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For Love & Country

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The Wednesday after the New Orleans game, Ashlyn is getting ready for work. She has just pulled on one boot when the receiver for the child monitor in Malak’s room crackles to life.

“MAMA! MOMMY! COME QUICK!”

Ashlyn leaps up and races for the door. She is not surprised that her wife had gone from mostly asleep to wide awake and a step ahead of her in that split second. They race into their daughter’s room and see her standing at the window. Ashlyn frowns, assuming a prowler. Ali hurries and picks Malak up as Ashlyn eases up to the window to look out.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Ali asks.

Malak’s eyes are wide. “Mommy, look! Look!”

Ali looks to her wife who turns and shrugs. “What’s wrong, Mal Bear? I don’t see anyone out there,” Ash says.

“Mama, there’s SNOW!” the little girl says excitedly.

Ali drops her head to her daughter’s. “Oh, sweet girl.”

Ashlyn drops onto Malak’s bed, her heart returning to normal. “Oh good grief.”

Ali walks over to the window and looks out with her daughter. Big, fluffy flakes fall from the dark sky, illuminated by the street lights. Already there is enough on the ground that the yard is hidden below a white blanket.

“Can we go play in it? Like in ‘Frozen’?” Malak asks.

Ali kisses her cheek. “After breakfast and when the sun comes up, yes, we can play in the snow.”

“Mama, too?” she asks, looking to Ashlyn.

Ashlyn stands and walks over to wrap her two greatest loves up in a hug. “Unfortunately I have to work today, Mallie. But I bet you and Mommy can have fun and take lots of pictures to share with me later.”

“Um’kay. But wish you could play.”

Ashlyn smiles and kisses her daughter’s head. “Me, too. Now, how about you go and sleep a little longer with Mommy so you will be well rested to play.”

Malak sighs, seemingly in deep thought. “I’ll try, Mama. But it sure is looking fun out there.”

Both women laugh as the trio makes their way back to the master bedroom. By the time Ashlyn is ready for work, the little girl is fast asleep. Ashlyn sits down beside her wife and strokes a hand over Malak’s head.

“She about gave me a heart attack.”

Ali giggles. “Me, too.”

“Send me pics when you can. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Drive safely. I know King Arthur is 4-wheel drive but there will be others out there driving like idiots.”

Ashlyn leans over and gives her a kiss. “I’ll be careful. Promise. I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Ashlyn leans over and kisses Malak’s head. She then grabs her briefcase and heads out to grab coffee for her trip north. Ali sighs and cuddles closer to her daughter, hoping to get a little more sleep before introducing the little Iraqi girl to fun in the snow.


 

As Ali makes breakfast for herself and her excited little girl, she imagines showing her all the fun things they can do outside. She even imagines lying in wait to ambush Ashlyn with snowballs when the soldier gets home. Suddenly Ali stiffens and glances at her daughter, who is at the table singing to her owl.

How will she make snowballs?” the right back wonders.

As she turns over the bacon, she glances around the kitchen counter. She opens a drawer and pulls out a plastic ice cream scoop. That could work. She digs through the drawer a bit more and pulls out a soup ladle. That could make larger ones. But how would Malak handle both?

She turns and watches as Malak steadies her owl with her stump and pretends to feed it with her spoon. Ali picks up the ladle, which has a longer handle. She sticks it in the bend of her elbow and presses on it a bit, as if filling it with snow. She grins. That could work. She sets it on the counter to go out with them in a little while. Yep, her daughter will have a chance to have all sorts of fun regardless of her lack of a hand.

Two hours later, Malak is stepping out into the snow for the first time in her life. Her eyes get wide as she watches each step, hearing the crunch of the snow and feeling the cool bite of the air. She looks up, her arms reaching up towards the still falling flakes. Tiffany holds Ali’s camera, recording the moment. Ali squats down, grinning from ear to ear.

“What do you think, Mal?”

“Pretty!”

“It sure is. Try this.”

Ali looks up and opens her mouth, letting snowflakes fall onto her tongue. Malak does the same, giggling at the sensation of the cold flakes quickly giving way to warm water as they melt. For the next hour, Malak learns to make snow angels, a snowman, and finally, snowballs. Tiffany is impressed by Ali’s ingenuity.

“Brilliant, Ali,” she praises as Ali shows Malak how to hold the ladle.

“Cross your fingers this works,” Ali adds.

It soon becomes apparent that it is hard to get the snowball out in one piece. Ali thinks a second, then makes a snowball...and uses the ladle to fling it at Tiffany.

“PERFECT!” she shouts with glee as it hits the nurse in the chest.

Tiffany laughs. “Not sure if I should celebrate or retaliate for that.”

Ali grins. “Celebrate. For now.”

Ali shows Malak what to do. And after a few misfires, the little girl is able to pelt Ali right in the chest. Malak squeals in delight as Tiffany laughs.

“Thanks for getting my revenge, Mal!”

Ali scoops the girl up and twirls her around. “Yes! Perfect throw.” She kisses her cheek, feeling how cold it is. “So, how about we go inside and warm up a bit before lunch?”

Malak shakes her head. “No! Fun!”

“I know it’s fun, honey, but if you get too cold you can get sick or worse. We can come out again this afternoon. We can go sledding, okay?”

“Sledding? Okay!”

Ali smiles and carries her inside. Tiffany smiles as she pulls off her toboggan. “That was so much fun.”

Ali nods. “Definitely,” she agrees as she unbundles her daughter. “I’m so glad you had fun, Mallie.”

“Had super fun! Can Mama play, too?”

“She sure can when she gets home from work. In the meantime how about some hot cocoa to help us warm up?”

Malak shrugs. “What is that?”

Ali smiles. “A very special treat. Go sit by the fire and I’ll bring you some.” She glances at the nurse. “Tiff?”

“Sounds good to me.”

