Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or situations presented here and am not making any profit off of them whatsoever.
Story Title: Courtship Rituals
Rated: PG-13
Word Count: 5,465
Romance: Ashley x Andros
Notes: This takes place in late summer of 1998, after Ghost In The Shell and before The Impenetrable Web. Comments and criticism gratefully accepted.
Summary: Ashley's going to introduce her boyfriend Andros to two of the sweetest pleasures Earth has to offer: hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies.

Humans had a lot of weird customs. Andros was just really getting used to some of them. 'School' really didn't interest him at all, and he'd been quite glad when his teammates had told him that they would be free of its constraints for several weeks. They'd have more time to do the things that mattered, such as searching for Zordon.

And finding a way to get Karone free. He twitched a little nervously just at the memory of what his sister had looked like with those implants on her. There would be a way to free her. He had found her after all these years, surely that couldn't mean that he'd lose her forever.

He shook his head a little, trying to clear his thoughts. Things had been so much simpler before he'd run into the others. He'd hated the people he'd thought were a blind, faceless evil. Now one of them had turned out to be the sister he was searching for all along, and one of them, who had raised her as if she were his own child, was just as helpless as Karone herself was now, nothing more than a programmed machine. I never thought I'd be feeling sorry for Ecliptor.

Andros tapped his fingers lightly on the console as he tried once more to get his thoughts back on track. He was supposed to have been searching for Zordon, and for anything to undo the alterations Darkonda had made. He'd been searching for both of those things for what felt like hours, and hadn't made the slightest bit of headway for either of them. Wherever the Alliance of Evil was holding Zordon, they were keeping it to themselves.

That didn't bode all that well in his mind, either. They'd have to take any chance they could in order to find him, which meant tracking down every little lead to its end. Even those that could be traps and worse. The thought of seeing all of his friends like his sister made him a little sick to his stomach. To see Ashley's pretty face cold and emotionless, with those metallic additions...

Now why had he thought about her in particular? It wouldn't be fun to see any of them like that, but it was her face in particular his mind had conjured up.

Yes, they were dating, or so she'd termed the things they'd been doing. Things on KO-35 weren't so different from Earth in this respect. Humans were humans, wherever they were, which meant human courtship was almost identical. There were certain differences, though. He'd never thought about asking Ashley if she knew any of the courtship rituals of his home. She probably didn't, and she hadn't really asked him about any of the ones she knew.

Then again, the few things he had looked up about the way humans on Earth courted one another hadn't helped him out that much. There were so many differences, for virtually every culture they had. And so many differences within each culture as well, plus the alterations of time that Earth humans seemed to revel in. Kerovans just didn't change like that. Customs were customs, and that was all that was necessary in a lot of situations.

But when he thought about looking into her eyes, all custom and ritual and everything else that he'd learned growing up just vanished and all he wanted to do was just keep on staring, no matter what. Is this what love is supposed to be? His parents had never really done much beyond instruct him in the usual traditions of courting another Kerovan. It hadn't occurred to either of them, much less to Andros himself, that he'd want to date someone from Earth.

So now what was he going to do? That seemed to be the question of the evening. He and Ashley were the only two on the MegaShip right now, except for Alpha. Carlos was on Earth, catching some holoshow...no, that wasn't the word; on Earth they were called movies. Well, whatever, he wasn't there, nor was T.J. The Blue Ranger was visiting his uncle in Angel Grove, and probably trying to explain yet again what was going on in his life. Terry Johnson was a nice enough man, but explaining about having to live for a few months on an alien spacecraft and seeking out a wise old sage who was older than most Earth civilizations was a little hard to explain.

Cassie and Zhane were on Earth as well, though Andros wasn't very sure what they were doing. Ashley had mentioned something about them being together, but he hadn't paid too much attention to it. Zhane had liked his sister after all...and he was still trying to adjust to that. It wasn't that he didn't trust his best friend, but this was his sister, the one he hadn't seen for most of his life. How could Zhane just randomly decide he liked her, even if he'd known her as Astronema at the time?

Though if he were to be honest, it probably had helped that they'd had their encounter, or whatever it was. That had only been a couple of days before he'd been able to discover that Astronema was his sister, and there was a hope in his mind that Zhane's kindness had been one thing that had helped her decide in their favor.

