The Seven Days of Christmas
Disclaimer: Blah, blah, blah… Not mine, not ours, not yours.
Summery: With only seven days left until Christmas, the Astro team concocts a plan to match up their red and yellow counterparts and pull them from the doldrums into the holiday spirit.
Author's Note: Well, I did it. Slaving over this story in the last few days before Christmas (exactly what these people I'm manipulating are doing... er, sort of!) I finally finished it. Please note that it's not to the exact perfection that I'd like it to be, but... I did try. And it is finished! So enjoy!
"I'm… dreaming… of a white… Christmas," she sang softly, dancing in the velvet white curtains, moonlight reflecting on the bare ground outside.
"With every Christmas caard… I write," she continued, her voice growing softer and warbling.
"M-May your days be merry and bright…" Here she trailed off, her wavering emotions childishly hating the still blazing temperatures of Christmas in California – but her rant was cut off by another voice, honey-warm and snow-pure.
"And may all your Christmas's be white…"
A comforting arm wrapped around her shoulders then. "Admiring the view?" Cassie asked softly.
"Hating the view," Ashley replied sullenly.
"Hey – there's still a week before Christmas; who knows what could happen!"
But it was clear from the look in the brunette's eyes that snow wasn't all that she really wanted.
"C'mon, Ash', they said he could be back any day now!"
"Why not now?" she retorted wistfully. "Why can't 'any day' be 'this day'?"
Frowning at her, Cassie led her best friend up away from the window.
"Because it's nearly midnight and you're supposed to be in bed!" she declared, steering the bewildered brunette upstairs and into their room. Grabbing a random oversized t-shirt and shorts, the Asian tossed them at Ashley, who sat dumbfounded on her bed.
"Dress," she ordered firmly, and walking out, giving her a meaningful look.
In a few minutes, Ashley was straightening the t-shirt as Cassie walked in, holding a glass and decorated box.
"Here," she stated, handing over the glass. "And here," she added more softly as she set down the box, opening it to reveal a fairy – a pixie-like, gaily colored fairy, caught in a windswept pose of serene grace and beauty.
"Now then…" She climbed into her own bed, having long since dressed, "Good night, Ash'," And she then shut the lights.
Shrouded in a moonlit darkness, Ashley sat there and gazed at the moon through a crack in the curtains, still and bright. She set down the glass and fell back, her head hitting the pillow with a soft thump.
"On the first day of CHRISTMAS…"
"Up! Up!" an enthusiastic voice cried, highly irritating the receiver… who was also, in her sleepy, accusing mind, positive that said person was also the cause of the roiling bed that had previously been still.
"Gruuuhhhghle," she muttered, expending some energy to wave an aggravated hand at them.
"No," the bouncy girl declared firmly, though her voice was amused. "I won't stop and I won't leave you alone!"
Words flew to Ashley's mouth and before she could stop them, they were escaping, her voice involuntarily using a distant, wistful tone – although nothing could really hide the undertone of impatience. "You remind me of myself with Andros…"
Her smile fading slightly to a sympathetic one, Cassie spoke gently. "You still miss him… don't you?"
Her face altogether crumbling, she wilted. "Yeh," she mumbled from behind her pillow.
Shaking her head, Cassie took the opportunity to yank the blankets off of her best friend's bed and skip off, declaring, "Shopping spree today!"
Startled, the brunette looked up and groaned in mock despair, inwardly giving up the fight and prepping her mind for an all-out mall day.
"You need energy!"
"Don't even try that…"
"… pout… puppy dog eyes"
"groan FINE! Starve! But…"
"grin Okay! I'll eat!"
"grumble What're you so happy-go-lucky about?"
"Okay…" Cassie studied her list for a moment. "I have… Carlos, T.J, Daa- Wait, that was sold out, wasn't it? Okay, yeah, never mind… Um… Have Aunt Rosa's… and need yours and Dad's! Oh, and the, uh… extra gifts."
"Extra?" Ashley asked quizzically, casting a look at her grinning friend, who was now examining a display of sunglasses.
"Oh," she replied airily. "Just those random gifts I can give out to any relatives that might show up at the door carrying tuna casserole… or maybe to donate to shelters…" Her voice turning firmly serious, Cassie turned slightly to face her friend. "No one should be left out on Christmas morning."
Blinking at her friend's seriousness, Ashley quickly nodded her head in reply, making a mental note to buy some 'extra gifts' herself.
"My true love gave to me…"
"heavy sigh So DO something!"
Zhane grinned maliciously, coming up behind his blonde girlfriend.
"And just what do you suggest?" he demanded playfully, wrapping his arms around her shoulders.
Sighing, the former pink ranger turned away from her paperwork and surveyed her boyfriend with a lazy and slightly irritated smile. The two stared at each other for a while, Zhane occasionally fidgeting with energy.
"Go find Andros," Karone commanded suddenly, brusquely.
"Huh?" Zhane's head shot up, startled.
Her voice softening, Karone smiled. "Find Andros… He's… acting different now…"
"Is that a surprise?" Zhane had to ask that, his voice turning serious. "He's been acting moody and distant ever since… since…" he frowned, trying to remember back to a time before this new personality change in his best friend.