Ali nods and goes to fix mugs for all three of them. As Malak tries hot cocoa for the first time she decides it is yet another awesome reason to love snow days.


 

Saturday morning, Ali rolls over and is surprised that Ashlyn is not in bed. She glances towards the bathroom and doesn’t see the light on. She starts to sit up.

“Ash?” The smell of coffee and pancakes hits her nostrils. She grins. “Yum!”

As she is about to get up and go join her family, Malak runs in and crawls up on the bed. She grabs Ashlyn’s pillows.

“Sit up, Mommy.”

Ali grins. “Okay.” She does and the little girl puts the pillows behind her. “What’s this for?”

Just then Ashlyn walks in with a tray containing pancakes, bacon, orange juice and, of course, coffee. There is also a single red rose in a vase. Malak grins.

“It’s for your anniversity,” she explains.

“Anniversary, honey,” Ashlyn corrects.

Malak nods. “Yeah. That, too.”

Ali laughs, having heard her wife use that statement of agreement many times. As much as Malak might be a little princess like her Mommy, she was also her Mama’s girl, too. Ali gives her a hug and kiss.

“This looks wonderful, honey. Did you make this?”

“Ah huh, I did. I mixed the ’cakes and poured your orange juice. But Mama cooked ’em a’cause I can’t use the stove yet. And she made the coffee, too, a’cause it is hot.”

Ali smiles. They had bought two small pitchers for the fridge, one for milk and one for juice so Malak can pour for herself. Obviously, the little girl had used her pitcher to treat her mommy. Ali smiles as Ash sets the tray across her lap.

“It looks so good. Did you eat already?”

Malak nods. “Ah huh. This is all yours, Mommy!”

“Great!” Ali cuts a bite of pancake and eats it, moaning happily. “I think these are the BEST pancakes I’ve ever had! You did so good!”

Malak smiles proudly as Ashlyn grabs her own coffee mug off the tray and sits on the other side of the bed. Ali leans towards her and they meet in the middle for a kiss.

“Thank you, sweetheart. Happy anniversary.”

Ashlyn smiles. “Happy anniversary to you, too.”

After they finish breakfast, the trio gets ready to go to the mall. Ali and Ashlyn are both so excited for their daughters’ first visit with Santa. Malak has now seen and read enough Christmas stories to be excited, too. She insists on wearing a pretty dress and her favorite shiny black shoes. Ashlyn chuckles.

“Yep, you are your Mommy’s little princess,” she says, kissing Malak on the forehead.

When they get to the mall, it is PACKED. Malak grasps Ashlyn’s hand tightly, a bit intimidated by the crowds. She lifts Malak up and the little girl immediately calms. Ashlyn is enveloped by a warm feeling: she makes her little girl feel safe. And isn’t that every parent’s hope? Ali smiles and wraps her arms around them both.

As they get close to the Santa Village, Malak has forgotten the crowds and is instead looking at the big gingerbread house, the two teenagers dressed like elves, and two people dressed up as reindeer. She laughs and points them out.

“Who are they?” Ali asks.

“Elves and Rudolph and...and...some other one,” she answers, making her parents chuckle.

It was true, only Rudolph was easily identified if you can’t read yet and see the collar that says “Dancer”. The trio gets in line. Ashlyn and Malak are busy pointing out and identifying all the decorations hanging around the mall. Ali just watches them, the smile on her face beaming. She then notices a little girl farther up the line turn and inhale sharply, her eyes going wide. Her eyes are locked on Ali as she tugs on her mother’s jacket.

“What, Lilly?”

“Mom! It’s Ali Krieger-Harris!” she “whispers” loudly.

“Who?”

The girl rolls her eyes. “From the soccer teams! The Spirit and the National team! Look!”

The woman turns in time to see Ali wink and wave at the girl. The lady smiles and reaches into her purse for a pad and pen. She hands them to her daughter.

“Maybe if you ask nicely, she’ll sign this for you,” her mother says, getting a nod from Ali.

The little girl, eyes wide, walks up to Ali. Ali smiles.

“Hi. What’s your name?”

“I’m...uh...uh...LILLY!” the girl finally answers.

Ashlyn chuckles quietly, amazed that the little girl is so star struck she forgot her own name for a moment.

“That’s a pretty name,” Ali says.

“Can...you...will you, please...uh, sign an autograph for me?” Lilly babbles.

“Of course.” Ali takes the pad. “So you like soccer, huh?”

Lilly nods. “Yeah! Lots! I watched all the World Cup games and when I got my chores done on time I was allowed to watch the Spirit games on my Dad’s computer. I only missed a couple! And this year he says maybe we can get tickets to some of the games.”

“That would be great!” Ali gushes. “Do you play?”

“Yeah! I am a forward mostly but sometimes my coach has me play defense, too.”

“That’s good. Learn all the positions so you can and then you can be a help to your coaches no matter what they need,” Ali advises.

“Cool! That’s what he said. I guess he’s right.”

Ali laughs. “Yeah, most of the time the coach is right. Can be a pain sometimes,” she adds with a wink.

Ali hands the pad back to Lilly. The little girl reads it, her eyes bright.

Keep practicing and always listen to your coach. Ali Krieger-Harris 11

“This is SO cool! My teammates are gonna die when I show them! I am so glad I came for my little brother’s visit with Santa!”

Ali grins. “I’m glad, too. It was good to meet you.”

“Lilly, come on now,” her mother calls as they get up for their turn.

Ali smiles and turns to her wife. Ashlyn is smiling proudly. Malak is confused.

“What’s wrong, Mal?” Ali asks.

“I thought they only wanted you to sign stuff if you were with Abby and Aunt Whit and Toby, not with me and Mama.”

Ali jiggles her foot. “Nope. They even recognize me without the team. Is that okay?”

Malak shrugs. “Um’kay. But you with me and Mama today, right? Not the team?”

