Disclaimer: Power Rangers... not mine.
Three Little Words
"Morning," a familiar voice whispered. Andros mumbled something undecipherable, far from ready to get up and out of bed. A soft laugh sounded near his ear, penetrating a little farther through the fog of sleep. It was becoming harder and harder to slip back into the blissful darkness that was sleep, and it became downright impossible the moment he felt the gentle pressure of his wife's lips against his own.
"Ash..." He opened one eye with extreme reluctance, his half-hearted glare melting away as he took in Ashley's smiling face. "Morning."
Now that she'd succeeded in rousing him, Ashley lay back down, nuzzling close to him as he wrapped his arms around her waist, the both of them savoring these few precious moments of peace before the beginning of another hectic day.
"Happy birthday," Andros added a moment later, kissing the top of her head, the only part of her that he could reach. Ashley shifted a moment later and tilted her face up, allowing him to capture her lips with his own.
"Took you long enough," she teased him. "I was starting to think you'd forgotten."
"You won't let me forget," he retorted.
"You need reminding," she shot back. "Since you never celebrated birthdays on KO-35."
"And when was the last time I forgot your birthday?" he demanded, carefully constructing a wounded expression to hide his grin behind. "Or Cara's?"
Ashley snorted. "Seeing as how it's the same birthday, if you remember one, you're likely to remember the other."
"That's not the point," he protested, laughing, unable to keep back a smile any longer.
"Cara was the best birthday present ever," Ashley murmured, sinking deeper into his embrace as he nodded his agreement. Unusual as it may be for mother and daughter to share the same birthday, Cara was so reminiscent of Ashley that it seemed only fitting.
"Speaking of Cara..."
Ashley groaned and struggled away from the warmth of Andros's body and into a sitting position. "I'm up," she insisted. "See? She's probably still asleep anyway."
He only laughed again and let her crawl over him to get out of bed before doing so himself. Ashley was midway through shoving her arms through the sleeves of a pale yellow blouse when he caught her in his arms, holding her close to him for as long of a moment as they had to spare.
"I got you something," he murmured in her ear, running his fingers through her sleep-tangled hair before releasing her.
"I figured you did." Ashley grinned. When he made no motion to produce a package of any sort, she pouted at him, the expression warring with her sparkling brown eyes. "You're not going to make me wait, are you?"
"Well..." He hesitated just long enough for Ashley to pout again, and then he grinned. "Do you really think I'd refuse you anything while you're dressed like that?"
"Not for a minute," Ashley said, unable to wipe her smile off her face as she finished dressing. Andros vanished from their room, appearing again a moment later with a small box clutched in his hand, wrapped in sunny yellow paper.
"Happy birthday," he said softly, handing it to her, the expression on his face unusually anxious. She gave him a curious look as she took the box from him carefully, tearing off the wrapping paper eagerly. The black velvet of a jewelry box was underneath, and Ashley slowly opened it, her eyes widening.
"It's beautiful," she murmured, fingering the bracelet gently, recognizing the red stone as a ruby, and the yellow gem, while still nameless to her she knew instantly to be identical to the one in the necklace that had been a gift on her seventeenth birthday. Andros reached out and freed the bracelet from the constraints of the box, settling the golden chain around her wrist and fastening the clasp carefully.
"You like it?" Andros's nervousness had disappeared, and Ashley suddenly realized that he had never once seemed truly at ease as he'd presented her with even the smallest gift.
"I love it," she assured him, throwing her arms around his neck, squeezing him hard. "I love you."
Andros pulled back, and grasping her chin gently with his hand, he drew her into a deep kiss, the only answer he'd ever had to those three little words. Ashley leaned into him eagerly, her arms locking themselves firmly around his neck as he made to step back.
Gently, he pried himself loose and gazed into her eyes for a long moment, searching out the trace of distress that he knew he would find in those otherwise lively brown eyes he'd fallen in love with. He knew that Ashley felt a small, but still sharp, pang of hurt every time her words were met with silence.
"We're going to be late," he reminded her, leaning in to kiss her again, in no hurry to relinquish his hold on her despite his words.
Ashley sighed, and wriggled away from him reluctantly. "I'll get Cara ready while you get dressed."
He nodded and went off in seach of something clean to wear, wondering, not for the first time, but not nearly as much as he used to, whether Ashley would have ever agreed to marry him if she hadn't become pregnant with their daughter.
He loved his wife with all his heart and soul, but in the eight years that he'd been aware of that fact, he'd never once had the words to tell her so. The first few times the words slipped out of Ashley's mouth, he'd stared at her helplessly, at a complete loss as to what exactly he should do. There hadn't been a single doubt in his own mind that he loved her, but he feared that there had been many in hers.