"Since we came to KO-35," Karone whispered, her head drooping.
"Mmm…" Zhane mumbled in agreement.
"He really does miss her…"
"And more than that," the blonde said empathetically, trying to egg on some sort of response. "Do you remember what we were doing this time last year?"
"Uh…" He furrowed his brow, trying to delve into the foggy depths of his memory. Vaguely, he recalled lugging around huge bags of… stuff through the mall. Wincing at the painful memories associated with that thought, he gave a wild guess.
"Shopping?" he asked, still thinking about that sad, sad day.
"Almost," Karone replied, amused, remembering that day when she and the girls went all-out at the mall.
Zhane sighed. Thinking was never his strong point…
"CHRISTMAS shopping!" he declared, recalling to mind a continuous chant of "Chirstmas time is here! Christmas shopping day! Christmas Christmas Christmas Christmas …"
Karone laughed, hearing his thoughts clear and sound through their mental link.
"Oh… 'Rone, how about we just leave him alone for now?"
"… Maybe… I just hate seeing him like this…"
"And I hate you like this," Zhane retorted jokingly. "I prefer you in a much happier light…"
"Oh?" she demanded. Without another word, she pressed her lips to his in a sweet kiss.
All other thoughts forgotten, Zhane hugged her close.
"Christmas is a time for working miracles," he reminded her softly.
"And this year?"
"We'll work our own…"
"On the second day of CHRISTMAS…"
"Well… here we are," Cassie whispered, staring at the brick building. It looked just like any other one along the bustling street… except for the sign hanging above the door.
"Yeah…" Ashley murmured in agreement, her eyes fixated on the two words written in block letters… or, rather, one of them…Saving Angel Orphanage
"C'mon," Ashley muttered, roughly brushing away a lone tear as she ascended the steps with her large bag. Cassie followed her wordlessly.
Ding… Dong… A soft pattering of footsteps sounded from behind the door, followed by an enthusiastic pair of feet pattering noisily behind the first. The door burst open to reveal a young woman, her hair up in a messy bun. A baby slept in her arms, and an energetic pair of toddlers behind her beamed them a toothless grin.
"Oh… hello," she smiled vaguely before forcing a bright smile on her face. "Hi… have you come to adopt or…" her voice trailed off as she forced herself not to look behind her where a shabby home was.
"Oh!" Ashley exclaimed, startled. "Oh, neither," she continued warmly, smiling at the young mistress of the orphanage. "We've, er…" The former ranger motioned at the sack she and her friend carried.
"Ah!" A sparkle lit up the mistress's eyes. "I see… Oh, please, come in…"
The two stepped in.
Immediately, they were greeted by an inviting, homey feeling. Numerous drawings in crayons, colored pencils and paints dotted the otherwise barren walls. A room off to the side was speckled with toys and picture books; a cold, rickety staircase winded upwards – but near the top, was a single message of family: a small red heart stuck on a post where any passerby could spot it.
"We've fallen under… hard times, you could say," the woman said quietly, when she spotted the wandering gazes of the two former rangers. She shifted the baby; "This place runs mostly on fundraisers and donations by others… I work another job when I can find someone capable whom I trust to watch the children, and that has helped us out of some corners… But…" For reasons beyond her knowing, the kind matron found herself willing to trust these two, and let the words flow from her; words she usually only trusted to those dearest.
"I see… Well-"
Ashley was cut off by a soft whimper from the bundle held by the mistress of the orphanage, along with a wail from upstairs.
"Rooohhhhse…" a young girl whined from the top of the stairs.
"Oh… Mari… What happened this time?" she asked, a little resigned but still ever caring and worried.
Sniffing, the girl whimpered, "A-A-Aaron hit me again!" She spoke the last word with great indignation and stamped her foot slightly to empathize her point. "And I heard 'Lissa," she added more quietly.
And, just minutes later, Cassie and Ashley found themselves sharing cookies, milk, and life stories.
"It's… it's hard," the woman confessed, who was now known as Rosa, Rose, Rosalyn, Roh' (for the little ones who could barely talk), and, on occasion, Mommy.
"I try so hard and sometimes I just… I just fall short," Rosa whispered, staring into her glass of frothy milk as though some sort of miracle lay within.
"I understand," Ashley murmured as Cassie nodded her agreement.
Faintly smiling, Rosa looked up at them. "Thanks… But I keep getting all these children dumped on me!" she exclaimed suddenly, her face lighting up with a mocking grin. "I'm the mother of twenty!"
"And these are the newest," she added more seriously, gesturing to the little girl from earlier and the baby.
"She seems to really like you…"
"Mari – well, her real name is Marieke, but I call her Mari for the sake of the others – hasn't latched onto someone since… well… her sister, she really cares about her sister."
"Everyone calls her 'Lissa, but her real name is Melissa."
"I… I got them on a box – yeah, one of those book cliché boxes on the orphanage doorstep. But it happened… one day I opened the door and there was a box. Little 'Lissa – her nickname from some kids – and Marieke. There was 'Lissa, fast asleep in this huge box, covered in blankets, and then there was Marieke. She just sat there, looking… thoughtful… she seemed to old for her age."
"How old is she?"
"Well, according to her-"
"Five and a half!"
