it over one shoulder as she left the cart behind and sauntered up to Ashlyn. She wrapped both arms low around Ash’s waist and leaned into her side. “Hey baby, did you pick out the dog beds for our new place?”  She beamed up at Ash, leaning her head against the soldier’s chest. 

Ash had to bite back the grin on her lips as Ali laid it on thick. “There you are. Um, no, not yet. I figured you had an interior design theme in mind…Ali, this is Claire. Claire, this is my girlfriend Ali.” 

Ali kept one am around Ash’s waist while she extended the other with a sugary sweet smile. “Hi Claire, nice to meet you.” 

“Um, you too.” She shook the hand and gave Ashlyn one last flirty smile. “It was nice to meet you, Ashlyn.” With that, the woman headed out of the store. 

Once she was out of eyesight, Ash let out a laugh. “It would have been more subtle for you to slap a ‘Property of Ali Krieger’ sticker on my forehead…” 

Ali playfully narrowed her eyes up at the soldier. “I’ll keep that in mind for next time.” She turned to look down at the dogs, holding her arms out wide. “And you two. What gives? You’re supposed to have my back when girls hit on her.” She ruffled both their ears before standing back up. “Say it.” She ordered. 

“I love you.” Ash responded, dutifully, with a grin on her lips. “and I love seeing you jealous. It’s sexy.” She added

“Yeah?” Ali raised an eyebrow, pressing her body up against Ash’s. 

“Very.” Ash confirmed. “Now let’s spoil these two.” 

Ali and Ash left with a carload full of dog supplies. Bags of puppy food for Finn and high protein food for Deacon. Ali went overboard on toys, getting them both several of each kind imaginable. When they went to get dog beds, Ali had insisted instead on getting them Casper dog mattresses. ‘Only the best’ she reasoned. 

 

 

The next morning, the couple woke up to the sound of Finn trying to jump up onto the massive bed. Ash grinned and tightened her arm around Ali’s bare torso, soaking in the warmth from the defender. She could tell that Ali was starting to come out of the haze of sleep when the defender burrowed her face into Ash’s neck. The sleepy moan Ali let out was one of Ash’s favorite noises on the planet, if only for the fact that she was the only one that got to hear it. 

Ali ran her hand up Ash’s stomach and chest, all the way to her neck as she nuzzled in closer. “Five more minutes.” She mumbled into Ash’s skin, draping her leg farther over the soldier’s waist. 

“You can absolutely sleep five more minutes but I think if I don’t let them out, you’re going to step into a puddle when you finally wake up.” Ash softly teased, running her hand through Ali’s hair. 

Ali took in a deep breath and stretched. “Nope…I’m a mom now…” She sleepily reminded Ash as she started to get up. “I got it.” She pulled on a pair of yoga pants from her dresser and her favorite Combat Diver hoodie before pulling her hair up into a loose bun. She kneeled down and was greeted by Deacon and Finn. “Who are the two most handsome men on the planet, huh?” She cooed, petting both of them. “Yes, you are…Let’s go outside.” 

Ash chuckled and watched her disappear out of the bedroom. She sat for another minute, enjoying the morning sun, before getting out of bed. She pulled on a pair of loose shorts and a sports bra before brushing her teeth and starting a pot of coffee. She checked her phone and smiled. She had an email from the Secretary of Defense’s assistant confirming that both Deacon and Finn were cleared to tag along today for the White House visit. Deacon hadn’t been a surprise, he had clearance with the Army but Finn was only 8 weeks old. That one had been a bit of a shock. 

“I guess it’s a family trip…” Ash muttered to herself as she poured a cup of coffee and walked over to the window. Her face broke out into a smile as she watched her girlfriend run around the small park with the dogs. When she saw Ali start to head back to the apartment building, she poured a cup of coffee for her and got the food ready for the dogs. A minute later, the trio made their way inside. 

Ali sauntered up to Ash and leaned into the warmth of her body as she sipped the coffee. “Mmm. Thank you.” She leaned up and placed a quick kiss on Ash’s lips. 

“No problem.” Ash smiled. “I’m going to have to get in the shower though. My meeting at the White House is in two hours.” 

Ali smiled wide, biting her lower lip excitedly. “Go.” She gave her a playful push towards the bathroom. “Can’t be late.” 

 

 

 

An hour later, Ash was looping the brown belt through her navy suit as Ali watched from her spot on the couch with a proud smile on her face. Finn and Deacon were both sitting in front of Ash, watching her with rapt attention. “Okay, boys. Vests.” She reached over to the table and slid Deacon’s vest on easily. Next, she moved over to Finn who wiggled excitedly as she set the much smaller vest on him with the ‘In Training’ patch clearly on the side. She stood back up and smoothed out her jacket. “How do we look?” 

“Handsome.” Ali praised, sipping her coffee. “I almost don’t want to let you leave…” 

Ash laughed and walked over for a kiss. “I’ll see you there in a couple hours?” 

Ali nodded and stole another kiss. “Absolutely.” 

Ash reached over to the coffee table and slipped the 9mm Springfield XDS into the holster on the small of her back. “I love you.” 

“I love you too.” Ali sighed out, happily.

 

 

 

30 minutes later, Ashlyn approached the White House security desk. “Sergeant First Class Ashlyn Harris to see the president.”

The guard typed into his computer before turning back. “Yes ma’am. Do you have a firearm to store?” 

“I do.” She reached behind her back and unhooked the holster and gun from her belt, handing it over. 

The man took the gun and placed it in a lockbox before handing her a ticket. “You’ll need this to reclaim your firearm.” 

“Thank you.”

“You’re all set.”

Ash nodded and walked the dogs through the security gate. A minute later, she was approached by a man she recognized from her last visit. 

“Sergeant Harris, I’m Anthony Walker, Mr. Secretary’s assistant.” He shook her hand. “Follow me.” 

Ashlyn gave the leash a soft tug and they headed down the hallway. “Thanks for getting them clearance.”

“Of course. It’ll be just a minute. Mr. President is in a meeting. Feel free to have a seat.” 

Ashlyn nodded and took a seat. Fifteen minutes later, the door opened up and Secretary of Defense Carter appeared. 

“Sergeant Harris. It’s good to see you again.” He offered his hand in a firm shake.

Ashlyn stood and buttoned the top button of her suit jacket before returning the hand shake. “Good to see you again, Mr. Secretary.”

“Come on, inside.” 

Ash led the dogs into the oval office with her, returning Obama’s smile as he walked up. “It’s good to see you again, Mr. President.” 

“And you, Sergeant.” He shook her hand and gave the dogs a quick pat. “Can I get you a coffee?” 

“That’d be great.” She smiled and watched as his assistant poured the coffee. “Thank you.” She unbuttoned her suit jacket and sat on the couch, sipping the coffee. 

“So, I’ll get right to it. I know we have a lot of soccer players showing up shortly.” Barack started.

Ashlyn smiled fondly at the thought of Ali joining her. “At the risk of saying I told you so…” 

He laughed and nodded. “So you did…” He took a sip of his coffee. “Have you thought more about our offer?” 

“I have, sir. My team and I would be honored to come aboard.” Ashlyn confirmed confidently. 

The President smiled wide. “I’m glad to hear it.” He signaled to the Secretary of Defense. 

Secretary Carter produced several manila folders. “These four folders contain the relocation packages for your team, along with their new pay and benefits.” He handed over another folder. “This one contains your package. Take a look at it and let us know if it’s missing anything.”

Ashlyn opened up the folder and scanned over the pages. Her training allowed her to keep her face neutral as she read over the incredibly generous package. She glanced up at the Secretary and President. She raised an eyebrow. “Am I reading this correctly?”

The President laughed. “I did tell you it would be a much more lucrative career…”

“This is very generous, thank you.” Ashlyn flipped through the pages.

“We’ll also be providing you with a government issue Tahoe and a warehouse to serve as your headquarters for training and supplies. In the back of the folder, you’ll find an American Express to handle all of your expenses, including outfitting your new residency with whatever you may need.” 

The President stepped in. “Now, as you now, the existence and success of The Orion Team rests on the fact that we’re able to keep it off the books. Officially, you and your team will be consultants for the CIA. Unofficially, you’ll have full access to the CIA, FBI and Armed Forces. Your true work will only be known to the three of us, your team, the Director of the CIA, and the Director of the FBI.”

“Understood, sir.” Ashlyn sipped her coffee again, smirked as Finn nipped at Deacon’s ear.

“Also, we’ve spoken to your commanding officer. Given the post you’re leaving, his one request was that you and your team personally select and train your replacements before coming onboard here.” Secretary Carter advised. 

“That won’t be a problem.” Ashlyn confirmed. “When are you looking to have us operational by?”

“We’ll leave that to you. You’ll experience a lot of latitude with this position, Sergeant. Do what you need to do to get your affairs in order and your replacements trained up. Behind the AMEX, you’ll find the phone numbers for myself, and the Directors. The only expectation you’ll have besides missions is a weekly check in with the three of us along with the President when he can make it. During those briefings, we’ll discuss any ongoing operations or things we may need you to look in to.” Carter described.

Ashlyn took in all the information. “Weapons supply?”

“You’ll have full access to the CIA armory for whatever you need.”

Ashlyn nodded. “I think that covers all the questions I had.” 

“Well, in that case, lets go see that girlfriend of yours.” The President smiled as he stood. 

Ashlyn stood and shook both of their hands firmly. “Yes, sir.” 

 

Chapter Text

Ali smoothed out her dress as she got off the bus in her 3 inch heels.

“So, Ash is already here?” HAO asked as she stepped next to Ali.

“Yeah. She’s going to be transferring here.” Ali gushed.

“What? Really?” HAO turned excitedly, putting her hand on Ali’s forearm.

“Really.” Ali bit her lower lip. “She asked me to move in with her.” 

“Kriegs!” HAO cried. “That’s amazing!” 

“It’s not too soon right? Ali looked at her friend, knowing she’d get an honest answer.

“Al. Are you happy?”

“More than ever.”

“Do you love her?”

“So so much.” Ali gushed.

“Then who gives a damn about time. It’s been almost a year and you both have crazy schedules…when you’re in the same city, you might as well be together.”

“I was hoping that’s what you’d say.” Ali grinned as the team made their way inside and through security. “Hey Whit.” Ali greeted as the blonde walked up.

“Hey guys” Whitney smiled wide, practically glowing.

“No boy?” HAO asked, having heard that she was seeing someone on Ash’s team.

“No…he couldn’t get here until this afternoon. He should be here in a couple hours.” Whitney got a scandalous look on her face. “And he’s no boy….” 

HAO and Ali busted out in laughter. “Oh dear….” Ali smirked. 

 

 

 

 

Down the hall, Ashlyn was still talking to the President. “Listen, I get it. I’m a Red Sox fan…we had to wait 86 years for them to win the damn thing.” They both laughed before Ash turned and caught sight of her favorite brunette. “Deke, go find Ali.” 

They both watched as the German Shepherd wove his way through the crowd. 

“He’s an incredible dog.” President Obama praised.

“He really is.” Ash agreed as an aide walked up and spoke quietly into the President’s ear.

“I need to go but I’m sure I’ll see you in a little bit.” He shook Ash’s hand before disappearing. 

 

 

Ali was talking to HAO and Kling when she felt a cold nose brush against her hand. She looked down and a smile stretched across her face. “Deacon. There you are.” She crouched down and kissed the top of his head. “Where’s your partners in crime, huh?” She stood and looked around. As her eyes scanned the crowd, her heart flipped when she saw the familiar face. Looking straight out of GQ magazine, Ash was standing in her perfect navy suit holding the leash to Finn who was asleep at her feet. 

“Jesus, Kriegs…if you don’t marry her, I will.” Kling teased.

“Nice try, I’ve got dibs.” Ali sassed back. “Excuse me.” She made her way through the crowd with Deacon and walked up to Ash. “Hey handsome. Here with someone?” 

Ash grinned. “I was supposed to meet this smoking hot World Cup Champion here…have you seen her?” She teased before leaning in and placing a kiss on Ali’s cheek. “You look amazing.” 

“So do you.” She ran her hand down the lapel of the jacket. “How’d it go?” 

“Really, really well.” Ash assured her. “But the rest of today is all about you.” 

“Well then I want to go introduce the team to my boys.” Ali kneeled down and carefully scooped up the sleeping rottie. Finn opened up his eyes and, upon recognizing who was holding him, started wiggling his butt in happiness. 

As Ali turned around, Christen was walking up. “Okay, I know I’m supposed to be focused on the White House and all but who are these two!” She cried as she reached out and scratched Finn’s head.

“This is Finn and Deacon.” Ali introduced proudly. “And you remember Ash.” 

“Hey Christen.” Ash smiled and nodded to Tobin as she walked up. “Hey Heath.” 

“What’s up, Harris?” Tobin clapped hands with her while Ali and Christen played with the two dogs. 

As Ali and Christen made their way to the rest of the team with the dogs, Ash shot a glance at Tobin before looking straight again. “Have you told her you love her yet?” She asked once they were alone.

Tobin snapped her head at Ashlyn in shock. “What?” She blinked a couple times. “Is it that obvious?” 

Ashlyn shrugged. “Hard to say…it’s my job to be able to read people…” She smirked. 

Tobin kicked at the carpet a little before looking at Christen. “It’s still new…we haven’t really told the team.” 

“No worries. I get it.” She slipped her hands into her suit pants pockets. “If you need an ear or anything..”

“Thanks man.” Tobin nodded. “Kriegs is crazy about you. I’ve never seen her this happy.”

“I’m crazy about her too.” Ash replied simply and shook Abby’s hand as she walked up. “Hey Ab.” 

“Cute puppy.” Abby praised, having just come from Ali.

“Oh, thanks. Yeah, he’s pretty cool.” 

“Ali said you found him while you were overseas?” Abby tilted her head curiously.

Ash watched as the group got a little bigger, adding in Pinoe and Alex Morgan. “Yeah. Pakistan. Found him on a ship and couldn’t leave him behind.” 

“That’s awesome.” Alex beamed. “He’s so sweet.”

 

 

The rest of the visit went by seamlessly, Ash and the dogs hung in the background as they watched Ali and the team get recognized for their World Cup win. As they were leaving, Ash stopped at the security desk and retrieved her gun from the guard. Once it was secured to her belt she felt Ali wrap her arms around her waist.

“I have to ride back with the team.” She sighed as she rubbed Ash’s back. “But Lori was going to have a party tonight at her place. Are you up for going?”

“Of course.” Ash smiled.

Ali gave her a huge smile. “You’re the best. Okay. I’ll be back home in about 45 minutes. You can tell me all about your meeting and then we’ll head over there.” 

“You got it.” Ash ran a hand through Ali’s hair. 

Ali leaned up and placed a kiss on Ash’s lips as the bus erupted in a chorus of catcalls. When they broke apart, Ali laughed. “Have I mentioned that I work with a bunch of four year olds?”

“Once or twice.” Ash grinned. “Go on.” She gave her a playful smack on the ass as Ali headed towards the bus. 

 

 

Ash got home 25 short minutes later and headed into the bedroom, hanging up her suit jacket. She kicked off her shoes and hung up her suit pants before heading into the bathroom and turning on the hot water of the shower. She turned on the small bluetooth speaker on the counter, finished undressing and started singing along to Bruno Mars as she let the hot water bead over her.

Ali had gotten off the bus as fast as possible, promising to see the team at Lori’s that evening. She used her BMW to speed through traffic and make it home in record time. When she walked through the door, the doggie greeting melted her heart. “Ugh, I could get used to this!” She gave them both a kiss on top of their heads and took off her heels. She headed towards the bedroom as she unzipped her dress. She titled her head to the side and smirked as she heard the singing coming from the bathroom. Ali slipped the dress off her shoulders and let it pool at her feet, followed by her bra and thong. 

Ash stopped singing when she heard the door to the bathroom open up. A second later, the beautiful brunette stepped into the shower, stark naked. “Hey beautiful.” Ash smiled, leaning down to kiss her.

Ali ran her hands up Ash’s chest and snaked them around to the back of her head, pulling her down for a needy kiss. When they broke apart Ali moved her lips to Ash’s ear, her voice dripping with sex. “Seeing you in that suit today…I couldn’t wait to get you alone.” She raked her teeth over Ash’s earlobe. “I need you to fuck me, Sergeant.”  She pulled back to look up into the dark hazel eyes. “Hard.” 

 

 

 

An hour and a half and 6 orgasms between the pair of them later, Ali collapsed down on top of Ashlyn. They were both breathing hard as Ali let out a giggle, burying her face in the crook of Ash’s neck. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to walk…”

Ash smirked and ran her hand up and down Ali’s back. “I was just following orders…” 

Ali placed a gentle kiss on Ash’s neck. “I love you so much, Ash.” She traced the lines of the soldier’s jaw. 

Ash reached up and took the hand, placing a kiss on each fingertip. “I love you too.” 

Ali smiled when Ash placed a tender kiss on her palm. “Tell me about your meeting.”

Ash sat up a little, leaning against the headboard. “Alex…” Ash felt her chest tighten in excitement. “It’s um…it’s life changing…” She smiled, still in disbelief.

Ali crawled into Ash’s lap and returned the smile, waiting for Ash to continue. 

“They’re going to cover $400,000 of our housing expenses, free and clear…” Ash watched as Ali’s jaw dropped. “An AMEX for all of my expenses, a Chevy Tahoe, our own warehouse to serve as headquarters…full operational jurisdiction, and my salary is going to quadruple…”

“Ash…” Ali breathed out, her eyes dancing with happiness. “Between that and what I have through the World Cup, Nike and the Body Issue…baby, we can get our dream house.” She dreamed out loud.

“I know.” Ash smiled wide. “It paves the way for the future.” She reached up and ran a hand through Ali’s hair. “Our future.” 

Ali pressed her forehead against Ash’s. “You’re…god, I can’t even put it into words.” 

“So…are you going to stop pretending like you haven’t already made lists of potential houses?” Ash teased.

“Busted.” Ali looked guilty as she reached into the nightstand for her iPad. “I might have made just a couple different lists with different price points buuuuut we need to go over our dealbreakers.”

“Dealbreakers?” 

“Yeah, you know? Dealbreakers.” Ali explained “Must haves or can’t haves. Like I need a house with a tall, hot, muscular Special Forces Sergeant who has transitioned into the private sector…” She grinned, running her hands down Ash’s defined arms.

“Ah..okay, okay…so like…needing it to come complete with a beautiful woman that walks around in her underwear all the time?” Ash tilted her head with a mischievous grin.

“Exactly. So we’ll put that down as one of yours…”Ali gave her a quick kiss.

“And a yard for the dogs.”

“Naturally.” Ali agreed. 

“A basement for work. We’ll have to customize it a little bit once we buy it with work specific stuff but…just a decent size basement.” 

“Okay. And a garage and some sort of gym.” Ali added. “Oh, and a big kitchen! And a patio for when the guys come over for bonfires. And at least 3 bedrooms.” She rambled. 

Ash laughed. “Anything else, princess?” 

Ali bit her bottom lip as she thought. “Not right now….but I reserve the right to add….”

“Yes ma’am.” Ash grinned.

“I’m going to call the realtor and let them know we’re ready to start looking. I mean we are, right? Ready?”

“Your rambling is adorable. Yes. We’re ready.” She smirked.

Ali gave a nose crinkling smile before grabbing her phone. “Okay. I’m calling the realtor and then we need to get ready for the party. We’re already late.” 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 40 

 

Ali and Ash navigated through Washington DC traffic with the top off the Jeep. Ali danced happily in the passenger seat as Ash drummed along to the song on her steering wheel, both singing along at the top of their lungs. When they pulled into Lori’s neighborhood,  they parked a couple houses down on the side of the road. Based on the cars lining both sides of the street, the party was already in fully swing.

Ash grabbed the cooler from the back of the Wrangler and slipped her free hand into Ali’s. As they walked up to Lori’s house, Ash laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Ali tilted her head up to look at Ash curiously.

“Jake’s truck.” Ash nodded towards the truck. “Actually. Hold that thought…” She released Ali’s hand and set the cooler down before trotting back to her car. A minute later, she came back.

“Do I even want to ask?” Ali questioned as she watched Ash go around to the driver’s side of the truck.

Ash grinned mischievously. “Remember that deli we went to? I still had some mustard packets in glovebox.” She held them up so Ali could see before ripping the packet open with her teeth. She carefully spread the mustard on the inside of the door handle so Jake’s hand would get covered later when he tried to leave. 

“You’re terrible.” Ali laughed and gave her a quick kiss.

Ash grinned and put the empty packet at the bottom of the cooler in case Jake went in there later. “You love it.” 

 

When the couple walked through the front door, Ali was tackled by a flying Pinoe.

“KRIEGY!” Pinoe screamed, which caught the attention of the others in the house, all cheering. 

“Thank you, thank you.” Ali bowed once Pinoe was off her. 

“Harris.” Pinoe high-fives the Sergeant.

“Hey Peen.” Ash returned the high five before placing a hand on Ali’s back. “I’m going to go find Jake, babe.” 

“Okay.” Ali threw Ash a loving smile before turning back to the group huddled in the kitchen.

 

Ash grabbed a beer out of the cooler and then headed out into the backyard, saying hellos as she recognized familiar faces. When she stepped into the backyard, her eyes scanned to find Jake next to Whitney. A warm smile broke out across her face when she saw Whitney give him a flirtatious push before leaning into his side. “Who would’ve thought…” She mumbled to herself as she walked over to the group, clapping Jake on the shoulder that Whitney wasn’t leaning on. “Hey guys.”

“Hey Sarge” Jake clapped hands with Ash.

“Hey Ash!” Whitney smiled wide and sipped from her red solo cup. “No dogs?” 

“Nah” Ash took a pull from her beer. “Big day at the White House. Finn needed some sleep and Deacon’s keeping him company. 

“Makes sense” Jake agreed.

 

 

About an hour later a bunch of folks, including Ali, Ash, Whitney and Jake were all sitting around a bonfire in Lori’s backyard. Ash had her arm wrapped securely around Ali’s waist as the brunette leaned against her chest. Lori and Pinoe were in the middle of retelling some hilarious story when the Sergeant’s eye caught a glimpse of a reflection coming from the fence near the side of the house.

Ali felt her girlfriend stiffen beneath her and turned to look down at her. “You okay, babe?” 

Ash offered up a reassuring smile and squeezed her waist. “I’m great.” She spent the next couple minutes casually glancing between the storytellers and the fence line. She had almost chalked it up to paranoia when she saw the glimmer again. She patted Ali’s thigh, motioning for her to get up. “I’m going to get another beer.” 

“I’ll come with you.” Ali smiled, slipping her hand into Ash’s.

Ash took a deep breath. She was trying really hard to not interrupt the evening but her instincts told her something was off about the reflection she was seeing. She turned to Ali and spoke with a firmness that Ali had never heard before. “Alex. I need you to stay here. Do you understand?” 

Ali blinked up at her, taken back. “Um..uh. Yeah.” 

“Everything’s fine. I just want to check something really quick, okay?” She cradled both sides of Ali’s face in her hands.

Ali nodded and took a deep breath before returning the quick kiss Ashlyn gave her. 

“I’ll be right back. Keep our seat warm.” Ash smiled and watched Ali go back to their seat. She turned, hands in her pockets as she headed to the cooler. She subtly glanced over to where she had seen the reflection but in the darkness, she couldn’t make out anything. She reached in and grabbed a beer from the cooler before turning and looking again. Nothing. ‘Maybe you’re losing it…’ She thought to herself as she sipped her beer and gave Ali a smile as the brunette gave her a worried glance. She had just given up when she saw a figure move through the shrubs on the side of the fence. “Mother fucker.” She said out loud as she dropped her beer and took off in a dead sprint towards the movement. 

The sound of the beer hitting the deck was enough to get everyone’s attention. “Jake!” Ali yelled and pointed to where Ashlyn was running. 

The corporal turned his head just in time to watch his Sergeant vault over the four foot fence and disappear into the night. “Damn it!” He got to his feet as fast as he could and took off in chase of her. “Sarge!” 

Ashlyn pumped her legs as hard and fast as she could as she tried to close in on whoever had been watching them. “Stop!” She yelled to no avail. She heard Jake yell and his footsteps behind her. As she chased the man, she watched him take off his backpack and throw it into a bunch of shrubs but continue to flee. “Jake, get that bag!” She pointed to where it had been thrown but kept her pursuit of the man.

Jake had been making up ground in the chase when Ash ordered him to the bag. He was conflicted. The bag would still be there in a few minutes and she could use his help catching the man but he’d never disobeyed an order from her before. He wasn’t going to start now. “Fuck!” He yelled out in frustration but slowed to halt as he watched Ash continue into the night. He found the bag as quickly as possible, glancing back the way he had come from. He saw Whitney, Ali and a handful of other players from the team jogging down the street. “Call 911!” 

“We already did.” Whit called back before watching Jake take off in a sprint again with the backpack in his hand. 

Further up the street, Ash was closing in on the man. He had been quick initially but his endurance was giving out quickly. “Stop! Last chance!” Ash closed the gap. Five feet away. Then four. When she was within three feet, she leaped through the air and tackled him. Her shoulder drove hard into his back as her arms wrapped around his chest, sending both of them tumbling across the pavement of the street. In the melee of it all, he connected his elbow hard against Ash’s jaw. 

Ash let out a groan of pain but followed through with a hard right cross to his left cheek. The punch stunned him enough that the Sergeant was able to gain position on him. She sat on his stomach and connected with a left cross this time. She could hear the sirens approaching in the background, she just needed to keep control for another minute or two. The man got a punch in to the side of her head, causing Ash to rear back on her thighs a little before coming down with another right cross as hard as she could. That strike dazed the man enough for him to give up his fight. 

Ash slapped him on the side of the face. “Hey, hey! What were you doing watching us, huh?” 

Jake had caught up just as Ash had landed her final punch. He put his foot on the man’s shoulder to hold him down as he ripped open the backpack. “It’s a fucking camera. He’s a paparazzo.” It made sense. The National team was all over the news after the World Cup win. Pictures of them all partying would be worth a fortune.

Before Ashlyn could respond, two Washington PD squad cars pulled up with their lights flashing. The officers got out of the car, guns drawn. “Hands in the air!” The taller officer yelled.

Ash and Jake shared a shocked expression. 

“In the air!” The officer screamed again, leveling his gun on Ash’s chest.

Ash blinked in disbelief a couple times before raising her hands above her head. “Officer, I’m-“

“Stand up slowly and face away from me.” 

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Ash muttered to herself but stood. 

“Sarge…” Jake warned but stayed still where he was. 

“It’s fine, Jake” Ash felt her hands start to throb as they were raised above her head.

“Take two steps backwards towards the sound of my voice.” The officer commanded.

Just then Ali, Whitney and the rest of the team came into sight. “Oh my god!” Ali’s hands went to cover her mouth as she watched the officers with their guns trained on Ashlyn. She went to run towards her but felt arms stop her.

“You can’t, Al. You know you can’t.” It was HAO, looking as sympathetic as she’d ever been.

Ali curled into Heather’s embrace but kept her eyes on Ashlyn, noticing the blood that was pouring down her forearms from her bloody knuckles.

Ash took the two steps backwards, knowing what was to come next but waited for the instructions.

“Now lie down. Slowly!” The man yelled.

Ash fought every urge to just explain the situation and laid down on the pavement as she was told, feeling the rough surface scrape against her skin. She groaned as she felt the officer drive his knee into her back to keep her in place. “I’m not resisting.” She grit out, fighting to keep her temper in check. 

The lead officer tightened the handcuffs around her wrists and the two men hoisted her onto her feet roughly. “Sit on the curb” The older man ordered before they went to handcuff the man Ash had chased down. 

Ash sighed and sat on the curb, hands handcuffed behind her back. She looked past the flashing lights and found Ali’s eyes in the crowd. “I’m okay.” She mouthed, hoping to ease her girlfriend’s worries. The look on Ali’s face made her heart feel like it was in a vice grip. Her attention was brought back to the man and the officers as the paparazzo regained his bearings. 

“Her! I want to press charges against her! She assaulted me.” He nodded his head towards Ashlyn, his hands also bound by handcuffs.

Ash rolled her eyes and sighed in disbelief. ‘This isn’t happening.’

The younger of the two officers interviewed Jake, jotting down his details before dismissing him to return to the team. The two soldiers shared a look before he went over to where the National team was gathered. 

“Jake, what the hell happened?!” Ali cried, desperate for details. 

Jake wrapped his arm around Whitney when she leaned into him. “The guy was hiding in the bushes taking pictures of everyone…Sarge saw it and took off after him.”

“But why were those cops pointing their guns at her??” Ali wasn’t calming down from the explanation.

“When they pulled up, she was on top of him getting a couple shots in…” Jake sighed. He was pissed too but his training was allowing him to push that down. Suddenly, the entire group turned at the yelling. 

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” Ash roared as the older cop led her towards the back of his squad car. “You’re going to arrest me?” Ash couldn’t believe what she was hearing. 

“He’s stating that you assaulted him. In the District of Columbia, being in the Army doesn’t mean you can beat up whoever you want. You can tell your version in court. You have the right to an attorney-“

As he read Ash her Miranda Rights, Ash scanned the crowd for Ali. “Alex!” She lifted her head and made eye contact with the stunning brunette whose eyes were now swimming with tears. “Alex. Listen to me. Listen close.” She glanced at Jake to make sure he was listening too. “The folder from earlier. You remember?” She got a small nod before she continued on. “There’s a business card in the back. You find it and call every number on the back until someone answers.  You tell them what’s going on. They’ll be able to fix this.” She was shoved violently into the back of the car before the door slammed shut and the police car drove down the street, leaving the rest of them shocked.

Chapter Text


Sergeant First Class Ashlyn Harris was pacing back and forth in the holding cell like a caged animal. She had tried to explain to Officer Gary Wilkins, the power hungry officer that arrested her, exactly what had happened. She had explained her position in the Army and how she had tried to make a citizens arrest but he was hell bent on making an example of her. She had been in the holding cell for two hours now and had yet to calm down. More than anything, she was worried about the state that she left Ali in. The look on her face when she was shoved into the back of the squad car was burned into her memory. 

Ashlyn dropped to the ground and started doing pushups to burn off some energy. She was on pushup 32 when the officer walked up.

“On your feet.” The man commanded.

Ash rolled her eyes but finished her pushup and popped up onto her feet. She held her arms out through the hole to have the handcuffs put on, grinding her teeth when she felt the metal pinch her wrists. “Really?” She deadpanned, unamused at how tight the handcuffs were.

“Really.” The officer sassed back. “Let’s go.” He opened the holding cell and grabbed her by the elbow, leading her down the hallway. They came to one of the interrogation rooms and she was shoved inside. When she turned around to ask what she was doing in there, the door slammed shut in her face, leaving her alone in the room.

“Un-fucking-believable.” She took a deep breath, trying to refocus herself mentally. She walked around the room and took a seat in the chair, waiting. 

 

 

 

Irene Kennedy sipped her espresso as the Lincoln Town Car pulled up in front of the Washington DC police department. She stepped out in her Manolo Blahnik heels and perfectly tailored skirt suit, striding confidently up the stairs. Even at midnight, she looked perfectly put together. As she walked across the lobby, she glanced to the right and saw 3 people make eye contact with her. The two stressed women were bookends to the man that she recognized as Jake Archer from her briefing a month ago. She gave them a sympathetic look before marching up to the desk.

Five minutes later, she walked into the interrogation room. Silently, her eyes took in the woman across from her. The Sergeant’s hair was a little disheveled. Her hands were roughly bandaged up. The left cheek was starting to bruise and there were various scrapes across her skin. The hazel eyes looked straight into her green ones. Irene Kennedy ended her appraisal of Ashlyn Harris when she saw her wrists. Without a word she turned and left the room, leaving a confused Ashlyn behind. 

A minute later, Irene re-entered with an officer and a bag of ice. The officer shot a glance at her before hesitantly removing the handcuffs and leaving the room. Irene straightened her back and locked the door. “Sergeant Harris, I’m Irene Kennedy. Director of the CIA.” She extended her hand. 

Ashlyn rubbed at her raw wrists before the title snapped her attention up to the woman before her. “Director Kennedy.” She stood and extended her hand. “I’m sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances.” This wasn’t exactly how Ashlyn had envisioned meeting her new boss. 

“Don’t worry about it, Harris. I got the briefing. I know that guy was being a dick. Even his partner corroborated your story. I brought you some ice.” She tossed the bag on the table.

Ashlyn smirked. They were going to work just fine together. “Thank you ma’am.” She picked up the bag and set it gingerly on top of the knuckles on her right hand. 

“Now, let’s get you out of here. At this time of night, I’m assuming the three in the waiting room are here for you.” Irene unlocked the door and led them out into the hallway. 

News of who was springing the Sergeant out of lockup must have travelled quickly. Everyone in the station was on their best behavior. As Irene and Ashlyn walked down the hallway, the officer from earlier appeared with his tail between his legs.

“Um, I’d just like to apologize for our misunderstanding.” Officer Wilkins said quietly.

Ashlyn was done with this guy. She took a step into his personal space. “Go fuck yourself, Gary.” She growled out, not bothering with his title. She walked past him and made eye contact with the other officer. She gave him an appreciative head nod before following Director Kennedy out into the lobby. 

Ali heard the door open for what felt like the hundredth time since she had gotten there. She perked up again and craned her neck to see around the corner. Seeing her girlfriend got her out of her seat in a split second. She rushed over to Ashlyn and shoved her hard with both hands, immediately followed with a crushing hug. “You scared the shit out of me.” She buried her face in the soldier’s neck. 

Ash sighed and wrapped her arms around the smaller brunette. “I’m sorry Alex.” The shove didn’t exactly surprise her. She couldn’t blame Ali. It was the most danger Ali had actual seen her in but compared to some of the other situations she’s been in, this was nothing.

“Are you okay?” Ali loosened the hug a little and cradled Ash’s face gently, rubbing her thumb over the swelling on Ash’s cheek. Her eyes were full of concern as she took in the bruises and scrapes. 

“I’m fine. Really.” Ash looked right into the concerned brown eyes, trying to soothe her. “Promise.” She gave her a little squeeze and then turned to the woman on her left. “Ali, this is Irene Kennedy, Director of the CIA.”

Irene extended her hand and shook Ali’s “We spoke on the phone. It’s nice to meet you, Ali.” 

Ali blinked a couple times as she shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, too.” She hadn’t realized that she had been talking to the Director of the CIA when she had been making panicked phone calls earlier. 

“I would have been here earlier but I was in Virginia.” Irene explained before turning to the other two. “And you must be Corporal Archer.” 

“Yes ma’am.” He nodded, firmly shaking her hand. “And this is Whitney Engen.”

They shook hands before Irene turned to Ashlyn. “I need to be going. I don’t think you’ll be hearing from them again unless it’s to provide testimony for the prosecution of the paparazzo. Harris, I’ll talk to you soon.” She offered everyone a smile before disappearing out the door. 

“Wow.” Jake said as he watched her go.

“So, she runs like the entire CIA?” Whitney asked.

“Yeah…” Ash confirmed as Ali leaned against her. She moved her lips down to Ali’s ear. “I’m okay, baby.” 

Ali just nodded and tried to bury her face further into Ash’s chest. 

“Let’s get you guys home.” Jake suggested and nudged them towards the door.

The four of them piled into Ash’s jeep, which they had brought to the station. It was a quick 10 minute drive back to Lori’s so Jake could get his truck. When they got there, Christie, HAO, Lori and Pinoe all came out of the house to check on Ash.

“I’m fine, really, but I think we’re going to head home.” Ash offered up. “Lori, I’m sorry for all the chaos.”

“Are you kidding? We owe you one…no one knew that creep was in the bushes. Who knows what could’ve happened.” Lori dismissed the apology. 

The team went inside as Ash and Ali climbed into the Jeep, Ali in the driver’s seat. She had put the Wrangler into drive when she felt Ash’s hand on her forearm.

“Wait.” Ash said quietly. She pointed forward toward’s Jake’s truck with a mischievous grin on her face. 

Despite all the stress and worry she had felt in the last couple hours, Ali couldn’t help but laugh when Jake yanked his hand off of the handle in disgust. He looked down at his mustard covered hand before moving his attention over to the Jeep. “Seriously?” He chuckled, holding his hand palm out for them to see.

Ash laughed, feeling some of the stress finally leave her shoulders. She looked over at Ali, enjoying the way the corners of her eyes crinkled with laughter. 

“Okay, that was worth it…” Ali admitted before taking off down the street. 

 

 

 

When they got home, they were met with wagging tails. “You go get changed. I’ll take the dogs out.” Ali directed, clipping a leash onto Finn’s collar and heading back out the door, leaving tension in her wake. 

Ash sighed and ran a hand through her hair. She could tell that Ali was still upset. “Fuck…” She muttered and headed down the hall. She kicked off her shoes and changed into sweatpants, opting to cover her top half with just a sports bra. ‘Maybe my abs will get me out of the doghouse…’  She moved into the kitchen and poured two drinks, wine for Ali and a glass of whiskey for herself. 

Ali walked back into the apartment a couple minutes later. When she walked through the door, the sight that met her stopped her dead in her tracks. In broken handsomeness, Ash was standing with a glass of her favorite wine in her hand, muscles and tattoos on full display. The lopsided grin that brought out the Sergeant’s dimple was the final straw. Ali exhaled a deep breath and felt the tension start to leave her neck and shoulders.

“Forgive me?” Ash asked as she held out the glass of wine.

Ali walked straight into Ash, wrapping her arms around her midsection and pressing her face into the soldier’s chest. “I was never mad at you.” She mumbled into her chest. “I was just scared.” 

“That’s fair.” Ash agreed, placing a kiss on top of Ali’s head. 

Ali pushed them backwards until Ash’s legs hit the back of the couch. She waited for Ash to sit down before crawling into her lap and taking the glass of wine. “They pointed their guns at you…” She said quietly, resting her head against the strong soldier. 

Ash nodded and took a sip of her whiskey. “I know they did.” She couldn’t help but smile as Finn took two attempts to jump up onto the couch and clamber over to them, wagging his little nub tail. “But I’m okay. I’m in one piece.”

“Barely. Look at your hands.” Ali pouted, running her thumb gently over the fresh wounds on Ash’s knuckles. “I mean, I know this is nothing compared to what you’ve been through over seas but…” Ali shrugged. “This happened right in front of me.”

“Alex. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. I’m fine though, okay? These will heal in no time.”  Ash ruffled Finn’s ears, laughing when he tried to bite at her fingers. “Plus…it’s not every day that the Director of the CIA bails you out of jail.” She grins.

“Yeah, she’s a badass, huh?” Ali wondered out loud. The woman had oozed confidence and power in the brief time they had been in her presence. 

“Sure seems that way.” Ash agreed. “Now will you please kiss me? I don’t like seeing you all worried like this.” 

Ali set her glass of wine down on the coffee table and turned to straddle Ash’s hips. She placed her palms on both sides of the Sergeant’s face before pouring every ounce of love she had into the kiss. It was healing for both of them. The passion. The confirmation that despite a few scrapes and bruises, the soldier was just fine.

 

Chapter Text

Two days after Lori’s party, Ali was running through the apartment trying to get ready for their appointment with the realtor. Ash and Deacon were sitting on the couch, Ash drinking her morning coffee while Finn trotted from room to room with Ali. 

Ash laughed as Ali had to dance around Finn for the hundredth time to avoid crushing the energetic puppy. “Want me to get him?” She asked as she watched Ali slip the skin tight leggings up her legs. 

“He’s okay.” Ali smiled down at the pup. “It’s cute.” She raked her fingers through her hair and tossed her locks over left shoulder, giving herself one final look in the mirror. 

