Disclaimer: Not mine
The gray corridors of the Astro Megaship had never been colder than they were now, Ashley Hammond thought as she hit the red button that would seal the doors. With a slight whirring sound, the door that stood between her and Andros slid closed. It seemed to take hours for him to be completely blocked out of her vision, as if the world itself was taunting her, insisting on drawing out this farewell until it was unbearably painful.
She let out a deep, shuddering breath, and tears started to roll steadily down her cheeks. She hadn't let herself cry in front of Andros, not wanting him to know how much it was hurting her to have to say goodbye, especially when she obviously meant much less to him than he did to her, but he wasn't there to see her anymore, and she slowly sank to the floor, intending to sob her heart out all the way back to Earth.
Several minutes must have ticked by slowly, but Ashley made no notice of time. All she knew was that at some point, DECA inquired if she would be joining the other rangers on the bridge.
"I'll be right there," she choked out, the words forced out around a painful lump in her throat. Waiting until she was breathing at least semi-normally, Ashley wiped her eyes with the hem of her sleeve and stood unsteadily, a little lightheaded. Ashley took her sweet time getting to the Megalift, hoping that her friends would be understanding. She needed a little more time before she was ready to face anyone.
All the way to the bridge, Ashley was overcome by memories of her and Andros, and the times that they had shared together, some happy, and others less so, but all pointing to the same conclusion that she had arrived at weeks ago: she and Andros belonged together. So why weren't they?
Ashley sighed and dragged her sleeve across her eyes again, although she had shed no more tears. She'd known for awhile how deeply in love with Andros she was, but she hadn't told him, knowing how uncomfortable he was with expressing emotions. He'd just been beginning to open up to her, too.
Now, she was glad that she hadn't told him, it would only have made this all the more painful, especially knowing that the feeling wasn't mutual. Or was it? She couldn't keep herself from wondering, as she thought of all the times that they had spent together.
Ashley smiled sadly and touched her chest, where she could feel the outline of the pendant underneath her shirt. She'd never received a gift that meant more to her than that necklace, not only because it was beautiful, not only because it was from Andros, but because it was from the Andros that had once despised them all.
He'd changed once Zhane had reappeared; maybe his heart had thawed out as his friend, his brother, had. The new Andros was had allowed himself friends, not just teammates. He'd let them get close to him, he'd let her get close to him.
Hit with a sudden realization, Ashley stopped. At that moment, she knew with utter certainty that she loved Andros with all her heart, and she knew that he loved her with all of his. She'd seen it in his eyes every time that he looked at her, heard it in his voice every time that he spoke to her, felt it in his touch every time he kissed her.
Ashley started walking again, but in the opposite direction of the bridge. She didn't know quite what she was going to say to Andros. All she knew was that she couldn't leave with him staying here. She slapped at the green button, her heart pounding furiously.
Ignoring the startled look on Andros' face, Ashley ran to him and threw her arms around his neck. After a moment, he wrapped his arms around her back, holding her no less closely than she was holding him.
"Ash, what are you doing?"
"I love you," Ashley whispered in his ear. "I can't leave and pretend that I don't, because if I do, I'll regret it forever."
"I love you too, Ash," Andros whispered back.
"Please, let me stay with you," Ashley pleaded. "I don't want to go back without you."
Andros pulled back, the look on his face almost angry. "I mean that much to you?" he demanded. "You could stay here and never see your family or friends again, just for me?"
"Yes," Ashley said instantly.
"I'm so sorry, Ash," Andros whispered, pulling her back into his arms. "I shouldn't have been so selfish, and you shouldn't have to give up your life for me."
Before Ashley could say anything, she found herself standing on the bridge of the Astro Megaship, still firmly in Andros' embrace.
"DECA, set a course for Earth," Andros said.
The other rangers spun around as Andros spoke.
"What are you doing here?" TJ demanded.
"My home is with you guys," Andros said, tightening his grip on Ashley. Ashley felt her heart flutter at the words, and buried her face in his shoulder, determined never to let him go. Then something occured to her, and she pulled back.
"Did you plan this?" she demanded.
Andros looked at her sheepishly. "No," he said. "But when I saw the doors close, I realized that I was only staying because I was too proud to admit that I loved you."
"Aw, isn't that sweet?" Carlos teased them, reminding them that they weren't alone.
"And we realized that we were only staying because Andros was staying," came the familiar voice of the silver ranger. Zhane stepped onto the bridge, Karone only a step behind him.
"We can go home now," Cassie said. She paused and grinned. "Or should we be waiting for anyone else?"
"Let's go," Andros said.
He finally released Ashley from his embrace, although it was only because he needed to take his seat. Ashley sat down to his left, knowing that she wasn't going to be able to keep her eyes off of him the entire journey back to Earth.
A/N: Okay people, this is my birthday present to LucyE. It should be the 24th by the time most of you read it, so be nice and wish her a happy birthday.