"Her sister is too…"
"I've tried to find their parents, but… nothing. Just nothing."
"It's getting late," Cassie whispered. "We… we should go…"
"Oh," Ashley mumbled, jarred back to reality. It had been so comforting to stay there, in that little chair eating cookies and listening to Rosa – dear Rosa so kind and loving – finally let someone hear her problems instead of always being the shoulder you cry on.
"Well… Merry Christmas," Cassie said a little too brightly as she stood up.
"Yes…" Rosa looked disappointed, but quickly covered it up. "Merry Christmas – and a Happy New Year!"
"Merry Christmas," Ashley whispered, still engrossed in unpeeling Marieke from where she had been holding on to her.
As Mari finally let go of her death grip, Ashley, suddenly feeling cold and lonely, said, determinately, "We'll be back!"
"What?" Cassie looked surprised and caught off guard when her best friend said that.
"Oh… I'd… well, I'm not going to lie – I'd love that," Rosa said sincerely. "But I can't ask you to do that; can't ask you to make time in your schedules just to make a old girl happy."
"Pff," Ashley scoffed. "You're not that old, Rosa! And besides, I love it here… it's so warm, so inviting… and the people here aren't that bad either!"
"Well… if you want…" A smile spread across her face involuntarily. "You're both welcome here anytime you want – the door is always open-"
"And so's the cookie jar!" Marieke piped up with a broad grin on her face.
"Yes," Rosa smiled at the endearing little girl. "So is the cookie jar… we ba-"
"-ke ev-e-ry othher day!" she declared proudly, her words mixed up thanks to her 'careful' pronunciation.
"Come back whenever you want," Rosa whispered sweetly, as Marieke let out a yawn – and the baby let out one too, but for completely different purposes. "But now," she added, shifting 'Lissa in her arms and taking hold of Marieke's little hand, "It's time for these two to move on with their day!"
"And us," Cassie added graciously, taking Ashley's hand to half-drag her out the door.
"On the third day of CHRISTMAS…"
"Ashley, I can bicker with you all day, but honestly!" Cassie interrupted in an exasperated cry. "And once upon a time you would be the one to initiate a shopping trip," she added a little sullenly towards the figure still in bed.
"Cassie," Ashley began, sitting up in bed, her hair rumpled from sleep. "I know you care, okay? I really do understand – and I thank you for it!" she added seeing her Asian friend open her mouth.
"But sometimes…" The brunette trailed off sadly, staring out the window.
Cassie sighed. This was expected. Silently, she sat next to her friend in silent comfort.
"Three French Hens…"
"Um… Cassie…?" Ashley stared around at her farm-like surroundings apprehensively.
"Yeah?" the former pink ranger asked vaguely, studying a dead turkey with criticism reflected clearly in her eyes.
Ashley shuddered unhappily. Indeed, here she was again, at the place she had hated most as a kid: the butcher's shop.
Yeah! A butcher's shop. Y'know, where you can't buy frozen (well, you can, but people stare at you like you're crazy)… no, you have to study all those freshly killed animals or even the still alive ones and then have the butcher cut them and package them before you take them home and cook them!
Ashley had never really adored the sight of raw meat and fat, but when it came to this area where it hung in excess along the tops of counters…
"Hmm, Ash? … Oh, hey, h- Hey, dude, how fresh is this?"
"Cassie…" Ashley asked a little more panicked now, feeling a sudden sense of claustrophobia. (Which was a little silly seeing as how the shop was not that crowded and had a nice open area in the middle) "C-Cassie… I'm going go… and…" Not bothering to finish her sentence, the brunette half-ran out the shop, darting into a flower boutique just next door.
Biting back a sigh, Ashley began to casually search for a centerpiece for Christmas dinner, breathing in the fresh, flowery, sweet scents.
The Hard Part Is Yet To Come…
Cassie sighed, dropping a bag on the table, listening to the dull THUNK with satisfaction. Ashley followed lead, but, unlike her worn out friend, she lovingly set a bouquet of sweet flowers in a traditional red and green pattern down beside the bag of dank meat.
"So!" she began brightly, all traces of her previous phobia in the butcher's gone. "How was your spree?"
"On the fourth Day of CHRISTMAS…"
Andros yawned, blinking, taking in the bland white ceiling above him. Staring at it in had become part of his daily routine – how all he had to do was insert it into his planner: Wake-up time-Whenever Karone forces me out of bed: Stare at ceiling.
"Andros! Getup, get up get up get up ge-"
His lips quirking in amusement, Andros quickly forced away a smile as he watched the door to his room open and a chagrined Zhane and annoyed Karone enter, carrying a pad.
Catching the glint in their eyes – eerily giving him a sense of déjà vu – that so belied their outward expressions, he cast them a wary look.
In an act of inanity…
"No," she stated flatly.
"Why?" Carlos demanded.
Turning her gaze away, Ashley bit her lip, and refused to meet her friend's gaze.
"I- I just can't," she whispered, trying to ignore the tears that clouded her eyes.
Cassie huffed a little impatiently before coming up and taking her friend's hands.
"Ashley, listen to me," she demanded softly, but with enough will power to almost force the brunette to lift her gaze upward towards the serious eyes of her best friend.
