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Always By Your Side

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Sydney Leroux was many things. She was intelligent, witty, caring, badass, loud and loyal...loud to a fault...loyal beyond reasoning, which is why Heather grabbed Sydney around the waist as the forward lunged at Jill. Ali smirked with satisfaction as Jill jumped back, intimidated by the sudden movement. 

 

“You fucking v.d. infested cum cavity! I’m gonna…” Sydney managed to yell before Heather could clamp a hand over her mouth, effectively muffling her voice as Jill’s eyes narrowed.

 

It had taken a moment for the shock of Sydney’s rant to wear off, but Jill recovered her senses and pointed back and forth between the pair of players that stood between her and the door.

 

“If either of you breathes one word of this to anyone, you will be off the team so fast it will make your heads spin!” Jill growled and then spun on her heels to face Ali, “And as for you...you just earned yourself a permanent vacation from the National Team with those lies!”

 

The enraged forward was finally able to wrench Heather’s hand off her mouth and “...you don’t want Foudy’s solution…” rang through the room before the middie could clamp down on Sydney’s mouth again. Heather involuntarily shivered at the memory of Julie Foudy explaining how to get away with murdering Daniella Hearst in great gory detail at Abby’s back yard team meeting so long ago. 

 

“I suggest you leave before I turn her loose, Jill. We fully expect both Ali and Ash at next camp if you don’t want us to go to the media.” Heather pressed back, her tone even and calm. 

 

“You do and it will be the last thing you ever do!” Jill spat out as she gave the players disguised as nurses a wide birth heading to the door. 

 

Once the door had shut, Heather held onto Sydney a little while longer so Jill would be out of reach before she released her grip on the enraged forward. Sydney spun around and glared at Heather.

 

“Why the hell did you do that?!” Sydney turned her ire onto Heather, “You let her get away before I could beat her ass!”

 

“I was keeping you from getting arrested, Syd.” Heather replied as she shook her head and made her way over to Ali.

 

Heather felt nauseated as she looked past Ali to Ashlyn laying in the bed with tubes sticking out of her. 

 

“God Ali, I am so sorry. What do you need right now? Name it and it’s yours.” Heather gently inquired as Ali’s eyes filled with unshed tears once more.

 

“A hug.” the defender’s broken voice replied.

 

Heather and Sydney shared a look of concern as the sable haired beauty shattered in the Heather’s arms, Sydney quickly joining them, her anger tamped down by the sight. 

 

***

 

Brooke scooped her backpack off the conveyer belt and slung it over her shoulder as she angrily made her way from the security check point to her gate. She had never...never...been suspended in all her decades on the force. It was beyond humiliating! And all because of that little kidnapped brat. 

 

The pissed off detective slid her airline ticket back into her passport and shoved both into the inside breast pocket of her jacket. She had a month before she could go back to work. Brooke was going to bring back all the evidence the prosecutor would need to toss that soccer playing kidnapper in prison for life. Then she would get hired by the FBI, and Chief Gundersen could go fuck himself repeatedly. Brooke looked up at the gate numbers and sighed, of course the plane to Punta Cana was parked at the furthest gate of the concourse!  

 

***

 

Deb watched as her daughter took a pre-moistened disposable bathing cloth out of the package that the nurse had left on the bedside table for her, and started carefully wiping the cleansing solution over Ashlyn’s face. Once Ali and Ashlyn’s lawyer had gotten involved, the police had backed down and allowed the keeper to have visitors. It had taken the other players a week before they had agreed to go back to their NWSL teams. Grams was at the hotel nearby trying to get some sleep, but how long could she afford to keep the room? The older woman sighed, she had tried to get the Harris matriarch to stay in her hotel room with her, but the old woman had simply brushed her off. 

 

Deb smiled sadly at the loving care and devotion her daughter showed for her keeper. It had been almost three weeks and Ashlyn had shown little improvement. The longer it went on...Deb closed her eyes tight. No. She couldn’t think like that...and Ali would be furious if she ever found out that her mother had doubts that Ashlyn would pull through...still. It tore at her soul to think that her daughter might have to bury her wife...her soulmate...at such a young age. 

 

“You really should come back to the hotel with me, baby girl. You know...take a hot shower…get into some of your own clothes...” Deb started.