Ashley had soon become careful not to let those three little words slip out. Andros hated himself for the hurt he had seen in her beautiful face every time she looked at him, but try as he might, the response Ashley wanted so desperately to hear eluded him.
As time passed, he had become more and more fearful that Ashley would leave him, seeking someone who loved her enough to tell her so. Miraculously, she hadn't, and had assured him that she understood that he couldn't tell her, if not why he couldn't tell her.
At that moment, he'd loved her more than he ever had before, and had known with utter certainty that if he spent the rest of his life trying, he would never have come close to deserving her love.
When he'd realized that Ashley wasn't leaving him, he'd seized her in his arms and kissed her with every last ounce of love he felt for her in his soul, wishing more than anything that the words would flow out of him as easily as they did her and everyone else around him. She'd kissed him back with an equally intense passion and nine months later, on her nineteenth birthday, Ashley had gone into labor with their daughter.
Andros sighed heavily and paused halfway through buttoning his shirt. But for her hazel eyes, Cara would have been her mother's twin, right down to the carefree nature that had ultimately drawn him to the yellow ranger all those years ago.
Cara was too young to understand why her father refused to tell her what all other fathers told their daughters, and she persisted in telling him that she loved him, always hoping in vain that she would receive some kind of response.
Every time he saw the deep hurt in his daughter's eyes, Andros felt like dying, even moreso than when he had seen the same look in his wife's eyes. The little girl he and Ashley had created together they had sworn both to themselves and to each other to always love and protect and Andros knew that he was coming up short as a father by causing so much unnecessary pain to his little girl.
"I'm coming!" he called back, hurriedly buttoning his shirt and shoving his feet into his shoes. By the time he made an appearence in the kitchen, Cara was devoting all her attention to the Pop-Tarts that Ashley had thrown into the toaster, unable to think of anything that would cook quickly enough to be eaten in the next ten minutes.
"Morning, angel," he said, bending over to pull his six year old daughter into his arms. "Happy birthday."
Cara giggled and pulled away, dancing giddily back to her seat. "Do I still have to go to school?"
"Yes," Ashley said firmly. "It's my birthday too, and I still have to go to work."
"Why can't I go to work?"
Ashley laughed. "When you're older, you'll ask to go to school again."
"I will not!"
"We'll see," Ashley said with a grin. "Anyway, just be glad that you don't have to go to the doctor today."
"You have to go on your birthday?" Cara's nose wrinkled as she frowned. "That's no fun!"
"See, it's not always fun being a grown-up," Ashley said, glancing at the clock automatically. "Now hurry up, we're all about to be late."
"Mom, wait," Cara said, her little voice carrying with the air of one who has stumbled upon a thought of the utmost importance. "My party's tomorrow, right?"
"Yup," Ashley said.
"So do I have to wait until then to get my presents?"
Ashley laughed and glanced at Andros, who smiled, knowing what she was thinking. "Well..." Ashley said slowly. "Maybe you can get one present right now."
"Or we could save them all for next year," Andros teased, but the mock threat was lost on Cara, and her eyes widened.
"I'll take one now!"
He laughed and placed a kiss on the top of his daughter's head, stroking her hair gently with one hand. "Right now?"
"I'll get it," Ashley said, slipping out of the kitchen, knowing exactly which present she was searching for. Andros smiled approvingly as he saw the small box in her hand, wrapped in red and tied with a yellow ribbon.
"Ooh!" Cara cried, her eyes gleaming with excitement, her hands flailing in the air as she made to grab the box out of her mother's hands. "Gimme!"
"Is that how you ask for things?" Andros asked, struggling hard to make his voice stern.
"Yes?" Cara said innocently.
"Maybe you'll have to wait until next year after all," Ashley said, hiding a smile as she started to back out of the kitchen.
"No!" Cara shrieked. "I'll behave, honest."
Whatever urges either Andros or Ashley felt that compelled them to act parental faded away into laughter and Ashley presented her daughter with the small gift, which Cara eagerly tore into. When the ribbon and wrapping paper lay forgotten on the floor, Cara stared at the small box of crimson velvet for a moment before opening it and squealing with delight.
"It's so pretty," she breathed, staring at the golden heart pendant, eyes wide with wonder. Inlaid in the center of the pendant was a small but still fiery heart shaped ruby that shone with even more brilliance under the morning sunlight streaming in through the window.
