Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A Walk in the Rain
The skies broke as the dawn did, sending small, cold droplets of water to the earth below, soaking everything in their path. This soft spattering of raindrops against glass was the sound that woke Ashley Hammond soon after a cool November sunrise.
She glared at the yellow walls that greeted her cheerfully, and instead turned her attention to the cold bleak grayness of the morning visible outside her bedroom window. The gloominess of the outdoors fit her mood much better than the sunny walls that continued to mock her as she dressed in her oldest, most comfortable clothes.
Her bare feet making no sound on the nondescript gray carpet, Ashley slowly made her way into the kitchen, dragging out the various utensils she needed to prepare breakfast. Not a bit hungry, she nonetheless measured out the appropriate amount of flour and sugar, added in some egg and milk and mixed it all together just enough to dampen the dry ingridients.
Ashley jumped slightly as her roommate appeared in the kitchen, still clad in her pink flannel pajamas. Cassie Chan gave her a knowing look as she reached for the second frying pan and the last egg left in the cardboard carton.
"Want some?" Ashley offered automatically.
Cassie shook her head. "I was never much of a pancake person," she said, cracking the egg over the warm skillet. "I didn't know you liked them that much, either."
Ashley shrugged. "They're okay."
"Ash, you don't eat something every day for five months just because it tastes okay." Cassie sounded exasperated, but the look on her face was one of sad amusement.
Ashley sighed and looked away, staring down at the browing edges of the two pancakes in the pan with a forlorn expression on her face and her lower lip slowly beginning to tremble.
"I miss him."
"Ash..." Cassie sighed and wrapped her arms around the other girl as tears welled up in her eyes. "I know you do, but he couldn't come back with us any more than you could have stayed with him. KO-35 is Andros's home. Earth is your home. End of story."
"I know," Ashley whispered, swallowing down the lump in her throat. "But I... sometimes I wish it wasn't."
"But it is, and you can't change that," Cassie said practically. "All you can do is move on."
"I don't want to," Ashley mumbled.
Cassie sighed. "Ash, I've got to go," she said. "I've got an audition in forty- five minutes."
"Okay," Ashley said. Her best friend's patience with her and her moping was admirable, but she could tell that Cassie was rapidly growing tired with having some version of the same conversation every morning. "Good luck."
"Thanks... Are you going anywhere today?"
Ashley shook her head. "I've got loads of homework to catch up on."
"Have fun with that," Cassie said with a dry smile as she vanished, heading back down the hall to her room. Several minutes later, Ashley heard her call "Bye!" as she headed out the door.
"Bye," Ashley muttered back, knowing her friend couldn't hear her. Slipping the pancake turning under the finished pancakes, she dumped them on a plate, drowned them in syrup and powdered sugar and sat down at the kitchen table, eyeing her food with distaste.
It was stupid, she told herself, to continue what she was doing to herself. In the five months since the Countdown battle, she had done nothing whatsoever to push Andros out of her mind once and for all. Here she was, eating what had become Andros's favorite breakfast, and spending nearly every waking moment wondering how he was and what he was doing. Her grades were beginning to suffer because of her constant daydreaming, but she found she couldn't care less. College had quickly become just a place she went to five days out of every week, despite her initial excitement at the prospect of taking design class after design class.
Swallowing down the last tasteless bite of her breakfast, she dumped the plate, knife, and fork into the dishwasher and wandered into the living room of the cramped apartment, flopping down faceforward onto the couch. Despite the fact that she did indeed have loads of homework to do, Ashley felt her eyes closing slowly, and soon she was dozing peacefully in the cozy warmth of the apartment.
A soft rap on the door pulled her back from the beginning of her dreams and she pushed herself up slowly, glaring at the door and whoever stood behind it. The dream had promised to let her spend a few precious moments with Andros, and now even that was gone, too.
Sighing heavily, she stood up as there was a second knock, slightly softer than the first, as if whoever was on the other side was quickly changing their mind about knocking on the door in the first place. Ashley was sorely tempted to lie down again and let them give up on their own, but she was already halfway to the door and figured she might as well open it.
"Oh, hey, TJ," she said, quickly forcing a smile. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi, Ash. Is Cassie home?"
A faint smile appeared on Ashley's face. "No, she left about half an hour ago. She had an audition in... downtown, I think."
"Oh." TJ hid his disappointment well. "Do you know when she'll be back?"
"A few hours, I guess," Ashley said. "But... if you went down and surprised her, she'd love that."
"You think so?" TJ looked at her hopefully, and she nodded.