“Yep, just you and Mama today.”

Malak smiles, glad to have her parents just to herself. “Um’kay.”

Ali smiles. Christie and ARod had both warned her about the tinge of jealousy that can occur at times. Though she won’t turn down fans, she knows she also has to make sure Malak knows that her love and attention is just for her today. She takes her daughter from her wife.

“I love you, Malak. You’ll always be my number 1 fan, okay?”

Malak smiles and gives her a hug. “Um’kay! And Mama, too?”

Ali smiles. “And Mama, too.”

Ashlyn drapes her arm across Ali’s shoulder, loving how easily this little girl had transitioned from orphan to daughter in both the women’s eyes and hearts. Finally it is their turn. Malak takes the hand of an elf and walks up to Santa. Her eyes widen when she sees just how big he is. She looks back to her moms, who just smile and nod. She is lifted onto his lap and relaxes when she sees how cheery his eyes are.

“Hello, Malak. What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?”

The little girl thinks a moment, then shrugs. “I got a Mommy and a Mama. What more is there?”

The man, used to being asked for the latest toys and games, is stunned by the sweet answer. He smiles.

“Well, are there any toys you would like?”

Malak thinks a second and shrugs again. “I gots toys. Can you just have my grandmas come see me for Christmas? I love them but they lives real far away.”

The man had thought he’d heard it all but this little girl takes the cake. He smiles.

“I’ll see what I can do, little one,” he vows. “Now, can you smile at the camera?”

Malak turns and smiles at the elf behind the camera. As she hops down to exit, Santa gestures one of the elves over. He tells her the wish that was made and tells her to pass it on to Ali and Ash. As Ali is paying, with Malak’s help, the elf comes over and tells Ashlyn about the wish. The soldier smiles and shakes her head.

“She is something else. Let Santa know the Grandma’s are coming. Thank you both for telling me.”

“No problem. Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Ashlyn echoes.

A few minutes later, Malak runs up to Ashlyn. “We got copies for Grandma’s and Grandpa’s and Uncle Kyle and Uncle Chris and Aunt Whit and Toby.”

Ashlyn chuckles. Tobin was by far Malak’s favorite national team member. She picks her daughter up. “Excellent! And I posted a pic of you up there in Instagram so everyone will see how pretty you look today.”

“Cool!” she exclaims, making Ash grin.

The trio spends another couple of hours at the mall, buying clothes for Christmas church service and so Ali and Ash can note what toys capture Malak’s attention. Ashlyn can’t help but believe this will be the best Christmas she has ever experienced.


 

Malak’s eyes get wide. “Mama! You look bootiful!”

Ashlyn smiles as she straightens her bowtie. “Thanks, Mal Bear. Is Mommy ready yet?”

“Ah huh. And she looks more bootiful.”

Ashlyn chuckles, not sure if she should take that as an insult or not. Tiffany is watching Malak that night as the couple goes out to dinner and a little dancing for their anniversary. Ashlyn is in black slacks, a red shirt, black vest and black bowtie. Ali walks into the room wearing a gorgeous red dress, with high collar and 3/4 sleeves. Ashlyn swallows hard as she takes in the black heels blending into the black stockings. Her wife’s legs are amazing. As her eyes travel up the red fabric, she can’t help but think her wife’s body is still the most bangin’ bod she has ever seen. Ali just grins at the hungry look in Ashlyn’s eyes.

“So I assume you like my outfit?”

Ashlyn swallows, her mouth dry. “Yeah. Oh, yeah. So yeah.”

Ali just giggles, loving the effect she is having on her wife. She walks over and straightens Ash’s tie. “You look so handsome. I’ll have to beat women off of you tonight.”

Ash grins. “Was thinking the same about you, baby.”

When the car service arrives, they make sure Tiff has everything she needs should she have to reach them, give Malak a hug and kiss goodbye, then head out to celebrate their marriage. In the back of the limo, Ashlyn nuzzles her wife’s neck.

“Good call on the limo, baby.”

“Well, what’s the point of having money from endorsements if I don’t splurge on my wife every once in a while?”

Ashlyn smiles. “True, I guess. But tonight it’s not about money. It’s about love. We could sit at home eating delivered Chinese food in our old sweats and it would still be a wonderful night.”

Ali chuckles and kisses her cheek, using her thumb to wipe off the lipstick smear. “I’ll make a note of that for next year.”

Ashlyn just smiles. After a wonderful dinner filled with laughter and reminiscing, the limo delivers them to a dance club Lori Lindsey had told them about. It caters to an older lesbian crowd, with plenty of slow dances for couples who want a low key night but also some fast songs so they can let loose. Once they have a table, Ali opens a tab and orders a bottle of champagne. After splitting a bottle of wine at dinner, Ashlyn has to grin.

“Why, Mrs. Krieger-Harris, I think you are trying to get me drunk to take advantage of me,” Ali teases.

“Rats. You figured it out,” Ali jokes back. She lifts her flute. “To us. We’ve come so far so fast and yet have so many years to go. I can’t wait to see how our paths play out over our lifetime. I love you.”

Ashlyn clinks her glass to her wife’s. “I love you, too. You have made my life so much better than I ever dreamed. Thank you for loving me through everything.”

“No thanks needed. You’ve seen me through a lot, too. We seem to get stronger with everything thrown at us. I hope that’s always the case.”

“Me, too,” Ashlyn agrees.

As they finish their first glass, “Crazy For You” by Madonna comes on. Ashlyn stands and extends her hand.

“May I have this dance, Alex?”

Ali takes her hand and stands. “Of course.”

The two make their way to the dance floor. They dance two slow songs and a couple of fast songs before needing another drink. As they get back to their table, they see a bouquet of flowers waiting for them. Ali frowns in confusion then turns to Ash, who is grinning. Ali chuckles.

“You never cease to amaze me.”