"Right now, you're regretting and wishing and avoiding. But someday, you won't be able to do that. One of these days, you'll see him and talk to him and realize just what you've been denying all this time." Casting her a half-smile, she added, "So why not just do it?"
Staring at her, Ashley almost whimpered and involuntarily shook her head, a few stray tears dancing through the air. Tearing her hands from Cassie's gentle grasp, she turned and blindly raced up the stairs.
"No," he declared firmly.
"Why?" the spirited blonde demanded while her boyfriend watched in a confounded amusement.
"B-Because," he answered, a little shaken by her unending drive.
"Because why?" she asked again, her voice a little gentler.
He sighed heavily and leaned against the wall, his face hidden in his arm. "Because… Because…" Because despite all the changes he'd gone through and how much open he had become, he still had a difficult time opening his heart and revealing his feelings… especially after coming back to KO-35…
"Because I'm afraid," he finally settled on unnerved by the tear he felt splash onto his arm. "Because… I just can't…" He mumbled something and refused to look up and meet Karone's almost sympathetic, steady stare.
"Because you're scared," she whispered for him. 'Because you're so scared that you'll find her and… see her with someone else? See her not missing you, not caring about you… not loving you," she finished, her words ending almost in a question, but not quite.
Nodding numbly, Andros couldn't find any, well, any better way to say it.
"I have a meeting with Kin-Won," he muttered unable to bear the silence any longer. Brushing past his sister and best friend, he stomped up the stairs, determinedly ignoring his watery eyes.
A meeting of secrecy…
"So… what can we do?" Cassie cried, nearly in tears.
"I don't know," Zhane murmured, running a hand through his hair. The five people, apart from Andros and Ashley, had met over comlink and were currently discussing the sad sad state of their friend's love life.
"So what do you say?"
"I really, really don't know… Hey wait… So how's the rebuilding of Angel Grove doing? Y'know, after that final battle," Karone asked casually on a sudden whim.
"What do you mean?" T.J replied, casting the virtual image a strange look. "Angel Grove finished repairs over a year ago."
"What about downtown?" Zhane asked loudly, obviously privy to some strange plot thanks to the mental link between him and Karone.
"Uh… It's… fine?" Cassie answered, looking just as befuddled as the other native Earthlings.
"Then how come we heard that report about how… er…"
"That building was, um, falling apart?" Karone finished Zhane's gritted question.
Cassie's eyes lit up in understanding. "Oh, god, it's horrible! We thought that everything was all nice and, um, repaired, until then!"
"Yeah," Zhane said, obviously relieved. "It's quite obviously baaaad."
"The sheep plague is everywhere," Carlos stated gravely, misunderstanding the emphasis on the word.
At those words, the others, other than T.J, seeing as how he was currently standing there in confused befuddlement, immediately cracked up.
"We'll tell Andros we're needed," Zhane choked out before ending the transmission.
"On the fifth day of CHRISTMAS…"
"Hmm, wha- Huh?"
"Get up… Oh, get up, sleepyhead!"
"What? Why?" Andros demanded, sitting up in bed to face his impatient sister.
"Because!" she declared, grabbing his arm and pulling him to his feet. "We are going on a trip! A mission!" she added.
"Did Kin-Won assign us?" he asked, baffled, knowing nothing about this supposed mission.
His sister paused and thought that over before shaking her head "no" and going back to her task of pulling her brother out the door.
"Earth needs us," she explained brusquely, still dragging him along. "They need help in the reconstruction and since we… caused it, I guess you could say, we are obliged to help them."
He could see a shadow of her painful past cloud her eyes momentarily, but she shook her head and pushed it away. They met up with Zhane who, at this hour, still looked rather sleepy and lethargic.
"Hey," he greeted, staring into his steaming mug as though it was a haven to the heaven of sleep.
"Hey yourself," Karone greeted before turning round and pushing her brother up the stairs. "Now go get dressed," she commanded, shoving him one last time in the direction of his room.
"What?" he cried. "I was just in my room! Then you dragged me down here! And now you want me to go back up?"
"And pack while you're at it!" she called up to him, paying no attention to his bemused statement.On the floating blue marble and the floating big ship…
"So you guys are coming?" T.J asked again, wanting to make sure he wasn't hallucinating.
"Yes!" Zhane cried.
"After nearly an hour of persuasion and explaining," Karone added from her spot in the pilots seat.
"So, Zhane," T.J asked, lowering his voice. "How did she end up piloting?" T.J finished, sounding amused.
"I really don't know," Zhane replied, looking, for all he was worth, quite baffled. "All I know is that we haven't crashed yet, so she must be doing something right!"
"I heard that!"
T.J chuckled. "Well, I'll tell the others… And we'll meet you tomorrow?"
"Running on what we have, I'll make it Earth by tomorrow… unless Zhane does something."
"What?" the man in question squawked indignantly. "I'll have you know my flying skills are superior!"
"Note how he wisely chose not to say 'superior to you'," Karone added dryly.
"Right, well, I guess we'll be seeing you tomorrow then," T.J said, amused, but at the same time, inching away from the heated argument that he could foresee. "T.J out!" And he ended the transmission.