“Don’t bother. You look perfect, as always.” Ash reminded her as she sipped her coffee.

Ali grinned and walked over to the couch to press a quick kiss to Ash’s lips. “You’re wracking up the brownie points pretty early this morning.” She took a sip of Ash’s coffee before disappearing back into the bedroom. A minute later, she came back out with a folder that she tucked into her oversized Michael Kors purse. “Okay, I think I’m ready.” 

Ash smirked and stood up to pour out her coffee and rinse out the cup. She watched with amusement as Ali kneeled down in front of the dogs. 

“Now, listen guys, I know you both want to check out the houses but we can’t bring you. I promise we’ll make sure the house has everything you need, okay? Okay.” Ali placed a kiss on top of Finn’s head, then Deacon’s before standing and meeting Ash’s amused face. “What?” 

“Nothing.” Ash bit her bottom lip to hold the laughter back. “Let’s go. If we leave now, we can stop at Baked and Wired on the way.”

Ali smiled at her soldier as Ash walked up to her. She carefully reached her hand up and ran her thumb over the scrape above the right eyebrow where the cops had been rough with her girlfriend. “It’s healing pretty well.” Ali thought out loud. 

“Well…I think it helps that I have a really hot nurse.” Ash smirked and turned her head to kiss Ali’s palm. “Let’s go. You boys be good.” She tossed them each a biscuit before holding the door open for her girlfriend. 

 

 

 

Half an hour later, Ali pulled the BMW in front of the first house they were looking at today. She slid the car into park and took a deep breath to steady herself as she looked over at the soldier that had stolen her heart. “Big step..” She mused. 

Ash reached across the center console and laced their fingers together, giving her hand a squeeze. “There’s no one else I’d want to take that step with. You okay? Having second thoughts?” 

“No, no, that’s not it. I can’t wait to take this step with you.” Ali bit her bottom lip as she smiled. 

“Well let’s go meet the guy in the suit.” Ash gestured towards the man leaning against his Mercedes Benz. 

“Okay. You be nice.” Ali shot Ash a playful warning glance. 

“What do you mean?” Ash feigned innocence. 

Ali rolled her eyes. “You can come off a little intimidating….and you know it…” She teased. “Just…be nice.”

“Yes ma’am.” Ash brought Ali’s knuckles to her lips for a quick kiss before grabbing her coffee and getting out of the car. 

Ali slipped her purse on her shoulder and walked up to the man with a megawatt smile. “Tim?” She asked as she held out her hand.

The man took a couple steps to close the gap and shook her hand with a warm smile. “Ali, hi. Yes. It’s nice to meet you in person.” He turned and extended his hand to Ashlyn. “And you must be Sergeant Harris.” 

Ashlyn firmly shook his hand as she examined him. He must’ve been in his late thirties or early forties. His face was soft and warm, missing that sleazy sale grease that you sometimes got with realtors and car salesman. “I am. Nice to meet you, Tim.”

“So, let’s get started shall we? Plenty of houses to see today.” 

 

 

 

 

4 hours later, Ali and Ashlyn were following Tim in their own car to the sixth house. “I think my brain is starting to turn to mush.” Ash admitted as she scanned the houses in the neighborhood they were driving through. 

Ali sent a sympathetic smile the soldier’s way. “You’ve been a real trooper, babe.” She reached over and placed her hand high on Ash’s thigh. “I’ll make a deal with you. If you hold strong for this last showing, I promise to show you just how grateful I am when we get back to the apartment.” She shot the Sergeant a suggestive look. “Deal?” Ali asked, her voice thick with desire.

Ash swallowed down the lump in her throat and nodded. “Deal.” 

Ali grinned. “We saved the best house for last. I have a really good feeling about this place.” She foreshadowed as they passed a park and turned down another street. Ali pulled to a stop behind Tim’s car and slipped the BMW into park. Ali took a deep breath and looked to her right. “It’s even better than the pictures….” Ali breathed out. 

Ash stepped out of the car and took in the beautiful home. It was a gorgeous craftsman style bungalow located in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of DC. “Babe…this house is beautiful.” She agreed as they walked up the front steps to the porch that stretched across the front of the house. 

Tim unlocked the house and turned back to the couple. “So, here’s the catch with this house. It listed yesterday and they’ve already had 15 showings. This place is not going to stick around so if you like it, take that into consideration. We’ll need to move fast.” 

Ali nodded and stepped into the house, Ash right behind her. “Ash…” She whispered and took the rough hand into her own as they walked through the open floor plan. 

“I’ll let you guys walk through…if you need me, I’ll be on the porch.” Tim said quietly before stepping back outside, having learned that the two do better without pressure. 

 

The two women moved from room to room, admiring the architecture of the home. Beautiful wood floors ran through the entire house, except for the tiled bathrooms. The house had been completely remodeled just a year ago. The first floor had a massive living room, expansive kitchen and dining area and giant family room. Upstairs was three bedrooms and, most impressively, a master suite beyond their dreams including hers and hers sinks.

Ali chewed on her lower lip as she watched Ash inspect the home. Yesterday when Ali saw this listing go up, she fell in love immediately and told Tim to add it to their list. Now, as she walked through, she just hoped that the taller brunette felt the same way. “Your silence is killing me…” Ali admitted as they stood in the master suite. 

Ash stuffed her hands in her pockets as she looked around. She wandered into the walk in closet, then into the bathroom. She peered into the shower, admiring the intricate tile work. When she turned around, the shorter brunette was right in front of her. 

“Baby.” Ali started, placing her palms on both sides of Ash’s neck. “Tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.” She searched her favorite hazel eyes and saw the storm of emotion raging through them. 

“I just…” Ash brought her hands to hold Ali’s hips as she blinked a couple times. “This…I grew up a poor kid from Satellite Beach…This. You. The dogs. It’s all just beyond my wildest dreams. Beyond what I was ever supposed to amount to…I mean, can we really live here?” Ash asked, her voice thick with emotion. She couldn’t really believe that she was worthy of a home like this. 

“First off, the only person that decides what you amount to is you. You’ve proven that time and time again.” Ali leaned up and placed a soft kiss on the Sergeant’s lips. “And yes…we can really live here. I love the house but I only want to put in an offer if you love it too.” 

Ash took a deep breath and looked around again at the designer bathroom as she went through the checklist in her mind. It had a massive basement for her work and a home gym, a flagstone patio in the fenced in backyard, a detached garage and four bedrooms including the master suite. It checked every single one of their boxes and more. “Let’s do it.” She said with quiet confidence. 

“Really??” Ali asked in disbelief. “You. We. Really?” She jumped up excitedly, wrapping her legs around Ash’s waist as she crashed their bodies together. 

“Of course, really. Alex. This place is perfect.” She nuzzled her face into the defender’s neck as she hugged her tightly. “I just wish we would’ve looked at this place first. We could’ve been done hours ago…” Ash teased. 

Ali rolled her eyes with a grin before smashing their lips together in a passionate kiss. “I love you.” She breathed out after they broke apart. 

“I love you too. More than I know what to do with.” Ash replied, beaming from ear to ear. “Now let’s go tell your boy downstairs so we can get an offer in before they accept someone else’s.” 

 

Chapter Text

It had been three days since the couple put in their offer on the home and Ali was starting to go crazy. As Ashlyn packed up for her trip back to Fort Bragg, Ali paced back and forth across the bedroom. The taller woman couldn’t help but laugh as Finn faithfully followed Ali as she strode across the room again and again. 

“If you can’t calm down for yourself, at least calm down for him. Little man is going to be passed out in no time if he has to keep up with you all day.” Ash teased lightly as she tossed a couple shirts into her duffle bag.

Ali looked down and was met with the big brown eyes of the Rottweiler puppy. “Oh Finn…” She sighed out and leaned down to pick him up. “I’m not going to be able to pick you up much longer.” She giggled as the puppy licked her face before turning back to Ash. “Should we call Tim? Do you think our offer was enough? Maybe we could add to it…”

Ash shot Deacon an amused glance as the massive German Shepherd was laying across the bed. “You hearing this?” She asked Deke before turning back to Ali. “Babe.” She placed her hands on Ali’s forearms. “We made a very generous offer. It’s out of our hands. Take a deep breath.” She leaned in for a quick kiss before going back to pack. “Plus, you need to be packing too. I’m not the only one leaving today.” She reminded.

Ali groaned and set Finn back on the ground. “I know…” She flopped down on the bed, curling up with Deacon. She was leaving tonight for Tennessee as part of the victory tour from the World Cup. “Are you sure Finn will be okay on the base? With the stuff you guys are going to be doing?” Ali asked as she chewed on her lower lip with worry.

Ash laughed. “I’m not exactly dropping him in the middle of combat. I promise to return both of your boys in one piece.” She smirked as she climbed onto the bed and rolled Ali onto her back, hovering over her. 

Ali ran her hands up the strong torso before lacing her fingers together behind the soldier’s neck, dragging her down into a heated kiss. Just as the moan escaped her lips, she heard her ringtone from the nightstand. “Off! Get off!” She ordered as she pushed her girlfriend off to the side and jumped up to get her phone. 

Ash rolled onto her side and watched the flash of chocolate hair as she tried to get her lust under control. She ran a hand through her hair and took a couple deep breaths. “Good brakes…” She observed, getting a glare from Ali in response. 

When she looked at the screen, Ali immediately got nervous. She looked at Ash with a bit of panic in her eyes. “It’s Tim.” 

Ash couldn’t stop the laugh from leaving her throat. “You’ve been waiting for him to call for two days….are you really going to let it go to voicemail?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.

That was enough to spring Ali into action. She answered the phone and put it on speaker. “Tim, hi. You’re on speaker with Ash and I.”

“Hey ladies. Listen, I’m going to get right to the chase.” He paused for a second. This was it. Ali crawled into Ash’s lap, taking comfort in the strong arms that wrapped around her. She shot a nervous glance up into the hazel eyes before his voice came through the phone speaker again. “You got the house.” 

Ali’s eyes widened like a cartoon character as Ash’s face split into a wide smile. “We got it?” Ali screeched out.

Tim’s laugh came through the phone. “Yeah, you got it. I just need you guys to sign the purchase agreement to finalize it.”

“Oh my god!” Ali tossed the phone onto the mattress and crushed her girlfriend in a hug.

“I love you so much.” Ash whispered into the defender’s ear. “So much.” 

Ali pulled back and stared into the bright hazel eyes, lost in them. “I love you too.” She mouthed back before turning her attention back to the phone. “We can absolutely sign the purchase agreement. We’re both leaving this afternoon for work though.” 

“No problem at all. I can drive it to you.” Tim offered. 

Ali gave him the address of her apartment before hanging up and launching herself into Ashlyn, tumbling them both backwards onto the bed. “I can’t believe it.” She whispered, happiness painted on her face. “Baby?” 

“Yes dear?” Ash grinned up at the woman that held her heart, hands on Ali’s hips.

“We have SO much shopping to do…” Ali cheesed. 

Ash barked out a laugh and rolled her eyes. “Yes dear.” 

 

 

 

Tim had driven over the papers as promised and a couple signatures later, they were well on their way to owning the house. Assuming the appraisal and inspection all went well, the house would be theirs within 30 days. 

When the door clicked shut, Ali let out a big breath. “I can’t believe it.” She walked right into her girlfriend's waiting arms. “It’s going to be hard to beat 2015…” She mused out loud. “You. These two gentlemen.” She nodded towards the dogs. “The World Cup and now a house.” Ali shook her head, her face hurting from smiling so much. 

Ash wrapped her up tightly and nodded. “I know. You’ve got it pretty good….” She teased.

Ali rolled her eyes playfully and gave Ashlyn a gentle shove. “Jerk.” 

“Seriously though, you’re right. This is going to be a hard year to beat.” Ash admitted, lacing her fingers through Ali’s. She placed a kiss just below Ali’s ear. “I have to get going.” She said with a sigh. “Just a couple days, right?” 

“Right.” Ali leaned up and placed a smoldering kiss on her Sergeant’s lips. “Then, someone, has a birthday.” She smiled, pressing their foreheads together. 

“I already told you not to do anything.” Ash warned. “Hell, I wasn’t even in the country for yours…” 

“And you still managed to fill my apartment with flowers and cupcakes…” Ali argued. “Don’t even bother. Plans are already in motion.” 

“Plans? Plural?” Ash raised her eyebrow.

“Nope. No more details. “ Ali gave Ash a smack on the ass. “Get out of here before I lock us both in this apartment and we miss our responsibilities.” 

Ash grinned. “Okay, okay.” She headed into the bedroom and threw her duffle bag over her shoulder before returning to the living room. As she walked in she saw Ali clipping Finn’s leash to his collar. 

“I don’t like being separated from my little family.” Ali pouted, handing over the leash. 

“Back together in no time, right?”

“Right.” Ali agreed and pressed one more kiss to Ash’s lips.

 

 

 

 

That evening back on base, the guys came over for their usual barbecue/bonfire combo but tonight was going to have some work sprinkled in. Jake walked through the door with the rest of the guys and handed Ash a folder. “Here’s all the stuff you asked for.” 

“Thanks Jake.” She took the folder and followed the guys out into the backyard, taking the beer that Mikey handed her as she sat around the patio table.

“Ali did a pretty good job marking her territory, huh?” Travis grinned as he pointed to Ash’s neck.

Ash laughed. “Yeah.” She grinned as she took a swig of her beer. “But at least I won’t be on Fox Sports tomorrow…” She remarked, as she thought of the mark she left on Ali’s neck. “But listen, we’ve got some ground to cover. We’ve had a bit of a break but vacation is over. We need to get to work on selecting our replacements before we move up to DC. We can’t get operational up there until the new team is in place. So…” Ash opened up the folder Jake had given her and pulled out five packets. She passed them out one by one. “These are the top 25 soldiers in your respective fields. I need you guys to narrow it down to your top five and then we’ll bring them in for selection. If you’ve got questions, you’re cleared to reach out to their commanding officer about whatever you need. I want names in 48 hours so we can get training and selection scheduled. Good?”

“Roger that, Sarge. We’ll get it done.” Jake answered.

Ash nodded and then grabbed another stack of folders, passing those out as well. “This is your relocation, pay and benefits package.” Ash smirked. 

“Fuck me….” Sean muttered as he looked through the paperwork. “Seriously?” 

Ash laughed as she watched them flip through the folders with wide eyes. “And Ali and I just worked with a really great realtor if you guys want a name.”

“Worked with? Past tense?” Jake asked with a raised eyebrow. He knew they were looking but hadn’t talked to her today before now. 

“Past tense.” Ash grinned. “We signed the purchase agreement this morning.” 

The squad all broke out in cheers and clinked their beer bottles together. “Our Sarge is all grown up.” Mikey cheesed. 

“Yeah, yeah.” Ash smirked as she pet the sleeping puppy in her lap. “So anyway…start thinking about where you want to live. I’m hoping to have us operational by December which means we’re going to have to hustle.”

They spent the rest of the night going through each file, making yes and no piles that would potentially make up the next Medic, Explosives Specialist, Sniper, Second in Command and Team Leader of Delta Force Bravo.

Chapter Text

Chapter 44

 

Ashlyn woke up at the crack of dawn like always. The stress and self doubt had come on like a tidal wave, completely unexpected, and now she found herself caught up in the riptide. She rolled out of bed, straight onto the floor, as she cranked out 25 push ups. When she popped up onto her feet, she pulled a tank top over her sports bra and slipped her Nikes on. Immediately, her brain started to flood with all the questions of whether or not she was enough. Enough for her team, enough for the CIA, most importantly, enough for Ali. 

After feeding the dogs and drinking a quick protein shake, the trio headed to the private Special Forces gym on base. Ever since joining the Army, Ashlyn found that exercise was her best avenue for stress relief. It took all the pent up aggression and gave it a release. The unexpected benefit to her physique wasn’t too bad either. She had muscles and definition most men would kill for. 

An hour and a half later, Jake walked into the gym and was met with the sight of his Sergeant doing pull ups with a 50 pound weight dangling from her waist. The fact that she was drenched in sweat let him know she had been here for awhile. 

Ashlyn had seen him enter but kept her pace, completing another 10 pull ups before slowly lowering herself back to the ground. She welcomed the ache she was starting to feel course through her body as she pushed all of her lifts to their max. She had started the workout with a two mile run and since then it had been nothing but heavy weights. Silently, she moved over to the incline bench and started her 45 pound dumbbell curls.

“Early start?” Jake asked as he hopped on the treadmill for his warm up. He’d seen this version of Ashlyn before but it was rare so he knew to tread lightly. 

“Yeah.” The Sergeant grunted out, not offering anything else up as she bent her arms up over and over again. When she was done with the set, she racked the weights and wiped her face with a towel. “I’ll see you later.” 

Without another word she was gone, dogs in tow.

 

 

 

Ali had noticed a shift in her girlfriend, too. She was still traveling for the victory tour but she couldn’t help noticing that her favorite voice sounded sadder. Heavier. When she brought it up on their phone calls, the taller brunette brushed it off, chalking it up to being tired, but Ali couldn’t help thinking there was something more to it. As she got ready to board the plane to head back to DC, she fired off one last text message. 

Alex: Hey handsome. Getting on the plane. Can’t wait to be back in your arms. Love you. 

She sent a quick selfie with the text, hoping to put a smile on her girl’s face.

 

 

 

That evening, Ali was dancing around her kitchen as she waited for Ash and their boys to get back up to DC. The dinner she was making was one of Ash’s favorites: steak, mac and cheese, and a side salad. She figured between dinner, whiskey and the lingerie she had under her clothes, there was no way Ashlyn was going to stay in her bad mood. Not if Ali had something to say about it. 

20 minutes later, her face broke out into a smile as she heard a key slip into the lock on the door. She took a sip of her wine before heading to the living room to greet her little family. 

Ashlyn had two large duffle bags filled with clothes, one draped over each shoulder as she walked through the door out of breath. “Elevator’s busted.” She sighed out. The entire drive up from North Carolina, she had promised herself that she was leaving her bad mood back at base but when she had to haul her entire wardrobe up 7 flights of stairs she felt it creep back in with each step. 

“Oh, babe…” Ali sighed out sympathetically with a tilt of her head. “Come here.” She reached up, cupping both cheeks with her hands after Ashlyn had dropped the duffle bags. She could practically feel the tension coming off the soldier in waves. “I missed you.” She breathed out before bringing their lips together in a tender kiss. 

Ashlyn let her hands slip around to Ali’s lower back, seeking solace in the warm embrace. She was eager to feel the calming effects that the defender always had on her and she returned the kiss with a content hum. “I missed you too.” 

Ali let her hands roam down Ash’s neck, collar bone, and then rest high on her chest. She pulled back a little when she felt the normally solid chest feel more like granite. Her eyes raked over the soldier, really taking her in. The normally bright eyes looked tired and weary but the rest of her, damn. “Jesus, Sergeant….” Ali moved her hands to Ash’s arms and squeezed her biceps. “Are you sure we were only apart for a week and a half?” 

Ash smiled shyly. “I’ve been doing two-a-days at the gym…trying to get ready for training up the new guys and then transitioning up here.” 

“Um…it shows.” Ali swallowed hard, trying to keep her desire under control. She ran her hands up through the short hair of her girlfriend. “I’m making dinner. It should be done it like 10 minutes. Can I pour you a drink?”

“That would be great.” Ash admitted as she stared down into the warm brown eyes she loved so much. She was amazed as Ali started to remove her stress piece by piece. No one had ever done that before. Or maybe she had never let anyone. 

“Coming right up.” Ali gave her another quick peck. “Right after I say hi to these two heartbreakers.” She kneeled down and wrapped an arm around each doggie neck. “How are my favorite men, huh?” She ruffled their necks and placed kisses on each snout. “You, sir” She addressed Finn “Are growing by the second.” She gave them both one more squeeze before heading into the kitchen and pouring Ash a drink. 

Ash took the moment to drag the duffle bags into the bedroom. She was trying to move stuff up each time she came so there wouldn’t be a need for a moving truck. She pulled her 9mm out from the small of her back and tucked it into the nightstand that had unofficially become hers before heading back into the kitchen. 

“Take a seat.” Ali ordered with a smile. “Dinner’s ready.” She set the two plates down before taking a seat across from her girlfriend.

Ashlyn took a sip of whiskey and then looked at her plate, her mouth immediately starting to water. “Alex. This looks amazing.” She blinked down at her dream meal. “Is this?” 

“Your grandma’s? Yeah.” Ali’s nose crinkled with her smile. “She emailed me the recipe. So cute that she emails…I hope I can do it justice.” When she watched Ashlyn take a bite and her eyes rolled into the back of her head, she took that as a good sign.

“Ugh….so good.” Ash praised, reaching across for Ali’s hand and looking her in the eye. “Thank you.” 

Ali squeezed the hand with a smile. They ate in comfortable silence, with the occasional small talk, before Ali decided to tread into deeper waters. “So…do you want to tell me what’s been bothering you?” She asked gently.

Ash involuntarily straightened her back, feeling her muscles tense up. “What are you talking about? I’m fine.” 

Ali fought the urge to roll her eyes as her girlfriend put on the macho front. ‘Okay, we’re doing it the hard way.’ She thought. “Ash.” She waited until the hazel eyes looked up and met hers. “I didn’t make your favorite meal, pair it with your favorite whiskey and put on your favorite lingerie…” She waited a moment for the words to sink in “…because you’re fine. I did all those things because I know something’s up and I want to help you through it.” She laced their fingers together as she continued. “I know you too well and I love you too much to be wrong about this.” Ali said confidently. “I just wish you’d trust me with whatever's going on in that head of yours.” 

The gentleness in those warm brown eyes knocked down Ashlyn’s walls as she let out a big sigh. “Did you say lingerie?” Ash asked with a small grin.

Ali rolled her eyes and gave the Sergeant a smack. “I’m being serious.” She huffed.

“I know.” Ash tugged Ali out of the chair and into her lap, wrapping both arms around her waist. “I just got, like, bombarded with stress…” She rested her chin on the defender’s shoulder, leaning their heads together. “And I’ve always just dealt with it on my own…so I was dealing with it on my own.”

Ali placed her hands on top of the strong ones holding her waist. “Well, you’re not alone anymore.” She nuzzled against the solid frame. “And I hate knowing something is off but not knowing if it’s me or if there’s something I could do to help.” 

“It’s not you.” Ash confirmed immediately, feeling bad that she ever made Ali wonder that. “It’s…everything…it’s selecting who’s going to replace me. Making sure they’re ready because if they’re not people could die. Literally.” She blinked a couple times. “And then getting ready for the new job and making sure that it all goes well. We’re going to be the first ones to do this. We could make or break this program. All the while, I want to make sure I have enough time for you and the house and all of the stuff that we need to do…the shopping and packing and paint colors or whatever…I don’t want you to have to do all that stuff alone…” She shrugs, looking down at the floor. 

“Well…” Ali turned in Ash’s lap a little, running her fingers through the soft short hair. “When you say it like that, it definitely sounds like a lot.” Ali admitted. “But you’re the most incredible person I know and if anyone can do it, you can.” She placed a loving kiss on Ash’s lips. “And the house will be fine. We’ll shop when we can and that’ll be that. If it takes us a little extra time, no problem.” When Ali looked back into Ash’s eyes, the soldier looked amazed, bordering on confused. “What?” Ali asked.

Ash shook her head in wonderment. “You just…melt it all away.” She blinked a couple times, taking in the beautiful features of the smaller woman’s face. “You call me on my shit, force me to talk about it, and now I feel 100 pounds lighter just by saying it out loud..”

Ali’s face broke out into a wide, genuine smile, pleased that her plan had worked. “I’m glad.” She ran her hands through the soft short hair once again. “Just promise me, next time you’ll come to me with what’s bothering you?”

“I promise.” Ash agreed, placing a kiss on Ali’s palm. 

“Good.” Ali said, looking back into those hazel eyes she adored. “Do you remember those first two days in California? When we met?” 

“Of course I do.” Ash said, unsure of where this was going. 

“You spent a good portion of those days trying to convince me that you weren’t good enough to date me.” She reminded the Sergeant, lovingly. “And now here we are, almost a year later, madly in love with two dogs and a house. You know what that tells me?” 

“Hmm?”

“You are so much more than you know. You are so much more than you give yourself credit for. Get out of your own head and just let yourself do what you do. If you can manage that, you’ll pick the perfect replacement and the CIA gig will take off without a hitch.” 

Ash felt the blush creep up her neck, trying to shy away from the praise as she buried her face in the crook of Ali’s neck. 

“Feel better?” Ali asked. When she got a nod from the face buried in her neck, she let out a small laugh. “Well, then…” She got just enough distance between them so she could straddle the soldier’s strong hips. She reached down to the hem of her cotton navy dress and pulled it over her head, revealing navy lace lingerie. “I put this on, just so you could take it off of me. I’m gonna need you to do something about that…” She husked against Ash’s ear, grinding her hips down into her lap.

Chapter Text

Ashlyn started to pull out of her sleepy haze as she felt the weight on her hips. She hummed in appreciation as she felt the hands roam over her chest. “Mmm…Alex.” She mumbled as she stretched out her muscles and rubbed at her own face. “What time is it?” When she finally pried her eyes open she saw the beautiful brunette sitting on her waist, looking down at her with excitement written on her face. 

“It’s time to get up! Happy birthday, babe!” Ali cradled the jaw beneath her and leaned forward for a quick kiss.

Ash blinked a couple times, trying to clear the fog. “Um…my…” She cleared her throat to get rid of the sleepy husk. “My birthday is in two days.” She put her hands on the strong bare thighs of her girlfriend, giving them a squeeze. 

“I know that. “ Ali giggled, placing her hands on top of Ash’s. “But celebration starts now.” She reached behind her back and brought around an envelope, handing it over. “Happy birthday.” Ali said again as she handed over the envelope.

Ashlyn hauled herself up into a sitting position, keeping Ali in her lap and placing a kiss on her cheek. “Thank you, babe.” She smiled, pressing her forehead against Ali’s.

“You haven’t even opened it yet, goofball.” Ali ran her hands through the short brown locks of her girlfriend, smoothing them down. 

“Still…” Ash smiled, soaking in this moment. She’d never shared her adult birthdays with a significant other. Usually, she was in some foreign country with the guys, bartering with the locals for a six pack of beer while counting down the days until she would get a hot shower. This year she was woken up by the most beautiful woman she had ever laid eyes on, feeling more loved than she thought possible.

Ali bounced up and down a little bit excitedly. “Open it!” She poked the soldier in the stomach.

“Okay, okay.” Ash laughed and tore open the envelope, pulling out it’s contents. She blinked a couple times before looking up into the warm whiskey colored eyes that had stolen her heart. “Al?” 

Ali chewed on her lower lip, suddenly feeling nervous. “Do you like it?”

“Baby…” Ash looked down at the two airplane tickets. “I…I don’t know what to say.” 

Ali took the hesitation as a bad sign. “We don’t have to go. It was a silly idea.” She started to move herself off of Ashlyn’s lap. 

“No, no, no.” Ash set the tickets down and engulfed the smaller woman in a hug. When she pulled back, she looked into the eyes she loved so much. “No one has ever done something this nice for me before…” Ash admitted, as she felt her throat tighten with emotion. 

“Well…I just thought, we haven’t been able to go…and we’ve talked about it and if we don’t do it now, who knows when we’ll be able to because of your new job and -“ Ali’s rant was silenced with a bruising kiss. When they broke apart, Ali took a deep calming breath. “We need to get ready. It’s…” She glanced at the clock on her nightstand. “4:15 and we need to be out of here by  5:15 to catch our flight. Oh, and the boys are coming with us.”

“But-“ 

Ali pressed a finger to Ash’s lips. “I already worked everything out with your family.” She crinkled her nose in her smile. “And Jake knows. But we need to get moving if we’re going to make our flight to Orlando.” 

“You’re perfect.” Ash sighed happily. “Perfect.” She pressed her forehead against Ali’s. “This is exactly what I need.” The Sergeant admitted as her hands started to roam up the defender’s chest.

“Ah ah ah” Ali swatted the hands away. “No time for that.” She smirked. “Besides…I think I’m dehydrated after last night.” Ali winked as she climbed off the strong frame of the soldier, still naked, and sauntered out of the bedroom. “I’ll start coffee.” 

“Best. Birthday. Ever.” Ash grinned, admiring Ali’s bare body as it walked out of the bedroom. 

“Stop staring at my ass and get in the shower” Ali called over her shoulder. 

 

 

 

The couple managed to pack bags for Ashlyn and the dogs (Ali already having her own bag packed) and caught their flight with time to spare. They kicked off the birthday celebrations with champagne on the plane as Finn slept on Ali’s lap, the ever-growing puppy spilling over on both sides. Deacon was a flying pro, curled up at Ash’s feet instead of the seat that was purchased for him. After collecting their bags from baggage claim, Ali picked up the keys to the rental car and headed outside. As they walked through the lot, Ali unlocked the sleek Camaro convertible. 

“Ugh…I love you.” Ash grinned as she eyed the sports car. 

Ali tossed the keys to the Sergeant with a shining grin. “You’re driving, stud.” 

Ash loaded the bags into the trunk and slipped on her Ray-Ban aviators as Ali got the dogs into the backseat. As soon as Ash was seated, she lowered the roof. Before she could put it into drive, Ali reached across and tugged the soldier across the console by the dog tags dangling around her neck. 

“I love you.” Ali mumbled out before crashing their lips together. The next several minutes were spent in a heated make out session. When they broke apart, Ali brought her phone out and squeezed them together for a selfie with the dogs in the background. She tossed the photo on Instagram and settled into her seat. “Let’s go! I can’t wait to meet the infamous ‘Grams’!”

Ash laughed and looked down at the manual transmission, a devilish grin breaking out. “Oh, I’m gonna drive the shit out of this thing later…” She slipped the car into first gear and pulled out of the spot. 

Ali bit her lower lip, slipping on her oversized sunglasses. “Jake helped pick out the rental.” 

As they pulled out of the garage and into the warm Florida sun, Ali’s heart filled with happiness. She watched as the remaining tension her soldier had been wearing washed off instantly. They enjoyed the nearly hour drive from the airport to Satellite Beach, hands linked together. Ash pointed out landmarks as they passed by. When they pulled off the expressway, butterflies took over in Ali’s stomach. She’d never admit it, but she was nervous. She planned to spend the rest of her life with the woman on her left so meeting her family was a big step. It would mean the world to her to gain their approval. 

Ash navigated the roads by memory, smiling at each corner. “That’s my high school.” She pointed out. A couple minutes later, she pointed left. “And that’s the skate park.” Ash smiled and took a deep breath, savoring the salty ocean air. 

“Where you got all the girls?” Ali teased.

Ash barked out a laugh and rolled her eyes. “Something like that…” She turned into a neighborhood, getting closer and closer to the ocean. A minute later they pulled down a narrow driveway, coming to a stop in front of a cozy little beach house. 

Ash slipped the convertible into neutral and pulled the parking brake. She tried to stifle the grin on her face. “Ready to meet the Harrises?”

Ali ran her hand through her long hair, tossing it over her right shoulder and giving Ash her biggest smile. “So ready.” 

Chapter Text

Ash helped Finn out of the backseat before coming around the car to join Ali and Deacon, slipping her hand into Ali’s smaller one. The Sergeant felt like she could burst from the happiness filling her chest. As the four walked up to the house, the front door creaked open and a mountain of a man filled the frame.

“Ash!” The man Ali recognized as Chris from countless pictures bellowed and started his run towards the women. 

Unfortunately, Deacon had other plans. The massive German Shepherd hunched down in front of his moms and bared his teeth, snapping out loud intimidating barks as he tried to protect them from the threat he saw approaching. The move startled everyone but Ash, who couldn’t help but laugh. “Deke. No.” 

The simple command caused Deacon to straighten out his legs and the fur started to settle down against his back as his ears perked back up. 

“That’s just your idiot uncle.” Ash grinned as she ruffled the Shepherd’s neck.

“What the fuck was that?” Chris asked, weary of the dog as he approached much slower. 

Ali, eager to hear the answer, glanced back and forth. She’d never seen the dog be so protective before, only hearing stories. 

“Well what did you expect to happen, dummy? You’re a friggin’ house of a man and you rushed up.” She laughed. “He’s literally trained to stop you.” She smirked as she let go of Ali’s hand and wrapped her colossal brother up in a bear hug. 

Chris squeezed the air out of his sister’s lungs before turning to the soccer star. “And you must be the famous Ali. I’m a hugger.” He smirked before pulling her into a similarly crushing hug. “Thanks for getting this one down here.” 

Ali returned the hug with a big smile. “Oh gosh, of course. I just wish we could’ve done it sooner.” 

“Well, you were busy winning World Cups and stuff…” Chris grinned. “Gram and I watched the final.” He winked over at his sister. “Nice kiss, by the way.”

Ash chuckled as she remembered the kiss that ended up plastered on newspapers across the country. “Yeah…it was a pretty good one.” 

“Alright, alright. Enough. Get up here!” A voice called from the front porch. 

Ash craned her neck around her brother to see the hero of her childhood standing in the doorway. “Yes ma’am.” She grinned as she took Ali’s hand once again, pulling her towards the front door. “Hi Gram” Ash sighed happily as she craned down to wrap the gray haired woman in a hug. She breathed in the comforting scent of the Harris matriarch before pulling away and turning to Ali. “Gram, this is Ali Krieger.”

The older woman swatted at the Sergeant, rolling her eyes. “I know who she is. Come here, Ali.” She smiled warmly at the brunette and hugged her in that classic grandmother way. “It’s so good to finally meet you in person.” 

Ali returned the hug, smiling from ear to ear. “I know! For how much we’ve talked, I can’t believe this is the first time we’re seeing each other in person.” 

Ash bit her lower lip, watching the two most important women in her life interact. It meant the world to her that Ali had been so eager to email and FaceTime with her grandmother, invested in getting to know the woman that had shaped Ashlyn despite their geographical distance. 

“You two meatheads get the bags. Ali and I are going to start happy hour on the back porch.” Gram said, turning into the house, before turning back. “With my great grandsons.” She whistled a little, getting the dogs attention before tossing them each a biscuit. “Come on.” She called the dogs before they disappeared into the house.

“Unbelievable.” Ash muttered, watching her dogs disappear with Ali and Gram. Once they were out of eyesight, she felt the arm of her brother drag her into a headlock. “Ack!” She reached over to his stomach and grabbed as much skin as she could, pinching and twisting at the same time until he released her.

Chris laughed as he rubbed the sore spot. “It was a lot more fun picking on you before the Army turned you into a badass.” He complained as they walked towards the Camaro. “You did good, kid.” Chris admitted as he jabbed his thumb back at the door Ali had disappeared through. “She’s a 10…” 

“She’s a 12.” Ash corrected immediately as she got a dopey look of happiness at the thought of her girlfriend. “She’s perfect.” Before she could get too wrapped up, she turned the tables on her brother as she pulled the bags from the trunk. “What about you? Still habitually single? Can’t find anyone that can deal with your ugly mug?”

Chris laughed and gave his sister a shove. “Pssh…please. You know how many doors I’ve had to replace because they keep knocking them down?” He shot her a cocky grin before grabbing a  bag and following her towards the house. “There actually is someone…She’s going to come around for dinner while you’re here so you can meet her.”

Ash looked up at her brother, reading his face closely and seeing nothing but happiness there. “Wow…look at us, all grown up. Who would’ve thought, huh?” 

“Not me, that’s for sure…” Chris admitted as they walked through the front door and up the stairs to Ashlyn’s old room. They dropped the bags off before heading back downstairs and joining the women on the back deck. 

Ash placed a tender kiss on top of Ali’s head and squeezed her shoulder lovingly, perching on the arm of the defender’s chair. “So? How bad have the stories gotten so far?” She asked, eyes darting between Ali and Gram as Ali leaned into her side.

Gram rolled her eyes. “Who says we’re talking about you?” The older woman raised an eyebrow as Ali chuckled quietly. 

“Oh, that’s funny?” Ash looked down, tickling at Ali’s ribs.

“Truce!” Ali swatted away Ash’s hands, anything to stop the tickling.

“Mmhmm.” The Sergeant smiled at the dogs that were both staring out at the ocean eagerly.

“Ash, why don’t you show Ali around? Chris has to run to the grocery store and I’m going to start on dinner.” Gram suggested as she started to get up. 

“Are you sure? I can help with dinner.” Ali offered.

“Oh, no no. You need to go see the ocean.” Gram urged as she patted her shoulder. “You guys go. I’ll be fine.” 

Ash smiled and held her hand out for Ali to take. “Let’s show you Satellite Beach.” 

Ali laced their fingers together and stood with a glowing smile. “I can’t wait. Let me just change. Show me where we’re staying?” 

“Yeah, of course. Come on guys” Ash called the dogs to follow them as she lead them through the house and up the stairs to her room. She stepped aside in the hallway and let Ali go through first. 

The smaller brunette gasped excitedly as she walked through the door. Her eyes danced over the walls. It was obvious nothing had changed since Ashlyn was a young teenager. “Oh my….” She glanced over at Ash. “You know what the guys would pay me for pictures of this room?” Ali teased as she looked around at the posters and pictures the Delta Force team could use to mercilessly tease their Sergeant. 

Ash narrowed her eyes at her girlfriend. “Don’t even think about it. I’ve got your mom, brother and Pinoe all in my phone…I won’t think twice about retaliating.”

Ali held her hands up in surrender. “Touché.” She spun slowly as she took in the details. “Jesus, Ashlyn…A Coyote Ugly poster?” She giggled at the poster of the barely dressed women wedged between surfing posters. 

Ash laughed and stepped up behind her girlfriend, wrapping her arms low around Ali’s waist with her lips against her ear. “In my defense…the brunette is the one I had thing for…” Ash pointed out, noticing the similarities between the woman in her arms and the woman on the poster.

“Nice save…” Ali turned in the embrace, slipping her arms around the soldier’s neck and pulling her down into a heated kiss. Ali raked the soldier’s lower lip through her teeth as they broke apart. “Help me out of this shirt?” She husked out, appreciating the darkness that filled her favorite hazel eyes. 

“Gladly.” The strong fingers grabbed the hem of the shirt and stripped it off, leaving Ali in a creamy lace bra. As Ash’s eyes raked over her body, she shook her head in astonishment. “You get more stunning every time I look at you…” She brought a hand around to her girlfriend’s back and unclipped the bra with ease, a skill that secretly turned on the defender. When the bra hit the ground, Ash craned her neck down. Just as her lips were about to make contact with the defender’s breast, “ASH” bellowed through the house. Her brother’s booming voice came up from downstairs. Ash jerked upright and sighed in sexual frustration. “Well…that’s something I don’t miss…” 

Ali raised a manicured eyebrow as she eyed her girlfriend. “Oh? Had a lot of girls shirtless in your room over the years?”

Ash suddenly found herself in the middle of a minefield. “What? I…No…that’s not…” Ash sighed when her brother called again. Instead of digging the hole deeper, she ran a hand through her hair and walked into the hallway. She was met with the sight of Chris at the bottom of the stairs, a mischievous glint in his eyes and smirk on his lips.

“Whatcha doin?” He asked, making a vulgar hip thrusting motion out of his grandmother’s eyesight. This was something they used to do when they were younger. From a different room, it would seem like a harmless conversation. The gestures made it a little more risqué. 

Ashlyn didn’t hesitate in raising a middle finger in her brother’s direction. “Oh nothing. Hey, Chris, I forgot to ask you.” She made sure her voice was loud enough to carry into the kitchen. “Did you take Gram’s pies down to the shelter again this year for Fourth of July?” She leveled a challenging look at her brother as if to say ‘bring it.’