Andros fidgeted again, reflecting that he hadn't done that kind of thing before the others had shown up. No. Before Ashley. She made him nervous just by existing near him. It was one of the reasons he'd called off her lessons in telekinesis before they'd gotten very far. With her around, so close to him, it was almost impossible for him to focus on anything.

Maybe I should try teaching her again. It wouldn't hurt to try. Maybe he could actually think clearly now that they were dating. He hadn't tried since long before Zhane had come out of his cryo-sleep, and the Silver Ranger had managed to teach Ashley a little more than he had. In fact, that whole situation had led to them dating in the first place.

"DECA, where is Ashley?" If she wasn't doing anything at the moment, maybe he could at least set up a meeting to arrange a lesson. Now probably wasn't the best time, with everyone else away, but who knew...

"Ashley is in the workbay." DECA's artificial voice spoke calmly. "Should I inform her you wish to speak with her?" Sometimes he wondered if DECA was telepathic, the way she read his moods and thoughts so easily. If it were possible for a machine to be telepathic, that was.

"No, thanks." He did want to talk to her, but now just didn't seem to be the right time. He wanted to think a little more, to decide on what he really wanted to talk to her about in the first place.

He turned his attention back to his work, wanting to try and get something done before he talked to her as well. He hated any day that went by without something being accomplished somewhere, no matter how small. Even if it were just a little training, or fighting off one of Astronema's monsters.

Andros averted that thought as quickly as he could. A good fight could do wonders for his disposition at times, but right now it wasn't what he wanted. He'd heard Carlos teasing Cassie once about not thinking about things one didn't want to happen. It didn't make a lot of sense, but with the way things tended to go with Power Rangers, better safe than sorry was the rule.

It appeared that some mischievous spirit somewhere wanted his thoughts to be going in one particular direction today, however, as the moment he made himself stop thinking about the chances of a monster attack, his mind headed right into wondering just how much care he should take in this relationship with Ashley. Karone wasn't here long, but I can't be sure if she knows how I feel about Ashley or not.

That was worrisome in and of itself. If Astronema knew, in her current twisted and cold state of mind she might do something to the Yellow Ranger, to get to him. This has to be why most Rangers don't bother dating until after they're no longer Rangers. He'd heard of a few relationships that had managed to work with one or both being on active duty. Even some of those on Earth had managed, the most famous being the relationship of Kat and Tommy, or so his teammates had told him. Carlos had mentioned something about them, since it appeared he had known them before he'd taken on his Turbo Ranger powers. Andros wasn't sure about all the details, but it still made him a little wary about what they were doing now.

He did his best to reassure himself that Ashley was a good enough fighter not to have to worry too much. Yes, they'd had that whole mess with the Body Switcher, but that was something else altogether. He was getting worried about nothing.

And he was sitting here fidgeting and fretting to himself about things that could or would or might or might not happen instead of actually going to talk to his girlfriend about anything at all. All of this work isn't going to go anywhere, he reminded himself sharply, standing up. DECA could let him know if the sensors found anything that was worth taking a look at personally. You're just delaying on purpose. You don't want to talk to her because you've never been in any kind of relationship before this and you have no clue what you're doing and you're scared she's somehow going to stop liking you and want to go out with Carlos or someone.

That did send a chill down his spine, the more he thought about it. Hadn't someone mentioned that they'd had a date or two while they were Turbo Rangers? Perhaps it had been Carlos himself or maybe T.J. He couldn't remember, and it worried him that he couldn't remember. Shouldn't he be absorbed in every single detail of her life like that? Or was it good that he wasn't?

I need to get out more, he decided as he straightened himself up. She's just my girlfriend. There's nothing to be scared of.

Imagine that, he mused to himself as he gave DECA the appropriate orders and headed away from the bridge. The mighty Red Ranger scared of talking to the girl that he's dating. Might even be in love with. Dark Spectre would have a field day with that one if he ever found out. Though perhaps he should look on the bright side. If the Supreme Master of Evil ever did find out, perhaps he wouldn't have the chance to use the information to cause mass destruction and violence. He might just laugh himself to death first.