"Haha," Zhane grumbled in reply to her earlier statement, telekinetically pushing a sheaf of papers at her.
"What's this?" she asked, her eyes not even bothering to glance at it.
"Christmas cards," he said, grimacing slightly. "If we're going to celebrate the holiday, might as well celebrate it right."
"Right," she mumbled distractedly, letting him start the painstaking process of writing the cards.
"On the sixth day of CHRISTMAS…"
"A picnic?" Ashley repeated blankly.
"Yes! A picnic!" Cassie cried, still dragging her friend out the door. "A picnic picnic! Like, the ones in the park, with the checkered blanket thing and the sandwiches and lemonade… a picnic."
"A picnic?" Ashley repeated again, this time a mischievous glint in her eyes.
Scowling good-naturedly at her friend, Cassie groaned and proceeded to yank Ashley out the door to meet Carlos and T.J, looking vaguely embarrassed about carrying a large straw basket and a folded red and white-checkered blanket.
"A picnic!" Ashley said, once again, this time a smile lighting up her face.
"Yes, dear," Cassie sighed, a little jokingly. "A picnic."A picnic! …
"Mmm…" Ashley sighed happily, savoring the sweet melon. Cassie laughed at her, handing her a napkin to wipe the dribbles of juice coursing down her chin. The brunette just giggled and took it, casually dragging it across her chin. Laughing, the two sat back and watched their male counterparts play a very vicious match of The Eating Contest.
It appeared that neither was really winning currently and neither was really too happy about that.
Although, the winner would probably not be too happy by the end either.
It was apparent, nearly twenty minutes later, that that thought was too very true.
"I'll… grunt never grunt eat moan AGAIN!" Carlos wailed.
"Speak for yourself," T.J retorted in a strained voice.
"Never!" Carlos groaned unhappily, paying no attention to his friend.
"Oh, you'll eat," Cassie replied, highly amused. "Once you catch sight of dinner, you'll be all over it."
"And don't even ask me about Christmas…" Carlos whined again, still caught up in his self-pity party.
Sharing glances, the two women replied, simultaneously, "You'll eat again!"
"I heard 'eat'!" a voice called from the west.
"Shut up! You had lunch just a few minutes ago!" a female voice rejoined before calling, seemingly to someone different, "Stop hiding!"
And their old friends came across the lawn, filled with greeting smiles.
And three of the four welcomed them with open arms and convivial grins.
And one from each party stared in disbelieving hope.
A closer look…
Ashley stared, not wanting to believe, not wanting to hope. A rush of wind swept past her, creating a hollow WHOO in her ears that never stopped. She felt trapped. She was being sucked into a vortex that would never end until she gave in. And she wasn't about to do that.
Her friends seemed hospitable enough. The newcomers seemed friendly enough. So why could she only stand there? Stand there like the complete idiot she was… Her mind screamed at her. Screamed at her to do something! … Before she lost again. Lost herself to the sweeping tide of tears of yesterday.
However, much as she wanted to do something, she couldn't.
And it seemed he was in a very similar predicament.
Andros gazed at her. She was so… beautiful. She hadn't changed one bit… Well, on the contrary, maybe she had. Her eyes held a deep lament so unbecoming of her sunny personality, he nearly cringed in hate – hate at himself, because he knew that it was him that had caused this.
His mouth opened and he tried to speak, but no words came out. Dry with shock, he wet it impatiently and called out, his voice barely more than a rasp.
She stared at him more intently, her gaze almost a harsh glare. "Andros," she whispered, her voice bordering between weepy distress and heated odium.
"I… Um… Can we talk?" he tried, a little pitifully.
Her gaze softened slightly at his pleading words. "Later," she muttered, and walked away, leaving him an empty shell, void of anything except a glimmer of hope.
"So talk," she challenged, as the door clicked shut behind her.
"What?" he asked caught off guard.
"Talk," she muttered, a little fazed. "You said you wanted to talk," she added, louder. "So talk!"
"I…" He trailed off and the two were left in silence, broken by nothing but the cheerful dim of the others in the dining room.
"Please!" she nearly burst out after being unable to take it any more. At this point, he realized, too his great dismay, that she had been crying that entire time, the tears coursing down her cheeks silently.
"Oh, god, please, Andros, just tell me!" she cried, her voice dwindling off into a whisper.
Wordlessly, unable to do anything else, he gathered her into his arms. They held each other while Ashley cried the past few days' sorrows out, and Andros rocked her gently, feeling a few stray tears slide down his face as well.
Once they had both quieted down to a more subdued manner, Andros slowly began his story.
"Why did you leave?" was her first question.
"Because… this sounds stupid, but I loved you too much to stay."
"What?" she asked, sounding almost amused now, though her eyes still demanded a clear answer.
"I felt like I was holding you down. Like you were suffering by being so closely connected to me. I… I didn't want that."
"So you just left?" she cried incredulously.
"Well, the call from KO-35 had just come, so…"
"We need you." Andros groaned silently and buried his face in his hands, listening to that last line of the transmission over and over. They needed him… they needed him… they needed him!
"Hey," A soft voice entered his thoughts. "You still torturing yourself over that transmission?"
It was Karone, naturally.