"I know so," she said. "Hang on."
Running into the kitchen, she quickly jotted down the name and address of the club where Cassie's audition was at. Handing the scrap of paper to TJ, she watched his eyes light up, and her smile grew a little. It was obvious to probably everyone but Cassie herself that TJ had liked her very much for quite awhile, and Ashley knew that the feeling was mutual.
"Thanks, Ash," he said, slipping the paper carefully into his pocket. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," she lied.
TJ gave her a look that told her she was as transparent to him as she was to Cassie and shrugged. "Well... if you decide that you're not fine, a walk in the park might cheer you up."
"It's raining," she protested, a little thrown by the secretive smile playing on TJ's face.
"Who doesn't love a walk in the park when it's raining?" he said innocently.
"Teej, do you know who you sound like?"
The former blue ranger made a face at her. "If you just happen to be referring to a certain blond boy who likes the color silver a little too much, then... all too well."
Ashley laughed for the first time in weeks. "You'd better hurry if you're going to surprise Cassie."
"And you'd better hurry if you're going for that walk of yours," TJ said, giving her a significant, but unreadable, look as he headed for the stairs at the end of their porch.
Ashley sighed as she thought about TJ's less than subtle hint that there was something waiting for her in the park. She didn't relish the thought of wandering out in the rain and cold... but the thought of spending the rest of her life cooped up in the apartment didn't exactly appeal to her, either. Sighing again, she stuffed her feet into the first pair of shoes that caught her eye and set out. If nothing else, she figured, the fresh air couldn't hurt.
She realized that it was much colder than she'd thought the instant she stepped out of the building, but the thought of going back into the apartment and then back out again seemed like too much work for what she was sure would be just a short stroll to humor TJ and whoever was behind whatever surprise was waiting for her.
She wondered briefly if it was Carlos. She truly hoped not; while he'd made it clear that he still had a crush on her, she'd made it equally clear that she had no feelings for him that went past friendship. She'd gone on a date or two with him in their early days as Turbo rangers, and while she'd had fun, there hadn't been a deeper connection waiting to be discovered, not like there had been with...
"Andros," she whispered, coming to a dead halt. He was facing away from her, but the hair was unmistakable.
Ashley stared at the back of his head for several moments, lost as to what she should do. Her first impulse was to run and throw her arms around his neck, but fear of how he would react drove the thought from her mind. Even when the two of them had been a couple, Andros had never been overly demonstrative of whatever he felt for her. Whether he was afraid to touch her. or if it was just his extreme shyness, or a combination of the two Ashley didn't know, but something kept her from throwing herself at him, not least of all her own fear of being hurt again.
But he came back, didn't he? she asked herself, her feet slowly starting to move again. She approached him as quietly as she could, not wanting him to turn around as she was trying to decide what course of action would be the best to take.
He spun around as he heard again the voice he had been deprived of for five long months. Her face was the picture of perfect calm despite the slight waver he had caught in her voice.
"Hi," he said nervously, all thought of what he had planned to say to her long gone the instant his hazel eyes had locked with her wide brown ones. "Ashley, I... How are you?"
The question sounded ridiculous even to him, but Ashley didn't laugh. On the contrary, she looked about to cry, if there weren't already some tears mingling with the raindrops on her beautiful face.
"I'm fine," Ashley found herself saying for the second time in the space of half an hour. "How are you?"
"Fine," he muttered, beginning to think that coming back had been a horrible idea. What right did he have to intrude on her life like this? None, not after the way she'd begged him to come to Earth and he'd repeatedly refused.
Now Ashley was really crying, and she was doing a poor job of hiding it. There was nothing that he wanted more than to take her in his arms and kiss her tears away... but he'd never managed to work up to courage to do so before when he knew for a fact that she wouldn't have protested.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled, backing away from her, berating himself for giving up so quickly, but he couldn't bear to cause her any more pain than he knew he already had. "I'll leave now."
Ashley shook her head, catching his arm before he had the oppurtunity to follow through on his words. "Wait."
He did, staring at her awkwardly for several minutes as silence settled itself uncomfortably between them. Ashley was concentrating hard on the ground, and looked up just as he was about to disappear despite her plea to stay.
"Why did you come back?"
Andros looked at her in surprise. "You don't know?"
"I don't know anything anymore," Ashley said softly. "Not when it comes to the two of us."
He swallowed, his nerve threatening to vanish. "I came because I... I wanted to see you."