With a faint smile touching his lips, Andros headed for the workbay. Maybe it was time he and Ashley had one of those 'talks' that couples were supposed to have.

He just wished he knew what he was going to talk to her about.

By the time he'd reached the workbay, Andros had managed to get himself as calm as he ever could. He felt a bit as if he were asking her out on their first date all over again, and he had no idea of why. He hadn't been quite this nervous on the other ones he'd asked her out on. Probably because I've been thinking about courting rituals. That's enough to get anyone nervous.

Andros stopped just outside of the workbay and looked inside, not wanting to disturb Ashley if she were doing something important. For a few moments, all he could do was just look at her, completely baffled on just what it was she was doing.

There were various bowls, spoons, and containers of what looked to be powders of kinds he couldn't identify right offhand scattered all over one of the counters near the Synthetron. Some of them were white, some of them were brownish, and one looked like...flakes of some kind? He couldn't remember having seen anything like it before, not even with some of the wacky things his teammates liked to eat, and that Zhane liked to do.

Ashley herself looked as if whatever it was she was bothering with had tried to attack her or something. There was a light dusting of white powder all over her front, and there was even some of it in her hair. She was muttering under her breath, words that sounded quite a bit like the ones Zhane liked to use when something fell on him while he was repairing it, and at the same time she was staring down at a book that lay open in front of her.

"This can't be that hard," she grumbled lightly. "I can fix cars, making something like this shouldn't be a problem."

Perhaps this was something he could help with. He had no idea what she was doing, but what could it really hurt to try? "Ashley?"

Her head came up as if she'd just heard Quantrons landing near her, and a kind of startled grin spread across her face. "Andros! What're you doing in here? I thought you were going to be busy on the bridge for a...all day."

Now was when Andros really wished he were telepathic instead of telekinetic. The way she was staring at him, the sheer oddness of what she was doing in the first place, it all confused him. Was this a Terran thing? Or a girl thing? Or just an Ashley thing?

"I wanted to see what you were doing." He decided answering the question was going to be a lot more interesting than just standing there wishing for some kind of psychic powers to strike him out of nowhere. "What are you doing?"

Ashley took a quick look at everything spread out behind her, then looked back at him, a slow rueful grin appearing on her lips. "I was making cookies?"

Cookies? He took another look at what she had out there. Baking things, frying them, or in any way preparing them that didn't have something to do with the Synthetron had always been a complete mystery to him. He'd seen his mother doing it the 'old-fashioned way' while he was growing up, but this wasn't quite what he remembered.

"Why?" That was the first word that came out of his mouth as he turned his gaze back on her. "Is the Synthetron broken or something?" Surely DECA would've said something it was, and it had been working just fine at breakfast. Maybe it was something that could be fixed fast. They'd be going out into space again in a couple of days, and they couldn't go without everything being fixed, including the Synthetron.

"No, it's not." Ashley's rueful grin hadn't faded. "I just wanted to make some cookies for y...for us. For us." Andros was many things, but a complete dullard wasn't one of them. She'd almost said for you. For him.

She wanted to make cookies for him? Thoughts of courtship rituals and all the like just faded from his mind, replaced with a simple, heartfelt smile. "Well, what seems to be the problem?"

"Do you know how to make cookies?" Ashley waved a hand in the direction of the cookbook to one side. "I borrowed that from my grandma but I can't get the cookies to...cook!" One fist slammed down to emphasize what she was saying, sending a small puff of flour dust around her hand.

Andros did an excellent job of keeping himself from laughing just then. He started over to her, reaching for the cookbook. "Let's see what this says to do." One thing he had learned was to always start from the beginning. It helped if you were fixing broken spacecraft parts, or cookies. He hoped, at least.

"All right." Ashley's smile was brighter than a dozen suns to him as she turned to look at it with him. "This is where we're supposed to start."

One slender finger pointed out the beginning, and he read off the ingredients, checking to be certain they had them all. As far as he could tell, everything had been gathered and was present in the correct amounts. "What were you having problems with?"

Redness tinged Ashley's cheeks lightly. "I was trying to do two things at once. I wanted to see if I could use telekinesis to move some of these things and everything got mixed together." She looked down at the large bowl in the center of it all, which looked as if a small explosion of some kind had occurred in it.