Chris’s face looked shocked and he immediately stopped his air-thrusting. For as long as they could remember, their grandmother had made pies from scratch for the local shelter every holiday. A few years back, Chris had started dropping the pies off for her. Well, that’s what she thought anyways. In actuality, the pies were the big man’s weakness. The first year, the scent of freshly baked pie was too much to bear. He ate the entire pie as he sat in the front seat of his car. The guilt caused him to buy twice as many pies from local bakery as replacement and the shelter was thrilled with how many pies he dropped off. He’d been doing the same thing every year since. “You wouldn’t….” Chris whisper-yelled.

“Try me.” Ash said, feeling much more confident. 

The man shot a glance over his shoulder before looking back up at his sister. “Well played.” With that, he disappeared out the door to go to the grocery store. 

Ash smirked triumphantly and turned around. The sight she was met with had her nearly collapse against the hallway wall. The window from her bedroom had Alexandra Krieger basking in warm Florida sun. She had taken the time while the siblings were bickering to change into a teal string bikini and pull her hair into a high ponytail. Ali sauntered up and pressed their bodies flush against each other.

“Careful, Sergeant. You're drooling…” Ali teased playfully, knowing she was torturing her girlfriend between the bikini and the use of the soldier’s title.  “Why don’t you change so we can go to the beach and you can help me with this suntan lotion?” 

“That…” Ash cleared her throat, trying to rid it of the obvious desire as her hands ran over the defender’s ass. “That sounds like a plan.” 

Chapter Text

The couple spent the afternoon on the beach, trading between naps, kisses and playing with the dogs in the ocean. Currently, they were enjoying a couple of beers on the large beach towel, Ali sitting between the soldier’s legs with her back pressed into the strong chest. 

Ali ran her hand up and down the strong calf as she soaked in the warmth of both the Florida sun and her girlfriend’s embrace. “Have you guys figured out your replacements?” She asked casually as Ash grabbed the tennis ball and threw it across the beach for the dogs to chase. 

Ash took a long gulp from her beer before resting her chin on Ali’s shoulder. “Um…sorta…We’ve identified 25 potentials…we’re bringing them in for selection and training….which means you won’t see much of me for about a month…” She sighed.

“Hey…” Ali turned a little, reaching back and up to cup the strong jaw behind her and look her in the eye. “That’s ok. Short term loss for a long term gain, right? Once you train those guys, you’ll be living in our beautiful house in DC.” Ali tilted her head up for a chaste kiss. “So…do these soldiers like…apply…or?”

Ash tossed the ball again, both of them laughing as Finn tried to keep up with Deacon. “No…you can’t apply. You have to be selected. So, we’ve got it narrowed down to five for each of us. We’ll run them through some interviews and testing…it was easy getting down to five…getting down to one, that’s going to be hard…” 

“Any women?” Ali asked, curiously.

Ash shook her head, watching the waves crash against the shore. Finn crawled into Ali’s lap and curled up for a nap, tuckered out from chasing his big brother. 

“Why do you think that is?” Ali wondered out loud as she traced patterns on Ash’s leg. 

Ash shrugs a little. “A lot of my success was luck…” When she felt Ali start to protest, she quickly continued. “I’m not trying to be humble…it’s true. Physically and genetically I hit the Special Forces jackpot. I’m 5’10”, 175 pounds…I’m right on par with a lot of the guys so they don’t have to worry about whether or not I can drag a body.” Ash reached out and laced their fingers together loosely. “There’s so many women in the military that have all the skills..incredible marksmen, quick thinkers…they’re just not big enough…” Ash got a far-off look on her face.

Ali squeezed the hand and brought Ash’s knuckle’s to her lips. “I don’t tell you enough how amazing you are…”  

Ash leaned down to nip at the defender’s neck.  Before it could go any further, Ash heard the patio door from her grandmother's house open and close. Her eyes quickly followed the noise. “Mom?” Ash whispered out, feeling her throat tighten and her eyes well up. Ali’s own eyes teared at the raw emotion pouring out of her girlfriend. Admittedly, she was nervous about this part of her plan, having heard all about their strained relationship. She had given Ash a heads up that her mom was coming at some point this weekend but seeing it actually happen was a storm of emotion. 

When Ash had enlisted in the Army, her mom was still battling her addiction. To say that their relationship was strained at that time, would be a massive understatement. It wasn’t until the Sergeant was 23 that her mom managed to kick the habit. Since then, the universe and bad timing had kept them apart. On six separate occasions Ashlyn had planned to come down and see her mom, only to be deployed to manage some crisis instead. Fate had forced them to reconcile over the years through Skype and emails.

Now, for the first time in a decade, the soldier was looking at her mother in person instead of through a computer screen. 

Ashlyn carefully extricated herself from her girlfriend before heading towards her mom. With every step, her pace quickened until she was running through the sand. Tears ran down her face as she stepped into the waiting arms, crushing her mom in a hug. In that moment Ashlyn Harris wasn’t a Sergeant First Class. She wasn’t a member of Delta Force. She was just a daughter, getting a long overdue hug from her mother. 

Ali watched as Tammye held the taller woman. Watched as her normally stoic girlfriend’s body shook with silent sobs. 

“Oh my sweet girl…” Tammye cooed, rubbing her hands up and down the soldier’s strong back. The pair held each other tightly as they cried, letting go of all the pain and heartache bad decisions and distance had caused them. “I’m so sorry, Ashlyn. I’m so so sorry.”

Ash pulled back and rubbed a hand over her face, forcing the tears away. “Hey, no. We’ve already done all that. It’s just so good to see you.” Ash said, dismissing the apology.

Tammye looked up into her daughter’s hazel eyes, searching for any sign of lingering anger or resentment but finding none. “It’s good to see you too.” She wiped her own tears away and took a deep breath to steady herself. “Now, introduce me to this girlfriend of yours.” She nodded over Ash’s shoulder towards where the brunette was standing with Deacon and Finn.

The request brought Ash back to reality. “Oh god. Right.” She turned around and met the warm misty eyes of her girlfriend as Ali walked up to them. ‘Babe, this is my mom.” Ali noticed the slight tightening of Ash’s voice when she said ‘mom,' a word she hadn't used as much as most kids, but excited to use it now. “Mom, this is Ali.” 

Ali gave a mega-watt smile as she extended her hand. “Mrs. Harris. It’s so nice to meet you.” 

The older woman hauled the soccer star into a hug. Harrises were famous for their hugs. “Oh honey, call me Tammye.” When they broke apart, Tammye looked directly at Ali. “Thank you.” She choked out.

Ali bit her lip to keep from crying and just nodded. Luckily for the three of them, Finn specialized in brevity. The clumsy puppy flipped onto his back and barked as he kicked his feet up in the air, trying to claim some attention from the humans among him. 

Tammye smiled and kneeled down in the sand, rubbing the puppy’s stomach with one hand and petting Deacon with the other. “Gram says you two are supposed to go get ready. Dinner is in an hour and a half.” 

Ash slipped her hand into Ali’s as they all made their way back into the house. Tammye split off to go help Gram with dinner while the couple headed back into their room with the dogs. Once inside, Ash shut the door and hoisted Ali off the ground, wrapping her up in a hug. “I love you so much, Alex.” 

“Yeah? That was okay? I was kinda nervous…I know you said you wanted to see her but…” She trailed off, leaning back a little in the embrace so she could see Ash’s face. 

“It was more than okay. You managed to do something that I’ve been trying to do for 5 years…” She pressed her forehead against Ali’s. “I can’t tell you how much that meant to me…”

“You don’t have to tell me.” Ali smiled. “I can see it all over your face.” 

Ash took in the face in front of her. Her eyes traced over every feature she had memorized long ago before her gaze settled back on the defender’s eyes. When she spoke, her voice was thick with quiet conviction. “I’m gonna marry you one day…” 

Ali raked her hands through the soldier’s hair, nails scraping gently across her scalp. “You better…”

Chapter Text

The rest of the trip to Florida went by in a flash. They were only able to stay for three days but they made the most of every minute. The first day was spent reuniting with Ashlyn’s immediate family over dinner. Chris even brought his girlfriend, Lauren, who everyone loved. Ali and Lauren talked soccer and wine, finding common ground over both. The next morning Ali woke up to an empty bed, something she had come accustomed to. This time, however, instead of in the gym she found her girlfriend out in the ocean. Watching her soldier carve through the waves in only board shorts and a sports bra is when Ali learned just how sexy surfing could be. That evening was spent on the beach. Ashlyn’s hometown friends and family had all come in for a birthday bonfire on the shore. Even Alex Morgan and Serv mad the trip over from Orlando. All in all, it was a perfect trip. 

After making their way through Dulles airport, the couple managed the small drive back to Ali’s apartment. They picked up a pizza on the way and took the dogs for a quick walk/bathroom break. Once inside Ash took their bags down to the bedroom, giving Ali the perfect opportunity to run to the closet and get the birthday present hidden inside. She set it on the coffee table before going in search of her girlfriend. Ali stepped up behind her, wrapping her arms around the strong torso and leaning up a bit to rest her chin on Ash’s shoulder. 

Ash placed her hands on top of the delicate ones resting on her stomach. “Thank you again, Alex. This weekend was the perfect birthday present.” She tilted her her head back against Ali’s and smiled.

“Oh you think that was your birthday present?” Ali smirked. “I guess I can go return what’s on the coffee table, then….or maybe I’ll just keep it for myself.” She teased, turning and starting to walk out of the bedroom. 

“Hey, hey, hey” Ash grabbed her quickly and tossed Ali over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry, laughing at the squeal that came from Ali’s lips. She gave Ali a playful pat on the butt as they walked down the hallway and back into the living room. “You really shouldn’t have gotten me anything else.” Ash said as she set the woman back down to her feet, eyeing the box on the coffee table. 

“Well, tough…I did…now open it up so we can eat pizza!” Ali giggled, perching herself on the arm of the couch and tugging Ash down next to her. Ash flopped down next to her and brought the gift into her lap. As she moved to open the gift, Finn jumped up and started to bite on the corners of the box to help unwrap the present. Before he could do any damage, Ali scooped in to intercept the puppy. 

Ash laughed and finished the job of unwrapping the present, her face breaking into a wide smile. “Babe.” She ran her hands over the box containing the Audio-Technica record player. “I love it!” 

Ali beamed, pleased with the gift she had picked out. “I thought it would be perfect for the new house and you kept talking about how good the sound was on that record player at Lori’s so I got a recommendation from her.” 

“It’s perfect.” Ash smiled, leaning in for a kiss. “Thank you babe. Best birthday yet.” 

 

 

 

The next morning, Ash got up early and started the drive back down to North Carolina. Maybe it’s because they were so close to the finish line but the goodbyes were getting harder and the drives were getting longer. Instead of focusing on missing her girl, she focused on all the things she needed to do. Selection started tomorrow and she needed to be ready.

When she got back to base, it was a quick change of clothes before she met up with the guys and got straight to work. When she walked into the Delta Force headquarters, the team was hard at work. Ammo was being loaded into crates, rifles were stripped and reassembled. The dive gear was checked over to make sure all the o-ring seals were functioning properly. 

Ashlyn walked to the front of the room and cleared her throat. “Okay, listen up.” She looked around, meeting eyes with the members of her team, the two team leaders of the other Delta Force teams and the leader of Seal Team Six. “Candidates arrive at 0400. They’re parachuting in here…” She indicated on the map where the landing zone was. “LZ is a 50 foot diameter. Missing LZ is immediate dismissal. Clear?” When she heard the chorus of ‘Clear’ come back, she continued. “Training starts right from there. Goal is to have 25 candidates down to 15 in the first 48 hours. You all have full authority to dismiss candidates as needed.” She flipped the cork board over to show all 25 candidates with pictures, backgrounds, operational history and specialty trainings. “This serves as mission control for the next three weeks. Questions?” When none were asked, the soldiers got back to work. Tomorrow was going to kick off a very long three weeks. 

 

 

The next morning, Ashlyn hauled herself out of bed at 0230. An ice cold shower, forced all of her senses awake before she pulled on her full tactical load out. Instead of arming herself with the usual firearms, she grabbed a second set that all had an orange strip of tape around the handles. The guns were specially fitted to fire paintballs instead of bullets but otherwise, they preformed exactly the same. Deacon waited patiently for his vest while he watched Ashlyn get ready. Finn was staying up in DC with Ali. As eager as he was, selection was no place for a puppy.

Once geared up, Ash and Deacon hopped into the back of Jake’s truck to join the rest of the team before heading to the hanger. Ash left Deacon with one of the soldier’s she knew before climbing up into the Apache helicopter as the blades spun overhead. “Blackbeard main, this is Blackbeard actual. How copy?” Ash asked, feeling that same adrenaline rush she got any time she was getting ready to start an op.

“Actual, this is main. Loud and clear.”

“Whiplash?”

“Loud and clear, Blackbeard.”

Ash looked across the tarmac to the other helicopter, where Lieutenant Rourke had just replied to her through the microphone and gave him a thumbs up. “Let’s go fuck with some recruits.” 

The helicopters sat just above the tree tops, waiting for the planes carrying the candidates to cross the horizon. Over the radio, Ashlyn was given the heads up that the plane was two minutes away. The Sergeant smacked each of her guys on the knee to get their attention and then held up two fingers. With a nod, they all repositioned themselves to face the outside of the chopper. As the candidates started to jump out of the plane one by one, the helicopters started to rise. They allowed the parachutes to open before raining chaos down on the unsuspecting soldiers. “Weapons free! Weapons free!” Ashlyn ordered. Both helicopters started to pepper the parachuting soldiers with paintballs. The exercise was to make sure that they could land where they needed to, regardless of the circumstances. ‘At all costs’ was a motto of the special forces.

As the men drifted closer to the ground, the helicopters lowered as well. Ashlyn stopped shooting just long enough to give her next order. “Rope out.”  In synchronicity, both teams dropped heavy duty repelling ropes to the ground. One by one, they lowered to the ground, shooting bullets the entire way down. The barrage of paint was non-stop and it was having the desired effects. Five soldiers were off course and fighting to navigate their way back to the landing zone.

In the end, two managed to get back within the acceptable limits. The other three landed way off course, covered in paint. Immediately, Jake and two members of Seal Team Six were in the out of bounds candidates faces, telling them to get the hell out of here and stop wasting everyone’s time. The remaining 22 candidates scrambled to shed their parachutes and snap to attention, shocked that three of the soldiers were already dismissed from the program. Anyone that didn’t move fast enough, quickly got an ear-full from a Delta Force operative or member of Seal Team Six. Intimidation was not hard to come by in this environment. 

Once everyone was settled, Ashlyn paced back and forth in front of the group, taking in their faces. Behind her the special forces soldiers stood at attention, looking as nasty and vicious as ever. When she spoke, her voice had an eery harshness to it. “Gentleman, I’m Sergeant First Class Harris. I’m team leader of Delta Force Bravo Company and you have the distinct privilege of fighting like hell to take my seat at the table. Look around boys….it took us 20 minutes to get 25 down to 22….17 more to go…and if we’re not satisfied with the five that are left, they’ll go home too and we’ll start over again. Let me be clear, if you thought Ranger training was hard or Seal training was hard, you don’t know shit. If you are capable of being broken, we will break you. I can promise you that much. Welcome to hell, boys.” 

Chapter Text

Ali was sprawled out on Crystal’s couch drinking wine while the young striker played with Finn on the floor. When Ali checked her phone for the 12th time, Crystal decided to call her on it.

“Staring at that phone isn’t gonna make the screen light up.” Crystal teased, tugging on Finn’s ears. 

Ali blushed a little at getting caught. “I know, I know…” She sipped her wine, curling her legs up underneath her. 

Crystal smirked as she watched her friend. “What’s your knight in shining armor up to, anyway?”

“She’s working on finding their replacements for when they move up here…they’ve already been at it for like a week and a half.” Ali sipped her wine before continuing. “Every time we talk she just sounds so tired…I know she’s fine, but I worry about her.” 

Crystal’s eyes twinkled as she watched her friend. She could see a classic Krieger rant in the making. She didn’t have to wait long.

“It just blows my mind, you know? It’s been almost a year and when we met it was such a whirlwind. I was caught up in the uniform and the muscles…and the tattoos and the adorable dog…and then she rescued me from that dick in California, and..” Ali bit her lower lip. “…put her hands on me…The spark was instant. But then I got to know her…and the stuff on the inside is even better than the stuff on the outside. It’s like she keeps the tenderness just for me…” Ali stared off as she thought of her girlfriend. 

“All tenderness?” Crystal pried teasingly.

Ali felt the blush rush up her neck as images of their last night together flashed through her mind. “No…definitely not.” 

“Yeah, girl.” Crystal grinned. 

“I still haven’t found something she’s bad at…” Ali smirked suggestively. 

“Oh dear…” Crystal laughed “I’m so jealous…” 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, at Fort Bragg, Ashlyn and Jake were sitting in the lounge of the Delta Force base. It was getting late at night and they were giving the candidates the first night of sleep on a mattress in 5 days. What the candidates didn’t know is that the barracks had been rigged with microphones. Ashlyn had always been a firm believer than character is what you do when no one is watching. Now that the list was down to ten candidates, she wanted to know exactly what kind of character the remaining men possessed. 

Ash had sent her team home to get some sleep but ever the faithful right hand and best friend, Jake stuck around to keep his Sergeant company. He poured two glasses of whiskey before flopping down in the recliner next to Ash. 

“How’s the lady?” Jake asked, handing Harris the glass.

“I could ask you the same thing…” Ash smirked, taking a sip of the amber liquid. 

Jake laughed and took a sip of his own. “Fair enough.” He was quiet for another minute.  “She’s good. There’s something about those US Soccer women…” 

“Yeah. There definitely is.” Ash grinned and unlocked her phone. 

Ash: Hey beautiful. Going to be another late night but know that you’re on my mind.

Once the text was sent, she turned back to Jake. “So what’s the deal? Have you guys exchanged promise rings yet?”

Jake laughed “Not yet but I’m actually thinking about talking to her once we get done with selection…it’s kind of unspoken exclusivity right now. I want to say it out loud. She deserves that.” 

Ash looked over at her best friend and smiled, appreciating this new grown up version of themselves. “She does deserve that. She’s a good girl. But you deserve it too, Jake. I’m glad to see you happy.” Her buzzing phone drew her attention away.

Alex: Ugh…you’re the sweetest. Over at Crystal’s for a girl’s night. Stay safe and call when you can.  Love you. 

Before Ash could reply, the speakers crackled to life. Jake and Ashlyn listened intently as one of the men started to talk. “Listen, y’all. You can just go right ahead and start following my lead now. Won’t be long before I’m your new team leader anyway.”

Jake tilted his head as he listened to the voice. “Reynolds?” 

Ashlyn nodded, listening close as the man continued. “Took the Army long enough to figure out that women can’t do Special Forces…let alone lead a god damn team. It’s bad enough that they make those guys report to her. I bet they fuckin hate it…” Lt. Joe Reynolds continued.

Jake stood and started towards the door. “I’m going to go bash that mother fucker’s head in.” 

“Jake.” Ash warned. “Big picture.” She reminded him. “What do you hear?” 

“A close minded dickhead that needs a size 11 shoved up his ass…” Jake growled out, but made no further move to leave. 

“Well…yeah…” She laughed. “What I hear is no one else jumping on the bandwagon…” She took a sip of the whiskey. “Think about it Jake…this is the military…someone was bound to be sexist…I’ll just be shocked if he’s the only one.”

“I’m gonna start calling you Buddha…” Jake huffed. 

Ash smirked and let her attention drift back to the speakers. The rest of the candidates had switched the conversation to less controversial territory before the group fell asleep. Satisfied that they learned all they would for the evening, the duo finished their whiskey before going home for a couple hours of sleep. 

 

 

 

 

As training progressed, Jake pushed candidate Joe Reynolds as hard as possible. Since the night he overheard the man insult his Sergeant, it was his personal mission to break the man. Unfortunately, he was appearing to be unbreakable. 

Meanwhile, if the candidate’s words affected Sergeant Harris, she wasn’t letting it show. It had been 3 days since the night they overhead the barracks conversations and 3 more soldiers had been sent home. The remaining seven were proving to be pretty remarkable, even Lieutenant Reynolds. 

The soldiers were getting ready for a hand to hand combat session when the Delta Force team walked down the hallway. Ash stopped just outside the door, hearing the pompous voice of Joe Reynolds once again. She held up a hand to stop the rest of the team too. 

Joe was commanding the room’s attention again. “I’m just saying…you guys all saw the ESPN spread of Harris’s girl right? No way that chick is a lesbian…You can see it in the pictures…Hell…I keep a copy of it in my rucksack.” 

Sergeant First Class Harris was in motion as soon as the words were out of Reynolds’ mouth. Her men were right on her heels as she entered the sparring floor designed for combat training. “Get on your fucking feet.” She snarled. If Ashlyn had a line that couldn’t be crossed, it was Alexandra Krieger. If the man wanted to question her ability as a soldier or a leader, that was fine. Water off a duck’s back. But saying a word about the woman she had placed securely on a pedestal? That came at a price and she was going to collect.

As the Delta Force team entered the room, the candidates scrambled to attention. One look at the face of SFC Harris told them that she had heard everything and they were terrified of what would happen next. 

Ashlyn stormed right up to the man, her eyes nearly black with anger. When they were nose to nose, she searched for a sign of remorse. Instead, he just looked indignant. “Everybody else, hug the wall.” She ordered. 

Eager to remove themselves from the situation, the other six candidates ran to the wall. 

Ashlyn took a half a step back. “A couple nights ago, you decided you were more capable of leading this team than me…Let’s fuckin’ find out.” She took pleasure in the look of shock on the man’s face as she took a step back. She reached down to her thigh holster and undid the two clips before handing the firearm over to Jake. When Mikey tried to hand her the gloves and headgear, she waved them off. 

Lt Reynolds shook his head. “Sergeant Harris, I’m sorry.” 

“Nope. You and me? We’re way past sorry.” She cracked her knuckles. “You want my job? You want my team? Come take it from me, mother fucker.” 

It took all of their discipline for the Delta Force team to keep the smirks off their face. They’d seen this side of their Sergeant come out before. Now was the time to just sit back and watch. 

“You swing first.” Harris ordered. 

“I don’t hit women.” Reynolds muttered out. 

“See? That…” She seethed. “That right there is your fucking problem. You only see my gender, you ignorant dick. I’m not just a woman. I’m a Sergeant First Class in the United States Army and I’m your commanding officer. Now, if you don’t throw the first punch, I will drop you from this program without a second thought.” 

The threat was enough to spring the man into action. He threw a right hook, that she easily ducked under before landing a three punch combo: two to the ribs and one to the jaw, busting his lip open. 

“Let’s go!” She roared. Sgt Harris bounced on her toes as they circled each other. Another punch from Reynolds was blocked before Ashlyn countered. This time, instead of a three punch combo, she unleashed her anger. The first two punches went to the midsection and knocked the wind out of him. When he bent over to gasp for breath, she put both hands on the back of his head and brought it down as she drove her knee up. The harsh snap filled the room as his nose broke. When he fell onto his back, Ashlyn didn’t hesitate. She jumped on top of him, pinning down his arms with her legs before launching blow after blow. She stopped one punch short of rendering him unconscious. She grabbed his collar in both fists and hauled him off the ground so they were face to face, blood pouring down his face. “If Ali Krieger’s name ever comes out of your mouth again, I’ll fucking find you and kill you myself. Now get off my base. You’re done.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 50

Reynolds removal from the program got the candidate count down to 6. Two days later, number 6 panicked underwater and removed himself from the program. The remaining five soldiers spent the last week training as a team under the careful watch of their predecessors. They also went through rounds of interviews with the other Special Forces teams that they’d work with if selected. Three and a half weeks after they had started the selection process, the new members of Delta Force Bravo had been selected. 

As she was walking through the corridor of the Special Operation base, a commanding voice called her name. When she turned, she was met with the eyes of Lieutenant General Miller. 

“Harris. My office.” The stern man ordered before disappearing back into his office.

Ashlyn sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Fuck…” She muttered under her breath, looking down at the wrap on her knuckles that covered the angry red marks left from Reynold's face. She took a deep steadying breath and straightened her broad shoulders before walking in. “Yes sir?” 

“Take a seat, Harris.” Lt Gen Miller ordered, exasperated. Once she was sitting, he looked down at her hands and then back up. “So, it’s true that you beat up candidate Reynolds?” 

Ashlyn cleared her throat, looking him straight in the eye and setting her jaw. “Yes sir.”

He sighed as he looked her over. “I blame you for at least half of my gray hairs, Harris…” He rapped his knuckles over his wooden desk as he thought. “There’s two reasons you’re not getting written up for this….No one that was there will actually tell me what happened…and I can’t be bothered with all the paperwork for someone that is getting discharged in a week.” 

Ashlyn let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “Thank you, sir.”

“Harris?” 

“Yes sir.” 

“Seven days. You and your team need to stay out of trouble for seven days.” 

“Yes sir.” 

“Dismissed.”

Ashlyn stood and offered a crisp salute before disappearing out the door. She felt like she had gone through selection, herself. Her and her team had been there every step of the way to oversee each soldier’s progress through training which meant maybe three hours of sleep each night. Usually less. After informing the soldiers of their new role and some administrative work, Ashlyn and Deacon were headed home. When she pulled onto her street, her senses were immediately on edge. There was a strange car in her driveway, a Ford Explorer. As she pulled down the street, she moved her hand over to the handgun on her thigh and pulled the car into the driveway. Virginia license plates. She checked her phone quickly but there were no messages. “What the hell…” 

The Sergeant took the steps up to her front door slowly, taking in the surroundings. Nothing looked out of place. When she put her hand on the doorknob it opened easily, unlocked. She slowly slid the door open and drew the gun from it’s holster. Just as she was about to raise it, her favorite brunette peeked out from the kitchen.

“Surprise!” Ali beamed, holding a wooden spoon in one hand. Ali pointed the spoon at the gun in Ashlyn’s hand. “What are you planning on doing with that?” Ali asked, raising an eyebrow with a smile tugging at her lips. 

The exhaustion of the last three weeks was causing Ashlyn’s brain to move slower than normal. “It…” She stopped and holstered the gun before continuing. “There’s a strange car in the driveway.” 

“Oh.” Ali grinned sheepishly. “I brought Vicki’s car so we could bring the rest of your stuff back to DC.” Ali clarified, her eyes raking over the soldier. She looked tired, her eyes heavy and her shoulders sagging, a bandage on her hand from something or another. Ali set the spoon down on the countertop and crossed over the room, wrapping Ash up in a tight hug. “I hope it’s okay I’m here….I missed you too much.” 

“Yeah, of course. I’ll just call my other girlfriend and tell her not to come over…” Ash teased with a grin on her lips. In actuality, holding her girl was just what the doctor ordered. She wrapped Ali up in her arms, squeezing tightly.

“Oh please. You couldn’t handle two…” Ali smirked. 

“That is a true statement.” Ash mumbled into Ali’s neck, placing kisses there. “I’m so glad you surprised me.” 

Ali leaned back and ghosted her fingertips over Ash’s face. “What do you need more? Sleep or shower?” 

“Um…shower…If I lay down in the sheets without a shower, we’ll have to burn them…” Ash laughed. 

“Perfect. That’ll give me a chance to finish up dinner. Do you want to invite the guys over?” 

Ash shook her head, without hesitation. “No…today I want you all to myself. I’ll go back to sharing tomorrow.” 

Ali smiled and traced Ash’s jaw, secretly hoping that would be the answer. “Go on, then.”

While Ash showered, Ali fed the dogs and tossed the dish full of mac and cheese into the oven. She poured herself a glass of wine along with whiskey for Ash before heading into the bedroom.  While she waited for her soldier to return, she turned on some music and traded a few texts with her brother. She smiled at the sound of the water turning off and a few minutes later, she watched her girlfriend walk back into the room. “Feel better?”

“Much.” Ash sighed out, crawling onto the bed until she was next to Ali and taking a sip of the whiskey handed to her. “When did you get here?”

“About an hour ago.” Ali rested her hand on Ash’s thigh, leaning into her side and breathing her in. “I missed how you smell.” She mused out loud. 

“Ditto…you smell a lot better than Mikey.” Ash quipped before leaning down to claim her lips, letting out a satisfied moan. She set her glass down on the nightstand before moving her hands to roam over the defender’s body. Her hands moved to Ali’s hips, tugging until she was laying down so she could hover over the right back. “God…you’re a beautiful creature.” 

Ali marveled as the soldier still made her blush as if it was their first date. The conviction in the words was so sweet, she felt it in her soul. “I’m your beautiful creature.” She husked out before dragging her down into hungry kiss, wrapping her legs around the soldier’s hips as she searched for friction.

 

 

 

 

They were tangled up in a sweaty mess of limbs when the smell of smoke hit Ashlyn’s nostrils. They had spent the better part of the last hour exploring each other. She sniffed another time or two while she ran her fingertips up and down Ali’s back. “Um…babe?” 

Ali moaned at the contact and buried her head further into Ash’s neck, tracing the lines of Ash’s abs. “Mmmm….” 

Internally, Ash considered just letting the house burn to the ground. This feeling was too good to break apart from. When she inhaled and the scent was stronger, she bit the bullet and voiced her thoughts. “Is there something in the oven?”

“Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Ali climbed out of bed and went running down the hallway, bare ass naked. Every step she took, the smell got stronger and stronger. When she opened the oven, the mac and cheese was nearly black and definitely beyond edible.

Ash laughed and pulled on a pair of shorts before going in search of her girlfriend. As she walked into the kitchen, without a word she grabbed her cell phone. She dialed the phone and waited for the call to be answered. “Hi, yeah. My girlfriend just burned the shit out of dinner…can I order a pizza?” 

Ali glared at Ashlyn and removed the oven mitt so she could properly give her the middle finger. 

After she finished ordering the pizza, she walked over and inspected the burnt casserole, a mischievous glint in her eye. “Oh man…we can’t even give that to the dogs…Is that Gram’s mac and cheese?”

“Shut it.” Ali pouted. “I tried to do something nice and you distracted me!” 

Ash grinned and wrapped Ali up in her arms. “You weren’t exactly complaining, if I remember correctly. And, I mean, I still ate….technically….” The grin she was sporting grew until it split her face. 

Ali rolled her eyes but couldn’t hide her smile either. “You’ve been spending too much time with the guys…” 

Chapter Text

A week after the new Delta Force team was selected, Ashlyn was loading the last box into the back of her Jeep. A couple days ago they had made a trip back to DC with the Jeep and Vicki’s car, getting most of the boxes up to DC then. As she walked through the house one last time, a warm smile broke out across her face. 

“Are you okay?” Ali asked quietly, eyeing the short haired brunette.

“I’m great.” Ash admitted. “I’m ready to start the next chapter. Plus, this place was never home. It was just a spot I slept once in awhile.” She checked the fridge and kitchen cupboards one more time, making sure it was empty. “It does feel weird to be officially discharged from the Army though…” She mused out loud.

Ali stepped into Ash’s arms, leaning her head on the strong shoulder. “Are you having second thoughts?” Ali asked hesitantly. What if Ash was only doing this for her and was already having doubts?

“No.” Ash answered immediately. “Not at all. It’ll just be an adjustment. Going to the grocery store instead of the commissary. Not having to go through security to get into my neighborhood. But I’m excited for it.” Ash placed a kiss on the top of Ali’s head.

“And you’re sure the guys don’t need any help packing up their stuff?” Ali asked, knowing that the rest of the team was coming up this weekend too.

“They have about as much stuff as I do…” Ash smirked. “They’re all set. Besides, we have to get going. We have a house to buy this afternoon..”

Ali beamed at the mention of their afternoon. Today they were signing all the paperwork and getting the keys. “Yeah, we do. Let’s go, Stud.” She whistled for the dogs, who came barreling through the house from the backyard. The once tiny Finn was now over 70 pounds and getting bigger by the day. He had also started his training, working to grow up just like his big brother. “Time to go, boys.” Ali ruffled their ears before heading out the front door. 

The four piled into the Jeep and Ash reached across the console, lacing their fingers together as she took in the house one more time. “What do you think? Ready to go?”

Ali’s nose crinkled as her face broke out in a wide smile. She couldn’t resist leaning over for a drawn out kiss, appreciating the groan from Ash’s lips. Ali broke them apart with a little nip of Ash’s lower lip. “So ready.” 

 

 

 

The drive up to DC was packed with planning. The couple made lists of things to buy for the house and coordinated their schedules. Ash really only had clothes and gear for work. Everything else, the dishes and furniture, was pre-furnished and stayed behind for the next soldier to use. Ali wasn’t much better. Her apartment was furnished but not nearly enough for the house they’d be moving into it. As they made lists of furniture and home items, the excitement just kept building. 

“Ugh…I’m so excited!” Ali gushed as they got closer to downtown DC. “And you’re sure you’re up for doing the whole Krieger Thanksgiving?” 

Ash smirked as she turned the Jeep down the exit ramp of the expressway. “Yes dear. Why do you keep asking?” 

Ali shrugged. “It doesn’t seem fair that we’re getting to spend time with my family and not yours.” 

“Well, my family doesn’t live 30 minutes away from us. Logistically, the Kriegers win.” Ash squeezed Ali’s hand reassuringly. “Besides, I’m excited for a big classic Thanksgiving. Usually, we’re eating MREs on a base somewhere…” 

Ali gasped, smacking her forehead in a ‘duh’ manner. “Oh my god, the guys. What are they doing for Thanksgiving? They should come. I mean, I’d have to ask my dad, but I’m sure it’d be fine. I can’t believe I didn’t think-“

“Alex.”

“Yeah?”

“Breathe.” Ash laughed. 

Ali joined her, chuckling at herself. “Right. I’m just…” Ali ran her free hand through her hair, tossing it over one shoulder. “I don’t want to take over…I know that they’re your family and I don’t want them to miss out on you just because I’m around.” Ali admitted. “I was serious about them joining us for Thanksgiving. I can call my dad.” 

Ash brought Ali’s hand to her lips, gently kissing her knuckles as they got closer to the realtor’s office. “I’ll check with them and see what they’re up to. If I had to guess, they haven’t even thought about it yet.” 

“Okay…but you’ll tell me if you need more time with them right? Or if there’s some tradition that I’m stepping on?” Ali asked, taking in the profile of the soldier as she drove. 

“Promise.” Ash reassured her before pulling into the realtor’s office. “Now, let’s go make this thing official.” 

 

 

 

A little over two hours later, they pulled into the driveway of their new home. After signing the papers, they stopped by Ali’s apartment to get her BMW along with a car full of necessities. Ali was literally bouncing with excitement as she hurried out of the car, making a run straight to the front door. 

“Wait!” Ash called, trying to keep up with her exuberant girlfriend as she parked behind her. She opened the backdoor of the Jeep, letting Deacon and Finn out before climbing the porch steps. With a mischievous glint in her eyes, she scooped up Ali in her arms, laughing at the squeal that came from the defender’s lips. Now that she had her in a bridal carry, she took the final two steps to the front door. “Okay, now you can unlock it.” 

Ali stared up adoringly at Ash, her arms wrapped around the soldier’s neck. “I love you so much.” She placed a tender kiss on her lips before turning to unlock the door. She pushed it open and let out a cry of joy as Ash carried her through the threshold. “We’re homeowners!” 

Ash spun her around in the foyer. “Hell yeah, we are.” She leaned down, tracing her tongue along Ali’s lips. The make out session in the foyer was interrupted by a cold nose nudging Ali’s foot, searching for attention.

“Okay, okay.” Ali took a deep breath to calm herself as Ash lowered her back to her feet. Finn barked excitedly, staring up at Ali. He was, by definition, a momma’s boy. “Let’s show you guys your backyard!” They walked through the house, empty room by empty room, until they got to the french doors that provided entry to the backyard. “Enjoy!” She smiled as she opened up both doors, feeling the rush of the brisk fall wind on her face.  She watched happily as the dogs started exploring their new home, noses down.

Ash took the moment to run back out to the Jeep. When she returned, there was a bottle of Moet and two champagne flutes in her hands. From her spot in the kitchen, she shot Ali a wink and popped the cork of the champagne bottle. After pouring two glasses, she joined Ali in the doorway between the house and the backyard. She handed Ali one of the flutes before wrapping an arm low around her waist, pulling her in tight. “Welcome home”

Ali practically glowed with happiness. “Welcome home.” She sipped the champagne and leaned into Ash, her free hand resting flat against Ash’s abs. 

“They seem happy.” Ash mused out loud, watching as the dogs tore through the yard in a game of tag. Every time Finn caught Deacon, the tables would immediately turn and Deacon would become the hunter instead of the hunted. Feeling Ali laugh against her side, made the Sergeant impossibly happier. 

 

 

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent unpacking as much as possible. They’d both been caught on multiple occasions with a dopey smile on their face as they unpacked something that cemented the feeling of home: putting a toothbrush on the bathroom counter or dog bowls in the kitchen. 

 

 

That night, Ash set their new mattress down on the floor of the master bedroom. The rest of the furniture wouldn’t be delivered for a couple days, but she’d be damned if they were going to sleep anywhere but their new home tonight. While Ali was out at the grocery store getting the bare essentials,  Ash ran around trying to get as much done as possible. She made the bed, lit some candles and placed their bluetooth speaker on the window sill.

Satisfied with the shape of the bedroom, she trotted down the stairs when she heard Ali come through the front door. “How’d it go?” She asked as she relieved Ali of all the bags she was carrying. 

“The Whole Foods here is so much nicer than the one by my apartment. I’m in love…”  Ali gushed.

“Mikey’s apartment.” Ash corrected with a grin. “You don’t have an apartment anymore.” 

“Mikey’s apartment.” Ali agreed with a smile and a kiss to Ash’s cheek. “It’s so convenient that he’s taking over the lease…” She admitted as she put the groceries into the fridge.

Ash marveled at her girlfriend from her spot at the kitchen island. Watching as she unloaded some of Ash’s favorites from the bags filled her heart. She hadn’t asked Ali to pick up the case of beer or the particular peanut butter she liked. No, Ali had done those things because she knew her soldier and the domesticity of it all warmed Ashlyn’s entire being.

When Ali glanced over at Ash, she noticed the goofy look on her face and tilted her head. “What?” 

“Nothing.” Ash smiled. 

Ali watched her closely for another moment before heading upstairs to change. As soon as she did, Ash got up to follow her. As she got closer, Ali noticed the glow coming from the bedroom and when she walked through the door, the sight made her heart skip. In the way that knowing Ash’s preferred peanut butter and beer was a way to the soldier's heart, romantic gestures like this was a straight shot to Ali’s. 

Ash snuck up behind Ali, leaning down to rest her chin on the smaller woman’s shoulder. “I know we had kicked around the idea of going back to the apartment since Mikey isn’t moving in for a couple days but I couldn’t stand the idea of not spending our first night as homeowners in our home.” 

Ali sighed out contently, closing her eyes with hum. “This is perfect.”

“I’m glad you think so…” Ash admitted, as her hands snuck under Ali’s shirt towards her breasts and her lips went to the exposed neck. “…because I plan on spending the rest of the night making sure you know exactly what our ceiling looks like…”

Chapter Text

Ali and Ash spent the rest of their week settling in to the new home. Furniture was delivered, boxes were unpacked and most importantly, pictures were hung. The house was very quickly becoming a home. Ash even started construction on the basement. She bolted a massive gun locker to the floor and all of her tactical gear was hung neatly along a wall for easy access. The CIA came by and installed flat screen TVs that streamed international news along with her state of the art computer setup that was encrypted to the Department of Defense’s network. The other side of the basement became a gym fit for a world class athlete and a counterterrorism operator, complete with kettlebells, weight rack, medicine balls and a treadmill. Lastly, the door to the basement was outfitted with a keypad so they could host guests without having to worry about them wondering upon classified information.