"Yes," he mumbled. Looking up at his sister, whom had come to sit next to him, he asked softly, "What do you think?"
"What should I do?" he asked, anguished. "I…We all have lives here now, but…"
"We need you," the transmission repeated again.
"They need us," he repeated.
"They need the red ranger," she countered softly. "Not Andros, sister to Karone and best friend of Zhane. Not the man who loves a certain girl named Ashley. Not the man who was fed Chinese by that girl when he didn't know how chopsticks worked. No, they need the red ranger. They need the man you once were. They don't need who you are now."
"But I can't just leave them!"
"I'm not saying that," she said calmly. "Just that they don't need you."
"But I couldn't just say no," Andros recounted. "And it… well, I guess it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to…"
"Break my heart? Let me go?" Ashley filled in bitterly.
"No," Andros whispered softly. "Give you a chance."
"I had a chance!" Ashley cried. "I had a life! I had you! I… I loved you, Andros. I loved you more than anything else… And I still do," she added nearly inaudibly.
But he heard her. And he reached out and pulled her close. "As do I," he murmured, breathing in the scent of her. A fresh sweetness. A smell of flowers and herbs.
The two stayed that way for a while, just holding each other in a mutual forgiveness. No words were needed, no words were said. Only the tingle of love that ran down her spine as she leaned up and pressed her lips to his. He pressed back and they were quickly enough caught in their web of tenderness as if the past few months had never existed.
And they stayed that way that entire night, holding each other, sleeping peacefully. There was no passion, no electricity that flew wildly among tangled sheets and strewn clothing. Instead, there was a tenderness that enveloped them and kept them in a dreamy haze of warmth, comfort, and love.
"On the seventh day of CHRISTMAS…"
Andros blinked. His eyes took in the blurry walls and shapes in the room. The bed felt warm. He didn't feel panicked or tense… On the contrary, he felt safe and… content. He turned around and found a pair of luminous warm eyes staring at him, filled with idle and sleepy mirth.
"Hey," the owner of said eyes whispered, never taking her deep gaze off of him.
"Hi," he muttered back shyly, suddenly aware of the intensely small distance between them.
The former person giggled slightly and arched her back, stretching slightly. "Morning," she greeted again, snuggling closer. Yes, this was good. No more staring at the moon in wishful silence; no more holding any random trinket and sobbing in dismay at the memories it threw at her; no more regretting, wanting, or despair. Yes, this was perfect. This was right.
"Sit up," Ashley demanded suddenly, pushing herself into a sitting pose on the soft bed.
"What?" Andros asked in surprise, pushing himself onto his elbows involuntarily.
"Up!" she declared, pulling him up and letting go so abruptly he nearly fell back onto the mess of pillows and sheets. Giggling slightly, Ashley threw her arms around him to half-catch him and half just because she wanted to. Once he had steadied himself out and arranged himself as comfortably as he could with his girlfriend's arms wrapped around him, he began to ask Ashley exactly why she had so suddenly demanded he leave his safe nest of warmth. Unfortunately, his question was never quite answered as she pressed her lips to his gently but just enough to cause him to lose his balance (again) and tumble back down, carrying her with him. But of course, they really didn't care.
"I can't believe it," she whispered softly, playfully winding strands of his hair round her finger.
"Can't believe what?" he asked in quiet amusement.
"Can't believe this," she countered teasingly, though not changing her position beside him. "Can't believe that… after all this time… you came back. And after all that happened… it turned out okay."
"What, you never believed in me?" he demanded jokingly, gasping in mock dismay in a play so unusual for him.
"Of course I did!"
"Not really, though, if you thought that, my dear!"
"Oh, love, you can't really believe that, oh, my dear?"
And the two continued in this loving banter until a very irritated platinum-haired Kerovan rooming next door told them to "Be quiet or by the Power within me I will build a time machine and travel back in time and…" Now, a normal person would have stopped and finished (a rather lame) threat with "And make sure you were never born!" However, the 'alien' in question was by no means normal and continued to rant long after the two had stopped arguing (however lovingly and playfully it was) with a long dialogue containing "Dark Specter" "Diamonds on Aquitar" "Zordon" "Dust bunnies" and "Zombie hairbrushes that give you bad hair days when they attack you!"
So it was listening to this manner of speech that the young and in love couple got up and prepared for the day.
And it was after finally shutting up Zhane that the young woman decided to remember her new friend from only days ago and bring her boyfriend with her to…
Keep Their Long-Ago Promise…
"Wow… What is this place?"
"It's the orphanage… Cassie and I have been here before…"
Andros stared in almost wonder. The brick building looked just like any other shop along the busy road, but… Ashley had told him about how she loved it there – she told him about Little 'Lissa, Rosa, Mari… He almost felt like he had been here before.
Unconsciously, he reached out slightly and grasped Ashley's warm hand, twisting his fingers with her's.
"I can't wait to see them again," Ashley whispered, breaking out of her trance to tug her boyfriend up the path.
Ding… Dong… Ding… DO- W-We Wish you a Merrry Christmah! We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanuu-krah!" Ashley winced even as she smiled as the door swung upon to reveal the owner's of the muffled voices from within. Glancing at Andros, she stifled a giggle upon seeing the baffled, and almost scared, look on his face.