"You've still been practicing?" He made a note of that as she nodded. Perhaps asking for a session or two of training really was a good thing to try. "How good are you getting?"

"It's hard to say. I guess not good enough, if this is what I do." She motioned briefly at the mess, wincing as she did. "I was hoping you could try teaching me again. If you don't mind."

Andros controlled his smile quickly. "I'd love to." He stepped a little closer, brushing against her arm with the most gentle of touches. "I was going to ask if you felt like some more lessons, anyway. I think I can teach you again now."

"What made you stop before?" Ashley wondered, reminding him in that simple question that he'd never told her why he'd stopped the lessons so soon after they'd begun.

"You made it hard to concentrate on what I was doing." Andros smiled a little, glad to see the blush was back on Ashley's cheeks. She was so self-assured so much of the time; he liked being able to get her off her guard. It was his version of her trying to lighten him up, he guessed, and one of the things that just drew him to her like a moth to a flame.

That had to be one of the silliest analogies he'd ever heard of. Moths died because of that, but Ashley would never hurt him. He was going to have to come up with something better sometime soon.

"I did?" Ashley smiled briefly, the blush fading when he nodded, then she motioned to the book. "Well, we can talk about that later. How about we do this now?"

He didn't have any objections to that whatsoever, and started to go over everything one more time. Once the ingredients were separated, Andros stepped back a little, handing Ashley the cookbook. "Read them off to me."

She looked at him, then looked back at the book, and tossed her head, grinning. "Show off."

"At least I'm showing off in front of someone, instead of doing it on my own." He retorted lightly, gathering his mental energies. "Now, where do we get started this time?"

As she read off each item from the listing, he reached out with his mind and carefully measured the ingredients into the containers and poured them from there into the bowl, then mixed, stirred, and beat as necessary for each one. His concentration hadn't been on this high of a level in months, and he grinned proudly to himself. Not only was he pulling this off, he was doing it in front of one of his prime distractions! He could give lessons to her again!

"Andros, you're doing great!" One hand caught his fingers gently, and a moment later her lips had brushed across his mouth.

The bowl that held the cookie batter had been hovering just above the sheet that would shortly be going into the oven. As Ashley kissed Andros, his concentration shifted just enough, and the bowl began to fall. He stared, too startled to do anything to stop it, and already seeing images of the disaster about to come in his mind. There was nothing that could make this any worse...

"Whoa!" The bowl stopped a bare second before it would have turned into a major disaster, righting itself and what batter had managed to slide out retreated at once. "What the heck is all of this?"

Andros turned quickly to see Zhane and Cassie standing just a few feet away, both looking at him and Ashley as if they had both lost their minds. Zhane lowered his extended hand, and Andros realized belatedly that it had been his best friend who had saved all their hard work. You mean your showing off. His conscience pricked at him, and he pushed it away mentally. That was not showing off. That was demonstrating advanced techniques to his student.

"We're just making cookies." He folded his arms across his chest and looked at the two of them. "Did you two want to help out?"

Cassie's dark eyes flicked from one of them to the other, amusement tugging at her lips. "You two are making cookies?"

"Yeah." Ashley grinned lightly at her friend. "Was there something wrong with that?"

"You barely know how to make hot water," Cassie reminded her, a soft chuckle hiding in the words. "Why did you want to make cookies?" Almost before she finished the question, a light of realization seemed to dawn in her eyes. "Oh! That's why."

Zhane looked down at her, curiosity tingeing his own pale eyes. "Cassie?"

"I'll tell you later." The Pink Ranger tugged on his jacket quickly, heading out of the workbay. "I was going to show you that new song I did, remember?"

The pale-haired teen blinked slightly, then nodded as her grip became more insistent. "Yeah, that's right. You two have fun. And no more showing off, Andros? I won't be here to save you next time." That familiar grin flashed across his face as the two of them headed down towards Cassie's room, and Andros shook his head, wondering if he could put his friend back into cold storage for another few years. Just until that sense of humor cooled off.

Ashley cleared her throat a little as she went over to pick up the bowl. "Let's get this finished." He was almost certain he caught a tinge of pink on her cheeks as she quickly measured out the soon-to-be-cookies on the sheet.