Ashlyn shrugs. “I’m awesome. What can I say?”

Ali gives her a hug and kiss as she sniffs the roses. Ashlyn looks across the room and gives Lori a subtle thumbs up to thank her for the assist. Their old teammate grins and nods, glad to have helped with the surprise. She then ducks out, leaving Ali wondering how Ashlyn had pulled it off.

And the blonde refuses to tell...until later that night when Ali is between her legs threatening to leave Ash’s clit wanting if she doesn’t get an answer.

Ashlyn spills the secret, and then her essence as Ali smugly finishes her wife off. It is a wonderful anniversary celebration.


 

Ashlyn is sitting at her desk going over some troop requisition forms when her phone rings. She doesn’t even look at the caller ID as she grabs it.

“Harris.”

“You need to meet us at Johns Hopkins,” Ali says, fear in her voice.

Ashlyn leaps up. “What’s wrong?”

“That place on Malak’s leg they were hoping not to graft has an infection. It’s bad, Ash. Real bad,” her voice cracks.

“On my way. Think good thoughts, Alex. Only good thoughts!” Ashlyn orders. She hangs up the phone and grabs her coat. She jogs to Major Nettles’ office. “Sir, Malak has an infection. A bad one. She’s being rushed to Hopkins.”

Nettles nods. “Go. Call me when you know something.”

Ashlyn nods and races out of the building, nearly tackling Sgt Andrews who is on his way in. He frowns in concern.

“Cap?”

“Malak. Infection.”

“Fuck. In my prayers,” he hollers after her as she doesn’t break stride until she gets to her Jeep.

Ashlyn makes it to Johns Hopkins in record time. She races in and right up to the pediatric ward via the stairs, not even wanting to wait for the elevator. She goes to the waiting room Ali had texted her and finds her wife and Tiffany pacing nervously.

“Where is she?” she demands.

Ali pulls her into a hug. “They have her in a treatment room right off the surgical wing. They are hoping to debride the wound enough to still avoid a graft. If not, they will prep her for a balloon in the back again.”

“Fuck,” Ashlyn mutters as she holds her wife close. “Can’t we be there? To help or something?” she asks Tiffany.

“I’m afraid not. It will be a fully sterile environment for Malak’s safety. All we can do is wait and pray.”

“I’m scared, Ash,” Ali whispers.

Ashlyn hugs her wife tighter. She tries to find that place in her mind that she goes to in battle; the place that separates her emotions from her actions. But at those times she is dealing with her soldiers and as much as she is dedicated to them, it is not the same. Her daughter is in pain and her life is in danger and there is nothing Ashlyn can do; consequently, she cannot turn off her emotions. All she can do is hold her wife and pray for their little girl. She kisses Ali’s temple.

“She is a fighter, Alex. Has been since the day she was hurt. She’ll fight through this, too. You’ll see,” she says with a confidence she doesn’t quite feel.

Ali holds her wife tighter, appreciating the confident words. “She was fine and then just...just started feeling bad. She said her leg was itching. God, Ash, it was so warm. How did we miss it?”

Tiffany answers. “Stop, Ali. You can’t blame yourself for this. Neither of you can. I can’t even blame myself. That type of infection comes on quickly. As soon as she showed symptoms, we brought her here. That’s the best we could have done.”

Ali sighs against Ashlyn’s shoulder, a little relieved at the nurse’s words. But part of her still says she should have seen the problems sooner. Ashlyn just rubs her back and holds her, knowing her wife will kick herself until they get news from the doctors. Scratch that: she will kick herself until they get GOOD news from the doctors.

They have been in the room for 30 minutes when Ali gets a text. She glances at it and groans.

“Crystal. I was supposed to work out with her and Chris. I totally forgot.”

Ashlyn takes the phone. “They’ll understand, Alex. I’ll let her know what’s going on, okay?”

Ali just nods, not able to function completely at the moment. Ashlyn steps away and hits the call symbol.

“Hey, Girl! You slacking off with Christmas coming?” Crystal answers, chuckling.

“Uh, Crys, it’s Ash. We’re at Johns Hopkins,” she starts, then her voice locks up.

“Oh, shit. What’s wrong with Malak?”

Ashlyn swallows a couple of times and then clears her throat. “Infection in her leg. That burn they were trying not to graft.”

“Oh, damn. Is there anything I can do?”

Ashlyn sees a doctor headed their way. “Pray. The doctor is here. I’ll call you later.”

“Right. Love you guys.”

Ashlyn hangs up as the doctor walks into the waiting room. She walks over and wraps her wife up in a hug.

“Good news and bad news,” the doctor begins. “The good news is I still think we can avoid the graft. We’ve been able to expel most of the infection and the flesh below actually looks healthy and viable.”

“Oh, thank God,” Ali murmurs.

“And the bad news?” Ashlyn presses.

“Her body seems to be getting used to the antibiotics we are using. Considering how many and how long she has been on them that is not uncommon. I’m recommending a sealed room for 48 hours while we keep the wound clean and look for alternative antibiotics to use. This will keep her in a sterile environment with lots of oxygen to help stimulate healing,” he says.

Ashlyn squeezes Ali harder. “Can...can we stay with her? In the room?”

“Normally I would say no. But, to be honest, she’s terrified. If one of you is willing to go through a full decontamination and a full blood panel to assure us you have no illnesses, we can allow one of you to stay with her for the duration.”

“I’ll do it,” both mother’s say simultaneously.

Tiffany smiles at the doctor. “Could have told you it would go that way.”

He smiles. “Then let’s get you both tested. Whoever appears healthiest will stay with Malak.”

Ali and Ash nod, just glad one of them will be able to stay with their daughter. Two hours later, Ashlyn hangs up her phone.

“Okay, Nettles has me off for the next 3 days.” Ali nods. Ashlyn pulls her close. “Alex, I’m sorry it can’t be you.”