 

“No. You know I can’t leave. What if she wakes up and I’m not here?!” Ali replied tersely without turning around as she ran the cleansing cloth over Ashlyn’s neck.

 

“Alex, you stink. You need to take a shower, get out of those scrubs the nurses keep giving you. Eat something that isn’t hospital food...sleep in a real bed. If you don’t take care of yourself, what do you suppose Ash is going to think when she wakes up and sees you...or worse yet smells you?!” Deb tried to reason with her daughter for like the hundredth time.

 

Ali blew out an exasperated breath, “She is going to know that her wife never left her side because she is so very loved. Look, if you don’t want to be here you are free to leave anytime you want, mom.”

 

Deb stood and padded over to her daughter. She reached out and stilled the younger woman’s hands. Guilt twisted in the older woman’s gut as she saw her daughter’s eyes filled with unshed tears as Ali pulled her hands free.

 

“I’m not going to leave her...ever! So just go. Go rest or whatever. We’re fine.” Ali lashed out.

 

“I’m so sorry, baby girl. I know you don’t want to leave for even a second.” Deb wrapped her arms around a protesting Ali who tried to shove her away, but finally gave in to the warmth of her mother’s embrace, “This is hard on all of us. We all love Ashlyn, honey, but we all love you too.” 

 

Deb kissed the crown of her daughter’s head as the tears finally streamed down Ali’s cheeks and off her chin, creating wet spots on the fuchsia colored scrubs she was wearing. Deb gently rocked the defender as she held her tightly to her chest. Tears welled in the older woman’s eyes as she felt helpless to ease her daughter’s suffering. If only she could wave her magic wand and make Ashlyn wake up...make everything right in her two daughters’ lives again. 

 

Ali cried for what seemed like hours before her tears ran dry. She sniffled and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. Deb let her arms fall away as Ali stepped back and held her head high as she walked over to the sink then washed the snot off the back of her hand. She used a paper towel to dry her hands and another one to blow her nose. Both women’s heads turned towards the door as it opened and Grandma Harris walked in carrying several plastic bags. 

 

The smell of citrus grilled chicken filled the room, and Ali’s stomach growled loudly in response.  The old lady chuckled as she made her way over to the brunette and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. 

 

“Well I was gonna ask you how Tumble was today, but I think you might be in dire need of this chicken dinner I picked up for you, Peanut. Land sakes, I haven’t heard a stomach make that much noise since Rough and Tumble were teenagers!” Grandma Harris teased Ali as she set the bags down on the table and started rummaging through them, taking to go containers full of food from Fresh Kitchen out, “I hope this is ok with your special rooty-tootie-snooty pro athlete diet.” 

 

“Oh my god, Grams, I think you are my favorite human right now!” Ali replied as she gratefully accepted the container of food, her mouth watering...it had been way too long since she ate anything but hospital food...but she wasn’t going to admit that to her mom. 

 

As Ali dug into her meal with gusto, the old lady went over and placed a gentle kiss on Ashlyn’s forehead. It hurt her heart to see her granddaughter lying so still with tubes sticking out all over the place. At least most of the bruises on her face had finally faded. 

 

She leaned over and whispered into Ashlyn’s ear, “You need to wake up now Tumble. Peanut needs you real bad, and so does that little girl, Tallulie. I hate to say it, but the docs are getting pretty antsy to kick your carcass out of here, so open up your eyes now, sweetheart. Your time’s running out.”

 

***

 

Jenn sighed as she hung up the phone. It was another dead end. Nobody seemed to know where Tallulah’s mother had taken her. Their old house had been sold, and she wasn’t enrolled in the same school. Nothing turned up on a public records search for a newly purchased home in her name either. They just seemed to have vanished into thin air. It was beyond frustrating. 

 

The young lawyer looked at her watch. She had time to make a few more calls before she had to  leave for the hospital to visit Ali and be there for her favorite clients as Ashlyn had her breathing tube removed. She had hoped to have some good news for Ali by now. Some days seemed darker than others, and today was one of them. Perhaps it was time to reach out to her favorite private investigator and see what she could dig up. Jenn’s lips curled into a smile...the attractive female investigator was always nice to work with...and she always produced results. Jenn subconsciously licked her lips before she cradled the phone to her ear and dialed the number. Jamie was the perfect woman for the job...or perhaps she was just perfect.

