Disclaimer: Not mine. But it will be someday!
Wide awake in the darkest hours of the morning, Ashley left the bathroom with a wide grin threatening to literally split her face in two. Silently, she crept down the hall, the only sound the soft padding of her bare feet against the cold wooden floorboards. She remained quiet until she had slipped into her bedroom, not wanting to wake the couple still fast asleep in the apartment's second bedroom. However, when she entered her own bedroom, what little restraint she happened to still be in possession of flew away, and she threw herself down onto the bed - directly atop the person still sleeping peacefully.
"Aauugh," he cried out, bolting upright, his body tensed for a fight. Ashley rolled off of him, settling herself comfortably beside him, watching his face relax as he remembered where he was. He turned to her, squinting into the darkness. "Ashley?"
"Hi," she whispered, breaking down into uncontrollable giggles at the look of confusion on his sleepy face.
"Hi," he whispered back. Her grin was undeniably contagious, and he found it impossible not to smile back. "Is something wrong?"
Ashley shook her head, still giddy. "It's just Thanksgiving, silly."
Her smile took on a mysterious edge, and he could tell that she was delighted that he had absolutely no idea what she was referring to. "You'll see."
"Come on," she said excitedly, shooting up and scrambling out of bed. "Get up!"
"It's five thirty in the morning," he protested, gesturing to the digital clock by their bedside. Sure enough, illuminated in bright red were the numbers five three and one.
"Oops," Ashley said, her grin now taking on a sheepish look. A moment later, she shrugged it off and tugged hard on his arm. "Get up anyway."
"It's still dark out!"
"Ash, are you feeling all right?" he asked, looking at her strangely. Ashley's natural exuberance was just one of the few things he loved about her, but this was a bit too much energy, even for her.
"I'm feeling great!" she assured him, dropping down into his lap as he continued to stare at her in bewilderment. "Why?"
He raised an eyebrow at her. The gesture was more than enough to send her into a fit of giggles once more. "That's why."
"Oh," she said. "That."
"That's just 'cause it's Thanksgiving!" Ashley said brightly. "Don't worry about it."
She shifted out of his lap, intending to let him fall back into the sleep that she had jolted him out of only a few minutes before. The instant his eyes closed, she found that it was impossible.
Reaching out with one hand, she began toying with the ends of his hair, twirling the dual-colored strands between her slender fingers. He mumbled something sleepy and unintelligible that she ignored, sweeping a handful of his hair over his face, tickling his nose with the ends of it.
She stopped the instant his hand closed around her wrist, and drew back, her smile finally fading. His eyes flickered opened, and though he tried to hide his irritation, he didn't quite succeed.
"I'm sorry." She apologized quickly, before he had a chance to speak. "I'll stop now, I swear. Go back to sleep."
He dropped her hand and sat up, giving her a glance that was an odd mixture of exasperation and affection. "I guess it's all right," he said. "I don't think I can fall asleep again anyway."
"Sorry," she said again, her voice growing softer. "I didn't mean to..."
He sighed and lay down again, giving her arm a gentle tug. Ashley took the hint and flopped down onto the bed alongside him. He wasted no time in wrapping his arms around her, cuddling her close to him as he said, "Seeing how I'm already up, would you mind explaining what's so great about Thanksgiving?"
"Mmm..." Ashley thought for a moment and shook her head. "I have to explain it to Zhane and Karone too, and I only want to do it once."
"They won't be up for hours, you know," he said.
She grinned and nodded. "We'll just have to keep ourselves busy until then."
As she leaned in to press her soft lips against his, Andros decided he liked Thanksgiving.
Some time later
Zhane blinked several times as Ashley finished her story of the first Thanksgiving, trying hard to contain his laughter. "That seems a little farfetched, Ash, doesn't it?"
"Totally," Ashley agreed with a grin. "That's not how it happened, and even if it was, when we celebrate Thanksgiving today, that's not how we do it."
"So we had to listen to all that for nothing?" he wailed.
Andros didn't bother to hide his snort of laughter as his sister elbowed Zhane hard in the ribs. "Quit being such a baby."
Ashley started giggling again, and Andros rolled his eyes, wondering if all holidays had this effect on her, or just Thanksgiving. He hoped it was just Thanksgiving; Earth had more holidays than he could count, and he wasn't sure how much of Ashley's energy he could handle.