"Right. I'll start cleaning up." Both of them knew everything they were doing right now was just to avoid looking at each other and having to deal with what had just happened. Andros didn't bother showing off his telekinetic powers any more; he picked up everything they'd dirtied and put it into the seldom-used sink, running hot water and cleansing liquid together.

The heating unit closed with a quiet thump just as he put the last of the cleaned dishes away, and he turned to see Ashley leaning against the counter. "They'll be in there for about ten minutes or so. What should we do until then?"

"I...don't know." Andros noticed a faint smile on her lips at that, and turned towards the Synthetron. "Maybe have something to drink and just relax?"

She nodded lightly, pushing herself off of the counter. "I could go for some hot chocolate, really."

"Some what?" He could see this was something to do with Earth culture, or something like that, by the confused look she was now giving him. Today seemed to be turning into 'teach Andros about her home planet' day. Which wasn't such a bad thing, really.

"You've never had hot chocolate?" Ashley shook her head, the most amazed and amused look in her eyes. "Some universal traveler you are."

He pulled himself up to his full height and did his best to look down his nose at her. This would've went over so much better if the faint hint of flour still in the air wasn't starting to tickle his nose and making him want to sneeze. "I'll have you know I've tasted some things that would probably burn your tongue right off. The things they serve at the Onyx Tavern are vile!"

"I believe it," Ashley only grinned back at him. "Stay right here, I'll be back." She vanished down the corridor leading to their personal rooms. Andros watched her go, wondering just what this 'hot chocolate' might be.

He had tasted quite a few things that were intoxicating or delicious or repulsive or almost anything that had ever been invented in the name of 'something to drink'. Some things he'd had in his system weren't fit for consumption by anything remotely human, but in his two years of traveling alone, he'd done things he once hadn't ever dreamed of doing.

It was something he'd never really wanted to let them know, and still didn't. He had been as wide-eyed and wondering at the variety of everything to be found in space as they themselves were. He'd went through it all alone, and only now was he realizing that some of the wonder had been lost on him because of that. As much as he liked his privacy, there were some things that could only truly be treasured by two people, or more.

I'll settle for just two for now. His smile widened ever so softly as Ashley's footsteps sounded, and she came back in, two sealed packages of something or other in her hands. "Is that the hot chocolate?"

"Kind of," Ashley came over to him and pulled two cups out, putting them on the counter. "It's the mix for it." She opened the packages and carefully dumped the contents of each into one of the cups. Andros peered at it curiously, wondering how she could consider a brown powder so obviously tasty. Dehydrated things never were quite as good as the original, in his mind.

She carefully added steaming hot water, then offered him a spoon, motioning to one of the cups. "You stir yours, and I'll stir mine."

"All right." He was willing to follow her lead in this. He trusted that she wouldn't poison him, at least not on purpose. Despite them both being humans, he was fairly certain there would be things on Earth that could be poisonous to him. He was just hoping she wouldn't hand him one by accident.

He stirred it carefully, watching as the powder merged with the water, creating a dark brown liquid. He sniffed at it, and found the aroma quite pleasing. Deep. Rich. Kind of sweet. It reminded him almost at once of Ashley herself, and he smiled a little at the comparison.

"What do you think of it so far?" Ashley asked, stirring hers a little more before lifting the cup to her lips and sipping it lightly. "There's other ways to make it, and all kinds of variations. Some people put marshmallows in it, too, or cinnamon, or something like that. I've always just liked it like this, though. It's the easiest to keep with me up here."

"I like how it smells." He put the spoon down and eyed the liquid a little more. There was no use in putting this off forever. He raised it up and took a careful sip, ready to spit out at a moment's notice if he detected anything foul about it.

He was more than pleased to find out that just as the fragrance had promised, it was sweet, and more than qualified for delicious. He sipped carefully, not wanting to burn his tongue with the heat, and let himself enjoy it completely. Just as he'd thought before, it was rich and powerful, a delight to his taste buds.

"You like it." He opened his eyes to see Ashley grinning at him, eyes dancing with amusement. "I thought you would."