Ali wipes away a tear. “Me, too. But thank God you can go in there.”

“If all goes well, we’ll be out in two days ready for a big bowl of mac and cheese as we count down the last few days until Christmas,” she says positively.

Ali nods. “No other option,” she states.

The two share a quick kiss, then Ashlyn goes off to go through the decontamination shower and scrub down. Tiffany walks up and takes Ali by the shoulders.

“Come on: let’s go wave to Malak and talk to her through the window.”

Ali nods and allows Tiffany to lead her down the hall. An hour later, they watch as Ashlyn, in all white scrubs and paper slippers, steps into the room. Malak sees her and her eyes get happy.

“Hi, Mama!”

“Hi, Mal Bear. Mind if I spend a couple days here with you?”

“Um’kay. What about Mommy?”

“Well, only one of us could come in so we flipped a coin and I won. We’ll probably need to colour some pictures for Mommy to make her feel better.”

“Um’kay.”

Ashlyn runs her hand over Malak’s head. Though the little girl had smiled her eyes look tired. It is breaking her mother’s heart.

“I don’t know about you, but I am tired and could use a nap before dinner. What do you think?”

Malak nods and pats the bed. “Lay with me?”

Ashlyn smiles. “Always.”

She crawls up onto the bed and Malak snuggles into her. She glances over at the window and smiles at her wife. Ali puts her hand up to the glass and leans towards the intercom.

“I love you two so much.”

“We love you, too, Alex.”


 

By 7 that night, Ali has been joined outside the room by her father, Vicki, Crystal and Lori. Ashlyn had been thankful to see the players had brought Ali and Tiffany dinner since both women refused to leave the hallway. So as they enjoyed a nice meal, Ashlyn settled for bland hospital food.

But since Malak had to eat food even more bland, the blonde did not complain.

“You see all those people out there waiting for you? They love you so much,” Ashlyn tells her daughter.

“Love them, too,” Malak says, groggy from the meds she is on.

“And when you were napping, your Mommy told me that Aunt Whit and Toby and Abby and a whole bunch of other players on the team sent messages telling you to get well soon. You have so many people in your life wanting you to get better you’ll be fine in no time. Love is a great healer. You’ll see, little one.” She kisses Malak on the head. “And in a couple of days we’ll go home and you’ll keep getting better and then you will have your first Christmas.”

“And Santa will bring me and you and Mommy presents?”

Ashlyn smiles, stroking Malak’s head. “That’s right. We’ll all get presents.”

Ashlyn closes her eyes. “The only present I need is my daughter to be okay. Please, God, if you can hear me, please, please make her okay,” she prays silently.


 

For 2 days, Ali and Tiffany camp out at the hospital, a steady stream of friends bringing them food and clothes. For 2 days, Ashlyn stays by her daughter’s side, weathering new medical cocktails that were specially designed to help Malak fight the infection threatening her leg and her life.

“Ali?”

Ali turns, her eyes wide with surprise. “Tobin!”

The midfielder smiles. “How could I not be here for my number 1 fan? Just sorry I couldn’t get here sooner.”

“I thought you were in Paris?”

“I was. It was more important to be here.” She walks up and hugs the defender, then looks into the room. She sees Malak napping in Ashlyn’s arms. “I prayed for her the entire flight. I had this dream that I think was more than a dream.”

“What was it?” Ali asks.

“I saw her running and playing. It was Spring and the Cherry Blossoms were in bloom. She stopped and turned to me and said, ‘I made it, Tobin. All the prayers helped me.’ And then she started running again. When I woke up I just...just had this feeling that she is going to be okay,” she explains.

Ali pulls her into another hug. “I pray you’re right.”

A few minutes later they see the doctor enter the room. He gently wakes Ash and Malak. Ali, Tiff and Tobin crowd around the intercom. Ashlyn slips off the bed to stand beside her little girl while he does his evaluation.

“So, how are we feeling today?”

“Good,” Malak answers. “My leg isn’t hot anymore.”

He smiles. “That’s great! Let’s take a look shall we?”

He eases the covers off as Ashlyn takes Malak’s hand. He carefully probes the wound with his fingers. He makes a note on the tablet he carries then smiles at them.

“The last round of blood tests show no more signs of infection.”

Ali’s knees go weak and Tobin holds her up. Ashlyn’s head drops.

“Oh, thank God,” both women whisper.

“The leg has returned to its normal colour and from what I can tell will continue to heal on its own. At this time, I see no need to put Malak through another graft process.”

Ashlyn stares at him. “And there won’t be, like, any issues again? Issues that would make us regret not doing a graft?”

He shakes his head. “None at all that I can tell with the information I have now. For precautionary reasons, I am going to keep her here one more night. But if all goes well, she can check out tomorrow afternoon to continue her recovery at home.”

Ashlyn can’t stop herself. She grabs the doctor in a firm hug. “Thank you,” she croaks out.

He smiles. “Don’t thank me.” He looks to Malak. “You’re little girl is a tough one. Something tells me it will take a lot to keep her down for long.”

Ashlyn smiles proudly and hugs Malak. “Damn right, Doc.”

He pats Malak on the leg and exits the room. Ashlyn turns to the window and sees the relief on Ali’s face. Ashlyn can only smile. Her family is going to be just fine.


 

Malak’s eyes widen as Ashlyn carries her into the house. In addition to Tobin waiting for her, Crystal, Lori, Whit and Jo Lohman are there to welcome their little fighter home. She smiles as Ashlyn passes her off to their friends for hugs and kisses all around. Malak ends up in Tobin’s arms. She hugs her tightly.

“I love you, Toby.”

“I love you, too, little nutmeg.”

Ali just chuckles. Something tells her that her daughter will be getting personalized instruction on trick moves as soon as she is able to start playing soccer. The defender can’t wait.