"So what do you do for Thanksgiving, then?" Andros asked, moving his hands forward from where they had been resting on her waist, encircling her completely as he pulled her a little closer to himself.
He sat cross-legged on the floor, his back pressed up against the wall. Ashley was settled comfortably in the space between his legs, her own legs stretched straight out in front of her. Andros was vaguely aware that his legs had gone painfully numb midway through Ashley's story, but he found he didn't care.
She shrugged, her soft brown hair bouncing slightly on her shoulders as she did so. "Mostly people eat," she said. "A lot. Turkey and mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn, peas, pumpkin pie..."
"Thanksgiving's only about eating?" he said skeptically. His nature was much more reserved than Ashley's, but Andros didn't quite see why she would be bouncing up and down with joy at the prospect of stuffing herself silly. He saw similar looks of confusion on the faces of his sister and best friend, and shrugged. He'd find out soon enough.
"Well, it's about spending time with your family, too," she said, all her extra energy abandoning her as her voice suddenly became bitter. "If your family happens to like you."
Andros shifted awkwardly, bombarded by sharp pangs of guilt. "Ash..."
"It wasn't your fault," she muttered. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
He cast a sad look at the back of her head, helpless to mend her broken heart. Karone narrowed her eyes at the pair of them before saying suddenly, "We're your family too, Ash. We like you."
Andros shot his sister a grateful look as Ashley seemed to regain some of her cheerfulness. "I like you guys too."
"When do we eat?"
"I hope you know you ruined a perfectly good moment," Ashley said to Zhane, grinning half in spite of herself.
"I know," he assured her airily. "But I'm hungry."
"Good," she said. "TJ's uncle is out of town, so we're all going to his house for Thanksgiving dinner."
"Wow, this looks great!" Ashley exclaimed, taking in the dinner table with an expression just short of astonishment on her face. "I can't believe we actually managed this."
"Neither can I," Cassie said with a grin. "I've never cooked a turkey in my life."
"Neither have I," Ashley said. "My parents always cooked."
"Mine too," Carlos put in.
"Yeah," TJ agreed. He grinned and added, "I vote Zhane the guinea pig!"
"I second that," Andros said, a grin appearing on his own face.
Zhane didn't protest and quickly piled his plate high with food, digging in without bothering to make use of his knife and fork. When he continued eating with no ill effects, the others began serving themselves as well, and soon silence fell as they became increasingly preoccupied with scarfing down the dinner that had taken much of the day to prepare.
"Hey," Cassie said as they finished their first helpings. "Thanksgiving isn't just about the food, you know. It's about being thankful for what you have."
TJ groaned good-naturedly as his girlfriend finished speaking. "You want us to say what we're thankful for, don't you?"
Cassie smirked. "Since you're so perceptive, you can go first."
"Aww..." TJ groaned again, and sighed, pausing thoughtfully. "Uh... I'm thankful for you guys?"
"You can do better than that," Ashley encouraged, her silly grin still plastered on her face. "Something deep, Teej."
TJ rolled his eyes and tried again. "I'm thankful that we finally won the war."
"I guess that'll do," Cassie said, her grudging tone countered by her grin. "But no one else can use that one again... Who's next?"
"How 'bout you, Cass?" TJ said with a grin.
"All right," Cassie agreed readily. "I'm thankful for music. It saved my life before I had all of you."
"I'm thankful for soccer," Carlos said. "I'll turn pro someday, I know it."
"Cryogenic technology," Zhane said with a grin. "Seeing how it kept me alive and all that... so I could meet all of you, of course... and then Ash, for getting Andros to lighten up and let me date Karone... and Andros, for letting me date Karone... "
"What about you, Karone?" Cassie cut in as it became apparent that Zhane could cheerfully ramble on for hours to come.
"Freedom," Karone said simply, a soft smile playing on her lips. "Family."
"Family," Ashley agreed, smiling at each of them in turn. "You guys are my family now."
"Always," Cassie said softly, reaching across the table to clasp her hand.
"Andros," she continued, turning in her seat to face him as she reached out, placing her hands over his. "I'm thankful for you, more than anything. I love you."
She could have gone on forever in that vein, but there was no need to. One look into her soft brown eyes spoke volumes, and so much more than words ever could. Andros smiled gently at her and stood suddenly, tugging on her arm until she stood. He pulled her into his arms and without a second's hesitation, he whispered in her ear, "I love you too, Ashley."