"When your mom and I saw this, we thought of you," Andros said softly, prying the box out of his daughter's small hands to settle the necklace around her neck. "No one matters more to us than you do."
"Thank you, Daddy," Cara cried, throwing her arms around him before turning to Ashley and doing the same. "I love you, Mom."
Tears were suddenly smarting in Andros's eyes, and he felt the cold hand of fear clenched around his heart as he realized that his daughter was starting to believe that he didn't love her.
Ashley's eyes met Andros's as he stepped forward and gathered both of them into his arms and she spotted easily the look of sharp pain that she knew all too well. Whatever doubts she'd once had that he didn't love her had long ago faded away, but she knew that Cara's doubts had been continually growing. Sighing, she nuzzled her cheek against Andros's, resolving to have a talk with Cara on the way to school.
Andros held his wife and daughter as close to him as he could, fearing that they were beginning to slip away from him. At that moment there was nothing he wouldn't have given for the ability to just say those three little words. The two girls in his arms he loved more than his own life, and he knew that it was far past the time to tell them so.
"Daddy, will you read me a bedtime story?"
"If you want, angel," Andros said, standing up from the table still littered with the remains of what had been Ashley and Cara's birthday dinner. "As soon as we put all this away."
"It's all right," Ashley said, the smile she shared with Cara not escaping Andros's notice, but he didn't comment. "You two go on."
"What story do you want to hear?" he asked as he settled himself down next to her on the bed.
"No story," Cara said, and Andros looked at her in surprise. "I wanted to talk to you, Daddy."
"All right," he said, wrapping his arms around the little girl. "What about?"
"Love," Cara said quietly, and Andros felt his heart thudding furiously with fear of what he was about to hear. "Mom says you love us, even though you never tell us so."
"She's right," Andros said softly, resting his chin on his daughter's head as he pulled her a little closer to himself, breathing a silent thank you to Ashley. "Did she... did she say anything else?"
Cara nodded. "She said that after Aunt Karone disappeared and your mommy and daddy died on KO-35 and Uncle Zhane got hurt you were scared to love anyone because it hurt too much to lose them."
"That's true too, Cara," he whispered. "It hurts so much to lose people."
"Do you still miss your mommy and daddy?" Cara asked, the compassion in her eyes rivaling what Andros had seen so many times in Ashley's.
"Everyday," he told her sadly, a faint smile appearing on his lips. "I wish you could have known your other grandma and grandpa. You'd make them so proud, Cara."
"Are you still scared?"
Andros nodded his head, by now struggling hard to keep his composure. "Yes," he said softly.
"Because when there are people that you need in order to live, it's scary," Andros whispered, swallowing hard. "I still miss my parents, but I can live without them. I couldn't live without you and your mom, not for a second."
"Really?" Cara's eyes widened as Andros nodded again. "Wow."
"Go to sleep, Cara," Andros said, easing her down onto the bed as he stood up.
"Daddy?" Cara asked. "Mom told me that you named me."
"I did," he said quietly, knowing that he would never be able to repay Ashley the debt he owed her for this.
"What's my name mean?"
"What's that mean?"
"Beloved," Andros said, his voice so quiet he could hardly hear himself, but the smile that sprang up on Cara's face told him that she had heard him.
"Night, Daddy," Cara mumbled, tumbling into a deep sleep the instant Andros drew the covers up over her, making sure that she was snug and warm before kissing her forehead.
"Night, angel," he whispered. "Happy birthday."
The only reply Cara made was a sleepy sigh. Andros smiled at his sleeping daughter for a few moments before he remembered that for him, the night wasn't over just yet.
He found Ashley in their bedroom just about to change into her pajamas. She jumped slightly as he wrapped his arms around her from behind, but relaxed against him, her eyes closing as a content smile appeared on her face.
"Thank you," he whispered in her ear. "So much."
"Are you all right?" she asked softly. He nodded his head against the back of her neck and she leaned against him for a few minutes, but much too soon she was pulling away.
"Ash," he said softly, the anxiety present in his tone causing her to drop her pajamas once again and turn to look at him with just a hint of concern in her eyes.
"Is something wrong?"
"Of course not," he said, holding her close as he inhaled the familiar sweet scent of her hair. "I have a surprise for you."
"Another one?" Ashley regarded him with amazement, fingering the bracelet she was still wearing and then the fluffy yellow scarf wrapped snugly around her neck before glancing at the small mountain of gifts piled on the sturdy wooden nightstand alongside their bed. "Andros, you've gotten me enough already..."