Whit walks over and puts her arm around her best friend’s shoulder. “You okay?” she asks quietly.

Ashlyn sighs. “I have only been that scared one other time. That was when you guys were in Japan and I didn’t know what had happened to you or Alex. But she’s going to be okay, Whit. She is tougher than me and Alex combined. I may be a wreck inside, but the important thing is she is okay.”

Whit hooks her arm into Ashlyn and leads her into another room, shutting the door. She pulls her best friend into a hug.

“Stop being a wreck inside, honey. Let it out,” she says gently.

And Ashlyn does. She releases 72 hours of fear and helplessness on her best friend’s shoulder. After a few minutes, she looks up.

“Thanks. I don’t think I knew how bad I needed that. Has anyone done that for Alex yet?”

Whitney smiles. “HAO should be here in about 20 minutes.”

Ashlyn chuckles. “Perfect. Thanks, Whit. For everything.”

“No problem. Now, let’s go out there and let Malak see all the get well gifts her aunts on the team sent her.”

Ashlyn laughs, feeling lighter than she has in several days. “Oh good grief. They couldn’t wait until Christmas?”

“Oh, there’s Christmas gifts, too,” Whit assures her with a grin.

Ashlyn rolls her eyes. She should have known.


 

Ali stares down at her sleeping daughter. It is 2 a.m. on Christmas morning. Just a few days ago there had been a question about whether or not the little one would even make it to see this blessed day. She kneels down beside the bed straightening the bedclothes around her girl. She smiles as she sees Malak’s owl tightly held to her chest by her left arm.

“So sweet. So many toys since and that owl is still your favorite,” Ali whispers. “Did you know then that you’d end up with us? Did I know it then? I think I did on some level. You meant so much to your mama and that made you mean something to me. I think I knew the first time I actually saw you that you would be my daughter. A mother knows.” Ali chuckles. “My mother used to say that all the time and now I know what she means.”

She leans over and kisses Malak on the head. She senses someone behind her and turns around. She smiles at her wife.

“Hey.”

“Hi. Everything okay?” Ashlyn asks.

Ali smiles and nods. “Perfect.” She turns back to Malak. “Just came in to make sure she hadn’t kicked her covers off. She had.”

Ashlyn chuckles. “She always does.” She walks over and places her hands on Ali’s shoulders. “You sure you’re okay?”

Ali reaches up and takes Ashlyn’s hands. “I’m perfect, too.” She turns back to their daughter. “Just reflecting on when I knew she’d be ours. And kinda wondering when she knew she’d be staying with us. I love her so much, Ashlyn. She’s the best gift you’ve ever given me.”

Ashlyn leans over and kisses the top of her wife’s head. “You gave her to me, too. And she gave herself to us. I think we are the three best gift givers in the world.”

Ali chuckles. She can’t argue with that assessment. Ashlyn pulls her wife up.

“Come on, sweetheart. We have a long, wonderful day ahead of us. We need to get some sleep.”

Ali nods and lets Ashlyn lead her back to their bedroom. Ashlyn crawls into bed. She starts to pull the covers up and sees her wife just standing at the end of the bed.

“Alex? What’s- -oh!”

Ali lifts off her pajama top. Ashlyn swallows. Ali slowly peels off her pajama pants. Ashlyn licks her lips as she stares at the beauty before her. Ali kneels on the end of the bed and slowly, sensually crawls up the bed to her wife. She settles her warm, wet center over Ashlyn’s. Ashlyn moans at the contact.

“Make love to me, Ashlyn,” Ali whispers, her mouth right at her wife’s ear. She drags her tongue around the lobe, making the blonde shiver. “Make love to me. Now, baby.”

Ashlyn’s hands go to breasts, nipples already hard and wanton. She turns her head, capturing Ali’s mouth in a passionate kiss. Her hands massage perfect breasts as her thumbs brush over the sensitive peaks. Ali moans into Ashlyn’s mouth. When they need air, Ali stares into dark green eyes.

“You’re wearing too many fucking clothes. I need to feel you, Ashlyn. All of you.”

Ashlyn rolls, putting Ali below her. She kisses her once more, her tongue diving deep into a warm mouth. She then stands and slowly pulls off her own pajamas. Ali sits up, scooting to the edge of the bed. She pulls Ashlyn between her legs, her mouth latching onto one breast as her hand goes to the other.

“Oh, fuck, Alex,” Ashlyn groans as her breasts are worked masterfully. She feels the evidence of her desire rolling down her leg. “Alex...need you...need you, please, baby.”

Ali scoots back, gently pulling her wife with her. Ashlyn is on her hands and knees over her wife. She stares into dark brown eyes.

“I love you so much. You have no idea just how much you mean to me, Alex,” the blonde says.

Ali smiles. “Of course I do. Because you mean that much to me.”

Ashlyn’s legs settle between Ali’s. She kisses her wife as she starts to thrust her center down against the dark curls of her wife. Her mouth travels a path from plump lips down a strong neck, settling into the sensitive point where neck meets shoulder. Ali’s back arches up.

“Oh! Oh, Ashlyn...”

Ashlyn sucks and licks that area, then continues her journey. Her mouth traverses Ali’s jaw, it visits her pulse point on the other side, the draws a line up to a very sensitive area behind Ali’s ear. The whole time her hips thrust down at a steady pace, loving it as Ali’s hips meet every push. Her tongue dances into Ali’s ear.

“ASH! Oh, fuck, baby...”

The entire time, her hands had been playing with heaving breasts, teasing and pinching the nipples that send shockwaves up and down Ali’s body. When strong legs wrap around Ash’s hips the soldier takes the hint. One hand breaks away from a perfect breast, only to be replaced by her mouth. The hand then slowly, softly slides down toned abs, through neatly trimmed curls, and finally into the core of Ali’s desire.

“Yessss...”