Before they knew it, Thanksgiving was upon them. The team had politely declined Ali’s offer to join them at Ken’s. Instead, they were all taking the rare opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Ash was taking her new role as a civilian in stride, specifically when it came to fashion, and Ali wasn’t complaining. She watched intently as Ash pulled on the navy dress pants, pairing it with a tailored white Tom Ford button down. The brown belt, watch and cap-toe oxfords brought the outfit together perfectly. 

Ali strode up behind Ash and ran her hands over the broad shoulders beneath the shirt, her fingertips gliding over the back muscles. “You look so handsome.”

“You’re pretty stunning, yourself.” Ash commented as she rolled her sleeves up to her elbows. Ash spun around and looked over her breathtaking girlfriend. Her hair cascaded down in soft waves and her grey dress fit like it was custom made for her. The navy heels drew just enough of a line to Ash’s outfit without being obvious. Ash leaned down and placed a tender kiss on her collarbone, avoiding the freshly applied makeup. “So, what am I in for here? An evening of everyone gushing about the world’s most successful right back?”

Ali rolled her eyes. “Uh. No.” She giggled and placed her hands high on Ash’s chest. “There, I’m just Alex. They’re not excited to see a soccer player, they’re excited for me to finally bring a date to a holiday.” She teased. 

“Wait a second, am I popping your holiday cherry?” Ashlyn smirked.

Ali bit her lower lip suggestively. “Mmm, you sure are baby.” She husked out against Ash’s ear.

Ash realized just how quickly this was backfiring as the heat rushed up her back. She used all of her tricks to keep her emotions neutral and not give Ali the upper hand. “Well, I promise to be gentle.” 

“Don’t.” Ali’s voice dripped with sex before she bit down on Ash’s ear lobe. 

“Holy fuck, Alex…” She groaned before grabbing the back of her thighs and hoisting her off the ground. In two short strides she had Ali perched on the dresser, running her hands up the strong legs as the heels dug into her back. A small joke had taken a very unexpected turn. When she got to the top of Ali’s legs, she swallowed hard. “No underwear? Seriously?”

“That’s right, stud, and we don’t have time for this so you’ll just have to fantasize about how wet I am for you…” Ali teased before hopping down off the dresser. 

Ash took a deep breath, then another and another. “You’re a temptress, woman…” 

“And I’m all yours.” Ali promised before exiting the bedroom.

Ash stepped into the en suite bathroom and splashed some cold water on her face before joining her girlfriend downstairs. 

 

 

30 minutes later Ashlyn pulled the Jeep to a stop in front of Ken’s house. She moved around the front of the car and opened up the door, holding her hand out for Ali. 

“Y’know, this car isn’t really made for dresses and heels…” Ali admonished as she climbed down, using Ash to steady her.

“Well, your M5 coupe isn’t designed for the boys and you insisted that they come so….” Ash teased and stole a quick kiss before opening the back door. She smiled to herself when Finn stayed close instead of running through the front yard. He was really catching up, obedience wise. Ash slipped her hand into Ali’s as they headed up the front walk. 

Before they could get to the front door, it opened and Vicki appeared. “Hey girls!” She pulled them both into a hug. “Oh, good. I’m glad you brought the dogs. Zeus can have someone to play with. Come inside.” 

Ali swooned, even after all this time, as Ash followed her through the door before helping her out of her jacket. “Thanks, babe.” She reached up and straightened Ash’s collar. 

“Of course.” Ash hung both jackets, praising the dogs as they stayed on her hip obediently. 

Ali marveled at how flawlessly Ashlyn navigated through meeting her extended family. She was tender and charming with the women while she was strong and confident with the men. She had a stillness that radiated off her, naturally drawing people in. 

Ken approached the couple, giving them both a big fatherly hug. “Ash, we’re watching the game back in the den if you want to join us.” 

Ash shot a glance to Ali, who had been fully expecting the check-in as soon as the question was asked. “Babe, I’m fine. You go ahead.” She leaned up and placed a kiss on Ash’s cheek before disappearing into the kitchen where her cousins and aunts were gathered. 

Ash looked down at the dogs, who were still in their obedient heels. “Deacon, Finn, Okay.” With the command, the dogs relaxed and wandered through the house calmly. Ash fell in stride with Ken as they headed down to the den. Once they were moving, the dogs followed without question. 

“Bourbon okay?” Ken asked as he stopped at the bar.

“Uh, yeah, on the rocks.” Ash admired the craft bourbon selection as he poured the glass. “By the way, thanks for opening your house up to the guys. I know they couldn’t make it but I really appreciate the gesture.” 

“Oh, don’t mention it.” He handed over the glass before continuing to lead her to the den. “Alex said you guys are settling in pretty well?” 

“We are, yeah. I didn’t have much to unpack to begin with. Dogs seem to really be enjoying it.” Ash sipped the bourbon, enjoying the burn down her throat. Inside the den, the sectional was full with guys watching the game: Tanner and Cody; Scott, Ken’s brother; Darren, Scott’s son in law. 

“Ash! What’s up?” Tanner high fived her, followed by Cody.

“Hey fellas.” 

“And you met Scott and Darren?” Ken asked.

“Yeah, Ali introduced us.” She offered a raise of her glass towards them before taking a seat on the couch. 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Ali settled in between her cousins Rachel and Jennifer as she sipped her glass of wine. 

“Okay, can we say tall and handsome, much?” Jennifer gushed, elbowing Ali playfully.

“Seriously.” Rachel agreed, sipping her martini. “If Darren filled out dress a suit like that, whew….especially with those tattoos. ” 

Ali grinned, biting her lower lip as she thought about her muscular soldier. 

“And don’t think I missed the way she checked with you before joining the guys for the football game. Who does that? Knights…that’s who.” Jen added.

Ali sighed happily, appreciating the ‘told you so’ glance from Vicki. “Yeah, she’s pretty great.” 

“Vicki said you guys bought a place together?” Rachel asked. 

“Oh, yeah! Wait, I have pictures.” Ali reached into her purse and started flipping through with Rachel, Jen, Vicki and Carol, Scott’s wife, huddled around. 

“Al, this place is amazing. What does she do?” Jen asked, popping a cheese cube into her mouth.

“Actually, she just switched jobs…She was a Sergeant First Class for the Army. Now, she’s moved over to the CIA.”

“I mean, fuck me….is she James Bond?” Jen huffed out.

“Jennifer Anne!” Carol scolded her daughter, half-heartedly. After all, she was just saying what they were all thinking.

Ali threw her head back with laughter. “Just without the accent…”

 

 

 

 

“So, Ken told us you’re in the Army?” Scott asked, eyes pointed towards the tv in the traditional ‘guy chat’ way. 

Luckily, with years in the military, she was well versed in this kind of conversation. “Actually, just recently discharged. I’m with the CIA now.” Ashlyn blinked, realizing that was the first time she’d said the words out loud.

“Oh wow, doing what?” Darren asked.

She took a sip of her whiskey, never really liking the part where she had to lie about what she did. “Consulting.” She shrugged, noticing the knowing glance from Ken.

“That must be nice, the stability of being in one place and settled down.” Darren added as he sipped his drink, oblivious to how off track he was from the truth. “I have to travel once a month to New York and it’s a real bitch.” 

Ash bit back her smirk and swallowed her laugh. “Yeah. That must be tough.” 

 

 

 

 

Hours later, after dinner and dessert, Ali went in search of her girlfriend. She walked out into the four seasons room and stopped just short of making herself known. The sight warmed her heart. Sitting in the overstuffed, oversized chairs, Ashlyn and her dad were each enjoying a glass of bourbon and a cigar in front of the fireplace. Deacon and Finn were laying comfortably at Ash’s feet.

“You know, Ashlyn, as soon as a man has a daughter he spends most of his time worrying about who they’ll bring home one day.” Ken admitted, staring into the fire. “My Alex had to go and make it just that much harder by being extraordinary.” 

Ashlyn stayed quiet, alternating between sipping her whiskey and puffing on the cigar as she took in the man's words. 

“As soon as this soccer thing took off, I had to worry that people would look at her and see opportunity and money instead of who she is as a person.” Ken paused to puff his cigar. “But then you came along and I saw how you look at her. That’s when I stopped worrying about who she would bring home.” 

Ash cleared her throat, forcing away the tightness that came with the heartfelt admission. “Ken. That means the world to me.” 

“I mean it.” He admitted quietly.

“Well, I promise to spend the rest of my life working as hard as I can to be the person she deserves. You’re right, she is extraordinary.” 

Silence filled the air as the the soldier and the father drifted off into their own thoughts. Ali rolled her eyes at herself, noticing for the first time that she had fallen for someone as comfortable in silence as her dad. Once enough time had gone by that they wouldn’t suspect her harmless eavesdropping and she had managed to wipe away the misting in her eyes, Ali approached noisily. 

“Hey babe, hey dad.” She smiled as she approached, perching herself on the arm of Ash’s chair. “What are you guys up to?”

“Just enjoying the fire.” Ken offered. 

Ali lightly scratched the buzzed hair at the back of Ash’s neck, smiling at the way Ash closed her eyes at the contact. “Are you almost ready to go?” She asked with a tilt of her head. 

Ash had to fight the groan from her lips as the nails raked over her skin. “Yeah, of course. Ken, thanks again for having me.” 

“Ashlyn. This is the first of many holidays together.” He reached across and squeezed her shoulder. “Don’t thank me.”

 

 

 

 

30 minutes later the couple walked through the front door of their house, dogs in tow. Ash slipped the jacket from Ali’s shoulders and hung it on the rack in the foyer before wrapping her up in her arms. “I absolutely adore you.” Ash mumbled against Ali’s neck, sliding her fingertips under the hem of the dress. Through the evening, she was counting down the minutes until she could get her beautiful woman alone again. 

Ali looped her arms up around the neck of her love, pressing her body flush against Ash’s. She broke apart just long enough for Ashlyn to slip the dress up and off. The shorter brunette couldn’t stop the moan that left her lips as Ashlyn hoisted her off the ground effortlessly, starting her ascent up the stairs towards their bedroom with Ali in her arms. 

As Ali was cradled in the strong arms, she moved the toe of her left navy heel to the back of her right one, ready to kick them off, before Ashlyn caught her attention.

“Uh uh.” Ash growled out. “Leave them on.” 

 

Chapter Text

Ashlyn woke up to her internal clock at 5:45, smiling at the familiar weight of the naked brunette draped on top of her. She had figured that Ali’s Stage 5 clinger tendencies when sleeping were due to the distance that was always waiting in the wings when they were together. Now that they were living together, Ash had realized that the sloth-like attachment was actually the brunette’s default setting. She allowed herself another couple minutes of holding her favorite human before gently extricating herself and heading into the attached bathroom. She closed the door before turning on the lights, taking extra care to let her girlfriend get her rest. Once inside, she ran her fingertips over the suit that she had laid out the night before, smiling at the memory.

 

Ali sat on the bed, angling herself so she could see inside the massive walk in closet as she applied a second coat of nail polish to her toes. She looked up over her lashes to take in her soldier where she stood in the closet. “Wear the navy one.” Ali instructed before going back to her polish.

Ash glanced over to her girlfriend and then back at the line of suits. “Not the black one?”

“They’re all nice, babe, but the navy one is a game changer.” Ali clarified confidently. She dipped the small brush back into bottle before swiping a slow stroke onto the nail of Finn’s front left paw as he snored softly next to her. 

“I saw that.” Ash warned playfully as she took the navy suit off the rack and headed into the bathroom to hang it up. “Keep that up and he’s going to grow up to be like his uncle Kyle.” 

Ali giggled and hugged the ever growing puppy who was quickly nearing the 100 pound mark. “And we’ll love him just the same. She capped the nail polish before hopping off the bed and walking into the closet. Her hands traced over the shoulders of the neatly hung collection of dress shirts they had purchased a week ago before picking out a white and blue gingham checked shirt and slate gray tie. Collecting both items, she went in search of Ashlyn in the bathroom. She hung the shirt next to the suit before looking at the items together. “There. Look good, feel good, play good.” 

 

 

Ash turned on the water to the shower as she took in the outfit Ali had picked out last night. She had to admit, the woman had impeccable fashion sense. Allowing the water to warm up a little more, she hopped into the shower. She slipped easily into her normal routine: showering, brushing her teeth, doing her hair. The only difference was that this time instead of slipping into camo, she was putting on a $2,000 suit. She turned off the light and let her eyes adjust to the darkness before opening the door back into the bedroom. Moving quietly though the room to the doorway, she shot one last glance towards the bed but blinked at the sight. It was empty. Ash draped the suit jacket over her arm and started her trek downstairs. It didn’t take much searching to find Ali and the two dogs in the kitchen.

“There she is.” Ali smiled warmly. Despite the cold DC weather outside, Ali was clad in a skimpy pair of cotton boy shorts and one of Ash’s hoodies, her hair in a messy bun. She set the two dog bowls down for Deacon and Finn before pouring Ash a mug of coffee and delivering it with a proper good morning kiss. “Happy first day.” 

“Mmm…good morning.” Ash returned the kiss before taking a sip of coffee. “A kid could get used to this.” 

“I’m not even done yet.” Ali bragged. “Sit.” She turned back to the stove and continued the breakfast she had been working at before Ashlyn came down. “How’d you sleep?”

Ash took up a seat at the kitchen island and sipped her coffee as she watched the beautiful woman navigate their kitchen. They were creeping quickly towards the one year mark of their relationship and the butterflies were still as fresh as their first date when Ash’s eyes raked over Ali. “Someone made sure I was good and exhausted when I finally went to sleep. I slept great.” Ash teased and soaked in the coffee. “You?” 

Ali started plating food, happy to continue breaking in their new kitchen. “Like a rock. I sleep better when you’re around…” Ali admitted, having spent the weekend gone for part of the victory tour. She brought both plates over, setting one down in front of Ash and the other in her own spot at the island. “Power breakfast for my…..” Ali blinked. “Can I still call you Sergeant? I have been..but…” 

Ash grinned. “It’s sexy when you call me Sergeant. Active duty or not, you better keep calling me that.” 

Ali felt the heat rush up her neck under the smoldering hazel stare. “Power breakfast for my Sergeant. Eggs with onion, mushroom, spinach and a little cheese, avocado toast and bacon. Hopefully a little better than the pop tart you were going to grab on your way out the door.” 

“Way better. You’re the best.” Ash praised before digging in. Ali let out a satisfied smile when the plate in front of the soldier was scraped clean just a few minutes later. 

“You still eat like you’re in a mess hall.” Ali teased and refilled both of their mugs, her own plate only half gone by the time Ash’s was empty. 

“Old habits die hard.” Ash grinned sheepishly. The rest of breakfast went quickly, another cup of coffee each, before Ashlyn disappeared down into the basement. A few minutes later, she came back up with a brown leather shoulder holster holding her Glock. “Deke and I have to get going.” Ash stated the obvious as she slipped her jacket over her shoulders, covering the gun holster. “Still training today?” 

“Yeah, with Gorres. I’m going to bring Finn with me.” Ali reached up and straightened Ash’s tie before handing her two travel mugs. When she was met with a raised eyebrow from Ashlyn, Ali clarified. “For Jake. You’re picking him up right?”

Ash felt her heart somersault at Ali’s consideration for her best friend. “Your heart is the size of Texas.” Instead of taking the cups, she filled her hands with Ali’s face. She drew the defender in close for a lengthy, passionate kiss that left them both breathless, foreheads pressed together. “I love you.” Ash whispered against the soft lips of the soccer star.

“I love you too. Now, go.” Ali pushed the mugs into Ash’s hands. “Can’t be late on your first day.”

Ash stole one more kiss before grabbing the keys to the new Tahoe. She made it all the way to the door before turning around “I don’t-“

“I know, I know. You don’t know what the first day will be like, what time you’ll be done or how much you’ll be able to text.” Ali predicted sassily from her spot leaning against the stair bannister. Secretly, she loved that Ashlyn cared so much about being available to her but she didn’t expect it, especially with her profession. “I’m a big girl, plus I have body guard number 3.” She nodded down to Finn. “I’m good.”

Ash opened her mouth, then closed it, gaping like a fish as she was caught in predictability. “Right.” She cleared her throat before stealing a last kiss and slipping out the door, Deacon right next to her. The tall brunette shot her Jeep a longing glance as she got behind the wheel of the fully loaded Chevy Tahoe. “I mean, it’s nice but it’s not the same…” She muttered to Deacon as she pulled out of the driveway. 5 short minutes later she pulled up in front of Jake’s ranch style home and sipped on her coffee as he made his way to the car in a suit of his own.

“Gonna take awhile to get used to the new uniforms…” Jake griped as he climbed into the passenger seat and tugged at the tight neckline. 

“I actually don’t mind.” Ash admitted as she handed over the extra travel mug. “Ali says hi”

Jake took a long sip and closed his eyes, letting his head hit the back of the seat. “Just marry her. There is zero chance of you doing any better.”

“Tell me about it.” Ash navigated through DC traffic, following the in-dash GPS. “It’s too soon though right? For that? I mean we’re still a couple weeks out from the year mark and-”

“Woah, I was just caught up in a caffeine high. Are you…do you have a ring?” 

“No. No ring.” Ash sighed as the car in front of her failed to pay attention, causing her to get stuck at a red light. “I just…Jake, she makes me see color. That’s the best way I can explain it. It’s like everything was grayscale and then she came along and showed me what colors look like.”

“No man, I get it. I’ve never seen you so light before. I get that you’re worried about it being soon but she’s the one so I say, fuck it. Go for it.” Jake watched his best friend for another minute, analyzing her features closely. He had a hunch what was causing the worry cracking at the corners of his best friend’s eyes. “Sarge?” 

“Hmm” Ash grunted out.

“She’ll say yes.” He said softly. The way Ashlyn tightened her grip on the wheel told Jake all he needed to know. He had hit the nail on the head.

“You don’t know that.” 

“Oh yeah, I do. That girl looks at you like you invented soccer…She’ll say yes.” Jake rolled his eyes at his self-conscious best friend. “Harris, she stayed in the closet all these years because of her career and then after winning the biggest game of her life, she mounted you like a thoroughbred. You could propose with a ring pop and that girl would say yes.” 

“Shouldn’t we be talking about work?” Ash asked as she crossed the Potomac River. Luckily, Jake took pity on her and they spent the next 10 minutes talking through some of the transitional details. As they pulled into the parking lot, a smile spread across Ashlyn’s face. She easily navigated the Tahoe into the space reserved for Blackbeard. “Guess we’re keeping our operational call sign.” 

The rest of the morning was spent meeting the support teams they would have at their disposal if needed: intelligence, transport, various field agents. Once they had a good feel for Langley, they jumped back into the SUV and drove to the warehouse they would call home. The warehouse was located on 20 acres, all surrounded by barbwire fencing, giving them plenty of space to drown out the noise they would create during training. Ash punched her military id number into the keypad, watching as the large mechanical gate started to slide open. The drive to the actual warehouse was long and winding, the building set in dead center of the 20 acre lot. She parked the Tahoe between Mikey and Sean’s trucks before climbing out. 

The fingerprint and retinal scanners recognized the Sergeant despite this being her first time here. Once inside, she was impressed with the progress the guys had already made. While she and Jake went to Langley, the rest of the team came here to start making the space functional for their specific needs. The building was impressive. There were giant chainlink walk in cages, each with a name hung above it. Ashlyn couldn’t help but laugh when she looked at the door to the cage with ‘Harris’ hanging above it. The guys had hung a poster size print out of Ali and Ash’s lip lock from the World Cup for her to look at every time she walked in. She let her fingertips trace over Ali’s features before walking in to her locker. Impressively, the CIA had outfitted them with state of the art everything: night vision goggles, thermal imagery, firearms, armor. It was like Christmas. Everything was neatly organized in the space, outlining the walls with a giant table in the center for customizing a load out depending on the mission. 

There was a large lounge area with a bar and couches, similar to the one back at Fort Bragg. Ashlyn appreciated the familiarity and was impressed that the CIA not only allowed, but encouraged the space. There was also a wall of TVs, similar to the basement of her new home but on a much bigger scale. Those TVs were the focal point of their research area, including a large table and whiteboard. Lastly, there was a massive training space. The gym equipment was everything they were used to and then some. The had a gun range for marksmanship training, mats for hand to hand combat training, various doors and walls to practice explosive breaching and walls that could be reconfigured easily to imitate a specific space if they needed to practice a unique floor layout. All in all, it was everything they could hope for and more.

“CIA really rolls out the red carpet, eh Sarge?” Mikey observed as they looked over the space.

“You’re not kidding…” Ash admitted. The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up on intel and potential missions. While the guys worked through the space, setting up and getting some time in with their firearms, Ash started to rank all of the prospective threats in order of urgency and impact. 

That evening Ali was enjoying a glass of wine as she moved through their new house doing some chores. She wasn’t even trying to hide how much she was loving the domesticity of it all. It was evident in the way she grinned at being able to do her girlfriend’s laundry in the same load as hers. “Ugh, when did I become such a cheeseball?” Ali giggled to herself before climbing the stairs back up into the kitchen. Her phone screen lighting up on the kitchen counter stole her attention.

 

Ash: Headed home. See you soon.

 

Ali bit her bottom lip with a smile and moved to the stove, immediately starting a pot of water for the pasta. She had made a sauce earlier, leaving it to simmer so she could have a hot meal ready whenever Ash finally made her way through the front door. 20 minutes later, she was rewarded with that exact sight. The door opened and Deacon was the first through. The German Shepherd was immediately attacked by his brother, poor Finn wondering why they didn’t get to play together all day and eager to make up for lost time. The two massive dogs started their rough-house playing as they tumbled through the living room, forcing Ali to gracefully pivot and dodge their flopping bodies. “Hey you.” Ali smiled as she took in the sight of her soldier in the foyer. Ash’s jacket was long gone, the sleeves of her dress shirt rolled up to her elbows and the tie hanging a little looser around her neck with the top button undone. Dangling from her right hand was a stunning bouquet of snow white peonies. 

Ash took a step forward, enveloping Ali in a strong hug. She buried her face in the brunette’s hair, soaking in the sweet scent laced with coconut before pulling back and handing over the bouquet. 

“What are these for?” Ali asked, closing her eyes as she inhaled the fragrant flowers.

Ash reached up and tucked a stray strand of hair behind Ali’s ear. “These.” Ash nodded towards the flowers. “Are because you’re the kind of woman that deserves flowers just because.” She leaned forward and placed a lingering kiss on the soft pink lips that belonged to her favorite person. 

Ali let out a content sigh as her eyes darkened, astonished by the woman in front of her. Her arms moved up around the strong neck of her love, dragging her down into another fevered kiss. When her lungs were screaming for air, she finally pulled apart just enough to breath and looked up at Ashlyn lovingly. “Sometimes, I just can’t believe you’re real…” Ali husked out thickly. “You love me perfectly…” They stared into one another’s eyes for a minute longer before Ali slipped one hand into Ash’s. “Now, come on. I want to hear all about your day over dinner.” 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter 54

 

It was the middle of December and Ashlyn Harris was sweating her ass off. She was in the middle of Puerto Rico, perched up in a tree with full camo and face paint helping her blend in to the vegetation. “This fuckin’ heat….” She muttered to herself as her eyes scanned for movement. The team had found themselves in the middle of El Yunque rainforest as they tracked a cartel that was trying to use the US territory to expand their cocaine sales north. As she sat on the branch, she heard the voice of Michael Palmer infiltrate her ears. 

“Hey Sarge, you figure out what you’re getting that bombshell of yours for Christmas?”

Ash smirked as she closed one eye and looked through the sniper scope while she responded. “Yeah, I was thinking of getting her a framed picture of your mom…”

Travis’s quiet laughter rang through the earpieces “Aaaand Sarge draws first blood with the mom joke.”

“You cut deep.” Mikey huffed out from his spot in a tree 150 yards east of the Sergeant. “I’m just trying to help out here…”

Jake’s amusement could be heard in his voice. “He’s got a point, Sarge. We all know you’ve never had to do Christmas with a lady….let alone a princess like Krieger.” 

Sean chose to make himself known from where he was hidden under some vegetation on the rainforest floor “Sorry to cut this short kids, but I’ve got movement coming from the North. 6 Tangos in two ORVs.”

Just like that, the mood shifted among the team. “Copy that, Dugg. Palmer, take ORV 1, I’ll take ORV 2. Arch, you have point on containment. We’re looking for intel here. Shooting is last resort.” Ashlyn barked out orders as she dialed in her scope, letting the barrel rest on a branch in front of her. 

“Roger that. Dugg, Brooks, stack up on me.” Jake ordered from his spot just 20 feet from the path the off road vehicles would be careening down soon with Deacon crouched next to him.

Ashlyn heard the vehicles before she saw them. As soon as they were in sight, she leveled her sniper rifle on the hood of the second vehicle. “On your shot, Mikey.” 

The next five seconds seemed to move in slow motion as Ashlyn focused on her breathing. She had just inhaled for the second time when she heard the silenced hiss come from her right to let her know Mikey had fired. She held her breath, pushed her back snug against the tree trunk and squeezed the trigger with level pressure. Her exhale came just as smoothly as she kept her focus on the target. Satisfaction rushed through her veins as the .50 caliber bullet pierced the engine block and smoke started to billow out of the hood. Mikey’s shot had been just as precise and both vehicles rolled to a stop. 

Palmer and Harris watched intently as Jake, Travis, Sean and Deacon approached the vehicles in a v-formation, weapons raised. Ashlyn could tell through the scope that her team was trying to order the men to stand down but the cartel thugs were raising their guns anyway. Ashlyn’s eyes frantically took in the scene, trying to decipher what the enemy was thinking from her hideaway and weighing the options of gathering intel and protecting her team. The brunette inhaled again and held it before squeezing the trigger once more, expertly placing a bullet through the chest of the man closest to her team before he could get a shot off. That was the match that lit the powder keg. The other four members of her team fired off rounds quickly, taking down the members of the cartel. Jake had just turned his rifle towards the 6th person when Ashlyn’s voice pierced through his headset. 

“Hold fire! Hold fire!”

Jake’s gun was leveled on a 13 year old boy as his chest heaved wildly, gasping for air as adrenaline rushed through his veins and his index finger rested on the trigger. “Fuck!” The boy’s body appeared closer to 20 than 13 but one look in his eyes was a clear tell for how young he truly was. “Put it down! Put it down!” Jake ordered, pointing at the gun in the boy’s hand. Slowly, the kid bent at the knees and placed the rifle on the ground before straightening back out, hands in the air. “Where were you going??”

“I don’t know, I don’t know.” The young boy croaked out in broken english, his eyes darting back and forth in terror. “That’s my brother…he made me come with them….”

Ashlyn watched through the scope, trying to make out what was happening. “Arch?”

Jake stared at the kid, reading his facial expressions as he pressed down his throat mic “Kid’s saying this is his first ride along…”

“You believe him?”

Jake stared at the kid for another minute. “Hard to say.” Jake admitted, tension coursing through his veins.

Ashlyn took a deep breath as she thought through all of her options. They couldn’t transport the kid, it was a 14 mile hike back to the helicopter. They’d have to trust that the boy was telling the truth. Shooting a defenseless child was a line she just wasn’t willing to cross, even if he had been pointing an automatic weapon at her team just a few short minutes ago. “Search him and cut him loose.”

“Copy that.” Jake spun his rifle behind him and frisked the kid to make sure he didn’t have any other weapons. Satisfied that he was clear, Jake backed away and looked at the kid. “Go back the way you came and kid?” Jake waited until the young man was looking right at him. “Don’t make me regret this.”

The boy didn’t need to be told twice. He turned and ran as hard as he could up the path they had come from. 

While Ashlyn and Mikey carefully climbed down the trees, the remaining operatives searched the bodies and vehicles for any information. A couple cell phones and a laptop were secured before they started their hike back to the helicopter. 

 

 

2 and a half hours later, the Apache helicopter came into view like an oasis in the middle of the desert.  As the team climbed in, Ashlyn secured Deacon’s harness to the cabin of the helicopter and poured a bottle of water over her head, seeking relief from the humidity. “Man….I think my blood thickened up in DC….this heat is something else…” 

“No shit.” Travis agreed, using a rag to wipe off some of the face paint he had caked on.

Ashlyn plopped down next to Jake and nudged him with her shoulder. “You good?” 

Jake took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah…Thanks for back there, Sarge. It was all just happening too fast. I almost shot that kid…he…fuck, he looked like the rest of them.” 

“Don’t mention it, Arch. Everything’s moving at a million miles an hour. He had a gun.” Ashlyn shrugged. “Your instincts were keeping you alive. Don’t doubt that.” She gave her best friend’s thigh a light punch as the spinning of the rotor blades ended their conversation. Ashlyn reached over and pulled the headset into place so she could communicate with the cockpit and the base. They had been buzzing the tops of the trees when a broken voice crackled through her headset. 

“Come again, main. You’re broken.” Ashlyn shouted into the microphone and placed both hands over ears to try to hear them. The voice once again came through as a garbled mess of static. The Sergeant unhooked her harness and walked towards the cockpit. She poked her head between the pilots, speaking loudly over the engine. “Can you guys hear what they’re saying?”

“Negative, Sarge. Comms must be fucked.” The pilot shouted back. 

As soon as the words left the pilot’s mouth the radio crackled to life again, this time crystal clear. “Predator has a tango on your flight path. Repeat, possible hostile. Imaging showing possible ground to air missles. How copy?” 

Before Ashlyn had a chance to confirm the transmission, the co-pilot screamed out. “RPG! RPG!” The Nightstalker pilot yanked on the controls as hard as he could, pitching the helicopter into an aggressive maneuver that sent the aircraft sideways and upwards. As the Apache chopper skidded past the missile, Ashlyn felt her boots slip across the cabin floor. Her hands scrambled to grab anything she could as her body soared through the cabin in result of the violent maneuver. 

Just as quickly as they had gone sideways, the pilots had the helicopter upright once again. Jake wasted no time in unclipping his harness and lunging towards the Sergeant as her body moved helplessly towards the open door of the Apache cabin, the other men right on his heels. “Sarge!” Jake felt the fingertips of his best friend in his hand but just as soon as her hand was there, it was gone. The four men were forced to watch helplessly as their Sergeant plummeted through the sky in a free fall. 

60 feet below, the same 13 year old that Jake had spared just hours ago packed up the grenade launcher before disappearing into the rainforest.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Chapter 55

 

Upon Jake Archer’s urging, the Nightstalker pilots wedged the helicopter down into a space smaller than they would normally risk but it was the first possibility for the team to get to ground. As soon as they were close, the four men and German Shepherd were off in a sprint towards the location where their Sergeant’s body had disappeared through the trees. Deacon was leading the way with his nose angled towards the ground as his paws tore through the dirt in search of the brunette. The group ran in an all out sprint for nearly ten minutes before Deacon started to slow down as he closed in on the scent.

Ashlyn had known that she was going tumbling out of the helicopter as soon as she lost her footing. Each grasp for something came up empty as she careened out of the cabin. The Sergeant took in the eyes of the four men that had become her brothers as she soared into emptiness. It only took 5 seconds for their horrified expressions to be replaced with the treetops as the free fall took her through the rainforest. The hazel eyes closed and her vision was filled with the stunning brunette that had stolen her heart. She relished in the memory of the way Ali’s eyes and nose crinkled when she smiled as she waited for darkness to consume her. Instead of darkness, she felt a sharp crack as her helmet connected violently with a branch. The hit caused her body to tilt vertically and she could swear that she heard Ali’s voice order her to fight. 

Ashlyn scrambled to grab anything that would help slow her descent. Her boots scraped down against the bark while she tumbled from tree to tree. As she ricocheted back and forth in violent descent, she felt like one of the disks in Plinko from the Price is Right that her grandmother used to watch. Just as it seemed like she was starting to slow down, the branches disappeared and once again she was free falling. With a sickening thud, her body connected wth the rainforest floor and everything went dark. She wasn’t sure how long she was unconscious but she started to come around slowly. Her eyes opened but everything was a blur of greens and browns. Her arms felt like lead but she forced them to come to her vest, reaching into a pocket and pulling out a small grenade. She brought the metal can close to her eyes until the label was in focus. Convinced that she had the smoke grenade, and not a frag grenade, she pulled the pin and let it tumble from her fingers before unconsciousness claimed her once again.

As the team ran through the forest Deacon suddenly tore off again, forcing the guys to scramble after him. It only took a minute for them to see what he was running towards: red smoke. 

“You tough mother fucker….” Travis muttered out in awe as they closed in on Ashlyn’s position. If there was smoke, it meant she had been alive enough to pull the pin out of the grenade.

When they finally reached the smoke they found Deacon laying across the limp body of their Sergeant, licking her face and whining softly. Sean went to work immediately, stripping the pack from his back and laying out his medical supplies. “Get a gurney put together. Deacon, move!” The canine shot a weary glance at Sean but crawled off of Ashlyn, laying flat right next to her with his nose pressed into her motionless palm. “C’mon Sarge…” Sean slipped on a pair of nitrite gloves before checking for a pulse. “Got a pulse.” Sean grabbed the sharpie marker from his pocket and started to right the brunette’s vitals on his forearm. “Thready and tachycardic at 110. Brooks, get me a collar.” Duggan moved his hands to the back of Ashlyn’s neck, feeling around for any obvious breaks. Travis kneeled by her head and carefully velcroed the collar into place while Sean removed Ashlyn’s helmet, immediately noticing that the inside was caked in blood.

“Fuck! Jake, get gauze and get pressure on this.” Sean ordered before grabbing a needle to start the IV in Ashlyn’s right arm. 

Jake’s hands shook to spite him as he pressed the wad of cotton to the back of the ever paling face of his best friend, his other hand covering the gash on her forehead. “C’mon, Ash. C’mon C’mon….” 

Sean moved as quickly as his body would let him. The IV was started on the first try, pushing fluids as quickly as possible. “How we coming on that gurney?” 

“Good to go.” Mikey confirmed, setting the portable gurney down next to Ashlyn and attaching the saline bag to the rod sticking up in one corner of it. 

“Brooksy, get this vest off.” Sean directed as he started to cut open the tactical pants, searching for any bleeding he hadn’t found yet. Travis moved as carefully as he could to peel the kevlar vest off before Sean followed up behind him to cut the shirt loose. There were cuts and scrapes everywhere but no major wounds that would require their immediate attention. “Let’s get her onto the gurney, guys. Gently.” 

The four men moved together, carefully rolling Ashlyn onto her side and slipping the cot underneath before laying her back down. Sean moved next to Jake with fresh gauze, replacing the bandages and wrapping them tightly in place.

“Sean?” Jake looked at his field medic with wild eyes. He was trying to be patient but he needed some indication on if his best friend would live.

“We’re okay….we’re okay…” Sean took a deep breath, wishing that his voice had sounded more confident. As if on cue Ashlyn started to cough violently, spitting up blood as her face started to turn a bluish hue and the veins in her neck bulged out. “Shit!” Sean moved his stethoscope into place, moving from lung to lung. When he got to the lower half of her right lung, he heard it. “Tension pnuemothorax….” He muttered to himself as he grabbed a needle and moved his fingers to feel between her ribs. “Jake, grab the suction. Get that shit out of her mouth.” He ordered before plunging the needle into her chest. The sickening hiss of air was a welcome sound as the coughing subsided. “We gotta go. I can’t do much more here.”

Ashlyn’s four best friends moved quickly, each grabbing a handle of the gurney. They took off together in a run, heading straight for the helicopter as Sean barked into his radio. “This is Medic Sean Duggan, how copy?”

“We’ve got you loud and clear, Medic.”

“Be advised, we are inbound with urgent trauma. Skull fracture and tension pneumo caused by fall from approximately 70-80 feet. Currently tach at 110, BP 104 over 62, respirations shallow and 28 a minute. Have a line in, bolus, with almost a liter of saline. Pushed Tramadol 4 mikes ago. Be advised, patient is O-Negative. ETA 15 mikes.”

“Copy that, Medic. We’ll be awaiting your arrival.”

The ten minute run was completed in deafening silence. The only noise was the sound of 8 boots hitting the ground over and over as they kept their Sergeant as still as possible, her limp body at their mercy. They were loaded into the helicopter and off the ground in less than 30 seconds, the pilot pushing the limits of the Apache to get them there as quickly as possible. As promised, when they landed there was a team of medical staff waiting for them. The cot was transferred to the stretcher as the strangers wheeled their Sergeant away. 

Jake grabbed two fistfuls of Sean’s vest. “Dugg, you don’t leave her. You hear me? You don’t leave her.” His voice was hoarse and on the verge of breaking, his eyes glassing over as he swallowed hard to fight back the tears. 

“I won’t, Jake. I promise.” He patted Jake’s hands, getting them to release his vest before he took off in a run after the medical team.

As soon as they were out of sight Jake collapsed in the middle of the landing pad, bringing his knees up to his chest. Cautiously, Deacon trotted over and pushed his head into the side of the human he shared his best friend with. It only took a minute for Jake’s hands to find Deacon’s scruff before the sobs racked his body. 

 

 

An hour later, Jake, Travis, Mikey and Deacon were sitting in a makeshift lobby when Sean reappeared. “I’ll tell you what….Sarge is officially the toughest mother fucker on the team.” 

Instantly the guys were on their feet, eager to hear an update on their fearless leader. “She’s okay?” 

“We’re not home free just yet, but everything is starting to stabilize. The skull fracture isn’t bleeding anymore and the gash on her forehead has been stitched up. Her lung was properly reinflated and her breathing is back in line. There’s a stress fracture in her right leg from the fall and some broken ribs…that’s what fucked up her lung. They’re keeping her sedated but they’ve already been in contact with Georgetown to figure out the transfer up there.”

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, Ali had woken up and knocked out an early training session before showering and going grocery shopping. It was just after 10 am and she’d already had a really productive morning. Finn was helping her with her second trip of bags when she saw the black Tahoe pull up in front of the house. “Look at that, buddy. Mom and Deacon are home.” As soon as the happiness flooded her, it was replaced with ice cold dread. Ashlyn was no where to be seen. Instead, Jake got out of the car and started walking towards her. Her whiskey colored eyes started to fill with tears as she took in his appearance. “No….No. No. No.” Jake was covered in dirt and dried blood, his eyes heavy with sadness. Ali felt her limbs go numb as the grocery bags fell to the ground, Ali just a second behind them as she collapsed to her knees.

Jake picked up his speed and knelt down in front of the defender, wrapping his arms around her tightly. “She’s alive. Ali, she’s alive. Okay?” He peeled back and met the stunning face as tears cascaded down her cheeks. “She’s alive. Do you hear me?”

Ali nodded, wiping angrily at her tears. “Where is she? I need….” She gasped for air. “I need to get to her.”  Her mind was spinning. She didn’t know what question to ask first: What happened? Where is she? How bad is it? 

“I know. I know, Ali. I’m here to take you to her. We just got back. She’s at Georgetown. Get in the truck. I’ll put Finn inside and we’ll go.” 

The brunette nodded, forcing herself to her feet. Her legs felt like lead as she made the short distance to the Tahoe and climbed inside, waiting for Jake to return.

A minute later, Jake climbed in and started the drive to Georgetown University Hospital. He was quiet for a minute, steeling himself for the conversation he was about to have. With one more deep breath, he broke the silence. “She um…” He cleared his throat. “I’m going to tell you what happened but I want you to remember that she’s stable okay?” He waited until he saw a small nod from the passenger seat. “She fell out of a helicopter.”

Ali’s head snapped around to look at the love of her life’s best friend in shock, eyes going impossibly wide as her hand flew to cover her mouth. In the last couple minutes while she waited for Jake, she had imagined gun shot wounds or bombs, but not falling out of a helicopter. 