"You did?" she asked quietly, examining his expression for a long moment before she found that she couldn't keep herself from throwing her arms around his neck any longer.
Andros stiffened at her hug, but slowly wrapped his arms around her in return, unable to hold her as close as she held him. He wondered why that had to be; there was nothing that he could ever remember wanting more than Ashley.
"I've missed you," he murmured in her ear, finding the courage to pull her a little closer to himself.
"You have?" Ashley pulled back, looking at him uncertainly as he nodded slowly. "Really?"
"Really," he confirmed, releasing her from his arms and shoving his cold hands into the pockets of his sweatshirt. "Ash, I..."
He saw Ashley watching him with a faint light of hope in her eyes as he stalled, and wished he could tell her what she wanted to hear. And while he was wishing for things, he wished he knew what exactly it was that she wanted to hear.
"I just wanted to see you again," he said finally. It was in fact much less than what he wanted, but he couldn't find the words to tell her so. "I wanted to talk to you."
Ashley smiled her radiant smile at his words. "Would you like to get out of the rain?"
He nodded sheepishly. "I'm sorry I had you meet me here," he said softly, swallowing hard before continuing. "The rain had stopped when I ran into TJ and I wasn't sure that you wouldn't have just slammed the door in my face if I showed up at your apartment."
"I wouldn't have!" she exclaimed, her response automatic, regardless of what she would have done. She doubted that she would have, but somehow the fact that he thought she would have considered it made her wonder. "But next time pick a day when the sun's out."
"There won't be a next time," Andros said softly, the words coming forth unbidden. "There can't be."
He saw sharp pain extinguish some of the sparkle in Ashley's eyes, and he opened his mouth to explain what he'd meant, but she hurriedly changed the subject before he had the chance to. "So how's KO-35?"
"Rebuilding," he answered, a small smile appearing on his lips as he added, "Or just like you left it, for all the help Zhane's been."
Ashley snorted softly. "It can't be that bad."
"You haven't seen it," he countered.
"I don't need to," she said, a small smile on her own face. "I've seen how you and Zhane are together... and I'm guessing it's worse with Karone around."
He looked at her, startled. "How'd you know that?"
"If Zhane was willing to go on a date with Astronema, something tells me he has every intention of proving to Karone just how charming he can be," Ashley said. "Even if it means neglecting some of his work."
Andros laughed. "Even? You make it sound like he was planning on doing the work in the first place!"
"We're not all as serious as you," Ashley reminded him softly. "Sometimes we need to have fun."
Andros merely nodded, not knowing how to tell her that the only times he'd ever truly let himself relax and simply enjoy life as it was, he had been with her. Over the past five months, it had slowly become apparent to him that without her to guide him, he was likely to lose himself in his work. Either that or he had lost himself in his work because he couldn't deal with the dull ache in his chest that was the loss of the single most important person in his life.
When Andros didn't reply, they lapsed into silence for the remainder of the short walk, the only sound the soft spattering of raindrops on the concrete. Distant thunderclaps sounded, and Ashley sped up, not relishing the idea of being caught out in a thunderstorm. She'd had quite enough excitement for one day, and besides that, she was completely drenched from head to toe.
"In here," she said suddenly, veering off the sidewalk towards a cluster of apartment buildings. "Come on."
He followed her up the stairs to the second story apartment, not speaking another word until Ashley had unlocked the door and ushered him inside.
"Aren't you cold?" Ashley demanded, shivering as she went to turn up the heat.
"I'm all right," he muttered, staring at the carpet. In fact, he was freezing and too proud to admit it.
"Uh-huh," Ashley said, removing her shoes and socks, tossing them carelessly out of the door. "Well, even if you're not cold, you're soaked. Cassie'll kill us both if you get the apartment wet too."
He hid a smile and obediantly kicked off his shoes and peeled off his socks, shoving them outside with a bare foot. "I'm not the only one who's wet."
Ashley made a face at him. "That's not the point."
She tugged off the sodden sweatshirt she was wearing, darkened to a deep gold by the rainwater. Andros looked away suddenly; underneath she was wearing a white tank top that didn't cover nearly as much as she thought it did at the best of times, and now it was soaked just as thoroughly as her sweatshirt.
"I think I'll go change," she said hastily, a pink tinge appearing in her cheeks. Once her back was to him, a wide smile broke out on her face; he was more embarrassed than she was, and she found that as adorable as she always had.
When she emerged a few minutes later, warm and cozy in a pair of gray sweatpants and a yellow spaghetti strap, she found Andros still in the living room and seated on the couch. She watched him silently for a moment before reentering the living room.