Ashlyn smiles against the breast in her mouth as two fingers slide easily into her wife. She thrusts slowly and deeply, making sure her wife feels every stroke. Hands tangle in her hair and she is dragged back up to look into her wife’s eyes.

“I love you, Ashlyn. So fucking much.”

“I love you, too.”

As one they start to move faster, their eyes locked into each other. Ashlyn feels her wife’s passion rising, racing to the crest. She adds a third finger.

“OH! Oh, Ash...”

As she feels herself about to hurtle into ecstasy, Ali drags her wife’s head down, screaming her release into Ashlyn’s mouth. Her hips ratchet up and down as Ashlyn milks her for every bit of pleasure she can. As Ali’s hips start to still, Ashlyn carefully extracts her fingers, smiling as strong thighs ripple at the loss. She stares at the beauty below her.

“How did I get so lucky? What the hell did you see in that screwed up girl from Satellite Beach that I used to be?”

Ali strokes a hand down Ashlyn’s cheek. “I saw the woman you didn’t know you could be. I saw your heart. I saw my future.”

Ashlyn gives her a kiss. “You needed better glasses.”

Ali chuckles. “I think that was the best my vision has ever been.”

She rolls, putting Ashlyn below her. “And after the first time I tasted you, I knew nothing else would ever sate me the way you do.”

Ashlyn moans as Ali kisses her way down the long, strong body below her. She pays special attention to the breasts she had teased earlier. She used her tongue to trace the 6-pack Ashlyn works so hard to maintain. And she finally nuzzles into soft golden curls.

“Oh, Captain, my Captain,” she sighs as she begins to feast.

Ashlyn’s back arches and she just barely stops herself from screaming out her pleasure as Ali’s tongue penetrates her deeply. The brunette feasts as if she’s been hungry for days. And in some ways she had. Between Malak’s medical scare and the preparation for family arrivals for Christmas, the women had not made love since their anniversary celebration night.

Ashlyn pulls her legs up, her feet pressed into the bed near Ali’s head. This gives her leverage to thrust up harder. Ali knows this means her wife needs more. She slides away, making her wife groan in protest. Then she reaches into the bedside table, which makes her wife make another noise. A happy noise. Ali grins as she turns on the vibrator. And slides it deep into her wife.

“Oh, Alex...so perfect...”

Ali grins, her mouth going to Ashlyn’s throbbing clit. She sucks and starts to thrust the toy in and out. Ashlyn’s fingers tangle into dark locks, not that Ali was planning to go anywhere. Soon Ash is grabbing her wife’s pillow and shoving it over her face to muffle her scream as she cums so hard she nearly knocks Ali off the bed. Ali giggles as she withdraws the vibrator and turns it off. She crawls up her wife’s sweaty body and removes the pillow from the limp hand.

“I love you, Ashlyn.”

“Wow...you just...wow...” Ashlyn mumbles.

Ali giggles again. “I’ll take that as an ‘I love you, too’. Are you okay?”

Ashlyn’s eyes slowly open and a lazy smile comes across her face. “I think I surpassed okay long ago. There is no word for what you make me feel.”

Ali gives her a quick kiss. “Ooo, that was smooth.”

“I try,” Ashlyn says as she wraps her arms around the brunette. “Alex?”

“Yeah?”

“Merry Christmas.”

Ali smiles and snuggles into her wife. “Best Christmas ever.”

Ashlyn chuckles. “That’s my line, woman.”

“We’re married. What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine.”

Ashlyn laughs. “Sounds a little unbalanced there, Princess.”

“That’s because I am,” she kisses her wife, “the Princess.”

“Ah, of course. Whatever was I thinking?”

Ali nuzzles in. Time to get a little sleep. There will be a very excited 3 year old experiencing her first Christmas in just a few hours. And neither woman can wait.


 

“MAMA!”

Ashlyn gets her eyes open just as a small child lands on her stomach. “OOMPH!”

Ali starts to giggle. Malak has no idea Ash can’t breathe.

“MAMA! SANTA CAME! SANTA CAME! UNCA CHRIS TELLED ME HE DID!”

Ali pulls Malak over onto her chest to give her wife time to recover. “Did he leave us all presents?”

Malak nods. “HE DID! HE REALLY, REALLY DID!”

Ali gives her a hug and a kiss. “Then we better go see if the Grandma’s are awake so we can open gifts.”

“They is. They making coffee and breakfast!” Malak says, her body quivering with excitement.

Ali sets her off on the side of the bed. “Then let me get my robe and we can do downstairs. Do you have your slippers so your feet don’t get cold?”

Malak looks at her feet then back up. “No.”

“Go get them.” Malak races from the room. Ali looks at her wife. “You okay?”

“Knee. Right. In. The. Happy. Point,” she grunts, still trying to recover.

Ali giggles again. “Owie. Guess it’s not too happy right now.”

“To say the least.” Ashlyn lets out a long breath. “Okay, I think I can walk without a noticeable limp now.”

“MAMA! YOU AWAKE!”

Ali falls off the bed laughing as her wife grunts again, her happy place once more the receiver of a not so soft knee. Ashlyn hugs her daughter and gives her a kiss.

“Meet you. Downstairs. In. A second. Mal Bear,” she groans out.

Ali stands and pulls on her robe. “Join us when you can. I’ll have your coffee ready.” She pauses. “And an ice bag.”

She just barely ducks away from the thrown pillow. She offers her hand to her daughter. “Come on, Mallie. Let’s go see the Grandma’s.”

Once alone, Ashlyn slowly sits up. She makes her way into the bathroom and double checks that Ali hasn’t returned to the bedroom. She drops down and opens the bathroom cabinet, reaching way into the back to pull out a gift she had hidden there weeks before. She smiles at the box and stands, slipping it into her sleep pants pocket. She chuckles.