"No, I haven't," he said softly, reaching out to lovingly cherish her cheek with the underside of his thumb. "Come with me?"
"Of course I will," she said, slipping her arm around his waist as he led her out of the bedroom.
"What is it?" she asked, glancing around the living room and seeing nothing that hadn't been there that morning. Andros laughed at her a little and glared at the front door meaningfully for several seconds.
"Next time, Karone helps," she heard him mutter under his breath as there was a soft rap on the door. It was Ashley's turn to laugh as her husband opened the door to reveal Zhane.
"Don't worry, I'm not the surprise," Zhane assured her, stepping past them down the hall, clapping Andros on the shoulder for good luck as he passed them on his way to the guestroom. "I'll be in bed if you need me... Have fun!"
"Umm..." Andros smiled at her sheepishly. "I know it's sort of late, but-"
"Don't be silly," Ashley said, slipping her arms around his waist as soon as she'd shrugged on her jacket. "Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise," he reminded her, grinning as she pouted. "That's not going to work this time."
"Aww, come on," Ashley whined. "Just give me a hint!"
He shook his head stubbornly and guided her out the front door, keeping one arm firmly around her waist as he locked the front door. The calm nights of early autumn weren't chilly just yet, but a cool breeze picked up as they made their way to the car, teasing their hair and flushing their faces.
He just laughed. "We'll get there soon enough, Ash."
"But we're not there yet." Ashley smiled sweetly at him and then fell silent, her head resting against the clear glass of the window. Andros smiled back and brushed his fingers lightly against her cheek, hoping that she'd doze off during the ride.
The car rumbled to life, shattering the former stillness of the night. Andros drove slowly down the near empty roads, taking all the turns that had become so familiar in the past six and a half years. He suspected that Ashley had indeed fallen asleep when she didn't even twitch as he paused at the gated entrance to the NASADA base.
"Ash," he whispered, stroking her cheek. Her eyes fluttered open, her face scrunching up in confusion as she took in the sights outside the vehicle.
"What are we doing here?"
"It's a surprise," he teased, walking around the front of the car to open the door for the still sleepy Ashley. She giggled softly as he helped her out of the car, sliding an arm around him as he did likewise with her.
"You're sweet, Andros," she said softly, resting her head against his shoulder as he smiled and started walking, gently tugging on her arm as he turned in the direction of NASADA's enormous hangars. "The Megaship?"
Andros nodded his head slowly, turning to face her before he spoke softly, never letting his eyes leave hers. "I wanted this to be only for us... and there was nowhere else that seemed right..."
She smiled and squeezed the hand that was in hers. "Let's go, then."
Andros nodded and pulled her a little closer to himself as he led her through the familiar halls of the Megaship to the Simudeck. Ashley frowned slightly, detecting some subtle change in the atmosphere. A moment later, it hit her.
"Just us, Ash," Andros said softly, a smirk crossing his face. "Besides, Deca was making too many comments while Zhane and I set this up."
Ashley laughed. "I can imagine."
"In here," he said, guiding her towards the Simudeck.
Ashley blinked in surprise as the Simudeck hummed to life, becoming the familiar landscape best known as Angel Grove Park. She recognized her surroundings instantly, even if Andros had set the program to run as if it were nighttime, with the twinkling lights of a million stars beaming down upon them.
"You had your seventeenth birthday party here," her husband said softly, coming to stand behind her. "Do you remember?"
She smiled and nodded as best she could; the fact that his arms were wrapped around her neck making the action somewhat difficult. "Always," she replied, just as softly. "But why here?"
"Because this is where I first knew," he whispered in her ear. "Ashley..."
Comprehension dawned on her then, and Ashley twisted around to stare at him, stunned. Slowly, she raised one hand to brush her fingers across his cheek. "But you never said anything..."
"I didn't know how to," he mumbled, chuckling softly despite himself, placing small, feather light kisses across the fingers now resting on his face. "I've never known how to, not with you."
Tears sprang into her eyes at his words, and she couldn't hold them in. Blinking rapidly, she felt the small droplets spill over her cheeks. Andros reached out and brushed them away before gathering her back into his arms.
"Dance with me?" The words were barely out of his mouth before a soft, wordless melody began to play. The tune was unknown to Ashley, yet it was strangely familiar, and sent warm waves of joy coursing through her as the notes floated by, one after the other in a smooth, endless stream.
"Of course I will," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. He slipped both his arms around her waist and pulled her close as they began to slowly sway back and forth as the music swelled around them.
"Happy birthday," Andros muttered, brushing his lips over her forehead.