 “Best we can figure, the trees broke her fall. They’re keeping her pretty drugged up so her body can just focus on healing but Dugg did a hell of a job patching her up on site. She’s got a couple decent knocks to the head…couple broken ribs and a fracture in her leg. The docs at Georgetown were going to look her over, just to make sure the Army docs didn’t miss anything but Sean says it should just take time at this point…” Jake took a look at Ali, making sure she was following along as he navigated as fast as he could through DC. “The guys are with her.”

All of this felt like an out of body experience to Ali. It was almost as if she was outside looking in on what she was going through. “What, um…” She wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt, forcing herself to get it together as they approached the hospital. “Has she woken up?”

“No….not yet. They said that it would be easier on her body if she was out for the transport.” Jake pulled up into the front of the hospital, not caring that he left the SUV in a no parking zone. When he climbed out of the car and around to the passenger side, he felt the heaviness take him over again. “Ali….” He croaked out, fighting back tears again. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve…I was supposed to take care of her…I…She’s my best fucking friend and I just watched her fall…I…I…God, I’m so sorry…I told you I’d keep her safe. I’m sorry.” 

Ali watched the second most lethal person she knew melt down into a little boy. Right before her eyes Jake had been reduced to a quivering mess as guilt started to drown him. Oddly, his breakdown pushed a surge of strength through her veins. She wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders and drew him in for a tight hug, feeling him shake in her arms. “Hey…it’s okay. She wouldn’t want you beating yourself up about this.” She pulled away a little, looking up at him. “Okay?” Her eyes searched his, waiting for the small nod she got in return. “Okay. Now, lets go see our girl.” 

Ali’s words seemed to pull the big man together. He took a deep breath and headed into the hospital. They took the elevator up to the Neurological floor and as soon as she rounded the corner, she saw Travis, Sean and Mikey sitting on the floor outside of one of the hospital rooms like a pack of guard dogs. As she got closer all three stood, enveloping her in hugs one by one. Sean was the last, speaking up for both Ali and Jake. “Doc kicked us out of the room while he checked on her. They just got back from a CT scan. He was asking for her emergency contact.”

Ali’s head turned to Jake and looked up at him with pleading eyes, hoping that he’d at least let her tag along while he talked to the doctor. 

Jake shook his head, placing a hand softly on her shoulder. “Don’t look at me…she changed all of her stuff over to you months ago…” Jake couldn’t help the soft smile that tugged on his lips as Ali’s face changed to shock. “I’m guessing she didn’t tell you…” 

“No…um…” Ali took a deep breath. “Okay. She’s in there?” Ali directed her question at Sean, pointing to the door just a couple feet away and willing her hand to stop shaking as nerves took over. 

“Yeah. You can go in.” Sean gave her arm a comforting squeeze and gentle nudge towards the door. 

Ali took one more deep breath to steel her nerves before grabbing the handle and stepping inside. Each step felt like a mile as she got closer to the bed. Her eyes took in the doctor and nurse before finally looking over to the bed. Ali could feel her heart pounding in her chest as she forced herself to choke down a sob. The strong, perfect woman she had fallen in love looked anything but strong in that moment. Her head was wrapped in gauze, scrapes could be seen on almost every inch of exposed skin, wires were connecting her to the IV, blood pressure monitor and oxygen. The part that nearly had Ali crumble to the floor was the sight of Deacon, Ashlyn’s faithful German Shepherd, curled up in a ball between the Sergeant’s legs with his head on her left thigh. 

The nurse watched Ali’s expressions as she took in everything, noticing when her eyes travelled to the dog. She spoke up in a gentle voice. “I don’t suppose you know how to get him to move?” The woman offered Ali a warm smile. “We’ve tried but he won’t let us.” 

Ali couldn’t help but laugh softly. “He’s a little protective of her…” Ali wiped away the single tear that trickled down her cheek. “Is he hurting anything?”

This time it was the doctor that spoke up, a man in his late forties with dirty blonde hair. “No, he’s fine. Picked the perfect spot to stake his claim actually.” He tucked the chart into the foot of the bed and offered his hand to Ali. “I’m Dr. Walker. Are you Alexandra?”

“Uh, yes. Ali, please.” She shook his hand and took the seat next to Ashlyn’s bed. Immediately, one hand went to rest on top of Ashlyn’s, the other reaching out and gently stroking Deacon’s ears as she paid close attention to the doctor’s words. 

“Ali, I’m the doctor overseeing Ashlyn’s care. I’m just going to give you a run down of where we are right now, okay? As soon as she got here, we ran a couple of tests: CT, X-Ray, things like that…everything is coming back surprisingly well considering the fall she took.  Our biggest focus at this point is going to be keeping an eye on any swelling. She has a skull fracture on the back of her head but our scans are showing minimal swelling at this point. We’ll monitor that as things progress. There was a collapsed lung that was treated in the field by Medic Duggan as a result of 3 broken ribs along with a fractured tibia in her right leg. For the broken ribs and the tibia, we’re just going to need to be patient. No surgery. Any questions?” 

For the hundredth time in the last hour, Ali felt like her head was spinning as she took in the information. Collapsed lung. Skull fracture. Those sounded like very serious injuries. She soaked in the diagnosis as her eyes took in the broken body she loved so much. “When is she going to wake up?”

“Actually, anytime. We’ve scaled back on the dosages and now it’s up to her. It could be in 5 minutes, it could be in a couple hours. Just depends on how her body wants to respond. But don’t be surprised if she’s a little disoriented when she comes around.” 

Ali nodded, trying to wrap her head around all of this. She swallowed hard, steeling herself to ask the scariest question of all as tears filled her eyes again. “Is…is she going to be okay?”

Dr. Walker offered Ali the warmest smile he had as he put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “She’s going to be just fine. She’s one tough cookie. We’ll give you some time alone now. When she wakes up, just push the call button and we’ll come check on her.” 

Ali nodded and listened to the two sets of footsteps left the room. Her eyes stayed on Ashlyn’s face as she relived every moment of the last hour: from Jake showing up in the driveway to this very moment where she was watching her beaten up but very much alive girlfriend sleep. “You scared the shit out of me, Ashlyn Harris. You are in so much trouble when you wake up.” 

 

Chapter Text

Since she had entered the room, Ali refused to let go of Ashlyn’s hand. The warmth of it was a calming reminder that she just needed to be patient as she waited to see her favorite hazel eyes once again. She allowed herself five minutes alone with Ashlyn and Deacon before firing off a text to Jake, telling them to come in. The call to Ashlyn’s family had been difficult, only made tolerable by the knowledge that she was going to be fine in the long run. Twice she had broken down on the phone with Chris as she was forced to recount the injuries her soldier had suffered and then a third time when she called her mom. Deb had promised to be on the next flight north, if only to help take care of the dogs while Ali held vigil at Ash’s bedside. 

The guys had faithfully taken up Ashlyn’s post as Ali’s guardians while their Sergeant recovered. They took turns going to get her coffee, lunch, listening in on doctors updates in case she missed something, even taking turns to go home and clean up so she was never alone. They had taken up residency around the large private room the CIA had secured for the Sergeant as they waited for her to wake up. 

Mikey was sitting on the floor, his back pressed against the wall as he recalled a story from a time where their leader had been in perfect health. They’d spent the last hour this way, trading stories of lighter times.“So, we’re in this bar in Tijuana…we had spent the last two weeks chasing this Mexican terrorist cell that had picked up some spring break kids and just recovered them earlier that day….We’re not able to fly out for at least another day so we decide we’re going to hit a bar.”

“Uh oh…” Ali grinned as she took in the amused faces of her unofficial brother-in-laws as Mikey told the story. Her fingers stayed laced through Ashlyn’s snugly, her thumb tracing idly on the back of the rough hand as she listened on.

“Yeah…genius idea…we’re running on two hours of sleep and haven’t had a shower in a week and a half but, fuck it, we go out. End up in this ridiculous bar geared towards college students, going shot for shot with a bunch of frat and sorority rich kids. Couple hours later, Jay-Z over here - “ Mikey stops to point at Ash “-gets on stage and raps every fucking word of 99 Problems.” 

“No!” Ali laughed, looking over at Ash as she tried to imagine her quiet soldier hammered on tequila and rapping in front of a bunch of kids. 

“Every fucking word…” Travis confirmed with a chuckle. 

“I think I’ve still got the video…” Sean admitted as he dug through his pocket for his phone. He found the video and hopped out of his chair to crouch next to Ali, hitting play. The other guys huddled around as they watched the normally stoic Sergeant climb on stage and turn her hat around backwards. The next 3 and a half minutes were spent crying from laughter instead of sadness as Ashlyn expertly rapped every word despite her obvious intoxication. 

“Oh. My. God.” Ali laughed, wiping the tears from her eyes. “You have to send me that video.” 

“You got it.” Sean choked out between laughter.

A hoarse voice snapped their attention away from the screen. “That’s the night tequila and I broke up…”

“Baby!” Ali was out of her chair and next to Ashlyn in a split second, feeling her eyes get misty as she looked down into the hazel eyes she had been craving. “Hey….You’re awake.” She said with a sigh and bit her bottom lip in relief. 

“Mmm…” Ash’s eyes were a little unfocused as she took in the brunette. “So…hot…” She slurred out. “Right guys? AmIright?”

“Easy, stud…” Ali caught the Sergeants hand as it started to reach for her ass, instead lacing their fingers together and giving it a squeeze. “Feeling better?” She giggled, happy to hear the tall brunette’s voice. 

“I’ll go get the doctor.” Jake offered with a chuckle, disappearing from the room as Mikey recorded the loopy Sergeant with his phone. 

“Yeah…I…” Ash slurred. “I feel…C’mere.” She tugged on the arm but furrowed her brow in frustration when Ali didn’t climb into the bed. “But….No…but c’mere.” 

Ali’s heart swelled at the adorable pout she was greeted with, the fingers of her free hand reaching out to trace Ash’s jaw. “Take it easy, Romeo.”

Ash looked confused, glancing at the guys and then back at Ali. “Do you not…am I not…wait.” Ash tried to clear her thoughts. “Do you not want to climb into bed?” 

Ali glanced at the guys, feeling the blush creep up her cheeks before she turned back and leaned to whisper into Ashlyn’s ear. “Baby…” The coo of her voice caused Ash’s eyes to close with a shiver. “…There’s not a bed on this planet I wouldn’t crawl into with you but I need you to just focus on getting better right now okay?” She placed a hot kiss on the shell of Ashlyn’s ear in hopes that it would satisfy her wish. 

Ash nodded a little, but the movement brought the pounding headache front and center. “Okay.” Ashlyn took a deep breath and slowly reopened her eyes. “Lights….can we kill the lights?”

“Got it.” Travis moved quickly to the wall and flipped the switch off. 

Ashlyn felt a cold nose nudge at the palm that wasn’t holding Ali’s hand. She looked down to see a nervous Deacon cautiously wagging his tail as he stared at his owner from his spot at the foot of the bed. “Hey buddy.” Ash croaked out, scratching his ears. 

Just then, Jake returned with the doctor in tow.

“Ah, Miss Harris.”

“Sergeant” Jake corrected, shooting a glance at the doctor. 

“Right. Sorry. Sergeant Harris, you’re awake. How are you feeling?” The doctor asked as he glanced over her vitals.

“My head is pounding…and the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen refuses to climb into this bed with me…I’ve been better, doc.” Ashlyn grumbled, earning a shy grin from Ali and a laugh from her team. 

“Well you’ve got a couple broken ribs so she’s probably doing you a favor by not climbing in just yet.” Dr. Walker laughed softly. “Are you okay with everyone staying around while I update you on what’s going on?”

“Those idiots?” Ash pointed at her team, definitely still high on pain killers. “Doc…you’re the only person in this room that hasn’t seen me naked….have you seen me naked? Was that, did I-“

“Ash.” Ali’s soft voice cut off the rambling as she tried to get them back on track, turning back to the doctor. “I think what she’s trying to stay is that they can stay.”

“That’s what she said….” Ash grinned childishly. 

“Right.” Dr. Walker smirked. “So, Sergeant, do you remember what caused your injury?”

“Mm…mhmm…Yeah. Went skydiving without a ‘chute…”

The occupants of the room let out a chuckle at Ash’s jokes as Ali rolled her eyes. 

“That’s one way of putting it, yes.” The doctor confirmed. “You have a skull fracture on the back of your head along with a contusion that took 16 stitches to close up on your forehead. There’s also 3 broken ribs on your right side which resulted in a tension pneumothorax, more commonly known as a collapsed lung. The lung has been reinflated and is performing properly now. You also have a stress fracture of your right tibia.”

“Well…..shit.” Ash muttered, keeping her eyes half closed to fight off the headache. “Next time…..next time, I’m bringing a ‘chute.”

“Probably not a bad idea. The good news is that swelling is under control and we don’t anticipate any long term issues.” Dr. Walker supplied. “We have you hooked up to a morphine drip which is time released.” He glanced down at his watch. “You should feel some relief shortly. We need to keep you for at least two days. We’ll reassess then.” He glanced around the various faces. “Any questions?”

Ali gave Ash’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Any questions, babe?” 

“Nuh uh….” Ash closed her eyes and soaked in the comfort of the soft hand in hers. 

“Okay. Well, lots of rest and we’ll take it day by day.” Dr Walker gave them all one more comforting smile before slipping out of the door. 

Ali watched Ash’s face closely. It felt weird to be laughing so soon after being terrified but the dopey grin spread across the battered face she adored made her feel lighter. It was almost possible to watch the drugs take effect in real time. The mischievous glint she saw in Ash’s eyes made her nervous for what would come out of her mouth next.

“Hey….Hey Alex…Alex, hey” Ash slurred out as she tugged on Ali’s hand. 

“Yeah, babe?” Ali asked with amusement.

“Did you hear the doc?” Ash questioned excitedly before holding both hands up, palms out, as she wiggled her fingers. “No broken fingers. No broken jaw….” Ash grinned suggestively with a raised eyebrow.

Ali felt the blush climb her cheeks as she laughed along with the guys. “You are too much…”

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter 57

 

They were learning quickly that Ashlyn’s recovery pattern went something like this: normal-ish, hilariously drugged up, sleep, repeat. Right now she was sound asleep, snoring softly as Ali continued to hold her hand. Mikey, Travis and Sean had all headed home in the early evening at Jake’s orders, taking Deacon home in the process. It had been a long 36 hours for the team, the evidence of which was written all over Jake’s face.

“You can go too, Jake. I can call if something changes.” Ali offered with a soft smile. “When’s the last time you got some sleep?” 

Jake rubbed roughly at his eyes before looking at his watch. “Um…about 38 hours ago. I’m good though.” He took a big gulp of his coffee. “How are you holding up?” 

“Um…I’m switching back and forth between laughing and being relieved that she’s okay and wanting to slap her for scaring me.” 

“Sounds about right..” Jake grinned. “I almost followed her out of that helicopter just so I could kill her myself.” Jake was quiet for another couple minutes. “She’s my family, you know…I don’t know if she ever told you but I grew up a rich kid in Martha’s Vineyard. Mom and Dad are both surgeons. My older brother and sister both followed in their footsteps but it was never for me, regardless of how hard they tried…When I enlisted, I officially became the black sheep of the family. They didn’t even come to my graduation from bootcamp. Then a year and a half later I’m at Ranger training and there’s this woman…bleach blonde hair…Have you ever seen her hair before it was cut?” Jake asked with a chuckle.

Ali’s eyes twinkled as she listened to Jake open up to her. “Yeah, I saw pictures at Gram’s down in Florida.” 

“Okay, so you can imagine…Anyways, they pair everyone up and of course I end up with Sarge. We’re running this obstacle course and there’s one of those old school dicks that think women can’t handle the training. He’s all pissed because Sarge is hanging with him step for step. As soon as she starts to pull ahead to beat him, he reached out and grabbed her hair, yanking her backwards and calling her Barbie. He ended up crossing the finish line before her and you could tell that there was a fucking firestorm brewing underneath the surface. Instead of losing her shit, that night when we finally make it to rack she comes up to me with a pair of clippers in her hand and makes me buzz all of her hair off. So, these two spend the next two weeks going head to head just fostering this hatred for one another. Then the last day before graduation is spent doing hand to hand combat in the pit. Imagine gladiator style, bunch of guys all crowded together in a circle with two people in the middle practically fighting to the death. It was like out of a move script. Sarge and this guy end up being the last two standing. She beats the ever loving shit out of him in the middle of 30 plus guys and when he’s laying there on the ground, she hovers over him and reaches into her cargo pocket. Ali, I kid you not, she grabbed her cut blond hair out of her pocket, threw it around his head, and said “Who’s the Barbie now, Mother Fucker?””

Ali and Jake both busted out laughing, the brunette looking over at her sleeping girlfriend in astonishment. “Of course she did….” 

“That’s when I knew we were meant to be best friends…we’ve been inseparable ever since…” Jake smiled fondly at the sleeping soldier. “I picture our kids growing up together and having each other’s backs the way we do…now it’s just easier to imagine who she has the kids with.” Jake admitted with a warm look at Ali. 

The shorter brunette felt a coziness settle through her body at the thought of being the mother of Ashlyn’s children. Before she could get too distracted in her daydream, she brought her attention back to Jake. “And what about you, huh? Any certain blondes that I know maybe getting you to think about settling down?” Ali prodded curiously.

“Whit? She’s great.” Jake smiled down into his empty coffee mug. “We’re kinda working through the same stuff you guys did, ya know? Distance and whatever, but I’m really hoping she feels about me the way I feel about her.” 

“Um…I don’t think you have to worry about that.” Ali giggled. “Between the two of you and the looks you put on mine and Whit’s faces, the rest of the single ladies on the team keep asking about Sean, Mikey and Travis…” A buzz from her phone momentarily pulled Ali away from the conversation. A quick text was responded to before she leaned down to dig into her purse with her free hand and tossed a pack of gum across the room to Jake. “You’ve been drinking coffee non-stop” 

He popped a piece of gum into his mouth but before he could offer a comeback about his breath, the door to the hospital room opened up and the very blonde they had just been talking about strode into the room with HAO in tow. “Whit?” Jake greeted in shock, feeling relief roll through him at the comforting sight of her as he got to his feet. The text message and gum from Ali all suddenly made sense. He appreciated her looking out for his potentially lethal breath. 

“Oh Jake…” Whitney crossed the room and wrapped her arms around him, cradling the strong frame in her arms and scratching the back of his neck lightly. “Ali texted me what happened. We drove up as fast as we could.” 

While Jake and Whitney held onto each other, HAO walked over to Ali and gave her a tight hug. “Hey Al. How ya holding up?” 

Ali was shocked to see her close friend but returned the hug with her free arm, still refusing to let go of Ash’s hand. “Getting better. She’s woken up a couple times, but HAO, what are you doing here??” 

“Whit and I were having a Tar Heel reunion down in Chapel Hill. I figured I’d keep her company on the ride and see if I could help or…whatever. They warned us we’re already 15 minutes after visiting hours so we can’t stay long.” Heather offered with a warm smile. 

“You’re the best.” Ali gave her another hug before glancing at the reunited couple, watching as Jake’s shoulders finally started to loosen up. “Whit, thanks for coming.”

“Oh, I didn’t just come. I brought a stuffed shark to help her get better.” Whit clarified as she held up the shark from the gift shop as she leaned against Jake. 

“Suck up.” Ali laughed before giving her a hug. 

Ashlyn was pulled out of her slumber to the sound of foreign voices. “Did someone say shark?” Ash asked with a smirk.

“There she is.” Whitney smiled and walked around to the other side of the bed and set the shark down next to her. “How ya feeling, champ?” 

Ashlyn offered a smile to Whitney and then HAO. “Um…well, the morphine helps…”

“It also makes you real handsy….” Jake supplied.

“Oh really?” HAO asked with a grin, laughing at Ali rolling her eyes. 

“She threw a temper tantrum because I wouldn’t let her hold my ass while the doctor checked her vitals…” Ali shot the Sergeant a playful glare. 

“You do have a nice ass, Kriegs.” Whitney teased.

“That’s what I’m saying!” Ash exclaimed, pointing at Whitney

“Don’t you start. You’re supposed to be helpful.” Ali warned before turning back to Ash. “And you, hush.” She was only scolding for a second before leaning in and placing a gentle kiss on Ash’s lips. “Are you feeling okay? Do you want me to go get the doctor?”

“Mmm. No, I’m good. You finally pried the guys out of here?”

“Yeah, I sent them home.” Jake supplied.

“Good….you should go too…” Ash looked outside and realized it was dark. “What time is it, anyway?”

Ali checked the clock. “It’s 8:15, babe.”

Ash blinked a couple times. “What day?”

“Thursday” Ali felt worry start to rush through her.

“Hey….no. I’m good. I just wasn’t sure how long I was out for. You…” She pointed at Jake. “Need to go home…we headed out for that op almost two days ago.”

Instantly, Jake started shaking his head. “No, I’m good. I’m fine…”

“Jake.” Ash tried to push away the sleep from her voice and sound more like the leader she was. “I’m going to be here in the morning. Go take a shower and get some sleep. Whit, get him out of here.” 

Whitney tilted her head sympathetically towards Jake. “She’s right, you know…” She reached out and ran a fingertip across his hairline. “You still have some war makeup, or whatever you call it, on your face.”

Ash laughed, amusement filling her face. “Yeah, Jake….go take your makeup off. Your mascara is running.” 

Jake sighed, hoping that Ash wouldn’t remember this and use makeup jokes in the future. “It’s considered face paint, babe…”

Whitney shrugged. “Face paint, then…let’s go.” 

“HAO, you can stay at our place if you want. We have a couple spare bedrooms. Travis is there watching the dogs but I can give him a heads up.” Ali offered.

“That’d be great. Do you need me to feed them or take care of anything at the house?” 

“Travis probably already fed them but if you could bring me a change of clothes in the morning? I’m going to stay with her tonight.” 

“Babe-“

“Absolutely not, Ashlyn Harris. Don’t even bother.” Ali warned in a firm tone before turning back to HAO who was fighting the laughter that was trying to escape. 

“You got it, Kriegs.” Heather turned her attention to Ashlyn “Good luuuuuck. I’ll see you in the morning.” 

Whit gave Ash’s free hand a quick squeeze before following Heather out of the room, leaving just the couple and Jake. 

“You’ll call if you need anything?” Jake asked hesitantly.

“Promise.” Ali confirmed with a smile. “Get some rest. And when you show up in the morning, if you have an extra Americano from Baked and Wired in your hand…y’know, I won’t be heartbroken about that.” She hinted.

“You got it.” Jake gave them both a hug before slipping out the door. 

The door shut behind Jake with a gentle click, leaving Ali and Ash alone. Ash laced their fingers together again and gave Ali’s hand a tight squeeze with a lopsided smile. “Hi.”

Ali felt her eyes well up with tears as that simple greeting transported her back in time. 

Ash wasn’t quite sure what was bringing on the tears or what she’d done to upset her so she backpedaled quickly. “Alex, hey, I’m sorry. It’s okay. I’m okay.” 

Ali took a deep breath and wiped away her tears. “No, I know…it’s just..the way you just looked at me and said hi….it’s like we were back in California that day we met and you were crouched down in front of me, letting me know everything was going to be okay.” She took another deep breath. “I really needed that right now.” 

Ash relaxed as she remembered vividly that day the brunette came into her life and changed her world. “That was a good day…”

“The best day” Ali corrected with a smile. She had been battling a war internally since the Sergeant had woken up. As she stared into the hazel eyes, she gave up her resolve. “I really need to be in your arms, Ash.” 

“Finally.” Ash sighed with a smirk, pleased to finally see Ali cave in. “I promise…I’ll tell you if it hurts. Just stick to my left side.” 

“Okay.” Ali carefully climbed into the bed, laying on her side and tucking into the frame of her love. “This is okay?” 

“This is great.” Ash wrapped her arms around Ali, pressing her face into the mess of chocolate hair and closing her eyes. “I love you so much, Alex. I’m so sorry I scared you.” 

Ali rested her head on the strong shoulder, closing her eyes and listening to the thriving heartbeat in Ash’s chest. “I love you too. God, I love you so much.” Ali mumbled out before letting the exhaustion of the day push her to slumber safely in the arms she called home. 

Chapter Text

Ali woke up the next morning still tucked into the side of her strong girlfriend. When she pulled back and looked up, she was met with smiling hazel eyes. Before she got a chance to speak, a voice from the corner of the room startled her, forcing her to use all her strength to not jostle Ashlyn. 

“You always were a heavy sleeper.” 

Ali’s head whipped around to see her mom perched comfortably in the recliner. “Mom! When did you get in?” 

“Oh just an hour ago. I’ve only been here for 15 minutes or so.” 

“And you?” Ali turned on the woman she was curled into. “You just let me snore away?”

Ash shrugged with a grin. “You looked cute.” 

“Uh huh…Keep digging, Harris.” Ali grumbled as she raked her fingers through her hair, trying to get it under control. She carefully untangled herself from the soldier and climbed off the bed, heading straight to her mom and wrapping her up in a hug. “Thanks for coming.” Ali mumbled and let herself soak in the kind of comfort only Deb could provide. 

“Of course, honey” Deb gave her a tight squeeze. “Not exactly how I planned on seeing the house for the first time but we make due, don’t we?” She shot Ashlyn a wink.

Ali held on for another moment before dipping into the attached bathroom to reapply mascara and brush her teeth, appreciating her oversized handbag and all her essentials she was able to keep crammed inside.

Once she was out of sight, Deb moved over to the hospital bed and gave Ashlyn a tender hug. “And how are you holding up?” 

Ashlyn returned the hug, swallowing the wince as she felt her ribs protest. “I’ve been through worse…I’m more worried about her. I’m trying to figure out how much trouble I’m in…”

Deb laughed, impressed that Ashlyn had been able to read between the lines so well with her daughter. “Oh, you’re in deep shit…”

Before they could get any further, the brunette reemerged from the bathroom with her hair in a loose bun and her makeup reapplied. Dr. Walker followed right behind her, offering everyone a warm smile. “Good morning. Sergeant, how are we feeling today?” 

“More lucid…that’s for sure.” Ashlyn had been incredibly in tune with her body since become a Ranger. “And stiffer…trailing off the pain meds?”

“We are, yes, but if it’s too much pain we can always reassess.” 

“No, it’s good. I just…” Ash chuckled lightly. “I can definitely tell my ribs are broken.” 

“Fair enough.” The doctor admitted as he looked over the various machines she was hooked up to. “Well…everything looks good. I’m going to have the nurse remove your catheter and then we’ll see about getting you up on your feet.” 

“Sounds good. Are you guys going to let me have coffee? Solid food maybe?” 

“I’ll make you a deal…you be nice to the nurse, get the catheter removed, get up and do a lap around this room and I’ll let you have two cups and an omelette. Deal?” 

“I like this guy.” 

Dr. Walker laughed before heading out of the room, promising a nurse would be in momentarily. 

“Why don’t you guys go get some food? By the time you’re back, hopefully I’ll be on my feet.” 

Ali opened her mouth to protest but Deb intervened before she got the chance. “That sounds like a great idea. I’m dying for a cup of coffee and I know my darling daughter could use one.” She looped her arm through Ali’s. “Let’s go, Alex.” 

Ali sighed, looking torn as she glanced back and forth between her mom and her girlfriend. 

“Alex…” Ash softly caught her attention. “Look at me, babe. I’m fine. Go get a cup of coffee and spare me the dignity of you watching my catheter get removed…” 

Suddenly it dawned on the defender why Ash had been so adamant. “Oh.” She giggled nervously. “Okay.” She gave Ash a quick kiss before following her mom out of the room. 

Deb couldn’t help but laugh once they were in the hallway. “You always were a little dense before your first cup of coffee….”

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the morning had gone well. Ashlyn navigated the room gingerly on a pair of crutches, being rewarded with the coffee as promised. Promptly at 8:00 am visiting hours started and boy did she have visitors. By 8:05 Jake, Whitney, HAO, Travis, Sean, Mikey and Ken Krieger had arrived, all pleased to see the Sergeant upright and the giant bandage around her head had been replaced with smaller gauze pads. Ash had also been successful in convincing her family to not spend obscene amounts of money on last minute flights to see her, even if it took 30 minutes to do so. 

The next day and a half progressed as well as anyone could have hoped and before they knew it, Ashlyn was discharged from the hospital. Ali pulled her BMW up to the front of the hospital and watched intently as Ashlyn was pushed out the front door in a wheelchair. The Sergeant gripped the cane firmly and hoisted herself out of the chair with a little assistance from Jake. A couple short steps later and she was officially free from the hospital’s grasp. 

“Okay, Sarge. We’ll meet you back at your place.” Jake confirmed before guiding Whitney towards his truck. 

Ash climbed into the car slowly and shot a smile over at Ali, happy to be headed home. 

Ali slipped the German coupe into drive. “Seatbelt.” 

“What?” Ash looked over, clueless. “It’s on…” 

Ali raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “I’m just checking…you seem to be having trouble remembering to wear it lately…”

Ashlyn winced. “Walked right into that one…” 

“Uh huh.” Ali muttered dryly before turning onto the road. 

As they drove the downtown DC streets, Ash found herself in the middle of an Ali Krieger minefield. She was calculated with every move, reaching out and gingerly slipping her hand into the defender’s. Ash noticed that she didn’t pull away but she also wasn’t greeted with the normal squeeze Ali would give her. The banged up brunette waited another minute before pulling their intertwined hands up to her lips, placing a warm kiss to the back of Ali’s knuckles. The soft sigh that escaped Ali’s lips didn’t go unnoticed. 

When they approached an intersection, Ashlyn decided to just start talking. “Hey…so…how long do you think you’re going to be mad at me? Like…rough estimate…” 

“That’s the route you want to go?” Ali asked, turning her head to look over at the Sergeant. Unfortunately for Ali, that was the wrong move if she wanted to be stubborn about being upset. When she looked over, Ashlyn’s head was cocked to the side like a puppy and she was smiling just enough for her dimple to be on display. “Don’t.” Ali ordered with as much firmness as she could muster. “Don’t give me that face.” 

Ash fought off the grin and tilted her head the other way, amping up the puppy eyes to her very best. “What face?” 

“Ashlyn Harris.” Ali scolded, turning back to the road as the light changed. She welcomed the relief that focusing on driving offered from the Harris puppy face as she hit the gas. She wasn’t ready to be done feeling angry and if she kept looking at that god damn dimple, she was going to cave.

Ashlyn watched her closely, the hazel eyes searching for what was really going on. A minute later, tears started to cascade down the stunning brunette’s cheeks like a torrential rain storm. Ash felt her heart clench in her chest as she reached to put a hand gently on Ali’s thigh, ignoring the protest screaming from her ribs. “Baby….baby, pull over.”

Ali shook her head, wiping stubbornly at the tears as her emotions betrayed her. “I’m fine.” 

“Alex. Pull over the car.” The voice was calm and even but Ali was struck by the way she was compelled to follow it. It was the same authoritative tone Ashlyn used at work. At the first opportunity, Ali pulled into a parking lot and slipped the car into park before a fresh set of tears started their way down her face. As quickly as she could move in her current condition, Ashlyn was out of the car and hobbling to the driver side door. She crouched down, unclipping Ali’s seatbelt and forcing the brunette to turn and put her feet on asphalt so they were face to face. Her hands reached up to cup the tear stained cheeks, wiping at them with the pads of her thumbs. “Talk to me.” 

Ali huffed out in frustration. “I’m so fucking mad. I’m mad at you for falling out of that fucking helicopter. I’m mad at Jake for showing up the way he did and making me think you were gone forever. I’m mad at myself for being mad. FUCK!” She screamed out in exasperation as her shoulders slumped. “And then I’m so incredibly, beyond words happy that I get the chance to be mad at you. And I'm so grateful that you have a best friend that wouldn't let anyone else deliver that message to me.” She shook her head, annoying herself with how out of wack her emotions were. She took another minute to collect herself before bringing her eyes up to Ashlyn’s.

“Is this our first fight?” Ash asked, trying to hide her amusement with her girlfriend’s rant.

Ali rolled her eyes. “Only took us a year…” 

“If I promise not to do it again, can we start making up?” Ash asked hesitantly, bringing her hands down to link with Ali’s and giving them a squeeze so the soccer star could feel just how alive she was.

“Maybe…” Ali muttered, feeling herself thaw. Who was she kidding? She wasn’t going to stay mad. Not with the Harris puppy look working against her. 

Ashlyn shifted around so she was on one knee in front of Ali, still holding both her hands as she made her vow. “Alexandra Blaire, I promise to never fall out of a helicopter ever again.” 

Ali stared down into the warm hazel, taking in the beaten up soldier. “Fine…you’re off the hook but, Sergeant?”

“Yes ma’am?”

The trademark sparkle and sass started to creep back into the whiskey colored eyes. “The next time you’re kneeling in front of me and holding my hands, you better have a diamond.” 

“Yes ma’am.”

Chapter Text

Ali couldn’t help but feel like that poor girl from the Twilight movies HAO used to make her watch. Not the one that couldn’t decide between the vampire or the werewolf. Not one of the vampires in Edward’s family. No, she felt like Emily, the one in the relationship with Sam, the Alpha of the werewolves. Ever since Ashlyn had been discharged from the hospital, the boys had practically lived at the house. Ali, Whitney and Deb were constantly cranking out meals for the bulky counterterrorism operatives as Christmas got closer and closer. It had taken her nearly a week to adjust but now she was using their presence to her advantage and if she was being honest with herself, she adored having them around. With Ash’s injury they had to make some adjustments, Christmas would now be held at their home with the boys, the Kriegers, the Harris’ and two massive dogs. She had a lot to accomplish and the guys were going to help. She let out a sharp whistle after setting the last tray of chicken on the kitchen island to signal that it was time to put down the Xbox controllers and come eat. 

A minute later, Ash hobbled in with the help of her cane as the guys and dogs trailed behind her. It had been almost two weeks since she was discharged and the stitches were now out. If possible, Ali thought the scar above her brow made her even sexier in a ‘devil may care’ kind of way. The Sergeant bypassed the food and went straight to Ali, wrapping her free arm around her waist and pulling her in for a quick kiss, mindful of the shorter brunette’s mother. 

Ali cupped the chiseled jaw, pulling her down for another kiss before her attention turned to the guys. When Mikey reached in for a plate, Ali smacked his hand “Ah! Hold it!” She leveled her best mom glare at him before giving the rest of the guys the same look. “Lunch comes at a price today. Christmas is in 10 days and we have some serious work to do. Jake, this house needs a Christmas tree. It needs to be big and it needs to be real…none of that pre-lit fake stuff. Whitney said she’d go with you to help pick it out. Sean, my mom and I put together a grocery list-“ She handed over the neatly scrawled paper to the medic. “And we’re running low on dog food. The pet store is by Whole Foods. Travis, Michael…” She raises an eyebrow to make sure she has the sniper’s attention. “This beautiful house needs to be dressed in lights. I’m talking Griswold family Christmas style.”

Mikey opened his mouth to protest but before he could get a word out, Jake smacked him upside the head. “We’ll get it done, Ali.” The Corporal assured her. 

Ali smiled smugly, leaning into Ash’s side. “Good, then eat up!” Her palm rested flat against her girlfriend’s stomach as she watched the guys pile their plates high with food. 

Ash snaked her arm around the defender’s shoulders, holding her close as she tried to stamp down her arousal at the way Ali ordered her team around. “And do I get a job?” She wondered out loud.

“You do.” Ali turned enough to be able to see the bright hazel eyes. “You’re taking me on a date.” 

Before Ashlyn got a chance to respond, Mikey piped up. “Wanna trade, Sarge?” 

Ashlyn laughed, burying her face into the chestnut hair and inhaling the sweet coconut scent. “You wish.”

 

 

 

 

After lunch, everyone set off on their tasks. Jake and Whitney gladly hopped in his truck and disappeared, pleased with their draw of the available tasks. Shortly after, Ali and Ash found themselves alone in the house. Sean, Travis and Mikey all went off to the various stores to get groceries and Christmas decorations while Deb took off in Ali’s car to go catch up with some of her old friends. 

Ali gave her watch a quick glance before sauntering into Ash’s arms. “We have to leave in about 30 minutes.” She leaned onto her tip toes and crushed their lips together, appreciating their newfound privacy. When they broke apart, Ali’s teeth raked over the soldier’s lower lip. 

“Mmm.” Ash groaned out and pressed her forehead against Ali’s. “And where are we going?” 

“Remember that gala I went to last month for youth sports in the DC area?” 

Ash nodded, recalling the picture she got while in Puerto Rico of her girlfriend in a stunning red gown and her hair cascading down in soft waves. She had spent that night longing to be able to be back in DC and have the honor of peeling that dress off Ali. “I remember.” 

“Well, I met TJ Oshie there. He’s a big supporter of the armed forces so naturally, I got to gushing about my brave, strong, Sergeant. He reached out to me yesterday. He’s got us two tickets on the glass for the Capitals game this evening.” Ali beamed, getting all the thanks she needed in the way Ash’s eyes lit up. 

“On the glass? Alex!” She wrapped her arms tightly around Ali. “Ugh. You’re perfect. I can’t wait to have a normal afternoon with you.” 

“Hold that thought.” Ali slipped out of the strong arms and disappeared into their closet for a minute. When she came back out she was wearing a red, form fitting, Capitals hoodie and had a bag in her hand. “Gotta look the part.” Ali grinned as she watched Ash pull out a navy Caps hoodie, immediately pulling it on over her t-shirt. “Perfect.” She openly admired how strong the broad shoulders looked under the sweatshirt.

Ash grabbed a gray RVCA snapback before wrapping her arms back around Ali. “This is going to be great. I needed to up my DC sports game since moving up here…” She admitted as she looked down at the sweatshirt. 

Ali moved her hands to the back of the tall brunette’s head and dragged her down for a sultry kiss. She channeled all of her self control to break them apart just a second before the clothes they had just put on started to come back off. “Ooookay. We need to go.” She lightly patted high on Ash’s chest before turning down the stairs. She tossed both dogs a treat before heading outside with Ash. 

Ash ambled her way down the stairs with a little help from the cane. She appreciated that Ali had backed off her hovering once the doctor had given nothing but praise at the checkup two days ago. When she followed Ali out the front door, her eyebrow raised at the Cadillac Escalade parked out front. 

Ali shot the Sergeant a flirty grin. “I told you it’s a date. We’re going for wings and beer before the game and if I’m keeping up with a Delta Force stud, I won’t be able to drive…” She winked before strutting to the waiting car with an extra sway in her hips. 

“I fucking love you, Alex Krieger….” Ash muttered out before hobbling after her. 

 

 

 

 

Ali was true to her word, taking Ash to Bonchon for the best wings in DC. When they sat down a brunette in her early twenties clad in a white t-shirt with a deep v neckline that displayed her cleavage walked up and boldly placed a hand on Ash’s shoulder. “Hey, I’m Kayla. Can I get you something to drink?” The waitress asked with a little too much sugar for Ali’s liking.

A perfectly manicured eyebrow rose as Ali watched the hand rest on shoulders that were hers to touch. When she saw Kayla do a light scratch with her nails on the capped shoulder, a move that Ali herself had used on her girlfriend countless times, she decided it was time to speak up. “Hey baby? What was that beer you brought home the other day after picking up little Finn from daycare? The one you know I love so much?” Ali asked the question in a manner that dripped with domesticity, tilting her head to the side innocently as she gave Ash a thousand watt smile. 