 

***

 

Ali twined her fingers with Ashlyn’s as she carefully laid her head down next to her wife’s on the pillow. The doctors had been after her to take her keeper off the ventilator for several days. They said the longer she remained on it, the worse her prognosis so she had reluctantly signed the consent form...but it still scared her. What if they removed the breathing tube and she didn’t breathe on her own? The sable haired beauty shuddered at the thought.  

 

“Babe, you have to wake up now. I’m serious. Your doctors are going to be coming in to remove your breathing tube today, and I need you to fight to stay with me, ok? You promised, and I know you never break your promises, Ashlyn Michelle Krieger-Harris, so you better not start now! Open your beautiful eyes for me, Ash.” Ali pleaded, her voice breaking the silence in the room. 

 

Looking up at the clock, Ali sighed. No matter how hard she tried, time wouldn’t stop...the doctors would be coming in about three hours to remove Ashlyn from the ventilator, and their family would be coming even sooner. She knew her wife would be embarrassed if all her family came and she was completely disheveled, so Ali gently uncovered Ashlyn, moving the covers to one side where she could bring them over her wife’s body quickly if someone entered the room, then took out a bathing cloth from the package. She started with the keeper’s face, gently washing away the oils that had built up on Ashlyn’s skin. 

 

“You know Ash, I remember the first time I saw you like it was ten minutes ago. I had just put my hand on the door to the locker room to push it open and it moved before I was ready for it to...and I fell forward...until I was suddenly stopped by your body. I remember looking up at you in shock, and your face...your beautiful face was framed by that long, wavy, beachy-blonde hair. God, you were so fucking good looking you took my breath away. I think I actually gasped out loud, ” Ali giggled, “Oh god, and then I realized my face was pressed into your breasts. They were so soft against my cheek.”

 

Ali closed her eyes as the details of the encounter flooded her senses.

 

“You smelled so good too, baby. Like a sunny day at the beach combined with mossy trees in a forest. I don’t know how to describe it,” Ali leaned down and whispered into Ashlyn’s ear, “ but wow, it made me wet. I don’t think I ever told you that part before.”

 

Ali paused, letting herself relive the memory. Her lips curled into a sad smile, and she straightened up, dragging the bathing cloth over her wife’s left shoulder. 

 

“Needless to say, that scared the shit out of me and I wanted nothing more than to get as far away from you as quickly as I could. But then, I noticed I had spilled my shit all over the floor. I could feel your gorgeous eyes raking over me...judging me...as I shoved it all back into the bag in an all out panic.” Ali recalled as she ran the cloth down her wife’s inked arm, “And I thought I had made my get away when I noticed I only had one fucking shin guard. Ugh. Oh, but then you had to go and flash me that damned smirk with that damned dimple! I didn’t stand a chance, babe. I was feeling things I had never felt before...and then you went and ruined it all when you opened up that big, fat, cocky-keeper mouth of yours!” 

 

Ali took her time and rubbed all the dirt from underneath each of Ashlyn’s fingernails with the corner of the bathing cloth as she continued, “It’s a damned good thing you are hot, or I would never have overlooked that swollen head of yours. I still don’t know how you manage to get it through doorways, babe.”

 

The sable haired beauty ran the cloth back up the underside of her wife’s inked arm, taking time to work it around the keeper’s left armpit really well followed by the right one, “Can’t forget to clean your smelly pits...maybe I should shave them before everyone gets here.”

 

Ali threw away the used cloth and got out a fresh one to finish cleaning the keeper’s body. Once that was done, she dug through the personal hygiene kit the nurses had left on the bedside table, producing a single-bladed disposable razor and travel sized can of shave gel. The defender padded over to the sink and wet the razor before returning to her wife’s bedside. The sable haired beauty squirted the gel into her palm and rubbed them together before spreading the gel all over Ashlyn’s armpits. Ali carefully shaved them clean. She tossed the razor in the trashcan next to the sink and washed her hands. 

 

Returning to Ashlyn’s bedside, the defender took out the small can of dry shampoo and sprayed it all over her keeper’s hair. Ali paused just before she set it down, shrugged and then sprayed it into her own sable locks as well. Now maybe her mom wouldn’t give her a lecture about neglecting herself. Ali took out the comb and styled Ashlyn’s hair as best she could. 