"What is this stuff?" He was used to what the Synthetron gave him, but if there were things like this in the universe, he was willing to switch over. For that matter, if this was what Earth had to offer, he couldn't quite blame Rita, Zedd, and all the others for wanting to conquer it. Or the inhabitants for wanting to defend it. Who knew what kind of delights could be found on this planet in the middle of nowhere?

"Hot chocolate. Chocolate's used for a lot of things on Earth, usually sweet things like this," she motioned to the cups, then to the still baking cookies. "Some people bake with it, too, but you can also buy almost pure chocolate in stores. Candy bars, that kind of things."

He wasn't surprised; sweets were universal to every culture. But perhaps this chocolate was unique to Earth? It was worth looking in to. Someday Earth wouldn't be quite so backward, and having a thriving trade in this kind of thing would endear the populace to the universe at large.

"I think I like this chocolate." Andros took another long drink, relishing how it felt sliding across his tongue. "Do people make cookies with it too?"

"Sure. I could've made oatmeal chocolate chip, instead of just oatmeal, but I don't have any chocolate chips. Maybe next time." She fiddled a little with the necklace around her throat, and he felt a warm fullness near his heart at the sight of it. It was the one he'd given to her for her birthday, shortly before Zhane had awakened. The fact she'd never stopped wearing it sent warm waves of pleasure all through him, almost as good as the hot chocolate.

Andros nodded slightly, sipping again. He was going to have to get more of this stuff. Perhaps he could try some of those marshmallows next time. He hadn't like them when the others had brought some up before, but maybe the chocolate would improve the flavor. "We can add in chocolate next time we make cookies." He said it without thinking much about it, then looked at Ashley to see her reaction.

"I really think I'd like that." Ashley's smile was more than radiant as she turned to check on the cookies. "I'd like to do a lot of things with you, Andros."

Thoughts of courtship rituals had dominated his mind not that long ago, and now began to slip back in. This was probably something like one of those for Earth. Quiet time that a couple could spend together, getting to know one another. Like Cassie and Zhane had obviously been doing.

Maybe he could try some of the ones from his home with her. These Earth ones were quite fun, after all. And there were similarities. He remembered one of the ones his mother had told him of, concerning young lovers making food for one another. Sometimes even sweets. That certainly counted right now.

He looked over at Ashley, noticing just then that she was looking back at him. I love her. The realization was simple, sweet, and powerful. To think he'd tried to get rid of them when he'd first met them. What a tragedy that would have been. But it was one he didn't have to think about now.

"Andros?" Confusion touched her voice as he stepped over to her and gently touched her face with one hand. He stared down into her eyes, then leaned forward, lightly brushing his lips across hers for the briefest of moments. Then he did it again, lengthening the duration of the kiss, tasting her lips with his own.

Ashley began to kiss back, her arms going around him with a grip that swore she would never let him go. His arms curved around her in return, the grip just as tight, just as heartfelt, just as strong. He could taste chocolate on her lips, and a faintly stronger hint of sugar that must have come from when she was trying to make the cookies on her own. Her lips opened a little and his tongue slid inside, prodding ever so gently at her own.

They might have gone farther. They never knew, since just then, four pairs of clapping hands suddenly began to sound. Andros jerked back, eyes snapping around quickly to spy Cassie, Zhane, T.J., and Carlos standing there, all applauding their leader and the Yellow Ranger. Andros shot deadly looks that promised extended duty lengths and as much hard and hot work as he could think up for any of them. None of them appeared to be bothered by this in the slightest.

"I know you two were having a lot of fun," Zhane grinned at them both. "But if you're not careful, your cookies are going to burn."

"Making cookies?" Carlos looked between the two of them, and then smiled. "You're lucky, Andros. Ashley only tries to cook if she really likes someone."

"And how would you know?" T.J. grinned at his Hispanic friend. "She never tried cooking for you!"

"That's how I know." Carlos retorted, heading down to his room, a broad smile across his face. "Have fun!"

The rest of the team scattered before Andros could issue any kind of punishment, and the two young lovers looked back at each other. Ashley sighed, a grin wreathing her face. "I guess it was too much to hope for that we'd get away without them seeing us do something."

"I suppose. But they didn't have to applaud." Andros shook his head, then suddenly went stiff, sniffing at the air. "Ashley...do you smell something burning?"

The End