"Oh, Andros," she whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck and resting her head on his shoulder. "You didn't have to do all of this..."
"Yes, I did," he told her, placing a soft kiss on her hair. He sighed softly before muttering, "I wanted to do more."
Her eyes widened as she realized what he'd meant, and for a moment, Ashley concentrated only on the soft strains of the music as she tried to come up with words to voice everything she felt for him in her heart. In the end, there weren't enough words, and she settled for whispering, "I love you too, Andros."
He kissed the top of her head, burying his face in her hair as he mumbled, "I really thought I'd be able to say it here."
"You don't have to," Ashley told him as the last strains of the music died away. "This was more than enough."
"It's not, Ash," he insisted. "The very least you deserve is for me to be able to tell you how much you mean to me."
"You already have," she murmured, tears shining in her eyes, perfectly content in the safety of his embrace. "Everyday."
"I know you love me, Andros," she whispered, feeling it would be a crime to shatter the perfect quiet all around them. "I've always known it."
"I used to think you didn't," he said, treasuring the feel of his love in his arms. "The first time you said it, I wanted to say it back more than anything, but I just couldn't, and the look on your face..."
"I did wonder," Ashley admitted. "But I haven't for a long, long time."
Ashley smiled and burrowed her face deeper into his shoulder. "You've been worried about nothing for the last six years and nine months."
Andros looked at her, startled. "That night?"
She nodded slowly. "You made that night so special," she whispered, her smile growing as her mind wandered back to that first time.
"So did you," he breathed, running the fingers of his right hand through her silky soft hair as he kept his other arm firmly around her waist.
"Andros, 'I love you' is just three little words," Ashley told him, drawing her head back just far enough to meet his gentle, loving eyes. "Actions speak so much louder than words. I know that now, ever since that night."
Andros sighed quietly and planted his lips on the base of her neck, kissing his way up to her ear to whisper, "Ashley, I might never be able to tell you, but I will spend everyday of the rest of my life trying to show you what you mean to me."
Ashley turned her radiant smile on him as his mouth found hers. She leaned into him without hesitation as the world slipped away from them, leaving only the two of them and the immense strength of the love that bound them together.
Some time later
"Happy birthday, Ash," Andros whispered, panting slightly, shifting onto his side to place a kiss in her hair. His hair fell to tickle her cheeks as he leaned over her to breathe his next words directly into her ear. "You're unbelievable, you know."
Ashley's eyes shone at him out of the darkness. "So are you," she whispered, snuggling closer to him, her face burning warm beneath his fingers as he gently stroked her cheek. "Andros? Give me your hand."
"Give me your hand," she repeated patiently, reaching for him of her own accord. He felt the gentle pressure of her fingers around his as she guided his hand to her abdomen. "Do you feel that?"
He shook his head. "No."
"A little lower," Ashley murmured. "It's there."
"What is?" he asked, trailing his hand along her lower abdomen. Then it hit him and he stopped cold. "Are you...?"
"Yes," she whispered, as his hand found the almost indetectable swell just below her navel.
"Wow," he breathed, stunned, his fingers gently caressing her skin. "How long?"
"Mmm... about another six months," she told him, stretching her arms above her head before curling up in his arms and stifling a yawn.
"Wow," he said again, a wide grin threatening to split his face. "We're having a baby."
"Yeah," Ashley mumbled, her voice muffled as she buried her face in his bare chest. "We are."
"Sleep, Ash," Andros whispered in her ear, drawing the blankets up over them both. "You'll be needing it."
"Love you," she murmured, drifting off to sleep from the safety of his arms, but Andros lay awake for hours afterwards, unable to take his eyes off of the sleeping beauty he was somehow lucky enough to call his own.
"I don't know why I can't tell you," he whispered, caressing her bare arms lovingly with his thumbs. "I don't know what I'm scared of or why I'm scared, but I just am. I don't know what stops me every time I promise myself that I'll tell you, but something always does. I don't know why I can say it now, when you can't hear me, but for some reason I can."
Careful not to wake her, Andros leaned down to place a tender kiss on her forehead. "I love you, Ashley, more than anything. I love our daughter, and I love this baby, whoever he or she will be, and someday, I'll be able to tell you all that."
Ashley suddenly nuzzled closer to him in her sleep, leaving Andros to watch her with a smile, certain that she had heard him. With one more long look at his sleeping wife, he pressed his lips to the top of her head and closed his eyes, slowly drifting off to sleep himself.
Author's Note: This one is a birthday present for Mz. Daydream, so wish her a happy birthday! Hope you liked it, please review.