For a few moments, she'd been tempted to dress herself in the most flattering outfit she owned, but she'd quickly discarded the idea. If she threw herself at him and he rejected her, she didn't think she would be able to stand it. Sighing, she shook her head and stepped into the room as he looked up and caught her eye.
"What did I tell you about getting the apartment wet?" she demanded, grinning despite herself. "You know how Cassie is... she threw a fit that time when I didn't clean up a few crumbs."
"You swept them onto the floor she'd just mopped," he reminded her. "And then the two of you tricked the rest of us into cleaning the Megaship!"
"Oh yeah," she said with a grin. "Never mind... give me your sweatshirt. I've got something you can wear."
He looked at her in surprise, but unzipped his sweatshirt and handed it to her. The red T-shirt he was wearing underneath was damp as well, and Ashley took both his shirt and sweatshirt, dumping them into a laundry basket, and then turned down the hall that led to her room.
A moment later, she appeared again, holding a red button down shirt that Andros recognized as one of the many articles of clothing Cassie and Ashley had insisted he buy when they had dragged him off on a shopping spree soon after he had arrived on Earth, citing his need to appear 'normal.' He took it from her gratefully, frowning slightly as he realized that the sweet scent of Ashley's shampoo wafted from it.
"I've missed you," she said quietly, correctly interpreting the look on his face. "Andros..."
Dropping the shirt as she started to cry despite her best efforts not to, he pulled her into his arms before he had the chance to think better of it. Raising one hand to gently stroke her rain dampened hair, he kept both arms firmly around her, not willing to let her go for fear that he would lose her again.
"It's all right, Ash," he whispered, rubbing her back gently as her body shuddered with sobs. "It's going to be okay."
"No, it won't," Ashley wailed, clinging to him even as her mind screamed at her to get away from him, the cause of all her heartache and anguish. "I've missed you so much, and after this I'm never going to see you again!"
"You said there wouldn't be a next time," she whispered, burying her face in his bare chest as he continued to stroke her hair. "You're not coming back ever again, are you?"
"Shh, Ash," he soothed her. "That's not what I meant."
"It's not?" she asked hopefully, her tears slowing some.
Andros shook his head slowly, lowering his gaze as he muttered, "I came back because I needed to see you, Ash. I've missed you so much the last five months, and I know I should have come sooner, but I was scared to."
"Scared?" Ashley wiped her eyes. "Of what?"
He shrugged, and for a moment, she wondered if he wasn't about to cry himself. Just when she thought he wasn't going to give her an answer, he whispered, "That you'd have found someone else."
"Have you?" he asked quietly. Ashley didn't answer, and he added quickly, "I couldn't blame you if you have. It's been five months. I wouldn't go back with you when you asked me to... I just need to know, Ash."
"Why?" she whispered. "What if I have moved on?"
She heard him swallow hard before mumbling, "Then I'm too late, I guess... I... I couldn't ask you to choose..."
"Andros," she said softly. "Look at me."
He did, reluctantly, certain that she was going to break what little she had left him of his heart. Instead, she said nothing, simply losing herself in his soft hazel eyes as he lost himself in her sparkling warm brown ones.
Taking a deep breath, Ashley leaned up, pressing her soft lips against his. At first, Andros seemed too stunned to react, but when she started to pull back, his arms moved up from her back to the base of her neck, holding her to him as he leaned into her, crushing his mouth to hers.
Ashley wrapped her arms around his neck, pure joy flowing through her once again. She felt Andros run his tongue along her bottom lip. Taking the hint, her lips parted just the slightest bit, and his tongue slid inside her mouth, prodding gently at her own.
Andros's hands had left her neck long ago, she realized dimly when she felt his hands slip under her top, gently caressing her bare back. She knew that they were moving much too fast; something told her to pull back, but somehow she couldn't, and knew that if he were to pull off her clothes and kiss every inch of her skin she wouldn't raise a single objection.
Likewise, whatever willpower Andros had to step away from her had been lost some time ago. If she had pushed him down onto the couch, or started towards the bedroom, he would have followed all too willingly, despite the small voice deep inside of him that he was currently doing an admirable job of ignoring.
"I don't mean to interrupt-" They jumped apart as Cassie's amused lilt of a voice reached their ears. "-but I do live here, you know. Hi, Andros."
"Hi, Cassie," Andros managed to say, his heart pounding as he tried not to look at Ashley. He couldn't recall ever being more grateful to see the former pink ranger in his life. "How are you?"