Ashlyn had to give her girlfriend credit. Not only had she made it very clear that they were in a relationship, she made it clear that they lived together and from an outsider’s view it appeared that Finn was their son…which he kind of was. Unfortunately for poor Kayla, help wasn’t coming from the Sergeant. Ali Krieger hung the moon as far as her hazel eyes were concerned and if Ali was looking to mark her territory, Ashlyn was all too eager to be that territory. She reached a calloused hand across the table to lace her fingers with Ali’s. “Oh yeah…” Ash smiled lovingly at the mischievous whiskey colored eyes. “It was Ballast Point…their Kolsch…” She turned her body enough that Kayla’s hand was forced to fall off the shoulder as she looked up at her. “Do you have that? Or any Kolsch, really, would be fine. And I’ll take the same.”

“Sure thing.” The waitress turned, having clearly received the message as she headed to get their drinks.

“Thanks Kayla!” Ali called out in a syrupy voice before turning her gaze back to Ash. 

Ashlyn’s eyes danced with amusement as she took in the brunette that had ruined all other women for her. “You’re too much.” Ash laughed. 

Ali rolled her eyes. “Oh please….I was going to be nice but when she scratched her nails on you the way I do, she’s lucky I didn’t break her fingers.”

“Feisty. I like it.” Ash grinned. “Thanks for all this, Alex. We were overdue for a date night.” 

“Well if you’d quit falling out of helicopters, we could do them more often.” Ali teased lightly, tracing her fingertips across the defined knuckles on Ash’s hand. “I’m excited to have Christmas in our house though. It’ll be nice to have everyone under one roof. Our roof.” 

“I can tell. Our poor mailman is dropping off packages daily.” Ash teased, recalling all of the online shopping her girlfriend had been indulging in. 

“Staaaahp. It’s our first Christmas together…maybe I’m a little excited. Besides, you’re excited too. You’re just not showing it because you’re supposed to be a big tough-guy. You’re not fooling me.” 

Ash smirked. “Busted.” She took a sip of her recently delivered beer before voicing her thoughts. “I have this dream in my head that keeps playing over and over of waking up Christmas morning with you in my arms…I can’t wait.” 

The rest of their dinner was spent devouring wings and drinking beer to the soundtrack of laughter. Throughout their meal, fans had come up on four different occasions to ask for signatures or pictures which Ali had politely agreed to. Ever since the World Cup this had happened fairly often and, as always, Ash watched on with pride. When the bill came, Ash insisted on paying to make sure Ali didn’t leave “Don’t hit on someone else’s girlfriend” as a tip. 

As they stepped into the cold DC night air Ali reached up and plucked the hat off of Ashlyn’s head, placing it on her own before running her fingertips through Ash’s hair to tame the short locks. When the shorter brunette saw the puzzled look on her girlfriend’s eyes, Ali brought her hand up to cup Ash’s cheek. “I don’t want to spent the rest of the night being Ali Krieger of the US National team. I want to spend it being your Alex.” She explained as she pulled the brim of her makeshift disguise down a little further.

Ash felt her heart swell at the mumbled admission. She bent down and claimed Ali’s lips for a kiss simmering with passion, breaking away when her lungs were burning for air. “I absolutely adore you…” Ash breathed out. “C’mon, Alex. Let’s go watch a hockey game.”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 60

 

Ali let out a big sigh as she shut the door to the master bedroom and leaned against it. “Who’s the genius that decided hosting everyone here was going to be a good idea?” She wondered out loud as she rolled her neck back forth, trying to relieve the tension wound up in her shoulders. It was Christmas eve and their new home had been buzzing with activity all day long. In the last 24 hours, family had descended upon them in a rush and this was the first moment of privacy for her with Ashlyn.

Ash spit her mouthful of toothpaste into the sink before walking back into the bedroom and straight to her girlfriend, wrapping her up tightly as her hands started to knead the tense shoulders. “Mmm…I think that genius would be you, darling.” The taller brunette grinned as she thought back on the day. They had been running around non-stop: grocery shopping, picking up the Harris clan from the airport, picking Kyle up from the train station, last minute shopping and cleaning, but when the Sergeant walked into the kitchen to find Tammye and Deb’s heads thrown back in laughter together while Gram and Ali were busy frosting sugar cookies, a warmth and comfort spread through Ashlyn’s body like she’d never felt before. Seeing both of their families mesh together so seamlessly was all the Christmas gift she needed. 

It had been an impressively long day but everyone was finally settled down. Deb and Mike in one bedroom, Gram and Tammye in another, with Kyle and Chris sharing the third. Despite how tired she was, Ali couldn’t ignore how great it felt to have everyone under one roof. She buried her face in Ashlyn’s strong chest, groaning as the skilled hands worked on the knots in her back. “Feels so good…” She mumbled out, breathing in the comforting woodsy scent.

“Promise to be quiet and I’ll make you feel even better…” Ashlyn purred into the defender’s ear, causing the gentle whiskey colored eyes to close. 

“I promise…” 

 


  

The next morning, Ashlyn carefully slipped out from underneath the clingy sleeper and pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie before padding downstairs with the dogs in tow. She was on a mission. Her objective: get coffee and get back into the warm arms of her girlfriend undetected. One misstep and she could be ambushed by any one of their number of guests. She held her breath as she slowly opened the french doors to let the dogs outside, wincing as she heard the creak echo through the otherwise silent house. While the dogs were outside, she set about making coffee and getting the mugs down. As soon as there was enough coffee in the pot for two cups she quickly filled the mugs, grabbed a couple frosted sugar cookies and let the dogs back inside before disappearing back upstairs into the safety of their bedroom. She was in the home stretch, just a couple more steps and she’d be back holding the sleeping beauty as if she’d never left….and then there was Finn.

The lovable oaf was just too excited to see his mom, it was almost as if he knew it was Christmas morning. With two big strides he was soaring onto the mattress, his cold wet nose nudging the peacefully sleeping brunette out of her dream. Ashlyn scrambled to put down the coffee and cookies as quickly as possible, hissing at the Rottweiler to get down. Before the Sergeant got the chance to shoo him off, Ali was wrapping the gentle giant up in a hug. “Merry Christmas, little man. Deacon, get up here.” She patted the bed, smiling sleepily when the German Shepherd crawled up much calmer. 

Ashlyn stared down at her girlfriend with a lopsided smile, admiring how she was buried under a pile of dogs. “I was trying to be stealthy….Finn had other plans…” She crawled back under the covers and wrapped an arm around her girlfriend’s shoulders with a tender kiss. “Merry Christmas, baby.” 

“Mmm….” Ali soaked in the kiss, leaving her eyes closed when she responded. “Merry Christmas. I smell coffee”

“First gift of the day.” Ashlyn confirmed, reaching across to the nightstand and passing the steaming mug to the grateful brunette. “And I thought a homemade sugar cookie was the perfect breakfast.” She set the stack of cookies on her lap before dipping her cookie in her cup and taking a bite. 

“So thoughtful” Ali grinned, mimicking Ashlyn’s actions with her own cookie and letting out a content sigh. “You three are the best Christmas present I could ask for.” 

“Mmm…I could say the same about you…but I talked to the boys, they’re really hoping there’s some Kongs in their stockings.” 

Ali laughed softly, resting her head on the strong shoulder. “I think they’ll have a good Christmas…”

 


   

The quiet morning spent wrapped in each other’s arms quickly disappeared into a bustling family affair. Pot after pot of coffee was brewed and the entire Krieger/Harris clan (including Jake who showed up around 8:00 am) enjoyed breakfast gathered around their large farmhouse table. Chris and Kyle were sporting matching Santa hats while Ashlyn and Ali were soaking in the holiday together, always sharing small touches or stealing bites from each other’s plates. 

Shortly after breakfast the clan made their way into the living room, piling onto couches and love seats around the giant illuminated Christmas tree. Ali nuzzled into her love’s side as she took a moment to soak in this feeling. She’d always dreamed of the day she’d get to experience this exact feeling. The feeling of perfect happiness. Bing Crosby played on the record player she’d gotten Ashlyn for her birthday as Kyle and Chris started passing out gifts to everyone. As they sipped on their coffee the front door opened up to reveal the last three missing members of this patchwork family they’d created. 

“Merry Christmas Mother-F”

“Palmer!” Ashlyn barked out in an authoritative tone that caught Deb, Vicki and Kyle off guard. Ali couldn’t help the heat that rushed through her veins. Hearing her girlfriend exude so much power did things to her. She bit her lower lip with a grin as she buried her face in Ashlyn’s chest, doing her best to hide her thoughts.

The sniper grinned mischievously. “Merry Christmas, mothers! See? There’s a mother” He placed a kiss on top of Deb’s head. “And there’s a mother.” Kiss to Vicki’s head. “There’s one.” Kiss to Tammye’s head. “And this gorgeous woman.” He finished with a kiss and hug to Ashlyn’s grandmother. “Honestly, Sarge…I’m appalled.” 

“Uh huh…” Ash muttered, holding Ali close and sipping her coffee as Travis, Sean and Mikey settled in with the group for the gift exchange. 

  


 

 

Nearly two hours later, the gift exchange was finally winding down. There were piles and piles of “stuff” in front of everyone, including a perfectly packed parachute that Mikey had given to Ashlyn “From: Santa” which earned a healthy glare from both Ali and Jake. The dogs had a blast opening their gifts as well. They’d been properly spoiled by Deb, Vicki and Tammye as if they were the women’s grand-babies. As the two dogs laid in front of the fireplace, happily chewing on their new Kongs, Deb pulled one more box out from underneath the tree. She checked the tag before walking towards the couch the happy couple was camped out on. “Alex, this one has your name on it.”

Ali set her coffee mug down on the table before reaching out to take the rectangular box. The weight caught her off guard. It looked like a sweater box but this was definitely heavier than a sweater. When she glanced up, she noticed that everyone was watching her. Instantly, her curiosity was peaked. “Is something going to jump out at me? There’s way too many pranksters in this room…” Ali raised an eyebrow at Mikey who just shrugged innocently. Seeing Kyle at the ready with his camera did nothing to ease her suspicions either. “Babe?” Ali shot a glance next to her. 

Ash raised her hands up in innocence. “Don’t look at me. The tag says from Santa.” 

Ali’s cinnamon eyes did one more scan of the room, searching the faces for any hint of what might be beneath the wrapping paper before she started to tear away at it. Once the paper was gone Ali gasped, her eyes snapping up to her mom’s face. “You kept this?” Ali whispered out as her hands ran over the white box from her childhood. She looked back down at the rock collector her parents had gotten her for Christmas many, many years ago in awe. Her slender fingers reached out and undid the silver clasp. As she did, Ashlyn set her coffee mug down and turned her body towards the defender. Ali lifted up the lid and let out a nose crinkling smile at all of the rocks inside, forgetting about all the eyes on her. 

As Ali’s eyes soaked in the memory from her childhood, Ashlyn reached over and plucked a small velvet box from the middle of the rock organizer that Ali hadn’t seen yet. She stood from her spot on the couch before dropping down to a knee in front of the stunning defender. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves before speaking. “Alex…”

“Oh my god.” Ali felt her eyes immediately start to water as her hands shot up to cover her mouth. Of all the things she thought the gift might be, she had not seen this coming.

Ash let out a lopsided smile at the sight of her shocked girlfriend, suddenly feeling the strength course through her veins to ask the most important question of her life. “I could spend my entire life dreaming up what perfection looked like and it wouldn’t even come close to you. In fact, I had come to terms with the fact that you didn’t exist. That there was no one out there that would love me for who I am. No one that could make me feel alive the way you do. You make me see life in color. Stunning, vibrant color. And now that I’ve found you, I’m never letting you go. If you’ll let me, I’ll spend the rest of my life making sure you know just how perfect you are. Because you are. You’re perfect. And I love every single part of you.” Ash took a deep breath and let out a soft chuckle. “I’m rambling.”  

Ali wiped away a tear that had escaped from her eyes and let out a soft laugh too but otherwise stayed quiet, not trusting herself to speak. Another gasp escaped her lips as Ashlyn opened up the small box, revealing a stunning 3 carat solitaire diamond ring.

“Alexandra Blaire, I love you. With everything I have, I love you. And I promise to spend the rest of my life working to be the kind of person you deserve to spend your life with.” Ashlyn took one more deep breath, looking down at the ring in her lightly shaking hands before her hazel eyes travelled up to meet the shining cinnamon ones she loved so much. “Will you marry me?” 

“Yes.” Ali whispered out without hesitation as tears started to freely cascade down her face. “Yes. Yes. Yes.” Her words got louder as she leaned forward and took the handsome face in her hands. “Ash, the answer will always be yes.” She crashed their lips together as the other 14 people in the room erupted into cheers. 

Ash’s strength was on display as her arms wrapped the defender up and hoisted her off the couch. The soccer star’s legs snapped around her waist as they kissed to the backdrop of catcalls. When they finally broke apart, their foreheads pressed together. Ashlyn kept one arm firmly wrapped around Ali’s waist while the other hand slipped the ring onto Ali’s last hand. “I love you so much.” She whispered out, the giant smile putting her dimple on full display. 

“I love you too.” Ali whispered back, her voice thick with emotion as she looked at the remarkable ring on her hand. 

When Ash finally set Ali back down on her own two feet, the couple was swarmed by their families. Deb was the first to get to them, tears cascading down her face as she hauled them both into a hug. Sean slipped out onto the front porch and brought in the bottles of champagne and sparkling cider he had been tasked with bringing, popping the cork and pouring two glasses for the newly engaged couple before handing out glasses to everyone. 

 


 

 

The rest of the day was spent with Ali in Ashlyn’s arms. The Sergeant refused to let go of her new fiancé longer than was absolutely necessary. There was no such thing as close enough and Ali couldn’t agree more. Ash’s jaw rested on Ali’s shoulder as the smaller brunette listened to everyone else explain the detail her love had gone to in order to give her the perfect engagement. The brown eyes swam with tears as she heard about how Ashlyn had asked for her parent’s blessing. What really choked her up was that Ash hadn’t asked Ken and Deb for permission to marry their daughter. She’d explained to them that Ali was too strong and independent to need someone else’s permission to make such a big decision in her own life and that was one of the qualities that Ash valued so much in her. Instead, she’d asked the Kriegers for their blessing to become a part of their family. It was a blessing they were happy to give. 

Later that night as the day was starting to wind down, Ali was still curled up in Ashlyn’s lap but this time they were alone in front of their fireplace enjoying wine and whiskey together while their families were hanging out in the kitchen. Slow, languid kisses were exchanged as they soaked in their new relationship status. The fire reflecting off of the stunning diamond caught the defender’s eye once again, holding her hand out in front of her as she admired it. Her fiancé knew her well, it was perfect. “I’m not going to even ask how much this cost…” Ali teased, sipping her wine. 

“Good. Don’t.” Ash laughed, placing a kiss on Ali’s shoulder. 

Ali leaned her head against Ashlyn’s and let out a content sigh. “I mean, how did you even come up with this proposal? It was so perfect, Ash.” 

Ash grinned as she thought back on her planning process. “It was actually right before my accident. When I was down in Puerto Rico, I was missing you like crazy one night…it was too late to call you”

“It’s never too late to call me.” Ali interrupted.

Ash rolled her eyes with a chuckle before she continued. “Anyways…I just wanted to hear your voice so I went to Youtube and watched your video on US Soccer. The animated one. It had just been released and you oh so subtly hinted that you were still looking for a particular rock. After I saw that, I knew there was no other way to do it. I was just lucky enough that Debber’s hadn’t gotten rid of the case.”

Ali reached up with her diamond clad hand to cradle Ash’s face, pouring all of her love into their kiss. “I can’t wait to be your wife.” 

 

Chapter Text

Ashlyn walked through the front door of her home with a giant smile on her face. The smile faltered only slightly when she wasn’t met with the pitter patter of paws. “Huh…car’s in the driveway…” Ash tossed her keys on the small table in the foyer and went in search of her fiancé, her smile returning to full strength at the thought of Ali’s new title in her life. “Babe?” She called out before finding the door to the basement cracked open. She stopped to grab a beer out of the fridge before trotting downstairs. She leaned against the doorframe with a smile as she found their two dogs watching Ali workout with rapt attention. “Hey you.” 

Ali was in the middle of a bench press when the Sergeant made herself known. She grunted out the last rep before racking the bar and sitting up, wiping her face with a towel. “Hey baby. How was the doctor appointment?” Ali had been pacing back and forth, waiting for the results of Ashlyn’s check up when she decided it would be best to go burn up some energy in the gym.

“Clean bill of health.” Ash beamed as she took a pull from her beer. “Just in time, too.” 

Ali hopped off the bench and placed her hand flat against the ribs that cracked when Ashlyn fell from the helicopter. “You’re sure? You promise?” Ali bit her lower lip nervously as her thumb rubbed back and forth.

“I promise.” Ash wrapped her arms tightly around Ali and gave her a quick kiss. “I feel great and if that changes  you’ll be the first to know. Now, can we celebrate that I’m allowed to resume full activity?” Ash set the beer down and scooped the defender up to press her firmly against the wall, earning a moan from Ali’s lips as clothes started to peel off. “I have a fiancé that’s forced me to be careful. Doc says I don’t have to be careful anymore…” 

Ali hooked her ankles around the strong waist of her future wife, drawing her closer. “Mm…yes, please.”

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, the newly engaged couple strolled through Dulles airport hand in hand. “Ugh, I’m so excited for sandy beaches…” Ali sighed dreamily, leaning into the soldier’s strong frame. “Did Jake say when they were getting here?” 

Ash was too busy glaring down a man who was ogling her fiancé to respond. The man shamelessly stared at Ali’s ass in skin tight Lululemon yoga pants as he walked by, going as far as to turn and walk backwards a few steps. That was enough. Ash started to turn around and go after him to remind him how women deserved to be treated but before she got the chance, the man was tumbling to the ground. 

Jake and Whitney had just cleared security and were headed to the Starbucks they were meeting Ali and Ashlyn at when Jake caught sight of the couple. It was only a second longer before Jake caught sight of what his best friend was looking at and why she had her signature “pissed” look. When the man started walking backwards Jake quickly adjusted course and drove his shoulder hard into the guy, causing the ogler to crash to the ground all under the pretense of an accident. Jake glared down at him before offering a word of warning in a harsh voice. “You should really watch where you’re going.” 

Ash felt a smug grin spread across her face. It was good to have best friends like Jake Archer. She shot Jake a knowing wink as Ali pulled Whitney into a hug while the ogler grumbled and headed off in the opposite direction. “Hey Arch. Good looking out.” She thanked as she pulled him into a ‘bro-hug.’

“No worries. He deserved it.”

“Who deserved what?” Whitney asked as she gave Ash a hug.

“Huh?” Ash asked, feigning innocence. “Hey, did you hear? Got the green light for full activity.” She smacked her ribs lightly for emphasis. 

Ali suspiciously glanced between Jake and her fiancé before deciding it wasn’t worth the trouble of figuring out what they were up to. “Green light or not, you-“ She pointed at Jake “-are not allowed to let her re-break anything.” 

Jake offered up a dutiful salute, silently promising to keep an eye on his best friend, as always, while they were on vacation.

Satisfied with his answer, Ali looped her arm through Whitney’s and lead them with a purpose. “Come on. We need mimosas instead of coffee!” 

As Ashlyn and Jake trailed after their ladies, the corporal bumped his shoulder lightly against his best friend’s. “How’d we get so lucky?” He wondered out loud.

“No clue.” Ash admitted with a smile.

 

 

 

 

 

The quartet easily navigated through the Key West airport and a short cab drive later they pulled up in front of the house they had rented for the week of New Years. As they climbed out of the van, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux made a slightly tipsy entrance onto the front porch, raising their glasses in the air to greet the newcomers. 

“Hey! It’s the soccer and soldier brigade!” Syd cried out excitedly. 

“Serv! Serv, get the girls some margaritas! They have to catch up!” Alex shouted back into the house. 

While Jake and Ashlyn hauled the bags out of the taxi, Ali and Whitney ran up to greet their teammates. 

“Oh my god, show me!” Syd cried, reaching for Ali’s left hand. “Oh, fuck me! It’s bigger than mine!” 

Ali blushed, beaming with pride over the ring her soul mate had given her just a week earlier. “She did good…” 

“Good?! If I knew being gay came with rings like that, I would’ve tried harder in college…” Sydney laughed. 

Just then, Dom and Servando came out. Serv handed Ali and Whitney margaritas while Dom had two beers in his hand for Ash and Jake. “Lovely, darling.” Dom teased, handing the soldiers each a beer as they set the luggage on the porch.

The group fell into an easy rhythm, Alex giving them a tour and showing the two new couples to their rooms before they all ended up on their private section of the beach for the rest of the evening. 

 

 

 

 

The next morning Ashlyn silently slipped out from beneath her fiancé’s flawless body, placing a gentle kiss to Ali’s forehead before pulling on a pair of board shorts and sports bra. The Sergeant was only in the kitchen for five minutes before Jake made himself known.

“Sarge.” He grunted out in greeting, pouring a cup of coffee for himself. 

“Swells are looking prime this morning” Ash noted as she stared out the french doors to the beach. “And I talked to Nate, he’s dropping off the dive gear around 8:00”

Jake grunted out an acknowledgement as he took up his post on her right side, staring out into the same stunning ocean. 

Ashlyn smirked to herself. Jake was always a man of few words in the morning, choosing to communicate like a caveman for at least the first hour of every day. “Alright…let’s go. I want to get in a good session with the surf before we workout because I haven’t sparred in over a month…” 

With another silent grunt, Jake chugged the rest of his coffee and followed her all the way to the ocean with surfboards tucked under their arms.

 

 

 

Hours later Ali woke up alone, her hand reaching out to the sheets to confirm what she already knew: the sheets were cold and her fiancé had been gone for hours. She ran a hand through her long brown locks before climbing out of bed and pulling on a pair of cotton shorts and sports bra, eager to soak in the hot Florida sun. A short trek into the kitchen informed her that she was the last one up: Whitney, Alex, Sydney, Dom and Servando were all in the open kitchen and living room space. 

“Long night?” Whitney teased with a wink.

“Like you’re one to talk…” Ali quipped back, pointing to Whitney’s neck and the dark mark there before pouring herself a cup of coffee. “What are you guys looking at?” Ali wondered out loud as she followed the group’s gaze out the floor to ceiling windows. 

“Your fiancé is putting on a show.” Serv admitted with a hint of awe in his voice.

Immediately, Ali rolled her eyes. “God damn it…” She muttered under her breath. “So much for taking it easy.” Ali watched as her fiancé ducked underneath a left hook from Jake before grabbing his arm and launching the 205 pound man through the air at full speed. She nudged her way through the crowd and out onto the porch so she could properly scold. “JACOB!” 

The use of the corporal’s full name was enough to get the soldiers to freeze mid-spar. “How the hell am I the one getting yelled at?” Jake marveled breathlessly from the flat of his back, drenched in sweat. Despite her time off, his Sergeant had been kicking his ass for the last 25 minutes. The entire former Delta team knew that Ashlyn was by far the most skilled at hand to hand combat.

Ash was dripping sweat too, perched on top of her best friend where she had been ready to start delivering body blows. “I just gave her a really big diamond…she can’t yell at me…” She smirked mischievously. 

Jake rolled his eyes. “Dick.” He cleared his throat before looking over at the brunette who still had her arms stretched out in the universal ‘what the fuck’ motion. “Sorry, Al!”

“Uh huh…” Ali muttered before giving her attention back to her coffee mug. 

 

 

 

An hour and a half later the group was hanging out on the patio, enjoying breakfast and coffee together, when a zodiac with two stocky guys with high and tight hair cuts drove all the way up onto the sand. Ash pushed back her chair, giving Ali a quick kiss before heading down to the beach with Jake right on her heels. “Nate, Charlie! What’s up, fellas?” She gave them each a firm handshake. 

“Hey Sarge. How the hell are ya? Archer. Private life is treating you guys well.” Nate teased, pointing at the beach house they had rented for the week. 

Ash grinned. “No complaints, that’s for sure. Thanks for running this dive equipment over. I appreciate it.”

“No problem…but if one of the newb’s get eaten by a shark, you didn’t get this stuff from us.” 

“Deal. Want to meet my fiancé?” Ash asked casually, biting back her grin.

“Your what?? You’ve got to be fist fucking me…your ugly mug actually got her to say yes?” Nate teased his friend from the Special Forces Diving School. He’d given her a hard time good-naturedly when Ali and Ashlyn’s kiss after the World Cup ended up all over newspapers so he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do it again. “Let’s go meet this saint….maybe give her a vision and hearing test…” 

Ash rolled her eyes and gave him a square punch in the arm before leading them up to the porch. “Guys, this is Nate and Charlie. They’re instructors at the Special Forces Diving School down here. Guys, this is Sydney, Dom, Alex, Servando, Whitney and this is Ali, my fiancé.” Ash couldn’t suppress the tingle she felt when Ali’s smile beamed even brighter at her new title. 

 

 

 

After coffee and donuts, the instructors left and Ash was in their room changing into board shorts when Ali walked in. “Hey beautiful.” Ash buttoned her shorts and closed the distance between them to claim a kiss. “Sure you’d rather go to the spa with the girls than go diving with us?” 

“Positive.” Ali answered without a second thought. “Gotta keep the nails fresh now that there’s so much attention on my hand.” She bragged, wiggling the fingers on her left hand. “I can’t wait to be your wife…” She whispered breathlessly as the emotion of the idea washed over her. 

“Mmm…” Ash hummed appreciatively. “I like the sound of that.” She whispered reverently before wrapping up her fiancé in a needy kiss. 

When they separated, Ali backed up a half step so her head would stop swimming with want. “The girls asked me to talk to you…”

“Okay?”

“Their husbands are just pretty soccer boys….they’re not…durable.” Ali tried to choose her words carefully, her eyes twinkling with amusement. “And they’re a little worried that Serv and Dom are so excited to hang with you guys that they might, um, try to come off a little tougher than they actually are….”

Ash laughed, drawing Ali back flush against her. “Got it. Return the pretty boys scratch free.”

“Exactly.” 

“Anything for the Mrs.” Ash joked.

“Good girl.” Ali gave her a pat on the cheek and a quick kiss before disappearing for her day at the spa with the girls.

Chapter Text

Chapter 62

 

 

“Holy shit, it was amazing! There were sharks everywhere!” Dom cried out exuberantly as the quartet made their way back into the beach house after a day spent scuba diving, finding their significant others tanning on the deck overlooking the beach. Dom and Servando made a beeline straight to their wives, eager to gush about how tough they had been while diving with the Special Forces operatives. 

While Sydney, Alex and Whitney listened to the exaggerated stories Dom and Serv had to offer, as soon as Ali’s sunglass shielded eyes took in her fiancé she was on her feet, eager to taste the soldier’s lips on her own. Ashlyn’s normally perfectly styled hair was replaced with a relaxed ocean inspired do, a pair of board shorts sat low on her hips and the Rip Curl tank top showed off each and every defined muscle. Ali wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her look more irresistible. Once she had crossed the deck, she leaned up onto her tiptoes to claim the perfect lips, appreciating the salty taste the ocean had left lingering behind. When they broke apart she wasn’t able to go far, Ashlyn’s arms holding her snug against her. “Y’know Harris, this lazy surfer look really works for you…”

“Yeah?” Ash grinned, moving her hands dangerously low on Ali’s back. “I’m just trying to keep up…we’re here for a week and I saw exactly how many bikinis you packed…” 

“Just for you, stud…” Ali ran her newly manicured fingertips threw the short windblown locks. “Now…what’s all this talk about sharks?” She asked, half hearing Servando’s tale of the ‘massive shark that could’ve eaten us all’ and remembering the promise from Ashlyn to keep them away from danger. 

Ashlyn laughed and nipped at Ali’s earlobe. “Let them have their fun…it was some nurse sharks and a couple of black tip reef sharks. Completely harmless…I returned the precious cargo in one piece, as promised.” 

“So you did.” Ali bit her lower lip, staring up into the shining hazel eyes and deciding to voice a question that had been on her mind ever since the proposal. “After taking such good care of them, does that mean you’re ready to start the parenting adventure?” 

Ashlyn tried to control her heart beat, feeling it start to race in her chest at the thought of the beautiful woman in her arms as a mother to their children. “I-“ 

Before Ashlyn could get more than a word out, a classic Krieger rant was off to the races. “That was silly…I didn’t mean..obviously I didn’t mean…we’ve only been engaged for a week and we haven’t even started to plan the wedding and then there’s the Olympics and I know we talked about having kids once or twice but that was a long time ago and I don’t even know if you still feel the way now that you did back then. You’ve got a different job and we have a second dog and it’s a lot, y’know? So maybe we could just forget that I said anything and-“

The rant was cut off by an all consuming kiss, Ashlyn eager to stop Ali from going any further down the rabbit hole. Her fingertips dug into the defender’s lower bag, pressing them tightly against each other and when she finally felt Ali relax and sink into the kiss she knew she was successful in redirecting her. After taking the kiss as far as she could they broke apart for air, eyes instantly locking onto each others. “I can’t wait to have kids with you, Alex.” Ash breathed out, quietly. “We’re on the same page, babe. I promise. Let’s just make an honest woman out of you first.” Ash teased with a wink “I mean, we’ve come this far…might as well get married before becoming parents.” 

Ali let out a bark of a laugh followed by a sigh of relief, happy to hear they were on the same page about becoming parents. “Whew.” Before she could say anything else, Sydney bursted their little romantic bubble. 

“Hey- Romeo and Juliet! Stop making out and get over here! You’re giving the rest of us cavities!”

 

 

 

 

The rest of the week in Key West had flown by and before they knew it, they were back home in DC. Ali had come home from her morning training session, heading downstairs after finding the rest of the house empty. 

Ashlyn took a gulp of her coffee, twisting her face at how cold it had gotten as she worked away. She grabbed a couple more pushpins and went back to the map of Brazil she had hung on one of her “working walls” where she kept her most up to date intel. She very precisely pushed in two more red pins before adding a green one at a different location. Before she could go any further, the happy whine of a grown Rottweiler gave her advance warning that “mom” was home. She turned just in time to see Deacon and Finn running towards Ali, tails wagging. “Hey, gorgeous.” 

“Hey, yourself.” Ali smiled, holding out a coffee mug. “I figured you were out or you let it go cold…” She explained knowingly before going in for a kiss.

“You’re perfect. Literally, perfect.” Ash admitted, taking a sip of the piping hot coffee with her eyes closed. 

While Ash savored the coffee, Ali’s eyes took in the newly added map. Her eyes took in the variety of different colored pins and the neat all-caps writing of her fiancé in dry-erase marker. “Ash, what’s this?” 

“Hmm?” Ashlyn opened her eyes and followed Ali’s gaze. “Oh…just some work.” 

“Really? Because if I didn’t know better, I would think that you’re scouting out the Olympics for potential terrorist threats.” Ali raised a manicured eyebrow, daring her fiancé to not come forth with the truth. 

Ashlyn scratched the back of her neck and took a sip of coffee to buy herself some time. “Uh…what makes you say that?” 

Ali rolled her eyes before stepping closer to the map. “Well, let’s see…these fuchsia colored pins, y’know, my favorite color? They’re placed at Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo, Salvador and Rio…which is ironic because that’s exactly where all the different football stadiums are during the Olympics. Then you have perimeters drawn up around each one of them with red pins…which I’m assuming are potential concerns of yours. Then there’s all this writing of yours about various criminal activity in the last 6 months in each one of those cities. It’d be one impressive coincidence if you just happened to be researching Brazil instead of being the protective teddy bear I actually know you to be…”

Ashlyn leaned against her desk, crossing her feet at the ankles and letting out a deep breath. “When you say it like that, it is damning evidence…” 

Ali turned and took two strides until she was pressed up against Ashlyn. “How long have you been working on this?”

“A day and a half.”

“And you already have all five cities scoped out?!” Ali wondered in shock.

“I mean, I have a lot of resources…” 

Ali shook her head, looking up at her fiancé adoringly. “You’re too much.” She claimed Ash’s lips in a quick kiss before turning around and leaning her back against Ash’s chest. This time when she spoke, her voice held a teasing seriousness. “Alright, Sergeant First Class. Give me a run down.” 

Ash’s arms subconsciously wrapped around Ali’s waist as she rested her chin on the defender’s shoulder. “The venues will be pretty secure, given the event. Plus, any cartel looking to make a move wouldn’t want that much exposure. It’s the transportation that poses a vulnerability. These long windy roads that they would bus you back and forth in present pinch points that are ideal for kidnappings. If I were trying to kidnap you, that’s how I’d do it.” 

“How comforting.” Ali deadpanned. 

Ash laughed, realizing she’d let the clinical tone she used while she was working take over in her conversation with Ali. “Sorry…Obviously not trying to kidnap you. Anyway, it won’t matter. We’ll be there.”

“Babe…as much as I’d love the personal security detail, significant others aren’t allowed on the bus. And the guys definitely aren’t.” 

“Oh, I know.” Ash’s eyes raked over the map again. “We’re going to station in Brazil the entire time you’re there on behalf of the US Government. Whenever you’re traveling we’ll be in ORVs less than a quarter mile away the entire time.” 

“Ashlyn Harris, you are not launching a mission just so you can be close to me.” 

“You’re right, I’m not. Director Kennedy is.” Ashlyn placed a kiss on Ali’s neck. “There’s going to be a handful of tact teams keeping an eye on the high profile American Olympians while they’re traveling. I just bartered to make sure I was watching my favorite Olympian.” 

Ali felt her stomach fill with butterflies at the length her soldier had gone to. “Really?” She asked hopefully, squeezing the strong forearms wrapped around her stomach. 

“Really. And it’ll leave us free to be at the games.” Ash confirmed, nibbling on Ali’s earlobe.

“Wait. Is this something they do often? How often has some military unit been watching me?”

Ashlyn laughed lightly, nuzzling into Ali’s neck. “No…Not for you, anyways. Your last couple major tournaments have been in pretty developed countries. We did spend time in Russia for the winter olympics…”

Ali turned around once again so she could look into Ash’s eyes. “I couldn’t think of a better team to watch over us….After all, you did a pretty good job the day we met.” 

Ash grinned and gave her a quick kiss. “Let’s hope this time is a little less eventful…”

“I don’t know…I’m particularly fond of that day.” Ali mumbled before getting lost in the taste of her soldier’s lips.

Chapter Text

As Ali’s phone buzzed for the 27th time in as many minutes, Ashlyn couldn’t help but chuckle. “Having fun over there?” Ash asked as she punched on the gas pedal of the BMW coupe to pass a driver out for a casual stroll on the Pennsylvania interstate. 

The quick acceleration pushed the brunette a little farther into her seat, shooting her fiancé a playful glare from the passenger seat. “Hey! You offered to drive so I could text the girls on the way up.” She pouted. “But if you keep driving my baby like this-“ She paused and grabbed the handle on the door as Ashlyn swerved in and out of traffic once again, taking advantage of the German engineering. “-I’m not going to let you drive her ever again.”

“Her?”

Ali leaned forward to run her fingertips over the dashboard of her car, shooting Ashlyn a challenging look. “Yes. Her.”

“Well, if I’m not mistaken, she likes it.” Ash winked as she sped them closer towards their destination. “Besides, they give me all this evasive driving training and then don’t let me use it…make me sit in the passenger all the time because of ‘protocol’.” Ash moved her free hand over the console to rest on Ali’s thigh, her thumb stroking back and forth across the taut muscle there. “What’s the plan once we get there?”

Ali glanced back at her phone as her left hand went to rest on top of Ashlyn’s. “Carm is demanding that we do drinks tonight. She got in a couple hours ago and she’s throwing a shit fit that I agreed to marry you without getting her blessing. Erin and Ella should be landing any minute and Alyssa won’t be in until tomorrow.” The couple were headed to Penn State for one of Ali’s college teammate’s wedding which naturally turned into a reunion for quite a few professional soccer players. “I’m just going to apologize in advance for Carm…..or anything that happens this weekend, really.”  Ali grinned. “Sometimes when we get together, we still think we’re 21…”

“You mean you’re going to get drunk on cheap beer and try to fool around in the bathroom?”

“Only if you play your cards right.”

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty minutes later the couple was settling into their hotel room when a loud bang had Ashlyn spinning on her heel and drawing her handgun from the holster at the small of her back. 

“Open up, Kriegs! There’s no time for nookie!”

Ali rolled her eyes at her over-protective fiancé, chuckling lightly. “Will you put that away? It’s just Carm.” She chastised as she headed towards the door. “The last thing we need is you shooting one of my friends, even if she is an idiot.” 

“She sounds like a fucking battering ram….” Ash defended as she put the safety back on and slipped the gun into a portable safe before securing it in the nightstand. 

“She is.” Ali gave her fiancé one last glance to make sure the gun was put away before yanking the door open. “HI!” 

Ashlyn leaned against the dresser and watched as a mess of curls engulfed Ali in a hug, spinning them around and around. Not a second later, a tall brunette added to the dog pile as a much shorter brunette dodged the spinning trio and walked into the room. 

“Hi, I’m Ella. You must be Ashlyn.” She extended her hand with a warm smile. “My wife Erin is…well, she’s in that mess.” She chuckled, nodding back to the hug.

“Hey Ella. Nice to meet you.” 

Before she could say anything else Carm broke from the group and stalked towards Ashlyn, blatantly eyeing her up and down as she approached. “You and me. Arm wrestling. Right now.” The redhead ordered as she put her elbow on the small desk with a thud.

Ashlyn blinked a couple times, looking back and forth between Carm and Ali. When all she got from Ali was an amused smirk she decided to just roll with it. “Um. Okay.” She placed her elbow down across from Carm, locking their hands together. “Am I….supposed to let you win, or?”

“What?! No! Lips and Legs over there-“ She nodded towards Ali. “-Keeps talking about how strong you are. She’s been known to exaggerate. Bring it, Army.”

Ashlyn couldn’t help but laugh. Was this girl for real? “Ooookay.” 

Erin draped her arm around Ali’s shoulders “$20 bucks on Army.” 

Ali shook her head as she watched her fiancé’s bicep stretch the sleeve of her shirt. “No way am I betting against my Sergeant…”

“Good call.” Ella muttered, glancing at Ashlyn’s arm before comparing it to her own. She had nothing on the soldier.

Carm glared into the hazel eyes across from her as she scolded her college friends “I can hear you assholes.” When she noticed the hazel eyes break their concentration to look over at Ali, Carm yelled “Go” and flexed as hard as she could to push Ashlyn’s arm down but didn’t even feel her budge. Erin, Ella and Ali all laughed as Carm grunted and flexed but couldn’t make any progress. “I mean…come on! Is this thing bionic?!”

Ashlyn laughed, glancing over at Ali. “Babe…I just met her…I don’t know how long I’m supposed to fake struggle before I win…” 

Carm’s jaw dropped, adding her other arm to the contest. Her effort caused the soldier’s arm to waver for a split second before Ashlyn refocused. Her fist tightened down before her arm started pulling both of Carm’s closer and closer to the table top, ending the contest with a resounding thud followed by a cry of defeat from Carm’s lips. 

“Fine, Army….you’re as strong as she says.” Carm conceded. “But I’m drinking a protein shake and then we’re doing this again.” 

“Whatever you say.” Ashlyn smirked.

Carm studied Ashlyn’s face for another moment before looking back to Ali. “It was the dimple, wasn’t it? You were always a sucker for dimples…Remember sophomore year when-”

“OKAY. That’s enough story time from you.” Ali interrupted before Carm could go any further. “We’ve been on the road for hours and I’m sure Ash needs to eat after she drained all that energy trying to defeat you…” Ali added with sass. “Let’s go get some food.” 

“Darkhorse?” Erin asked, assuming they would head straight to their old watering hole from college. 

“Darkhorse!” Carm confirmed, jumping on Ella’s back. “Yah, pony!” 

As the group headed out the door Ashlyn’s arms wrapped tight around Ali’s waist, holding her back for a minute. “Dimples, huh?” 