“Thank you, Mal Bear, for giving me a reason to join the party late,” she whispers, glad her daughter had missed her precious center but come close enough to convince Ali.

A few minutes later she walks into the kitchen. She gives her grandmother, mother, and mother-in-law hugs and kisses. She ruffles Chris’ hair.

“Breakfast smells wonderful. Uh, Mal, slow the roll there, little one.”

Malak is shoveling food into her mouth. Ali grabs the girl’s fork before another mouthful is inhaled.

“Slowly, Malak. The presents will still be there in a few minutes.”

The girl groans and slowly finishes chewing the eggs in her mouth. Grandma chuckles and pokes Ashlyn.

“She’s just like you, little one.”

Ashlyn grins. “Yeah, she is right now. Other times she’s so much like Alex it’s crazy.”

“All kids are the best of both parents,” Grandma notes, making Ash grin proudly.

Twenty minutes later (thought Malak is SURE it is longer) the group retires to the living room. For the first time the little girl sees the mountain of presents under the tree. Her eyes get wide.

“WOW! MAMA! LOOK!”

Ashlyn smiles. “I see that, Mal Bear. I think I got a new Jeep!”

Malak races to the child’s Jeep. “Unca Chris! Is this Mama’s?”

Chris pretends to read the tag. His eyes get wide. “It’s from Santa. And it’s for YOU!”

Malak’s eyes get wide. She jumps up and down. “MAMA! I gots a Jeep, too!”

“Wow! That’s so cool, Mal Bear! What else do we have?”

Malak shrugs as she climbs in the Jeep. Ali chuckles and looks at her wife.

“Maybe we should have parked it in the driveway and presented it last,” she whispers.

Ash grins. “Nah. She can open gifts in there. Pass them out, Bubba.”

Chris sits down and passes out the gifts to everyone. Most people spend more time watching Malak tear into the gifts for her. Her excitement and happiness is intoxicating. Ashlyn pulls Ali close as they watch her squeal in excitement every time she opens something.

“She’s perfect,” Ashlyn whispers.

“Yeah, she is,” Ali agrees.

“And I want to make sure that, even if you’re off playing soccer and she is back here, you carry her with you.” She pulls the box out of her pocket. “A little something to add to my dog tags.”

Ali takes the box and looks up at her wife, who is smiling happily. Ali unwraps the small box and pulls out the single dog tag inside. She reads it and her eyes get teary.

“Oh, Ashlyn,” she whispers.

“Alex? What’s that?” Deb asks her daughter.

Ali holds it up, unable to speak. Ashlyn kisses her temple.

“I had a special dog tag made. It’s got Malak’s name, the February 1 birthday she was assigned since no one was completely sure her actual day just the general time frame, and the coordinates of the village where she was born. It’s for Ali to add to my dog tags so she has us both with her. Always.”

Ali pulls Ashlyn into a kiss as the others give them an Awwww. When it ends Ali keeps her forehead against her wife’s.

“This is so special, baby. Thank you.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Ashlyn says. “I know it’s not very expensive. I mean, it was actually free, but I still considered it your big gift this year.”

“Are you kidding me? It’s priceless. The best Christmas gift ever.”

Ashlyn grins. “Good. Then I can return the earrings and leather jacket?”

“Not on your life, woman,” Ali threatens.

The two laugh and kiss once more. Malak walks over and hands a gift to Ashlyn.

“Me and Mommy got this for you,” she says.

“You did?” Malak nods. “Then I bet it’s awesome!” Ashlyn unwraps it and finds her new watch. “Wow! Thanks! You two did great!” She pulls Malak up onto her lap. “Best watch ever!”

Malak hugs her and also reaches for Ali to hug her. “I love you, Mama and Mommy. You the best gifts ever.”

Ali and Ash are speechless. They just hug their girl and give her a kiss. It really was the best Christmas ever.


 

Ashlyn carefully lifts her daughter out of the toy Jeep. Malak doesn’t even wake. Tammye smiles.

“I remember when you were her age. You fell asleep on your tricycle. Your father carried you to bed and you never even woke up.”

Ashlyn stares at her mother in surprise. “You...you remember that? Really?”

Tammye smiles and nods. “I do. It was before my issues got...bad,” she admits. She steps towards her daughter. “I understand you’re seeing someone because of PTSD.”

Ashlyn blushes. “Yeah...I am.”

Tammye pulls her into a hug. “I’m proud of you. You are so much stronger than I was at your age.”

“Because of you, Mom. Don’t you know how much you taught me? You were the one that showed me that if you ask for help you can make things better. I’m just following your example. I don’t want to lose Alex and Malak. Thank you for giving me the tools to keep that from happening.”

Tammye kisses her cheek. “You give me too much credit. I love you, sweet girl.”

“I love you, too, Mom.”

Ashlyn walks upstairs to put Malak down for a nap. In a couple of hours the rest of the Kriegers were arriving from Ken’s house and there would be more presents and then the big dinner. As she places her daughter in bed, Ashlyn can’t help but stroke a hand over her hair.

“You taught me a lot, too, little one. You also made me want to get better mentally. Thank you for being part of my life.” She leans over and kisses her cheek. “I love you, my angel.”

Ashlyn slips Mal’s owl in her arms then stands. She feels hands wrap around her from behind and clasps her hands over them.

“Best gift ever, Ashlyn,” Ali says.

“For all of us,” Ashlyn agrees.

The two women watch their daughter sleep. It had been an amazing four years of marriage and they can’t wait to see what the next years would bring. Next year the right back would be looking to Qualify and then participate in the Olympics. Ashlyn would be looking to get back into the field with her unit. And their daughter would be aiming to get through her last surgery and start down the road to learning to use a prosthesis. Yes, 2016 was going to be an amazing year.

But that, my friends...is for another story.

The end...for now...

A/N: Malak’s name means “Angel”. Seemed like the right name for the little girl, don’t you think?