Disclaimer: I don't own the Power Rangers.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for all your reviews! You guys are the best. It's starting to take way to much room for me to respond to you here, so I guess I'll start making use of the review reply button. I'll still try to answer any questions that you have here. This is the last chapter of Part 1, so enjoy!
Words failed him when the rangers crowded themselves into the doorway. Andros settled for raising up his left wrist, biting down on his lower lip nervously when the outright anger he saw in Zhane's face didn't abate. His gaze slid past his friend to his sister, who was equally furious, but there was sadness in her expression as well. Andros figured the Earth rangers would be the easiest on him; Carlos and TJ appeared vaguely impressed, and Cassie merely exasperated.
"Andros..." Zhane just stared at him, running a hand through his tousled hair in obvious frustration and disbelief. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"I had to do this," Andros said firmly, voice quiet. "If any of you had gone and not come back--"
"There's nothing to say that we wouldn't have." Zhane cut him off, shaking his head. "And what happened to your face?"
Andros winced and reached up to touch his right eye gingerly. It was tender to the touch and he sighed, knowing that it had to be black already. "Cosmos wasn't thrilled to see me."
"And the blood?"
He sighed again. "That was Lyra."
"Don't talk about one of us not coming back, then," Zhane cautioned him. "Not when it's looking like you almost didn't, besides risking Ashley's life on top of everything else."
"It wasn't that bad," Andros insisted, trying to quell the guilt stabbing at him as he realized how close he had come to costing Ashley her life as well. "They didn't want to kill me."
"No, they wanted to keep you alive and torture you until we handed them the rest of the morphers, the Megaship, and anything else they could think up," Karone snapped, speaking up for the first time. "Lyra explained it all to us quite clearly over the comm."
"There were some things that didn't go as planned," he admitted sullenly. "But I was fine."
Karone broke away from the group then, stalking across the room until she was standing right in front of him. She looked him straight in the eye and slapped him full across the face, the expression on her own enough to make him cringe. Out of the corner of his eye, Andros saw Ashley wince at the crack of skin against skin, but she had kept quiet ever since the other rangers had appeared in the doorway and made no move to defend him now.
"Don't you dare say that one more time," Karone nearly shrieked. "She showed you to us, Andros, and hanging from the ceiling in chains is not fine!"
"I--" Andros rubbed his stinging cheek furiously, staring at his sister helplessly. The temper she was displaying now was a side of her he rarely saw, and he doubted anyone but Zhane could get through to her when she was like this. "Karone, I--"
"Will you shut up?" Karone exclaimed. "You're not getting it, and until you do, I don't want to hear anything from you."
"But--" he protested. "I can explain..."
"I'm sure you could," Karone snapped at him. "But I don't want to hear how that was all part of your plan and how you were just waiting for the right time to escape."
"I just didn't want you to get hurt," he muttered, not looking at her. "I didn't want to lose you, too."
"I don't want to lose you, either," Karone retorted. "You're the only family I've got left!"
"That's what I was--" He tried to explain, but Karone shook her head.
"It's not what you were thinking," she said, calmly now. "You were thinking that you were perfectly capable of going off on your own without anyone or anything to help you. You were thinking that you were being noble. It was selfishness, Andros."
"Karone..." Andros heard pleading slip into his voice, but he couldn't care. He had to make her understand somehow.
"I'll see you in the morning," she cut him off. With that, she turned on her heel and stalked off, the other rangers stepping aside to make room for her.
"Good night, Andros," Zhane said, more amiably than Karone but his voice still rather chilly. He left without another word, presumably to hunt down his girlfriend.
Andros said nothing as he watched them both leave, unable to think past the nervousness twisting its way around his insides. He'd thought that they would have understood. Clearly, he'd been very wrong, and he could only hope that their anger would blow over soon.
"They'll get over it." Cassie was the first to break the silence, and he looked to her in surprise. "They're upset, Andros, not angry. You didn't see them before on the bridge; when Lyra said that she had you... You scared them."
He'd scared himself, too, not that he ever would have admitted it. He'd been trapped, and there was no one that knew where he'd gone... Andros shook his head, not wanting to think about that.
"Thanks," he muttered. "I'll talk to them again in the morning."
"It is morning," TJ informed him. "They'll be more reasonable when they're less cranky."
"Yeah," Carlos agreed. "It'll all be fine in a few hours."
"Thank you," he said again, genuinely this time. "I hope you're right."
"Of course we are," Cassie said flippantly. "But just so you know, if you ever do something this... moronic," she decided, "again, we might not be so understanding."
"Exactly." Carlos nodded. "You're a part of this team now--or again, I mean."
A small smile crept across Andros's face at the words. It was true. Not that they would have denied him their friendship if he had sought it out, but there would have always been a barrier between them. That feeling was gone now, and there was nothing keeping him apart from his friends and teammates any longer.
"That goes for me too," TJ said, stifling a yawn with his hand. "But I think I'm going back to bed."
"Yeah," Carlos agreed. "I'll see you guys in the morning."
"Night," Cassie added over her shoulder as she followed them.
"Night, you guys," Ashley called after him, the first she'd spoken since they'd noticed the other rangers in the doorway.
Andros studied her expression carefully, not sure how he should read the complete neutrality he saw in her face. He'd been expecting her to defend him, he admitted to himself. She'd rescued him, after all, and he didn't think she would have done that if she hadn't understood...