Ali rolled her eyes, silently cursing Carm and her embarrassing ways. She stopped and turned in her fiancé’s arms, pressing her body flush against Ash’s, knowing it drives the Sergeant crazy. “No. Not dimples. Dimple. Singular. That’s why it didn’t work with that guy sophomore year. He had too many.” Ali clarified with a timber to her voice that made Ashlyn feel warm. “You, my sexy fiancé, have just the right amount. That’s why I agreed to marry you.” She winked before giving Ashlyn a kiss that sent her mind spinning. “Now let’s go so my friends can get back to embarrassing me. Considering the last ten minutes, I’m sure you’re about to catch up on all the dirt the guys have given me over time.”

Ashlyn grinned and tucked her fiancé tight against her as they followed the sound of hysterical laughter down the hallway. “It’s about time.”

Chapter Text

“No, Harris. I’m positive. We don’t need you to come back early. I just wanted you up to speed. At this time, we have Harvath monitoring the situation but if he needs back up, your team will be deployed.” 

Ashlyn kept her cell phone wedged between her shoulder and ear as she buttoned up the cuff of her dress shirt while staring out the hotel room window. “Understood, Director Kennedy. I’ll text Scot, too. Let him know we’re around if he needs any help…” 

On the other end of the call, Irene Kennedy bit back her chuckle at the team leader’s predictability. “If you insist. Now get back to being a proper date to that fiancé of yours. Something tells me even the director of the CIA wouldn’t want to get on her bad side.”

“You have no idea.” Ashlyn chuckled as she moved the phone to her other shoulder and fastened the cuff on her left arm. “I’ll see you at Langley on Monday.” When the line clicked dead, she spun on her heel to find her fiancé in a stunning deep wine colored dress, leaning against the wall next to the bathroom. Her bent left knee accentuated the high slit that would be sure to drive the Sergeant wild all night long and her left hand held a smallish gift wrapped box. “Alex…” Ash whispered reverently. “You…god, you never cease to take my breath away.”

Ali’s warm whiskey eyes shone at the sweet compliment, her tongue peeking through her teeth before pushing off the wall and closing the gap between them. “You don’t look so bad yourself, Sergeant.” Ali’s free hand ran down the front of the neatly pressed dress shirt before traveling back up and cupping the strong jaw and pulling Ashlyn down for a kiss. When they broke apart, Ali brought the small box up and pushed it into Ash’s hands. “So, I had really been thinking about how you got me just the absolutely perfect ring paired with the absolutely perfect proposal and I thought it wasn’t fair that you didn’t get anything….”

“I got you.” 

Ali rolled her eyes, willing herself not to visibly swoon. “Smooth, Harris.” When Ashlyn opened her mouth to protest further Ali pressed a perfectly manicured fingertip to her lips, instantly silencing her. “I wanted you to have something that was a visual reminder of our engagement, too. I did a bit of research and apparently this is a bit of a lesser known tradition.” She explained, nodding for Ashlyn to open the gift. 

Ashlyn shot her a look before tearing into the expertly wrapped box. The paper gave way to a beautiful mahogany box and Ashlyn shot a wary look at her fiancé before getting a nudge to continue. When she popped the box open, it exposed a Breitling Super Avenger II chronograph watch. 

Ali chewed on her lower lip as she watched the hazel eyes take in the new timepiece. “I talked to the guys. They said that Breitling was the Louboutin of military watches so I went to the jeweler. I thought this was the perfect fit…The titanium band will go perfect with your suits when you’re being all dapper and the functionality of it should handle anything you need. Especially with the flight recertification you have coming up.” 

Ashlyn carefully set the box down on the small hotel desk before gently tugging the watch out of it’s cradle. Her eyes soaked in every detail of the mariner blue dial. “Babe…this is way too-“

“Ah ah ah. Don’t you dare.” Ali cut off her always humble fiancé. “First off, you and I both know this watch cost less than the flawless ring you spoiled me with. Secondly, I want all of your super cool, super spy friends to know that you’re well taken care of and one hundred percent spoken for.” The defender reached out and took the watch before gently slipping it over Ashlyn’s left wrist. When it clasped into place, a smile broke over her face.

“It’s a perfect fit. How the hell did you pull that off?” Ashlyn asked in astonishment as she turned her wrist over and admired the timepiece. 

“I’ve been stealing espionage tips from you.” Ali teased with a wink. “I kept your hospital id bracelet from your fall. I took that with me to the jeweler so they could size it.”

“Clever, clever girl.” Ash leaned down and claimed Ali’s lips. When her lungs were burning for air, she pulled away reluctantly. “This is perfect, babe. Thank you so much. I love it.” 

“I love YOU. Now let’s get going. We’ve got a wedding to attend.” She gave Ash a smack on the ass before checking her lipstick, grabbing her clutch and swaying her hips more than usual as she exited the hotel room, leaving a scrambling soldier to grab her suit coat and catch up. 

 


 

 

Ali beamed as she introduced her fiancé to her college friends, watching Ash woo them one by one as they made their way to their seats. As the ceremony took place, she leaned into the soldier’s strong frame, holding her bicep with both arms and soaking in her favorite scent. The romantic environment had them both feeling a little sappier than usual and unbeknownst to each other, they were both busy imagining their own wedding as Ali’s old teammate married her college sweetheart. Very quickly the ceremony turned into dinner and speeches and before long the Sergeant was being tugged onto the dance floor. Ali felt her heart flutter as long fingers splayed out across her lower back and pulled her flush against the solid frame of her fiancé. 

As the opening notes of At Last started to ring out, a grin broke out and put Ashlyn’s dimple on full display. “I just realized…” Ash ran her left hand down Ali’s right forearm, bringing their hands together. “…The only dancing we’ve ever done is at a club.” 

Ali beamed up at the soldier, shooting her a teasing wink as her free hand looped behind Ashlyn’s neck. “Have two left feet, Harris?” 

Ashlyn let out a hearty laugh. “You just try to keep up, huh?” Before Ali could say a word, the strong arm around her waist had her lifted off the ground and they were twirling effortlessly. The surprised squeal just made the Sergeant chuckle as she gently lowered her feet back to the ground and easily led her around the dance floor in a waltz. 

Ali thanked her decades of running backwards at soccer as her fiancé once again managed to surprise her, otherwise she’d have already fallen on her ass in these 3-inch heels. “How? How the hell do you know how to ballroom dance?”

Ashlyn grinned and dipped Ali dramatically before pulling her back up so her lips ghosted across the shell of her ear. “Once that grunt from Satellite Beach became an officer, she had to go to the Army Ball every year she was stateside. Prerequisite of the job, I’m afraid.” Ash explained as she continued to lead them around the dance floor, twirling Ali every so often for effect. “You should see Jake. He’s awful.” 

Ali shook her head in amusement as Ashlyn sped up and slowed down at different parts of the song. “I can’t believe we’ve been together this long and I’m just now learning you can dance like this. Spoiler alert: Our first dance is going to be choreographed now that I know you can do this.” 

“Yes dear.” 

As the dance came to an end Ashlyn dipped Ali and leaned down to press their lips together, dragging her teeth lightly across the defender’s lower lip. When Ash brought them back upright, Ali pressed their foreheads together and whispered “I love you. So much.” 

“I love you too, Alex. Beyond words.” She gave Ali’s waist a gentle squeeze. “I’ll get us fresh drinks.” She left Ali to join a group dance with her friends as she spun on her heel and headed to the bar. After placing her order she turned and admired her fiancé from a distance, soaking in how light and free she looked as she bounced around with her friends and sang Spice Girls at the top of her lungs. “I’m a lucky kid.” She muttered to herself as she took a sip of her bourbon. 

“So, you’re the Marine?” 

Ashlyn finished her sip before turning and meeting the eyes of a 6’2” man in a black suit. “Close. Army.” 

“Right. That’s probably sacrilegious to mix up, huh?” He chuckled. “I heard a rumor you were going to be here.” He extended his hand. “I’m Brent.” 

“Ashlyn.” She made a point of matching his strength in the handshake, no more no less, before taking another sip of her bourbon and letting her eyes fall back on her fiancé. She could feel the eyes on her as Brent took up the same position as her and inhaled to start his next sentence. 

Across the dance floor Carm nudged Ali. “Warning: Ex-hot football player has found current hot super soldier.” Her head nod guided Ali towards the bar where she saw Brent talking to Ashlyn.

“Oh, come on. I left her alone for five minutes…” Ali rolled her eyes and headed over. As she broke through the crowd, she put a warm smile on her face and headed straight for Ashlyn. “Hey babe.” 

“Hey snookums.” Brent cooed with a teasing glint in his eye, causing Ali to roll her eyes and Ashlyn to shoot him a glance before handing Ali her glass of wine. 

“Hey Brent. How are you?” 

“Good. Just got to meet Ashlyn here. Seems like a woman of few words.” He nudged the soldier lightly and took a pull from his beer. 

“One of my favorite things about her.” Ali replied with a smile up to her fiancé. “She’s a woman of action. Speaking of, dance with me?”

“Of course.” Ash moved her hand to the small of Ali’s back before using her free hand to clap Brent’s back, causing him to spill a bit of his beer. “Nice to meet you, Brett.”

“Brent.” 

“Right.” 

Once they were in the middle of the dance floor and Ali was securely back in Ashlyn’s arms, she moved her lips to the taller woman’s ear. “You messed up his name on purpose didn’t you?”

“He called me a Marine.” Ash shrugged, as if that justified everything.

“Bastard.” Ali laughed softly before turning serious. “Did he behave? Your trigger finger was twitching like it does when someone hits on me.”

Ashlyn took a deep breath of the defender’s perfume and felt herself recenter. “Mostly. I think he was just trying to figure me out. Test boundaries. See if he had a chance to get you back. That sort of thing.” 

“Well, let’s clear that up then…” Ali crashed their lips together, running her hand up the back of Ash’s head and dragging her down with a soft moan. She towed the line of publicly appropriate as Ashlyn fought every urge to let her hands roam. Ali pressed her body firmly against Ash’s before pulling away with a soft sigh. “Yep, I definitely upgraded. Now, let’s see what other dance moves are hiding under this tough guy exterior.” 

“Gladly.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 65

 

As the intelligence officer at the front of the room more affectionately referred to as “The Tank” droned on and on, Ashlyn leaned further back into her plush leather office chair as she swayed back and forth. The Tank was a conference room within the Pentagon that belonged to the Joint Chiefs and it was a room she’d become all too familiar with once she became a leader on Delta. It was also a room she had come to despise if only for the sole reason that the rest of her team wasn’t allowed within. While she was in here, with Deacon lying at her feet, her team was busy back at their headquarters with training. Before her mind could wander any further, one of Director Kennedy’s assistants appeared and set a piping hot americano down in front of her. The caffeine trickled down her throat as her brain refocused on the information on the screen in front of her. 

The man with sandy brown hair and piercing blue eyes that sat next to her gave her a jab to the ribs. “Y’know, I’ve been here for five years and she still doesn’t bring me coffee…” 

Ashlyn smirked and took another sip as she shot Scot Harvath a wink. Scot was one of the stand alone operatives within the Orion project and since the Delta Force team’s move to Washington DC, he had quickly become a good friend to Ashlyn. “Maybe you’re not as charming as you think you are, Harvath.” 

“You cut deep, Harris.” 

Before she could open her mouth again, the intelligence officer spoke directly to the pair. “Harris, Harvath. This is where you come in. We believe the Senator’s daughter is somewhere in this vicinity. She was last seen at 2320 with three of her friends. She had been speaking to this man.” A click brought a grainy photo of a man in his early twenties onto the screen. “We’re still working to positively identify him. According to the friends, she went outside with him to have a cigarette and never came back. At this time, no ransom demands have been made and we don’t know if this is coincidental or targeted to the Senator specifically. We need you to insert and gather recon asap. Traditional channels are coming up empty.” 

Harris took another sip of her espresso before chewing on the coffee straw. “Where are the friends now?”

“We have them in a safe house twenty miles outside of Acapulco.”

“And Senator Tanner?” Scot asked.

“Chomping at the bit, but for now he’s at home in Utah.”

Ashlyn ran a hand through her hair before straightening in her chair. “Base of operations while we’re there?” 

“We have you staying at the Hotel Encanto. Top floor penthouse should provide sight lines in all four directions and you’ll be right next to the resort she was staying in. Our support teams should be arriving there at 1300 for weapons supply.” 

“Transport?” Ashlyn asked as she started to run through a mental checklist. 

“We have a Cessna on standby at Dulles ready when you are.”

Ashlyn quickly ran through everything that needed to be done before they were ready to leave. Satisfied she had accounted for everything, she looked over to Scot. “2 hours?”

“Works for me.”

The intelligence officer did another glance of the room, checking for any additional question. When he was met with silence, he gave a short nod. “Alright. That’s all.”

As the scuffle of chairs pushed the room’s occupants into motion, Deacon stood from his spot at Ashlyn’s feet. Director Kennedy gave the dog a quick pat before turning to Harris. “My office.”

Ashlyn gave a curt nod before turning back to Scot. “If you need anything, call Archer. He can add your gear in with ours.” Before he had a chance to respond, Ashlyn was turning on her heel and following after the Director with Deacon at her side. Once she stepped inside, she waited for the door to click shut before speaking. “Ma’am?” 

“For the last time Harris, it’s Irene when it’s just us. I hate that formality shit. Save it for when the brass is around.” 

Ashlyn felt her shoulders relax just slightly. “Old habits die hard. What’d you want to talk about? I know that this is going to be my first operation since the accident but I want to assure you that I’m fully capable of leading this attachment. I wouldn’t be standing here if I had any doubts about that.” 

“I know that, Harris. I don’t bring people onto this team that I have to babysit. Actually, I’m here to let you know that if you’re back stateside by the time of the Military Ball, your team has been cordially required to attend. That comes straight from the Joint Chiefs.” She glanced down at the memo one of her aides had left while they were in the meeting before meeting the hazel eyes once again. “And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that your men are expected to act in accordance with their station while representing this team.” 

“No ma’am. You certainly don’t.” She nodded. “I’ll make sure Palmer behaves.” 

Irene smirked, secretly having a soft spot for the prankster sniper. “I’ll have Thom run the details over to Ali while you’re gone.”

“That’d be great.” Ashlyn let her mind wander for a second, excited to bring Ali to an event she had always attended alone. “Can Thom take the details over to Whitney Engen as well? I imagine she’ll be attending too.” 

“Of course. Back to the task at hand, is there anything you need before you head down to Mexico?”

Ashlyn shook her head. “I think we’re good. I’m thinking we’ll go in as a bachelor party. Easy cover that’ll provide us unfettered access. I’ll call you once we’re on the ground there.” 

Irene nodded. “I’ll run interference the best I can, but there’s going to be a lot of political pressure on this one…Tanner has plenty of friends in high places.” 

“Understood. If there’s nothing else, we’ll get to work.”

“Good luck out there, Harris.”

“Thanks Irene.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Ashlyn spent the drive home on the phone with Jake, talking through the logistics and what the team needed to pack up so they could get busy. As soon as she was in the driveway, the Tahoe was barely in park before she was trotting up the front steps and searching for her fiancé. She found the brunette sitting at the kitchen island amidst a flurry of bridal magazines. “Uh oh….” Ashlyn teased, glaring at the magazines with a cautious eye. 

Ali peaked over her glasses and shot Ash a teasing wink. “That’s right, baby. Shit’s getting real…” She reached out and laced their fingers together, pulling Ashlyn in against her. “Trying to figure out some options for a venue. There’s just so many options.” She tugged at the hand and brought the soldier down for a long slow kiss. “Come home to join me for lunch?” 

“I wish. We’re headed out.” 

“Oh.”

“Alex…” Ashlyn reached down and cupped Ali’s chin, tilting it up so she was forced to looking in her eyes. “I’m ready. I promise. I’ve been completely healed for a long time. I feel great and my head is totally clear. Besides, you agreed to become my wife. I have more motivation than ever before to get back home in one piece.” 

The defender chewed on her lower lip nervously as she gazed up at her fiancé. “Promise?” 

“I promise.” Ash reached up and ran her fingers through Ali’s rich brown hair. “There’s a scared young woman that needs us to go bring her home.”

Ali let out a heavy sigh, Ashlyn’s words reminding her that she can’t be selfish and keep the Sergeant safe at home with her no matter how much she wanted to do exactly that. “Seatbelt.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“100% of the time”

“Yes ma’am.” 

“Even if you’re-“

“Alex.” 

“Okay. Okay. I just…” Ali sighed and pushed her fears down. “Okay.” 

“Come sit on the bed while I pack?” 

Ali nodded but instead of walking up up the stairs she jumped up and wrapped her legs around Ashlyn’s waist, leaving the soldier to carry her up the stairs like a sloth.  

Ashlyn gently dropped Ali onto the bed before disappearing into the closet and grabbed a decent size duffle bag but this time she chose the navy Herschel bag instead of her normal canvas military issued duffle. It wasn’t until Ashlyn had packed the third pair of board shorts that the smaller brunette spoke up. “You sure you’re going to work and not spring break?” 

Ash grinned as she stuffed a couple snapbacks into the bag as well. “As far as any onlookers are concerned, we’re just a couple of old college buddies getting together for a bachelor party.” She shot her a wink. “Maybe I’ll do some recon for the real deal while I’m down there.” She disappeared into the bathroom before returning a minute later with her dopp kit full of bathroom essentials. “Deke can’t go on this one. Are you okay with both of them on your own?”

“Oh gosh, of course.” She wrapped an arm around each dog and gave them a squeeze as they sandwiched her on the bed. “It’ll be nice having him here. He snores less than you.”

Ash gaped at her incredulously. “Unreal.” She shook her head and decided to change the subject instead of reminding Ali that she has audio proof Ali was the loudest snorer in this house. “A guy named Thom is probably going to swing by while I’m gone. Director Kennedy let us know that we’re invited to the Military Ball and Thom is going to bring the details over.”

Ali let out a squeal. “You mean the thing that taught you how to dance? And I get to get all dressed up? Done and done. Can’t wait.” She beamed, mentally starting to go through her dresses. 

Ash laughed and zipped up the duffle bag before pulling her shirt over her head and searching for a fresh one. Before she got a change to get redressed, Ali had her pressed against the wall with their bodies flush against each other. The manicured fingertips went straight to the back of the Sergeant’s head, pulling her down for a hungry kiss full of love and passion. When they broke apart minutes later, Ashlyn was left breathless with hooded eyelids. 

“Something to think about until we’re together again.” Ali husked out.

It was just another couple minutes for Ashlyn to finish changing and sling the bag over her shoulder before the couple found themselves standing in the foyer to say goodbye to each other once again. “I love you, beautiful.” Ash sealed her words with a soft kiss. 

“I love you, too.” Ali soaked in the face she loved so much as her thumb reached up to trace the scar over her eyebrow. “Clear eyes, full hearts.” 

“Can’t lose.” Ash shot her a confident wink before giving her a final kiss and disappearing out the front door. 

Ali closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths as she got her worry back under control. A minute later she pulled her phone out of her back pocket and fired off a text to Crystal and Whitney.

Ali: Mandatory girls night. Bring wine and cookie dough.

 

Chapter Text

Ashlyn stumbled through the front door of a seedy dimly lit bar in Acapulco with an arm draped around Mikey’s shoulders. Instead of her normal military ACUs when on a job, she had a pair of board shorts slung low on her hips, a t-shirt stretching her broad shoulders, a backwards snapback covering her hair and a pair of Ray-Ban Aviators covering her eyes. With the rest of the team dressed to match, they blended in seamlessly and the stumble and sway of their gait just added to the effect. To anyone that looked, they were just six guys on a bachelor party. 

“Harrison!” Sean bellowed as they bellied up to the bar and he flagged the attention of a scantily clad waitress. “Hey sweetie. You see my boy here?” Sean nodded and slapped Ashlyn high on the chest. 

The blond waitress practically spilling out of her lace bra eyed Ashlyn from head to toe and smiled. “He’s cute.” 

Ashlyn kept up the facade but groaned internally and wondered to herself: Should I be offended by how well this is working? During the flight over, the group had decided, albeit grudgingly on Ashlyn’s end, that it would be easier if Ashlyn went undercover as Harrison. Six guys blend in a lot better than five guys and a girl and blending in was the name of the game. Her build and muscle mass made it an easy pass. Before Ashlyn could open her mouth to respond, Travis was piping in. 

“See, Harrison? I told you, ya still got it.” He teased before turning back to the waitress. “He’s getting married…so we brought him down here for one last hurrah before the old ball and chain gets her hooks locked into him and we never see him again.”

The waitress took a step closer, leaving only a millimeter or two of space between them. It took everything Ashlyn had not to gag. This woman smelled like pure sugar. It made her miss the subtle smell of Ali’s shampoo and the natural beauty she was instead of the fabricated woman in front of her. “He’s right…” She trailed an acrylic nail along Ashlyn’s jawline. “You’ve still got it. Let me go get you boys a round of G-Spots…”

As she disappeared, Ashlyn let out a sigh. “I fucking hope she’s talking about shots. And you assholes are getting way too much amusement out of this.” 

Scot grinned “I think you got a shot with her Harris…you lucky dog.” 

Ashlyn laughed. “You’re just jealous.” 

Before they could go any further, the waitress reappeared with a tray of shots and handed them out, leaving one for herself. This time it was Jake that spoke up as he raised the shot glass in a toast and slipped into bachelor party mode. “To Honor. To gettin’ on her and stayin’ on her.” 

With a howl the group clinked glasses and tipped them back, downing the Southern Comfort mixed shot. As the hours went on, the group kept up the facade as they canvased for any signs of the human traffickers they believed took the Senator’s daughter. It had been hours and they still hadn’t had any luck, just a lot of propositions by very drunk but very consenting women. As 2:00 am rolled around, they decided to call this bar a bust and head back to the hotel room. Ashlyn was quick to strip the clothes and climb into the shower, washing off the smell of foreign women that had bumped against her all night long and cheap beer. After the shower, she flopped down on the bed and pulled out her phone to text the only woman she had any interest in being pressed up against. 

Ash: Hey gorgeous. You awake?

It only took a minute for the screen to light up in response.

Ali: New phone….who dis?

Ashlyn laughed and shook her head.

Ash: What are you wearing?

On the east coast, Ali let out a bark of a laugh and text out her response. 

Ali: You never would have survived on Tinder…

Instead of another text, Ash’s face filled the screen for an incoming call. Before she could even say hi, the soldier’s voice filled her ears. 

“What do you mean I couldn’t survive on Tinder? I had to beat women off with a stick today…” Ash defended, trying to unbruise her ego as much as possible.

“Excuse me?” Ali asked and Ashlyn was sure she could hear the eyebrow raise through the phone line.

Ashlyn chuckled and let her head flop against the pillow. “Okay…out of context, I’ll admit that sounded bad.”

“Uh huh.” Ali muttered, knowing she had nothing to actually worry about. “All I’m saying is, you’re too chivalrous for Tinder…those southern military manners of yours would’ve gotten you eaten alive.” Ali scratched Finn’s ears as his big block head rested on her stomach while he resided on Ashlyn’s side of their bed. “Your little family misses you…”

“I miss my little family.” Ashlyn sighed. “You wouldn’t believe the shit the guys roped me into on this one.” 

Ali sat up straighter, causing Finn’s head to slip down to her lap as he snoozed away. She turned on the bedside lap and ran a hand through her wild locks. “Tell me about it.”

“Well, you should know you’re now engaged to Harrison….a twenty nine year old male coal miner from Scranton, Pennsylvania.” Ash groaned. “Six guys blend in down here a lot better than five guys and a woman….”

Ali could only imagine the heckling Ashlyn had gotten from the guys. “Oh yeah? And how did we meet, Harrison? Tell me all about how you won me over.” 

“It’s a tale as old as time, really…I was the captain of the football team.”

“Of course…” Ali played along teasingly.

“And when your family moved into town your senior year, it was love at first sight. You were on the fast track to Yale but instead we both went to University of Scranton to stay together where you played soccer and I played football. Unfortunately, a torn rotator cuff ended my up and coming run towards the NFL and I fell into the coal mining field like the generations before me. We have a quaint little place on the outskirts of town with a wedding planned at the local VFW next month.” 

Ali grinned and put on a southern accent to the best of her abilities, which still wasn’t great. “Well, darlin’, little ol me just can’t wait to marry you and start pumping out those little chunky babies.” 

Ashlyn laughed and rolled her eyes. “You know Scranton isn’t in the south, right?”

“Shut up.” Ali pouted. “So you’re with your best friends, I’m assuming from the football team, on your bachelor party. And all of you are straight out of a GQ magazine so I’m sure women are just launching themselves at you. I mean, if I was on spring break I’d try to have a one night stand with you.” 

“How romantic.” Ash deadpanned. “But yeah…and the guys are getting a kick out of it so they’re egging it on. I’ve never appreciated how you smell so much.”

“Huh?”

“Your smell. It’s like coconut and subtle. All these women smell like middle school. It’s all a strawberry/sugary assault on the senses.”

“I guess that’s just a reminder to not take me for granted.” Ali teased. “Your sons are behaving while you’re gone. Finn even took up residency on your side of the bed. He’s a good cuddle buddy.” 

“So…the rules are just gone when I’m not there?” Ash asked as she imagined the fur now lining the sheets.

“Pretty much, yeah.” Ali teased before getting serious. “And how’s the job going?”

“Nothing yet. We’ll do more canvasing tomorrow and HQ has a briefing for us in the morning. This place is like Vegas with less rules so it’s hard to tell who’s a bad guy and who’s just….morally bankrupt.” Ash ran a hand through her hair. “Anyway…go get some more sleep before your day kicks off. I just missed you a lot and needed to hear your voice.” 

“Okay babe. Keep me posted. I love you.”

“I love you too. So much.”

 


 

The next afternoon, Ali parked her car in the garage and collected the mail from the box before walking up the front steps. Sitting on the front mat was a massive bouquet of flowers with a card stapled to the cellophane, causing her face to break out into a wide smile. “I picked a good one…” Ali mumbled to herself as she opened the card. 

 

Thanks for not smelling like a stripper.

-Your Tinder Admirer

 

Meanwhile, three timezones away, Ashlyn racked another round into the 12 gauge shotgun as the hinges of the door in front of her shattered into pieces. 

 

Chapter Text

After talking to Ali, Ashlyn placed a quick order with a florist online for a delivery tomorrow before falling asleep. Four and a half hours later, the bedside alarm blared and Ashlyn sat straight up with a groan. She flipped over her phone to find a notification.

Kennedy: Briefing at 0730.

Ashlyn gave her watch a quick glance before hopping out of the bed and starting the small single serve coffee pot. While the pot started to percolate, she turned the shower to it’s coldest setting, stripped off her clothes and took a few deep breaths before climbing under the brisk stream of water. She forced herself to stay under the ice cold spray until all of her senses were wide awake. Quickly toweling herself off, she pulled on shorts and a button down shirt before pouring a couple packets of sugar into the coffee and taking a sip. With another glance at her watch, she styled her hair a bit faster than normal and started brewing a second cup of coffee before booting up the laptop that sat inside a ballistic case. She had just enough time to fix her second cup of coffee before the laptop beeped to life with an incoming video conference. Ashlyn sat at the small hotel desk and accepted the encrypted connection. “Director Kennedy.”

“Harris.” Irene Kennedy’s face came into view with a backdrop of the CIA situation room. “We have a lead on Stephanie Porter.”

Ashlyn instantly sat straighter as she took another sip and waited for Director Kennedy to elaborate.

“Intelligence agents were able to use satellite imagery and facial recognition to confirm within 83% certainty that Ms. Porter was loaded into the back of a cube truck along with 11 other women. We’ve been tracking the truck since it’s departure and have it heading southeast out of town. We’re thinking it’s the work of El Mencha. This guy is a former police chief gone bad. Now he spends his days as a human trafficer for top dollar. He’s smart, which means if he’s risking moving them, it’s probably to prepare for a sale. We’re officially on the clock.”

Ashlyn’s mind raced through their options as she took a sip of coffee again. “Okay. If he’s moving her then we can assume the sale is going to happen in the next 24 hours. That doesn’t given us enough time to backstop a story as a potential buyer. Especially if he’s good, I’m sure the guest list is already set. He wouldn’t chance a last minute addition. Is he doing a heat run?”

Instead of answering, Irene turned to look off camera. A second later Matt, a senior analyst that Ashlyn has come to trust, popped up on screen. “We think so, yes. There’s been too many direction changes for it to be anything else.”

“Ok.” Ashlyn glanced at the city map she had taped to the wall. “Where’s he going, Matt?”

Matt thought for a second. “Best guess is Puerto Marques. We know he has a building there and has confirmed activity within that city in the last two weeks. It’s also the closest known location to an airport so if anyone is looking to get out of dodge as soon as their transaction is complete, they’ll have options.”

Ashlyn nodded and stood, drawing a circle around the town of Puerto Marques. “How sure are you?”

Matt was quiet for a second as he ran the probability in his mind. “It’s the best we’ve got. And we can’t afford to ignore it. If it’s what we think it is, we’ll lose her as soon as the sale goes down.”

Ashlyn exhaled slowly, feeling the air slip past her lips. “Okay. Schematics on the building?”

This time it was Irene that piped up. “We’re working on that. Should have it within the hour but it’s approximately 12,000 square feet broken up through hallways and smaller rooms. There’s also a larger room where we think the actual auction will go on.”

“Okay and what are we thinking for personnel inside?” Ashlyn asked as she scribbled notes down.

Irene and Matt shared a look before the analyst started speaking. “To drive up the price, we’re expecting more buyers than girls. Given that there’s twelve girls, we can assume 15-20 buyers, each with 2-3 bodyguards. Then there’s El Mencha’s soldiers. We’re working on schematics and thermals but we’re ballparking 10 to 15.”

Ashlyn stared at the two of them on the computer screen, blinking a couple times. She took a slow sip of her coffee and set the mug back down before speaking. “Let me get this straight. You’re projecting, best case scenario, that there will be 70 armed men there and you want us to preform a six man assault?”

Irene and Matt shared another look before turning back to face the incredulous leader of their tactical team.

Ashlyn didn’t bother waiting for a response. “I mean, I don’t even have my fucking dog with me!” Ashlyn sighed and thought out a couple options. “Fine...we both know we’re going to do it so let’s just push past how absolutely insane this is and get to options. How long until schematics?”

This time, Matt was more eager to speak. “Twenty minutes and a predator is doing a thermal scan as we speak.”

“Okay. I need to get to work on this. What time do we think the auction is going to happen?”

“Current intel projects 21:00”

“Call me back when you have schematics.” With that, Ashlyn ended the call and sent a quick text to the guys so they could get back to work.

 

 


 

 

“Listen, I get it. You’re a bunch of cowboys. But this is the actual definition of a suicide mission” Scot explained as he listened to Ashlyn’s team entertain various options for attacking the building.

“We’re pirates, not cowboys. Blackbeard is our callsign remember? And I thought you solo guys were supposed to be unstoppable?” Travis teased.

Before the banter could go any further, Ashlyn piped up. “Schematics are in.” She plugged an HDMI cable into the wall mounted tv as her eyes soaked in the building in front of her. Jake, Sean and Mikey all watched as the hazel eyes narrowed and her lips mumbled unintelligible words. Even Scot and Travis stopped their bickering as they could practically watch the gears turn in Ashlyn’s brain, her head tilting to one side and then the other. A couple more clicks gave her a bird’s eye view of the building. Jake could hear as she clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth, a tell tale sign that she was getting closer to a solution and then suddenly she was up. “I need to call Kennedy...” Ashlyn announced as she reached for her phone. “We’re going to need one hell of a supply drop for what I have planned.”

 

 


 

 

The team spent the afternoon running around like crazy to get everything in order for their mission. It was a tight timeline to begin with and Ashlyn’s plan didn’t do them any favors. Once their supply drop was retrieved from a field 5 miles away from the nearest road, they set up camp at that very field and went about getting all of their equipment ready. Guns were checked and rechecked. They changed into military ACUs and burned their civilian clothes to leave no trace behind of who they were. As the sun set, Ashlyn slipped her earpiece into place and pressed down on her throat mic. “Blackbeard main. This is actual. How copy?” A second later, Matt’s voice crackled to life in her ear.

“We have you loud and clear, actual. Hope you liked your presents.”

Ashlyn smirked. “Still miss my dog, but they’ll do.” With that, she went back to getting ready. She packed each pocket of her tactical vest with precision, making sure each pocket was filled with just what she would need. For this specific mission, they needed so much gear that they couldn’t afford to have identical load-outs. Instead, they’d have to rely more than ever on each person carrying out their job. Once the vest was resting heavily on her shoulders, she stretched out her back and secured the velcro into place snugly. As she exhaled, her eyes fell shut and her hands ran over pockets as she mentally rattled off each compartment: Vest left, grenades. Vest center, trauma kit. Vest right, plastic explosives. Vest high left, GoPro. Vest high right, Ka-Bar. Vest back, M4 magazines stretch from left to right. Right thigh, Glock. Left thigh, Pistol magazines. Right cargo pocket, flash bangs. Left cargo pocket, shotgun shells. Ashlyn took one more deep breath and opened her eyes to find the rest of the team in various stages of the same exercise.

As the sun set and the checks were completed, they went over the plan one more time to see if any questions had come up. Satisfied that everyone knew exactly what their tasks were, Ashlyn turned on her GoPro and signaled the rest of them to follow before depressing her throat mic. “Main, this is Blackbeard actual.

“Go ahead, actual.”

“We have feed coming your way.”

“Copy that. We have you actual.” Matt confirmed from the situation room as he stared at all six monitors.

Mikey pressed down on his mic. “Sorry you have to look at Norseman’s ugly ass on this one, main.” He teased, earning a middle finger from Scot Harvath.

Ashlyn quickly brought everyone back to task. “Final weapons check.” She slung the compact 12-gauge pump action shotgun over her chest so it rested on her back before clipping the M4 to the front of her vest. One by one, the members of the team confirmed their readiness with a firm “Check.”

Ashlyn gave Mikey a nod, putting him in motion towards the desert tan Polaris Defense MRZR-D4. Sean climbed in the passenger seat as the two of them fired up the ATV and took off westbound. Once they were far enough away to not drown out Ashlyn’s voice, she pressed down the mic again. “Main, this is actual. Mission is go. Repeat, mission is go. Overwatch is oscar mike.”

Back in DC, Matt pressed a button to start a running clock of the mission. “Copy, actual. Overwatch mobile at 1922.”

Jake hopped in the driver seat of a second Polaris as Ashlyn climbed into the passenger seat, Scot and Travis filling out the back row. After giving Mikey an eight minute head start, Jake roared the engine to life and took off in the same direction. From the passenger seat, Ashlyn spoke back into the mic. “Main, Blackbeard is oscar mike.” Even she couldn’t fight the grin on her face as they tore off through the rough terrain.

They were four minutes from their destination when Palmer’s voice crackled through her ear. “Blackbeard, this is Overwatch one.”

“Go ahead, Overwatch.”

“In position. Four tangos on the roof. Looks like H&K G3’s. Ready to fire.”

“Copy. Standby, Overwatch.” Ashlyn took a deep breath and opened and closed her hands into tight fists three times. For her plan to work, everything that happened next was going to happen incredibly fast. When they were three minutes from the warehouse, the quartet pulled their gas masks into place as Jake pushed the speed of the ATV up to 70 miles an hour. At two minutes away, they flipped their safeties off and at sixty seconds away, Ashlyn reached up to her throat mic. “Overwatch one. Execute at will.”

Mikey’s voice had a much more serious tone than normal as he got a thumbs up from Sean on the other end of the room they were perched upon. “Copy. 3, 2, 1. Execute.” In near silence both sniper rifles let loose a single bullet, followed quickly by another as all four rooftop guards collapsed into lifeless piles. “Actual, rooftop is clear. Moving to Entry 2.”

Ashlyn held on tightly to the roll bar of the ATV as Jake flew up to the back corner of the warehouse and yanked on the parking brake. As the tail end spun around, Travis jumped out of his seat and started scaling the metal ladder to the roof at breakneck speed. As he climbed Ashlyn moved quickly in a low crouch, rifle raised, with Jake to her left. Scot broke off in the opposite direction in a similar crouch to rendezvous with Palmer and Duggan at their secondary entry point. Just 50 meters from the door, it swung open as a pair of men stepped outside for a smoke break. Before the door even had a chance to swing close, Harris and Archer simultaneously pulled their triggers, silently dropping the men to the ground.  They broke into a run and each grabbed a guard by the collar, pulling them off to the side as the door swung shut and locked in place. “Norseman, Blackbeard ready for breach.”

Scot leaned against his own entry point and watched as Mikey and Sean trotted towards him, having traded out their sniper rifles for M4s. “Copy Blackbeard. Overwatch has arrived. Ready for breach.”

Before Ashlyn got a chance to ask Travis for an update, his voice filled her ears. “Gas out. Moving to Entry 1.” Ashlyn glanced up just in time to see the rope come cascading down the side of the building, followed shortly by Travis Brooks as he belayed down the building and fell into place behind Jake.

“Norseman, prepare to breach. 3, 2, 1. Breach!” Ashlyn gave the order as she spun the shotgun around from her back, pumping a round through the lower hinge. With a hard pull, she racked the next shell and fired through the upper hinge. Instantly, Jake was yanking the door open just long enough for Ashlyn to throw the flashbang grenade in before slamming it shut again. As soon as the grenade went off, they were in a flurry of motion. The two separate teams moved quickly, dispatching anyone that had guns as they worked down the narrow hallways. As Ashlyn and Scot led their teams through the halls, they kept a tally of deceased enemies. Just as their hallway ended, Ashlyn darted her head out for a glance before pulling back. “Friendly!” She shouted before stepping out in front of Scot, Mikey and Sean.

The reunited team came to a stop in front of double doors and Jake pressed a button to activate the thermal reading on his visor. “Looks like Travis gets to keep his job.” Jake admitted as he scanned through the wall. Pressing the button once again to resume a normal view, he opened the door and the group carefully made their way into the large room the auction was set to take place in. The haze of the incapacitation gas was still heavy from the multiple canisters Travis had dropped through the fire door on the ceiling and the floor was covered in bodies that were peacefully snoozing thanks to the powerful chemical.

This had been the make or break part of the operation. If they were left to handle the nearly sixty men in this room in a gun fight, they never would have stood a chance. Ashlyn scanned the room and found the unmistakable face of El Mencha on the ground near a makeshift podium as she stepped over the bodies towards another hallway. “Palmer, Brooks, Dugg. Flex-cuffs for everyone here. And don’t let that mother fucker out of your sight. Bag the weapons in case anyone wakes up.” Ashlyn ordered as she pointed out El Mencha. Without another word, Jake and Scot stacked up behind her as they opened the next door to find another narrow hallway with doors every couple feet. As they reached the first door, Ashlyn carefully opened it and peeked inside. There was a woman in her early twenties handcuffed to a rail. With a second glance to make sure it wasn’t the senator’s daughter, she turned and headed towards the next door.

“Please!” The woman shrieked. “You have to help me!”

It took every ounce of discipline Ashlyn had to stay true to her mission, swearing that as soon as the building was clear, she’d be back for the terrified girl. The trio moved quickly, each door revealing more of the same frightened women. They had cleared 9 rooms when they heard a blood curdling scream come from further down the hall. Ashlyn’s head snapped up just in time to see a man dragging the unmistakable body of Stephanie Porter down the hallway as she kicked and screamed against her captor.