"I'm good," she said, grinning at the pair of them. "And if you'll let me get changed, I'll leave you two alone."
"Did TJ find you?" Ashley asked, remembering that it had been her earlier conversation with him that had led her to the park.
"Yeah." Cassie grinned as she disappeared into her room.
Ashley burst out giggling as Andros sank down onto the couch, his face a very interesting shade of red that only caused her to laugh harder. "Just think of what would have happened if she'd walked in ten minutes later."
"I'd rather not," Andros said shakily, taking her seriously. He spotted his shirt on the floor and decided it was high time to put in on. "Ash... I'm sorry."
Ashley smiled and joined him on the couch - by sitting in his lap. "I'm not."
"You're not?" he repeated uncertainly. His unease only grew as Ashley rested her head on his shoulder, her arms going around his neck again.
"You've never been kissed before, have you?"
Slowly, he shook his head no, wondering how much time and heartache he could have saved them both if he'd been this honest with her from the beginning. "No... I wanted to, months ago, but I didn't know what you wanted, and I didn't know how to ask. I guess I should have."
"You should have," Ashley agreed, squeezing his neck. "But I should have too... and that kiss was worth waiting for."
"Really?" He looked at her with a shy smile spreading across his face.
Ashley smiled and nodded firmly. "Definitely."
He swallowed and tightened the hold he had on her, somehow afraid that he would lose her at his next words. "I... I love you, Ash."
Disbelief was written all over her face, and for a moment she wondered if she hadn't fallen asleep on the couch after all. Then she slowly reached out to stroke his cheek and knew that this was reality.
"I love you too, Andros," she whispered. "Every day since we left, I've wished I'd stayed with you."
"And I've wished every day that I'd gone with you," he admitted softly a moment later.
"Are you sure you guys don't need me to stay here and chaperone the two of you?" Cassie teased them as she reemerged from her bedroom to find them caught in a kiss just as intense and passionate as the first.
"But then TJ will be lonely," Ashley replied sweetly, giving her friend a smile for good luck as she walked out the door and receiving one in return.
"TJ and Cassie?" Andros questioned her softly.
"Yeah," she said. "Finally!"
"What do we do now?" Andros asked a moment later. They were still entangled in each other's arms, and the temptation just to kiss her and never stop was beginning to overwhelm him.
"Well..." Ashley paused and grinned coyly. "I really think we need to get off of the couch, for a start. Then I think we've got a lot of catching up to do... and we could always rent a movie or two... and Chinese takeout for lunch," she added innocently, watching with delight as his cheeks reddened.
"That or pancakes," she said, giggling again at his confused expression. "I'll explain later."
"Okay," he said, his grin now matching hers. "Even with everything you've said, that still doesn't fill up the day."
"I'm sure we'll think of something," Ashley said, her sheer delight beginning to bubble over. "I don't really care what we do, as long as you're here."
His grip on her increased almost painfully as Andros said softly, "I plan on being here for a long time."
"You'd better," Ashley said, making no move to crawl out of his lap despite her earlier words. "I love you."
"I love you, Ashley," he said.
"Good," she said, the word cut off by a fit of sneezing that became a fit of giggles. Andros laughed as well.
"First," he declared. "Let's get you something warm to drink and then Chinese."
"My hero!" she cried dramatically, falling against him.
"My hero," he replied softly, pressing a warm kiss to her temple.
They stayed like that for a while, until a hoarse cough from Andros prompted Ashley to reluctantly stand up and make her way to the kitchen - and the medicine cabinet.
"Medicine for two and two for hot chocolate," Ashley declared, sashaying her way back to the couch carrying two steaming mugs and a bottle of Tylenol.
"Two," Andros repeated, accepting the mug gratefully.
"Two," Ashley agreed, sitting down beside him.
Careful not to spill any of their hot chocolate, Ashley curled up against Andros's side. Shifting his mug so he could hold it with one hand, Andros wrapped his arm around her shoulders, happy to have her warmth so close to him again. No matter what happened, he was going to make sure he'd never have to miss it ever again.
"I wish we could stay like this forever," Ashley sighed.
"We could always try," Andros suggested sheepishly.
Ashley laughed and raised her mug into the air.
"To forever," she declared, snuggling a bit closer to him. Andros smiled a bit as he tapped the rim of his mug gently against hers.
Author's Note: With a little help from my two favorite people in the world (aka Jenny and AH/AY), this is a birthday present for RisingGundam2004, so be nice and say happy birthday.