"Merry Christmas!" the raven-haired woman declared, beaming at them. "Ashley! Oh my goodness, it's so good to see you! Mari's been asking about you," she added in a whisper. In a louder, more audible voice, she exclaimed to Andros, "Hi! My name's Rosa – I run the orphanage here. Come in," he added warmly, opening the door a little further. Turning to her little carolers, she reprimanded, "Now then, there were two mistakes – first off, it's not 'Hanu-krah', it's 'Hanukkah'. And more so, it's 'And a Happy New Year'! Come now, let's so scurry off and practice some more so we'll be well prepared for out little performance come Christmas!"
Turning back to her guests, Rosa saw, to her amusement, Ashley venturing into the orphanage, a bright smile on her face, with Andros walking so closely behind, that whenever the former would pause, the latter would bump into her, jostling both of them, and having one burst into giggles and the other flush red.
"Ashley? It's wonderful to have you here again – er, the children and I, well, the ones who can bake, baked some Christmas cookies just earlier this week – I'm sure we still have some…"
"Hmm?" The brunette turned to face her friend with a smile on her face. "Sure! That'd be wonderful – but first, let me introduce- Oh, Andros, stop hiding!"
The Kerovan turned to his girlfriend with a guilty smile on his face and an innocent one plastered over it. "Yes?"
"Andros, come on! Okay… Rosa meet Andros, Andros meet Rosa!"
"Hi, it's nice to meet you." Rosa offered the former ranger her free hand – the other still held baby Melissa.
"Er, hi, I – Well, it's nice to meet you to?" he answered hesitantly shaking her hand.
Faintly amused, Rosa smiled and led them into the kitchen – with a rambling shriek following them.
"Ashley Ashley Ashley!" Marieke leaped at the threesome – foursome if you counted Lissa – and threw herself at the brunette.
"We made cookies!"
"You didn't forget me did you?"
"I had a cold but I'm all better now!"
"We made cookies!"
"Rosa likes chocolate chip cookies but I like oatmeal better!"
"When I had a cold, I made sure not to get to close to Lissa…"
"Cause Rosa told me that was good, b'cause Lissa might have gotten the bug."
And they continued in that line as Rosa, hiding a smile, got out a cookie jar, plates and poured glasses of milk.
"So what's been going on in your life?" Rosa asked casually, sipping a mug of hot chocolate – Mari had started asking for the traditional drink and Ashley had backed her up with an offer to help make it and a query round the table as to who else desired some; and Andros, who had had a strange paranoia of cold skim milk quickly took up the offer. Finally, they had completed the order and were new settled comfortably when the young owner of the orphanage brought up the seemingly innocent question.
Ashley smiled, remembering the past few days. "It's been interesting," she decided on, grasping Andros's hand beneath the table.
But by now, Marieke had turned her interest from Ashley – though it was by no means lost – to Andros, an interesting new specimen for her 'examinations'.
"Wha- Oh… er, hello?"
And it was in these awkward phases that Andros and Marieke developed a love/like-but-sometimes-find-a-little-discomfited relationship.
And so it was by the end of the visit, Mari found herself fascinated by this strange new person who entranced her with stories of far-off planets and the Power Rangers! But, of course, she told herself stubbornly and a little sadly, it was all just stories. But, she deemed this person worthy of her friendship, even if he did lie sometimes – but if he was lying in the stories, he was a good liar! (Even better than Aaron!)
So when Andros and Ashley had to leave, Mari hugged Ashley good-bye as the sweet woman (just as nice as Rosa was!) stooped down to her height and returned the hug; and then she turned to Andros. Staring up at him for a moment, she opened her heart up for just a moment and he saw in her eyes the same look that Rosa had met on the day Marieke and Melissa were left on the orphanage steps. And he, in an act of love not so unusual anymore, he bent down and picked up the little girl, hugging her fondly.
Mari, surprised and delighted, squealed in happiness and hugged this nice old man as hard as she could. Ashley and Rosa both laughed and watched the pair in a moment of tenderness between the young and, er, old.
So when the two former rangers left the orphanage, with another promise to return someday, both owner and orphan had a farewell greeting for them: "Merry Christmas!"
"Seven Swans A-Swimming…"
"Mmm…" Ashley lay, next to a crackling fire, curled up on a loveseat with her 'true love'.
"So tomorrow's Christmas?" Andros asked, still a little uncertain of the holiday dates.
"Uh-huh," Ashley replied, her eyes reflecting the leaping and dancing flames of the fire. Mesmerized, she tore her eyes away just long enough to smile warmly at Andros.
"It's going to be Christmas…""On the Eighth Day of Christmas…"
"It's Christmas!" a voice shrieked, as heavy footsteps ran through the halls.
All throughout the house, creatures stirred and, if there would be any, the mice sound asleep in their little cubbies would have awakened at this joyous cry.
And, if I may add, many of these creatures looked more ready for bed than for the excitement that accompanies Christmas morning.
But once everyone had gathered down there, they all looked as alert and awake as you would see them that early – without the rush of Power and the blaring alarms of DECA of course.