"Deca, teleport two to the med bay," Ashley said abruptly.
Andros opened his mouth to protest, but found himself transported to the med bay more quickly than Deca had ever sent him anywhere. Apparently, she was angry with him, too. He grimaced as he remembered what Deca did when she was angry, too distracted at the thought of what he would be eating for the next week to object as Ashley shoved him onto the patient bed.
She turned away from him and rummaged around for what he assumed was medical supplies, still not speaking to him. Andros watched her back with a sinking feeling as it dawned on him that she wasn't acting like she was anymore pleased with him than any of the others had been.
"You're angry, too."
Ashley sighed loudly, but finally looked at him. She handed him an ice pack and motioned for him to cover his black eye, considering him for a long moment before she said anything.
"I think you were stupid," she said finally, and he looked away. "Very stupid... but," she added, and he felt his hopes rising just little. "I think you meant it when you said you went because you didn't want anyone else to get hurt."
"I did," he said quietly, eager to make her understand completely. "That's why I had to go alone."
"And that," Ashley informed him as she pressed a drenched cloth to his forehead, "is what makes it stupid."
"What?" He hissed in pain as the disinfectant in the cloth proved it was working, burning away half his skin in the process, it felt like.
"Did you ever stop to think of what would happen if you hadn't come back?" she continued, ignoring his obvious discomfort and holding the cloth to his skin for what felt like a very long time.
"Of course I did," he said indignantly. "But--"
"Then why did you do it?" she demanded, turning away from him rather quickly. "Why wouldn't you let us help you?"
"Because it would have been better if I hadn't come back than if--"
"So you're life is worth less than any of ours?"
"No." He blinked in confusion, and then sighed. That wasn't what he had meant her to think, but he didn't know how else to say it. "But it was my fight."
"Here," Ashley said sharply, shoving a bandage into his free hand. "Put this on."
Hurt by her tone, he stared at her uncertainly for a moment before he lowered the ice pack from his eye and tore open the bandage. Ashley took the ice pack and disposed of it while he applied the adhesive bandage to his forehead and tried to ignore how she was watching him.
"Why did you come after me, then?" he finally had to ask. "If you thought it was stupid of me to go off alone, why did you do the same?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "But don't try to tell me that was the same thing. Deca told you she couldn't control where you ended up, and you went anyway! I was worried about you."
"You were?" He tried not to smile, thinking that would set her off somehow.
"Yeah." Ashley paused. "Where did you land, by the way?"
He sighed. "Control room."
"I told you I had no control over your teleportation," Deca broke in. "Yet you felt it was a risk worth taking."
Andros rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry, Deca," he said with a sigh. "You were right."
"Well, at least you're listening to someone," Ashley muttered, and he looked to her with a guilty sigh.
"I'm sorry," he said again, this time apologizing to her. "The last thing I wanted was to put you in danger."
"This isn't about that," Ashley exclaimed, sounding as frustrated as he had felt a moment ago. "You don't get it, do you? You don't know what would have happened to Karone and Zhane if you hadn't come back, or to the rest of us. You mean something to us, Andros, even if you don't want to, and if you hadn't come back..."
"It would have bothered you that much?" he asked before he thought better of it. It hadn't occured to him to wonder how she would have taken the news of his death. He had just assumed...
"Of course it would have," Ashley exploded. "I don't even know why, but it would have!"
"All I know," Ashley said, her voice calmer now, "is that an hour ago, I thought I was never going to see you again. And that was the worst I can ever remember feeling."
Andros caught his breath at her words, staring at her in amazement. He hadn't dared to think that she thought of him as anything more than a friend, and a slightly distant one at that, but if losing him was really the worst that she could ever remember feeling... Suddenly, he had to know.
"Ashley," he said quietly, catching her attention as he slid off of the bed. "Look at me."
She did, her eyes widening as he stepped closer. Andros laid one hand along her face, stroking her cheek gently and smiling when he saw her eyes close. She blinked them open a moment later, looking at him as uncertainly as he knew he had to be. He leaned down and kissed her then before he could lose his nerve, his mouth lingering against hers for as long as he thought she would let him.
"I, um..." Ashley blushed faintly and glanced away. "That was... wow."
Andros heard her take a deep breath and tried to calm the furious thudding of his heart. He'd never been good at reading people, and was starting to think that he'd just made a terrible mistake.
"Ash?" he ventured, biting down on his lip nervously. "Should I... not have done that?"
Ashley shook her head slowly, but didn't speak. Andros watched her anxiously, unable to tell whether she had meant no, he shouldn't have kissed her or no, he should have. She hesitated only a moment more, but it was enough to nearly drive him crazy.
Then Ashley stepped forward again and she was kissing him back. Far more certain of himself than he had been a minute before, Andros returned the kiss fervently, feeling Ashley's arms wrap themselves around his neck and hold him tight. He slipped his arms around her waist and pulled her close, finally feeling at peace for the first time in as long as he could remember.
Author's Note 2: Well, I think that was a productive use of the last... oh, six months or so. Part 2 will be up within a week or so. I know I still owe sequels to both "Love Isn't Always Enough" and "Saving Angel" but I think I'll be finishing this first, if only because I can't decide what I'm doing for one of those sequels, and I threw out the first seven chapters of the other. They will be written, I promise, but... not for awhile.
So what did you think? Praise is good, constructive criticism is even better, please just review!