Ashlyn’s brain surveyed the situation in a split second. They were too close together for her to get a shot off. The risk of hitting Stephanie was too high. “Cover fire!” She shouted to Jake and Scot as she dropped her M4 to the ground and sprinted after them. She reached up and took off her shotgun, leaving that behind as well while Archer and Harvath fired a rain of bullets into the ceiling, making sure not to hit them but scare the man enough to slow him down if only just a little. As she closed in on them, her left hand went up and grabbed her Ka-Bar knife, unsheathing it from the front of her vest. Just ten feet away, she made a dramatic move to the right and just as she hoped, the man moved the same way. As soon as he moved, she redirected and jumped up onto the left wall before launching through the air. Her right arm hooked around the man’s neck and her legs wrapped around his waist as momentum sent them crashing to the ground. A loud grunt left Ashlyn’s lips as the 200 pound man smashed on top of her but the move was enough to separate him from Stephanie. She grit down on her teeth to ignore the pain as she brought the knife up to his throat. Before she even had a chance to order him not to move, Jake and Scot were hovering above them with rifles pointed straight at the man.

“Hands, asshole!” Jake barked out, slipping flex cuffs onto the man before Ashlyn released her boa constrictor grip on him and shoved him off to the side.

Ashlyn walked over to Stephanie and removed her gas mask before crouching in front of the girl, a little blood dripping from her lip where the man's head hit her on the tumble down. She was careful not to touch the girl and softened her voice. “Stephanie.” She prodded softly without success. “Stephanie.” She reached out and gently placed a hand on her knee, snapping the girl out of her daze. “I’m Sergeant First Class Ashlyn Harris with the United States Military. We’re going to get you home, ok? I just need to ask you a couple questions first.” When she received a small nod, she continued. “What’s the name of the street you grew up on?”

Stephanie opened and closed her mouth a couple times before finally squeaking out her answer. “Danvers Court”

“Okay. Good. And the mascot of your elementary school?”

“The cougars.”

“Great. Let’s get you out of here.” Ash stood and pressed down on her throat mic. “Blackbeard main, this is actual. We have the package. Positive ID. Prepare for ex-fil package bravo. Repeat, ex-fil package bravo. Be advised, we have El Mencha alive.”

Matt’s voice was audibly lighter as he came through the headset. “Copy that, actual. Ranger chalks will be onsite in five. Good work.”

Ashlyn headed back to the very first room they had found a woman in, crouching down in front of her to see wild blue eyes searching for help. “Hey. I’m so so sorry I had to leave. I’m sure that was really, really scary for you.” Ash explained as she worked to pick the handcuff lock. “We had to make sure it was clear before we could take the time to get everyone out of their handcuffs. You’re going to be just fine though.” Ashlyn saw how raw her wrists were so she pressed her mic down. “Dugg, can you come give me a hand?”

“On my way, Sarge.”

A minute later, the man walked through the door. “This is my friend, Sean. He’s a medic. He’s going to take a look at your wrists.”

The woman offered a small nod and wrapped Ashlyn in the tightest hug she could muster. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Ashlyn returned the hug gently before climbing to her feet. As she headed to the hallway, her earpiece crackled to life again.

“Sergeant Harris. This is First Lieutenant Schneider. Here to assist with ex-fil. We just pulled up.”

“Copy that. I’ll meet you at the north entrance.” Ashlyn took off back the way she originally entered the building just over 30 minutes ago. As she entered the large meeting room, she had to admit she was impressed with her team. Lined up, row after row, all 57 men were flex-cuffed and waiting to be hauled off for interrogation and persecution under the watchful eyes of Mikey, Travis and Scot. “Not bad for a day’s work...”

She stepped outside and gave Lieutenant Schneider some instructions so his men could get busy loading up everyone involved. With that out of the way, she took a couple steps down the sidewalk and pulled out her cell phone, pushing back her sweaty hair. 1 New Message: Alex. When she opened the text, Ash felt her mouth go dry. There was a picture of Ali in an Army green lace bra and thong, hair cascading around her shoulders as a white lily dangled from her fingers. She was looking right into the camera with smoky eyes as she bit her lip.

Alex: I love my flowers. Thanks, stud.

Ashlyn took a deep breath and started to figure out the fastest way to get back to DC.

Chapter Text

Ashlyn ended up stuck in Mexico for another day and a half as they sorted out the identities of the kidnapped women and properly handed off El Mencha to the Mexican Federal authorities. When she finally set foot back on DC soil, it was 2:15 Saturday afternoon. As the rest of the team got in their cars to head home, Ash shot a glance over to Jake. “I’m going to head over to the stadium for Ali’s game. Wanna join?”

Jake gave his best friend an apologetic shrug and a soft smile. “Sorry, Sarge. You’re not the only one with a soccer game to get to. I just have to go watch mine from a laptop.”

Ash let out a soft chuckle and nodded. “Fair enough. See ya, Arch.” Ash gave him a wave before getting in her Jeep and making her way straight to the stadium. With the afternoon traffic, it took a little longer than usual but before too long she pulled into the parking lot and grabbed her season pass from the glovebox. She reached into the backseat and pulled out a Spirit t-shirt with number 11 stamped on the back, completing a quick partial wardrobe change before adding the backwards snapback and heading out towards the gate.

With each step, she could feel the pull as her muscles announced their displeasure with her treatment of them over the last couple days. The mission had been hard and the work following had only been marginally better. She hadn’t gotten a chance to stretch, the shower she took was room temperature and they flew back coach, cramped together in a row. When she got to the ticket gate, there were only a few people ahead of her thanks to the game already being underway. As she waited, she stretched out her back and listened as the vertebrae popped in quick succession. “Ugh.”

A minute later, she was face to face with the familiar Spirit usher that always worked this entrance. “Hey there, Sarge. You’re late today.” The older man scolded playfully.

“I know, Charlie. Got held up at the airport. Don’t tell the boss, huh?” She smiled and patted the retired veteran on the back.

“I’ll take it to the grave.” He promised as he scanned her season pass. “She’s feeling it today. Already connected with Crystal for a goal at the 8th minute.”

“You’re not so bad for a Marine, Charlie.” Ash teased before heading down the concourse towards the family suite, moving a little more gingerly than usual.

Ken had taken up his usual spot in the front row of the suite with Vicki as he watched his little girl blaze up the right side of the field. It took both Finn and Deacon getting up and taking off in a run out of the suite to break his attention away from the game. “Hey! No!” Ken ran out after them as he silently cursed his daughter for refusing to leave them at home, insisting she played better with them there. When he rounded the corner out into the stadium concourse, he was once again amazed by the dogs.

Ashlyn had been just a couple doors down from the family suite when Deacon and Finn burst into view, their keen noses leading them straight toward her long before their eyes could. She kneeled down just in time for both of them to nuzzle up against her with tails and butts wagging furiously. “There’s my boys! What are you guys doing here, huh?” Ash asked the pups as she wrapped her arms around them.

It only took Ken another minute to catch up. “Oh, you know Alex...can’t leave them home. It’s ‘bad luck.’” Ken explained with a roll of his eyes. “How are you, Ashlyn? We weren’t sure if you’d be here.” The older man watched as she barely contained the wince when she straightened back up.

“Yeah, I haven’t even had a chance to run home. Came straight from the airport.” Ash explained as she gave Ken a hug. “Doing okay...nothing a hot shower and my own bed can’t fix.” She shrugged off.

“And a beer?” Ken smiled as he led them back to the suite.

“Definitely a beer.” Ash agreed as the dogs followed her back into the room, happy to have their human back.

“I can help with that.” Ken made a stop at the stocked fridge, pulling out two beers and handing one over to his future daughter-in-law. “She’s got a fire under her ass today.” Ken commented with a nod towards the field.

Ash couldn’t help but grin at her feisty fiancé as she looked towards the pitch. “I’m not surprised. She read some article online and the guy wrote about the shelf life of defenders...let’s just say she took offense to it.” She smirked and watched in amusement as Ali executed a perfect slide tackle before popping right back up and sending the ball upfield. At the first water break when Ali looked up towards the family suite, Ash couldn’t help but feel her whole body come alive. They locked eyes and Ashlyn could tell by the way the brown eyes crinkled at the corners and Ali’s left thumb spun the silicone Qalo ring on her ring finger, it was taking all the self restraint Ali had not to wave. The soldier gave her a wink and a nod before Ali trotted back onto the field.

The rest of the game went quickly and Ali was nearly buzzing as she took pictures and signed autographs. As always, she stayed for as long as it took to greet all the loyal fans but as soon as it was done, she sped off to the tunnel leading to the locker room. When she rounded the corner she found Crystal standing with Ashlyn and Pierre, accompanied by Deacon and Finn faithfully at Ash’s side.

“Look who I found.” Crystal proclaimed, giving Ash a soft push in Ali’s direction.

Ali took the opportunity to really take Ashlyn in now that they were only a few feet apart. There was a scrape on her cheek and her eyes were darker than usual. Even her stride as she moved to close the gap looked more strained. Ali closed the final distance and buried her face deep in Ashlyn’s neck. She took a deep breath of her fiancé before moving her lips over to her ear and whispering quietly. “Rough trip?”

Ashlyn clung tightly to Ali’s lower waist and mimicked Ali, burying her face in Ali’s neck and placing a kiss there. “You have no idea...” She mumbled against the salty skin.

Ali could tell her soldier could use a little reprieve from the real world, especially if she was being so clingy and vulnerable in public. Ashlyn was always the picture of stoicism when they were out and here she was clinging to Ali’s frame with no motivation to let go. “Just let me change. We can shower at home.” When Ash gave a nod, not insisting that Ali take her time and shower at the stadium, the defender packed up her stuff at a breakneck speed.

Once they were home, Ashlyn took her duffle back down to the laundry room while Ali went up to the master bathroom and started to fill their jet tub with the hottest water they could both stand. While it filled, she dropped in some eucalyptus oil and then went about lighting candles all over the room. To the backdrop of a soft glow she started playing her relaxing acoustic Spotify playlist and stripped down before slipping into the hot, sudsy water.

It was only another couple minutes before Ashlyn made her way into the room. Without a word, she rid herself of her clothing and instead of slipping in behind Ali like she normally would, she followed her fiancé's silent order to lay back into the open waiting arms. Ashlyn closed her eyes and leaned back until she felt her head hit Ali’s collarbone, letting out a deep sigh when she felt the manicured nails run across her scalp. After a couple long minutes, Ashlyn finally quietly broke the silence. “How’d you know?”

Ali placed a tender kiss to the shell of Ashlyn’s ear, wrapping both arms around her shoulders in a loose hug. “Your eyes are always darker when you come back after having to pull the trigger...” Ash gave a slight nod as the silence fell over them again. Ali took advantage of the quietness as an opportunity to take inventory of Ashlyn’s body.  She could barely make out a bruise on the back of her head through the soft brown hair. Then she saw the scapes along her right shin and bruise on her left thigh. Ali started tracing the Army tattoos on her right bicep with the tip of her index finger before talking once more. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Ashlyn was quiet for another minute, just relishing in the comfort Ali’s touch brought. She took another deep breath, letting the eucalyptus run through her senses. “It was just a special kind of evil this time...We went in because a senator’s daughter got kidnapped on a spring break trip. Turned out to be this human trafficking ring.” Ash sighed. “We got everyone out and shut down the operation but the whole flight back home I couldn’t help but think about us having a daughter one day. I won’t be able to protect her from that kind of evil.”

“Oh, Ash.” Ali wrapped her arms back around her fiancé's shoulders and squeezed tightly, leaning forward to kiss her cheek. “Baby, you don’t have to protect her from evil. You’re going to raise her to be a strong, independent woman who...I’m guessing...will be in self defense classes as soon as she can walk.”

“Damn right she will.” Ashlyn muttered before Ali continued on.

“I heard that.” Ali lightly tickled her. “Seriously though, I’m sure there’s days where it feels like you’re in a never-ending game of terrorism whack-a-mole but you and I both know your team does more to keep this country safe than anyone could imagine. Whether it seems like it or not, what you just did protected her from evil long before she’s ever born.” Ali leaned in closer so her lips ghosted across the shell of Ashlyn’s ear as she spoke. “I can’t wait to have kids with you. You’re going to love and protect our kids the same way you love and protect me. They hit the parent jackpot.”

“That was a good speech...” Ash admitted as she felt some of her baggage get unpacked and put away by Ali’s words. While she would always worry about the safety of their kids, Ali was right. They’d raise strong humans that knew how to navigate the world. “Thanks for always knowing just what I need..”

Ali responded with a firm kiss on Ash’s jaw. “That’s my job.”

Chapter Text

Ashlyn sat slouched on a park bench as she sipped an americano with Deacon leaning against her leg. After Ali had spent the night talking through Ashlyn’s thoughts of their last mission, she felt immeasurably lighter. Her eyes were back to a honey hazel as she breathed in the spring air DC had to offer and watched the other half of her family across the park.

Ali was well prepared for the still brisk air coming from the Potomac river, her thick cowl neck sweatshirt keeping her warm as she listened to the dog trainer explain today’s agenda. After a little persuasion that included distracting Ashlyn with a lap dance, she had convinced the Sergeant that she should be the one to train Finn instead of Ashlyn. It was already clear that both Deacon and Finn saw Ash as the alpha of the pack and she’d be damned if she was going to drop down into third or fourth in the ranks. As the pup had grown, they’d naturally covered the basics: sit, stay, heel, but now as he creeped towards the year mark, it was time to start catching up to his brother. They had hired a retired K9 trainer that Ashlyn knew from the Army, the same one that trained Deacon. They had been working with him for a couple weeks now but this was the first session Ashlyn was able to make.

Ali’s other victory in Finn’s training was that he was being trained in German so he and Deacon wouldn’t be confused when commands were given. The basics he had been taught in English but all of his attack and protection commands would be in German. She learned quickly how exhilarating it was to be completely in control of such a strong animal. Her adrenaline instantly started pumping as Andy explained they would start bite training this week. After their agenda was set Ali and Finn started their warm up, moving through the big open field off leash as they worked through a series of sit, down, and stay.

Anytime the dog wasn’t performing a command he was right on Ali’s hip staring up at her eyes, waiting for what was next. If she stepped right, he stepped right. If she shuffled backwards, so did he. Ashlyn couldn’t help but be impressed as she watched their once clumsy, still goofy, rottie work seamlessly with her fiancé. As he’d gotten older, he had lost his puppy fat with increasing speed. Now he was a lean, solid 121 pounds making him even bigger than Deacon.

Once they were done with the warm up, Andy walked up with a big canvas sleeve, wrapped in layers of padding around a solid plastic core. “So, this is Finn’s new best friend.” He explained. “We want him to be really, really excited about being able to chew on this.”

The next hour went on with Andy and Ali working to teach Finn how to properly bite the sleeve which he picked up pretty quickly, eager to get the praise from his mom. As the session started to tick towards it’s end Ali held tightly to the leash as Finn lunged towards the sleeve Andy was now wearing, snapping his jaws eagerly. When Ali saw the nod from Andy, she used the same voice she utilized on the pitch when she was organizing the backline “Packen!” Finn took every inch of extra leash Ali let out and launched off his hindquarters, sinking his teeth into the sleeve and thrashing back and forth. Andy planted his feet and held on for the ride as the big dog shook him around for the better half of a minute. “Aus!” Ali called out again. Her heart exploded with pride when Finn instantly let go and ran back to Ali, sitting down and leaning against her leg. “Who’s my good boy?! Yes, you are! You’re a good boy!” Ali cooed as she ruffled his neck and placed a smooch on top of his head. “Such a good boy.”

Andy smiled, satisfied with the progress. “I think that’s a perfect spot to stop for the day. He’s learning really fast. I’m impressed.” He looked across the park to where his old friend sat with one of his favorite dogs from his military career. Andy knew that it had to be absolute torture for Deacon to sit and watch while his brother got to play with the holy grail of toys, the bite sleeve, for over an hour. “Let’s see what he’s got, Sarge!” He called out across the field, waving the sleeved arm back and forth.

Ashlyn grinned and looked at Deacon. “What do you think, Deke? Show ‘em what we got?” She ran a hand through his fur before taking on a more serious tone with her voice. “Deacon, watch.” Deacon straightened up, ears perking straight forward as his eyes locked in on Andy, buzzing with excited energy. Ashlyn stood and took two steps forward, Deacon taking the same two steps forward before sitting down again next to her with his eyes still locked on Andy. When Andy took off in a run away from them, Ashlyn spoke again. “Deacon, attack!” The German Shepherd lived for moments like this. He took off in a sprint so fast it looked like he was floating above the ground, ears pinned back for aerodynamics. Finn might have size but Deacon had technique. It took mere seconds for him to close in on Andy just as the man turned around and presented the sleeve front and center. Deacon leaped through the air and clamped down, throwing his body weight around and sending Andy straight to the ground without ever releasing his jaws from the sleeve.

Deacon thrashed and thrashed as Ashlyn strolled their way. When Andy got a glimpse of how slow she was moving out of the corner of her eye, he could tell she was messing with him. “Deacon, release!” Andy ordered but the dog just kept thrashing. He was impressed even through the rag-doll spin cycle he was running through. “Alright, you asshole. Get him off me.”

Ashlyn laughed hard, shooting a wink at Ali who gave her an eye-roll in return. “Deacon, release!” Just like that, he let go and ran back to Ashlyn, leaning against her once more. “Good boy, Deke.” 

Andy caught his breath for a minute before jumping to his feet. “Yeah, he’s still got it!  I can’t believe he wouldn’t even let go for me.”

“Yeah, if it’s not Ali, me or one of the guys, he’s really not interested in what you have to say.” Ash smirked.

“Don’t pay them any mind, Finn. You’re still the superstar of the day.” Ali muttered with a pout.

“Oh please.” Ash wrapped an arm around Ali and pulled her into her side. “Deke was practically shaking with jealousy watching you two.”

“Ok. i’m going to get out of here. See you next week, Ali?” Andy asked as he packed up his stuff.

“Yep! Thanks again, Andy!”

 

 

 

The quartet left the park and headed to The Dirty Habit for lunch on the patio. Once they were settled in, Ali with a glass of wine and Ashlyn with a beer, both dogs laying at their feet, Ashlyn spoke up. “He was really good today. Don’t tell Deacon, but Finn picked it up faster than him.”

Ali beamed with pride, a hand slipping down to rest on Finn’s big noggin. “Really? It’s a rush, you know? Working with him.”

Ash smirked. “Yeah...I do.” She took a swig of her beer before looking into the brown eyes. “It’s pretty sexy to watch you.”

Ali bit her lower lip and returned the gaze. “Yeah?” The small nod she got caused her breath to hitch. “Is it too late to cancel our order and get out of here?”

Ashlyn laughed and let out a deep breath to cool down the moment a degree or two. “Probably.” She leaned back into her chair, stretching out her back. There was some lingering tenderness but over all she was starting to feel better, mostly thanks to Ali’s massage if you asked the soldier.

“Fine.” Ali pouted. “You owe me later.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“So, I was thinking...” Ali started.

“Uh oh...”

Ali laughed and threw the lemon from her water glass at Ashlyn who easily smacked it away. “Don’t be a jerk. Anyway...I want you to teach me how to shoot.”

Ashlyn sat a little straighter in her chair as she felt a rush through her bloodstream. Alexandra Blaire Krieger field stripping a rifle, preferably in lingerie, sat very high on her fantasy list. “Really?”

Ali knew exactly what kind of thoughts were running through her fiancé's head by the way here eyes darkened. “Yes, you perv, really.”

Ashlyn laughed with a shameless shrug. “Sue me. It’s boring in the desert...the mind wanders.”

Ali raised an eyebrow. “This is pre-existing?” The nod she received back excited her. “Tell me.” Ali ordered as she sipped her wine

Ashlyn took another pull from her beer as her eyes watched Ali’s throat contract when she swallowed. “I think it was the Kandahar trip? Anyways...I was on overwatch one night and I couldn’t get out of my mind the vision of you, covered in very minimal lace, field stripping an M4. Been thinking about it ever since.”

Ali felt her pulse quicken at the timbre of Ashlyn’s voice while she told the story. The best sex of her life had happened when that voice had appeared in the past. With one more sip of her wine, she reached out a hand to stop their waitress as she walked by. “Sorry, Robin, could you change our order to take out?”

Chapter Text

Ashlyn’s feet hit the sidewalk pavement in quick succession as her and the dogs ran alongside the Potomac river, weaving in and out of the casual people smattered across the pathway. Even though it was still early spring, she had opted for shorts and a sweatshirt while breaking in a new pair of Nikes Ali had gotten her from her sponsorship. Now, as she was halfway through mile 9, she thanked herself for the choice. Sweat dripped down her face as they got closer and closer to Baked and Wired, where they were meeting Ali after her training session with the Spirit. When the trio got to the end of Georgetown waterfront park, they took a turn up 31st street and closed in on their destination. A red crosswalk light had them come to a standstill but all three Harris’ had their eyes zeroed in on the fourth member of their family. Deacon and Finn’s ears perked up in excitement as they waited to get closer to Ali. Ashlyn, however, had a different physical reaction. Her fatigued muscles tightened and her brow furrowed when she took in the man striking up a conversation with her fiancé. He was leaning against a rail, angling his body towards the defender as he chatted animatedly with his hands. From a distance, she couldn’t make out what was being said but when he reached out to try to tuck a strand of hair behind Ali’s ear, Ashlyn practically growled. “How long is this fucking light?”

Ali politely listened along as the man droned on and on. What had started as a casual fan wanting to say hi, quickly turned when he mistook a polite smile for a flirtation. Why can’t they ever just be fans? He had been in the middle of talking about this quaint little restaurant he knew of when his hand started to reach out towards her face. With impressive reflex and grace, she ducked back and brought her hand up before he could reach her, tucking the hair back herself and hoping he would catch a glimpse of the engagement ring on her finger. Just then, her eyes caught movement from the left. With a glance, she saw her two fur-babies and protective soldier hung up at a light. One look at the death stare Ashlyn was boring through the man told her she had seen him reach out. Uh oh.

When the light finally changed Ashlyn took off once again in a jog, both dogs falling in sync with her stride for stride. Her long legs closed the distance quickly as she slowed to a walk for the last couple steps and sized the man up. Her eyes moved over to meet the warm whiskey colored ones looking back at her, seeing the look that was practically begging her to behave. Slightly out of breath, she wiped her forehead with the sleeve of her sweatshirt and watched Finn and Deacon nuzzle against Ali with wagging tails. “Hey. You haven’t been waiting long, have you?”

Ali gave each dog an ear rub before looking back up and giving Ash a megawatt smile. “Hey you. No, I’ve just been here a minute. This is Evan. He’s a fan of the National team.”

Evan shot a toothy grin at Ali, practically ignoring Ashlyn’s existence while he eyed the defender up and down. “Well, I’m a fan of yours.”

Oooookay, buddy...” Ashlyn took a step forward before a manicured hand was pressed high on her chest, stopping her from getting any closer.

“Don’t.” Ali warned Ashlyn quietly before turning to Evan and offering up a smile. “Sorry, you’ll have to excuse my fiancé. She’s a little protective.”

Evan looked over, as if noticing Ashlyn for the first time. “She is your fiancé? Come on...” He turned his gaze back to Ali. “You don’t have to make up some story. I’m a good guy. Let me prove it to you tonight, say, seven?”

Ali could have sworn she heard a growl but wasn’t sure if it had come from Deacon, Finn or, the most likely source, Ashlyn. If the clenching of her hard jaw was any clue, her ears had heard correctly. “I’m sure you are, but it’s not a story. She really is my fiancé. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re headed in for coffee.” Ali threw up a silent prayer that he would drop it. She was running out of polite ways to diffuse the situation. Not to mention, she could tell Ashlyn was a powder keg just waiting to be lit. Normally she found her protective nature endearing but the last thing she needed was video of her fiancé beating up some guy plastered all over the internet.

Evan huffed and rolled his eyes. “Whatever...You don’t have to be a bitch about it...” He started to turn and leave but a large hand on his shoulder roughly turned him back around.

Ashlyn closed the gap quickly, her height allowing her to look down on him with a hard stare. Her voice was a quiet growl as she spoke through gritted teeth. “What the fuck did you just call her?”

Ali wrapped her fingers around Ashlyn’s bicep, squeezing in an effort to get her attention. “Ash. Please.” She lowered her voice. “For me.” Her eyes darted around, noticing that a few people had taken notice of the situation. She squeezed the arm again and then raked her fingernails across the thin fabric of the sweatshirt, hoping to draw her attention back. “For me.”

Ashlyn’s eyes never moved from Evan’s but the soft mumble made it’s way to the more reasonable part of her brain. She leaned forward so their noses were practically touching like a pair of fighters squaring off. “You better get the fuck out of here before I knock your teeth down your throat.”

Evan stared up at her with a stubborn defiance, his pride daring her to make good on her promise but movement out of the corner of his eye caused him to glance down. When he saw the Rottweiler and German Shepherd flanking the woman on both sides, he took a half step backwards. As if taking in the full situation for the first time, his eyes traced over the defined muscles that were straining as the short haired brunette fought to stay in control of her emotions. Between that and the two massive dogs that were following his every move, he decided to cut his losses and run. “Whatever.” He muttered, throwing his hands up in surrender before turning and walking away.

Ashlyn’s eyes tracked him until he rounded a corner and disappeared. With a deep breath she turned and looked down at Ali. There was a storm brewing in the whiskey eyes. “Al, I’m sorry...”

Ali rolled her eyes and dropped her hand from Ashlyn’s arm. “Save it.” She turned on her heel and headed inside Baked & Wired, clicking her tongue to bring the dogs to her side. Leaving her gaping fiancé on the sidewalk, she strode in and got in line to order coffee.

Ashlyn closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “God damn it.” Taking one more calming breath, she headed inside to face an angry Ali. Like a kid that knew they were in trouble, she sidled up next to Ali as she stepped up to order.

Ali didn’t even bother a sideways glance, instead she forced a polite smile to her face for the cashier. “Hi. Can I get two of the dog bagels, a chocolate scone, a vanilla latte and a red velvet cupcake?” With another smile to the cashier she turned and walked away, leaving Ashlyn behind.

Ashlyn sighed and watched her go before turning back to the cashier.

The young woman gave her a sympathetic smile. “In the dog house?”

“You have no idea.” Ashlyn muttered. “Can you make it a half dozen red velvet cupcakes instead? And I’ll take an americano and...uh...a piece of coffee cake.” She pulled out her wallet and handed over her credit card.

The cashier swiped the card and handed it back along with a number to place on their table. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” Ashlyn muttered before heading to the table outside. Ali sat slouched at a table, her interest buried in her phone even as Ash slunk into the chair across from her. “Hey...” When she was met with silence, she tried again. “So...I’m sorry. I could’ve handled that better.”

Ali set her phone down with a loud thud before leveling Ashlyn with a hard stare. “You think?” She offered a quick thanks to the waitress as their order was set down.

“Alex. He was looking at you like you’re a piece of meat.” Ashlyn defended carefully.

“Contrary to popular belief, I am not a damsel in distress Ashlyn.”

Ashlyn visibly winced at the use of her full first name. She couldn’t remember the last time Ali had used the entire thing. It was always Ash or Sergeant or babe. “I know you’re not. I know that.” She took a sip of the americano to buy herself a minute but before she could continue, Ali spoke up again.

“You can’t punch every guy that looks at me. It doesn’t work that way!” Ali huffed out. “What if someone would’ve taken video and put it out on the internet? Huh?” Ali shook her head in frustration. “You know something like that could cost me sponsorships, right? Hundreds of thousands of dollars just gone because you need to punch every person that stares at my ass a little too long.”

“Oh come on...Don’t make me out to be some neanderthal.”

“Then don’t act like one!”

Ashlyn felt like she’d been punched in the stomach. Her eyes filled with sadness as she pulled on the sweat dampened sleeve of her sweatshirt. “That’s not fair.” She took a deep breath and sat a little taller. Her voice was soft but Ali recognized the dejection there. “You’re the most important person in my entire world. You hold my happiness. You get that, right? So when I see something, anything, that could put you in any kind of danger, my instincts take over.”

The look in those sad hazel eyes softened Ali’s hard exterior. She sighed and reached across the table to put her hand on top of Ashlyn’s. “Ash...I wasn’t in danger. That’s what I’m trying to explain. He was just some harmless guy that didn’t know how hopelessly in love I am with you. Not everyone is a threat, babe.” She gave Ashlyn’s hand a squeeze. “I promise, if I ever feel like I can’t control the situation, I’ll let you do what you do best.”

Ashlyn glanced down at her coffee mug before looking back up. “I know. It’s just...” She reached up and scratched the back of her neck. “If anything ever happened to you and I didn’t protect you because I was worried about being ‘proper,’ I’d never forgive myself.”

The smallness in the soldier’s voice clawed at Ali’s heart. It wasn't just that Ashlyn was being protective. She'd spent the last decade being trained to expect that any stranger could be the enemy. But this wasn't a mission and they weren't half way around the world. Ali stood and rounded the table before plopping herself in Ashlyn’s lap. A small smile tugged at her lips when the taut arms automatically wrapped around her waist and the strong hands traced patterns on her lower back. Ali’s fingertips combed through the short messy locks before tilting her head so their eyes connected. “I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if I ever need you you’ll be there. You’ll swoop in and save the day like you did the day we met.” Ali beamed and gave her a soft peck. “But let’s cross our fingers that we’re done with those. Next time, just swoop in and kiss me.” Ali gave her another slower kiss as a demonstration. “Mark your territory and keep our faces off of TMZ.”

Ashlyn soaked in the kiss, bathing in the feeling of being on the same page as Ali again. “I can do that.” She promised, leaning up to nip at Ali’s lower lip before pressing their foreheads together. “I really am sorry. I wasn’t trying to cause a scene. I just-”

Ali pressed a fingertip to the pale pink lips to silence her. “You’re forgiven.” A mischievous twinkle appeared in the warm brown eyes. “Especially with the big box of cupcakes sitting on this table.”

Ashlyn laughed and dropped a kiss on Ali’s shoulder. “If there’s anything I know about you, it’s that when all else fails, I should bribe you with sweets or shopping. Sweets were just closer.”

Ali grinned and opened the box, swiping a finger through the cream cheese frosting before putting it in her mouth and letting out a groan as the sugar filled her taste buds. Removing her fingertip with a ‘pop,’ she swiped her finger through the frosting again before pressing the confection to Ashlyn’s lips.

Ash could feel her pulse quicken as she deliberately licked the frosting clean. “Can we get out of here and get to the best part of fighting?”

Ali laughed and rubbed her nose against Ashlyn’s in an eskimo kiss. “The make-up sex?”

Ashlyn grinned and stole a kiss. “Yeah. I want to practice marking my territory.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 71

 

Ali pulled her car into the driveway and slipped it into park before running her fingers through her hair, feeling the dampness that remained from the post-practice shower. She trotted up the front porch step with an extra bounce in her step. “Hey babe!” Her voice echoed through the empty house. “Oh...what are you up to...” She wondered out loud. Ali had left that morning with a to-do list tacked to the fridge door for Ashlyn to find when she came up from her workout in the basement. She’d expected to find the Spec Ops team leader knee deep in chores but instead the house reverberated with a quietness that could only mean it was empty. As she made her way into the kitchen, she found the french doors open into the backyard and continued out onto the patio.

The detached garage door was open and she could hear the country music emanating out into the warm spring air. That same air must’ve carried her scent towards the garage because before she could make her way to the garage, Deacon and Finn were happily trotting over to greet her. “Hi boys” Ali gave them both a quick scratch behind the ears before leading them back towards the garage. “What’s Sarge up to, huh?” When she came in line with the garage door and found the Wrangler up on jacks, her eyes moved down to the floor. Ashlyn’s well-worn brown leather boots and bootcut jeans were the only visible parts of the soldier as a sing-along to Sam Hunt emanated from under the car.

“Hey Al.”

Ali let out a soft chuckle at being detected even though there was music playing and her fiancé was wedged under a car. “Hey babe.” She gave the boot two soft kicks, urging her out from under the car.

Ashlyn hummed a few more bars as she tapped the drain plug back into place before wiping her hands on a rag and sliding back out from under the car on the mechanic’s creeper. She dodged a sloppy lick to the face from Finn before grinning up at Ali. “How was training?”

“It was-” Ali stopped mid-sentence when she really took the soldier in. The white t-shirt was stretched across her broad shoulders with oil smudges in multiple spots and her favorite khaki fitted hat curved tight, framing in around her eyes.

Ashlyn noticed the darkening of the chocolate colored eyes and smirked. “What?”

Ali let her grin stretch across her face and stepped over Ash’s waist to straddle her hips. As she slowly lowered herself, she reached down and removed the paddle holster from Ash’s belt. Setting aside the 9mm pistol, she sat down on the strong hips. “You look like you should be working on a tractor, not a Wrangler.” She cradled the strong jaw with her right hand and used the pad of her thumb to wipe at a smudge of engine grease from her cheek. “Your southern is showing.”

Ashlyn laughed softly and turned to place a kiss on Ali’s palm. “You know what they say...You can take the soldier out of the south..”

“But you can’t take the south out of the soldier. I know.” Her fingertip reached out to trace the scar over Ashlyn’s eyebrow lovingly. “Missing home?”

“I’m at home, Alex.” She fought to keep her eyes open at Ali’s gentle touch. “You’ve been home for a long time now.”

Ali felt her heart do a somersault. “You’re dangerous with that southern charm, Harris.” She tapped the defined chin before leaning back a little, resting her hands high on Ash’s chest. “Any chance you got any of the stuff done that I left on the fridge?” Ali asked with a bite to her lower lip. They were hosting a barbecue the next day and if those things needed to be done still, they would be seriously behind schedule.

“Yeah, babe. It’s done.”

“All of it?”

“All of it.” Ash smirked. “You thought I was out here screwing around with the Jeep without my chores done first? What would the point of all that military training be if I didn’t know how to follow orders?”

Ali groaned in relief. “Ugh...you’re the best.” She bent forward and claimed the soldier’s lips. “How’d you get all of it done already?”

Ash wrapped her arms around Ali, keeping her pressed against her. “The guys came by for a run and then stuck around to help. Sean even knocked out the grocery shopping. We’re good to go.”

Ali let her body mold against Ash’s and claimed a hungry kiss. “I picked a good one with you...”

“And I’ve got an idea what we can do with all this free time we have now..” Ash’s hand closed around one of the dog tennis balls lying on the ground next to them and made a precision throw, hitting the garage door opener to lower it back down. In one swift move, she rolled them both and pinned Ali to the garage floor. “You’re way too clean.”

 


 

 

A couple hours and a shower later, Ali sat shotgun in the Jeep as Ashlyn crooned along to another Sam Hunt song. With the top off the Wrangler, the dogs both soaked in the fresh air as Ashlyn wove through the long road that led to her unit’s headquarters. Pulling up to the 10 foot gate, she punched in a code and pressed her hand against the state of the art scanner. A second later, the gate separated just long enough for them to pull through. Even though she was now inside the secured gates, Ali still couldn’t see a building as she squinted through the trees.

“You’re sure I can be here?” She asked skeptically as she took in the scenery.

Ashlyn grinned and shoved the gas pedal to the floor now that they were on private land. “Yeah, definitely. As far as public record is concerned, this isn’t even government property...”

Ali just shook her head in amazement. Her eyes soaked in the building as it came into view, appreciating how different their respective ‘offices’ were. Ashlyn pulled the Jeep into park and unclipped both of the harnesses Ali insisted the dogs wear when the top was off before they both jumped out and started exploring the acreage.

“Welcome to my second home.” Ashlyn winked before stepping up to the door. This time she pressed her palm flat to a second scanner and stared directly into a retinal scanner. The cylinders unlocked with a loud click before Ashlyn pulled the door open and let Ali enter first.

Ali bounced on her toes to give the Sergeant a quick kiss before walking through the door and soaking in the state of the art facilities. “Ash...” She blinked a couple times. “Jesus...you see it in the movies but...” She bit her lip as she took it all in, wandering through the various spaces, all open expect for the locker rooms. When she came across the big steel cage with Harris hanging overhead, her bark of a laugh rang through the big empty space. “Oh my god...Mikey?” Her fingers ran over the glossy poster of their World Cup kiss taped to the door of Ash’s locker.

Ashlyn chuckled and shrugged. “Could’ve been any of them...”

Ali gently pushed open the cage door and stepped inside. Her fingers skimmed over the shirts neatly hung as she walked towards the bench. A swatch of color caught her attention as she looked everything over and she strode towards the tactical helmet that sat upside down on the workbench. Her breath caught in her throat as she picked up the helmet and gazed down. “Oh my god...”

Ashlyn leaned against the door from of her locker and smirked, knowing what had caught the brunette’s attention. “Yeah...Jake caught that on his phone...”

Ali felt her eyes get glassy as she stared down at the tattered picture Ashlyn kept tucked inside her helmet. She was instantly transported back in time to the Copper Mug bar she had invited them to the day they met. The picture was a candid of the two of them sitting side by side on the stools as Kelley O’Hara played pool in the background but by the look in their eyes, Kelley might as well not have been there. Even back then, they were completely engrossed in each other. “This...Ash...” Her fingers ran over the blood smudge that still remained on the picture from Ashlyn’s fall. She took a deep calming breath, exhaling slowly before she turned and met the bright hazel eyes. “I love you.”

Ashlyn felt her heart stutter briefly at the intensity starting back at her. “I love you too, Al.” She took a steadying breath of her own. “Now...let’s teach you how to shoot.”

Ali pressed a kiss to her fingertips before transferring it onto the picture, then she turned her attention to the gun rack. “I want to shoot this one!”

Ashlyn laughed loudly as her fiancé reached for the sniper rifle. “Easy, champ. You gotta crawl before you walk.” She walked up behind Ali and grabbed a .22 Glock handgun. “That’d be like skipping foreplay...”

Ali didn’t bother hiding her pout but didn’t push the issue either. “Fine...”

Ashlyn grabbed a paddle holster, sliding it onto Ali’s hip before slipping the gun into the holster. She draped a pair of earmuffs around Ali’s neck before tucking multiple extra magazines into her back pocket and grabbing a pair of earmuffs of her own. “Okay. Let’s do this.”

Ali let out an excited squeal and followed her soldier outside to the shooting range they had set up. She hung on every word as Ash explained the basics. The competitor within was now front and center. If she was going to shoot, she was going to be the best shooter possible.

With the basic explanation out of the way Ashlyn stepped up behind her, molding their bodies together. She hooked her right foot around Ali’s and tugged it back, widening her stance. “Better. Now go ahead and grab the gun.” Her eyes followed Ali’s every move. “Good.” Her lips so close to Ali’s ear were making it hard for both of them to concentrate. “Now remember, tight grip. Otherwise, the safety will engage and it won’t discharge.” Her arms circled around Ali’s, hands covering the smaller manicured ones. “That’s it. Right arm is locked straight. Left one is bent and cupping the bottom of the grip for support.” She watched Ali make the minor adjustments. “Okay. Now, when you’re aimed and ready, pull the trigger at the end of your exhale. Nice and smooth, like we talked about.”

Ali gave a slight nod and did a mental check of all the things Ashlyn had told her. Weight on back foot: Check. Right arm extended: Check. Tip of the finger centered on the trigger: Check. She eyed in on the sights and took a slow deep breath, doing her best to ignore the warm hands on her hips. As the last of air left her lungs, she gave a steady pull of the trigger. The jolt of the gun was an adrenaline rush that she’d only ever experienced two other times: on the pitch and in her fiancé's arms. It was an instant addiction. As she looked down at the target her body felt electrified. The bullet hole on the paper target sat slightly right and high of where she was aiming but she couldn’t wait to try again. “This. Is. Amazing.”

Ashlyn laughed and gave Ali’s ass a gently smack. “You’re a natural. Go again.”

As Ali looked down the barrel, she couldn’t help but wonder out loud. “Do these come in any other colors?”