Ashley gave him one final squeeze and then released him, reclaiming her seat a bit self-consciously. No one said a word, but almost in one motion, their attention turned to the one person who had yet to say what they were thankful for. Andros hesitated visibly as twelve eyes became fixated on him.
TJ laughed. "Aw, come on, we all know you're gonna say Ash and Karone."
Andros smiled a bit sheepishly and nodded. "I'm thankful for you," he said softly to his sister. "You're the only family I've got left, and you were worth everything it took to find you."
Karone smiled, her blue eyes becoming just the slightest bit teary as she leaned in to hug her brother. "I love you."
"I love you too."
"Aww, so sweet," Zhane said, smiling wickedly. "Now say something to Ash."
Andros's hesitation became much more pronounced. Ashley was quick to say, "You don't have to," but he slowly shook his head and stood for the second time in two minutes and pulled her to her feet yet again, breathing his words directly into her ear.
"I'm thankful for you," he whispered, taking care that his words wouldn't be overheard. "Thank you for saving me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for everything."
"No, thank you, Andros," Ashley murmured, the utter sincerity of his voice slowly breaking her heart.
"You two are no fun," Zhane commented as they sat down again. Andros smirked and Ashley merely shrugged, her fingers searching out Andros's beneath the table.
"I hate to agree with him," Cassie said, wrinkling her nose as she made a show of sighing dramatically. "I really do... but the rule is, you have to say it out loud. I swear, we won't laugh."
Andros frowned, considering for a moment, and then stood up a third time, slipping one hand into the pocket of his jeans. When his hand left his pocket, there was the sudden glint of light against metal. Ashley froze, speechless as he slowly sank down to one knee, catching the limp fingers of her left hand.
"Ashley, I love you," he said shakily, his voice carrying clearly through the absolute silence of the dining room. "If you'll let me, I'll spend the rest of my life loving you, and whatever family we have together. Will you marry me?"
Shocked into immobility, Ashley could only stare at him in complete disbelief. She had to be dreaming; there was no way Andros was truly asking her to marry him. Time ticked by slowly as her mind processed the information, and her eyes went wide as she realized that he had in fact just proposed to her. Then it registered that he was biting his lip nervously, still waiting for an answer.
Still unable to make use of her voice, Ashley bobbed her head up and down, tears of pure joy rolling slowly down her cheeks as Andros forced his trembling hands still long enough to slide the ruby ring over Ashley's slender finger.
The moment the band settled around her finger, Ashley snapped out of the daze she was in, and tumbled down into his arms. He caught her and sat back, hurriedly pulling her as close to him was physically possible.
"Tell me I'm not dreaming," she murmured, nuzzing her face into his chest.
"You're not if I'm not," he assured her, kissing the top of her head. "Or maybe we both are."
"Then let's never wake up," Ashley suggested, and Andros could only nod his agreement.
"Will the two of you be joining us for dessert or should we send it down to you?"
"If you say another word, Zhane..." The threat lost when Andros couldn't manage to turn his grin into anything else, he sighed and stood, pulling Ashley to her feet as well, staring around the table innocently. "What?"
Ashley dissolved into a fit of giggles for the thousandth time that day, her laughter spreading not only to Andros this time, but to the five other members of their 'family.'
"Are you all right, Ash?" he asked anxiously, hearing the nervous note in her voice. She couldn't possibly change her mind, could she?
"Do you really want a family?"
"There's nothing I want more," he assured her, reaching out to gently cherish her cheek, his touch soft and loving. "And someday, in a year or two maybe, we'll have that."
Ashley shifted uncomfortably, burying her face in his bare chest. "What would you say if someday was closer to seven and a half months?"
Andros stopped breathing for several seconds. "Is it?"
Her face still hidden in his chest, Ashley slowly nodded, all the uncontainable joy that had been flowing through her since she'd seen the blue lines on the pregnancy test fading away as she waited for Andros to react.
"Then I say we should get married a little sooner than I thought," Andros said finally, grasping her gently by the chin and lifting her face to kiss her full on the lips. "I love you, Ash."
Happily, Ashley snuggled a bit closer to him. "I love you too."
As Andros watched the love of his life drift off to sleep, he realized just how much he had to be thankful for.
Author's Note: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
JAP (Jenny, AH/AY, Phantom Rogue)