So, the rangers of that team had decided, seeing as most of their family was either out of town or doing something 'else', they had decided that this family was a good enough family on any good enough holiday! So, in a phrase, they had decided to spend this Christmas together.
As a team.
As a family.
And they were a remarkably attentive and high-spirited family as well! As the numerous presents under the tree dwindled in size, and the numerous wrappings and bows that they swimmed in increased in capacity, they neared the most precious, most remembered gift of that morn.
"Okay, okay… Um… Cassie, this one's for you!"
"Ooh, finally!" Taking hold of the box and beginning to undo the wrapping gently, she was goaded on by family. (Y'hear me? They're family!)
Choosing to ignore these calls, the former pink ranger finally pulled away the wrapping paper with a flourish and immediately let loose a shriek of delight.
"Ooh… spa items," she admired, pulling them out of the decorative box. "Nice… everything to treat yourself to at home! Thank you so much, Ashley!"
"No problem, Cassie," Ashley grinned, hugging her enthusiastic friend. "But," she added, unable to keep a grin of mischief off her face, "there's more!"
Taking the envelope Ashley handed her, Cassie read through the paper, her eyes skimming the words. Nearing the end, she gasped, looked up, looked back down, read it again, shrieked (and caused the people closest to her to wonder if they had temporarily gone deaf) and launched herself across a little sea of torn wrappings and bows to clutch her best friend in a never-ending hug.
"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my goodness," she nearly wept.
The others spoke in near unison with "What? What?" But, of course, Cassie being Cassie and Ashley being Ashley, they only smiled and Cassie managed an "I'll tell you guys later," and insisted that they continue opening gifts.
And Andros's 'butterfly in the stomach' syndrome grew with every opened gift – which meant one gift closer to his.
"Andros? This one's for you."
Karone handed her brother a box wrapped in shiny red wrapping and he took it, a little startled. Carefully, he peeled away the paper, deciding he might just keep it.
Finally, the last wrappings fell away and revealed a box inside. The Kerovan's eyes widened and he held the box in blissful amazement. Casting a glance at the card still attached to the shiny paper, he smiled knowingly.
"Ashley… how did you?"
"Well, let me tell you, it took a while, but…" she trailed off and gestured helplessly, a sweet smile on her face.
"Thank you," he replied sincerely, a genuine grin on his face.
"What is it?" Zhane demanded, trying to peer over Andros's shoulder.
"It's…" Andros shook his head and laughed slightly.
"Just this," he answered, showing him a box with numerous pictures on it, showing the Megaship, the six morphed Astro Rangers, and various monsters and weapons.
"A complete collection," the former silver ranger marveled.
"Yeah… When they started making these, I sort of wanted one, but they sold out pretty quickly and become 'rare' items, so I never got one… Thanks, Ashley."
She cocked her head at him and smiled lightly. "Y'know, I've had that for a while. I managed to find every part of the collection and kept it – that was a few months back. I always considered selling it or, I don't know, displaying it? But… I never did. I think that, in my heart, I knew you'd be back. So when I saw it again, just a few days ago, I brought it out and… waited."
"Okay then…" Cassie glanced under the dazzling tree and a faint smile broke out onto her face.
"BREAKFAST TIME!" Zhane yelled, upon spotting that there were no presents left to unwrap.
"Wait," Andros whispered, half-yanking his best friend back into a sitting position. "I- Uh… I still haven't given Ashley her gift."
"Oh," Zhane replied blankly, before shoving his friend slightly. "Do it!"
"Um…" Andros approached the brunette who stared at him in wide-eyed wonder.
"Ashley," he sighed. "These past few days, well, two, really, have made me feel more alive than I have in the past, what, year? But anyway; that's because of you. You make me feel so alive, so happy, so… I love you, Ashley, and… I want to spend the rest of my life, the rest of my years, my eternity with you. Ashley," he gazed at his love solemnly as he slowly sank to one knee painfully. "Will you marry me?" he asked, proud and strong, holding a ring.
It was simple and beautiful. A silver band was wrapped into a loop, atop which a yellow gem sat, dazzling in its simplistic radiance.
"Oh, god…" Ashley whispered, the tears that had been slowly welling in her eyes during his speech now fell freely upon his declaration of love.
"Yes," she whispered, before crying out ecstatically, "Yes! Oh, god, yes, Andros, yes… I love you," she choked happily as she sank down to his level.
He slid the ring on her finger with a delirious grin on his face. He wrapped her in a cocoon of love as she whispered, "This is the best Christmas gift I could have ever dreamed of."
And whatever creature lay outside their window was interrupted by whatever they were doing by a ruckus of joyous cries:
Author's Note 2: So how horrible was it? Terrible? Horrible? Absolutly the last thing you'd ever want to read? Well, that's me! And this is my Christmas gift to all of you poor unfortunete souls that stumble upon this story. Well, thanks for sticking with me to the very end... and please refrain from throwing lettuce!
Author's Note 3: Oh, and, there are probably a number of editing things I overlooked while skimming the story one last time. Feel free to tell me anything you spot in a review. hint, hint
So, before my fingers fall out from typing, Merry Christmas!
(This has been brought to you by the writing alliance JAP... at least, I think that's what we call it... AKA Jenny/AshleyHammondAstroYellow/PhantomRouge)