 

“There. All done. You are ready for your adoring public, Stud.” Ali commented as she set the comb aside. 

 

Tears welled up in Ali’s eyes as she looked at her wife lying there. Why wouldn’t she just wake the fuck up?! This couldn’t really be the way their story ended. Ali swiped at her eyes. 

 

“Please Ash...baby...please open your eyes for me.” Ali nearly choked on the words she had said at least a thousand times in the past few weeks. 

 

*** 

 

Ali spent the rest of the morning alternating between pleading for her wife to wake up, and telling her how much she loved her. As the hours turned into minutes before the doctors arrived to take Ashlyn off the ventilator, the room filled with relatives. Everyone whispering things that they wished they had told the keeper before, and had to say now...just in case. Grandma Harris was the last one to lean over and whisper into her granddaughter’s ear.

 

“Now you listen up, Tumble, and you listen good. Peanut is beside herself with worry for you. I’ve never seen that woman look so...well...downright fucked up...as she is now. You best find your way back now because you are out of time. These doctors are here to shut off the machines, and I don’t know how Peanut will manage to live without you. So whatever you have to do...whoever’s ass you have to beat with a damned dead fish to get back here...you best get to doin it! And remember, this here old lady loves you. I’ll be seeing you soon...on this side or the other.” Grandma Harris whispered before she kissed Ashlyn’s cheek. 

 

Tick...tick...tick. The clock once again mocked Ali’s fear and pain. The defender gently climbed into bed next to her wife as the time slipped away. She melded her body against her wife’s and breathed in her scent. She didn’t care that Ashlyn’s body was slightly sweaty even after she had bathed her...it reminded her of better times...days under the hot sun out on a futbol pitch...nights filled with passion that left them both sweaty and spent. Before she was ready, the team of doctors and nurses filed in.

 

Grandma Harris stood next to the bed and put one hand on Ali’s arm and the other she gripped Ashlyn’s limp hand. Deb stepped up next to her, behind Ali and put a hand on Ali’s back and Grandma Harris’s shoulder. Ali took a deep breath and clenched her eyes shut...the fear she felt over losing Ashlyn squeezing her heart like a vise and stealing her breath away. The defender laid her head on her wife’s chest and listened to the beating of Ashlyn’s strong heart...thump thump...thump thump...thump thump. 

 

It was as if time slowed to a crawl. Thump thump...Ali could hear the doctors talking to each other. Thump thump...she heard the ventilator make it’s last gasp as the power was shut off. Thump thump...she heard the skin tape being pulled off from around Ashlyn’s mouth. Thump thump...she felt Ashlyn’s head shake slightly as the tube was removed. Thump...thump...Ali prayed for her wife’s chest to rise. Thump...thump...Tears welled in her eyes as she noticed Ashlyn’s heartbeat slowing. Thump...thump...Ali’s grip tightened around her wife. Thump...Ali’s eyes flew open.

 

“Goddamnit breathe Ashlyn Michelle Krieger-Harris!” Ali screamed, her voice full of pain and rage. 

 

Thump…

 

“I fucking mean it woman! You are not going to leave me here alone!” Ali seethed.

 

Thump…

 

The silence in the room was deafening. 

 

Tears streamed down Ali’s face and she let out a strangled cry as Ashlyn suddenly took in a breath...then another. Thump...Ali collapsed in the bed next to Ashlyn and her body shook with the force of her relieved sobs. Thump...thump...thump. 

 

Deb wiped the tears from Grandma Harris’s eyes before swiping away her own. The room buzzed with relieved chatter. 

 

“I wasn’t judging you.” the horse voice cracked through the din.

 

Ali gasped and sat up, her eyes wide with surprise. She looked down and tears streamed from her eyes as she gazed into concerned hazel orbs. 

 

“Oh my god, Ash! What did you say?!” Ali blurted out as she cupped her wife’s face.

 

“I wasn’t judging you...that day you ran into me. I’d never judge you, my queen. I lov...” Ashlyn replied, her mind fuzzy about a lot of things except that she needed to reassure Ali of that fact before she was cut off by Ali’s lips covering hers in a desperate soul connecting kiss.

 

Ali's kisses always made sense of everything...