Disclaimer: Not mine, not for profit, please don't sue me.
Ashley Hammond blinked. She was safe in bed, curled up against the man still sleeping beside her. Letting her eyes slip shut, she snuggled closer to his body, a faint smile forming on her lips. It filled her with warmth each time she laid her head against his chest and felt the steady beat of his heart.
She stretched with a sleepy sigh. Her back arched as her toes extended out towards the wall and her arms reached above her head, her fingertips just barely brushing against the wall. Her movement was enough to disturb Andros; he twitched, the fingers of his left hand tightening over hers.
"Morning, sleepy," she teased.
"You're calling me sleepy?" he returned, a slow smile spreading across his face as he studied her. "Did I fall asleep in your lap?"
"You didn't seem to mind at the time." She smiled innocently, and then tilted her face up towards his to touch her lips to his. "I had a dream about you..."
"Couldn't have been bad, then," he teased. A small smirk flashed across his face when she smiled and kissed him again.
"No," she murmured softly. "It wasn't. You..." She realized too late she shouldn't tell him that as the dream came crashing back. "It was nothing, really," she said finally, nuzzling her face into his chest.
He wasn't fooled. "I what?"
"You asked me to marry you," she admitted sheepishly. Ashley looked away then, not knowing how to tell him the rest without making him feel that she was pressuring him to propose to her in real life. "And I said yes..."
Andros's hazel eyes cleared of sleep quickly. He laughed quietly and sat up, a sly grin appearing on his face. Ashley blushed and turned her face into her pillow. Her stomach coiled anxiously--it was only a dream, after all, but if Andros found even the idea of marrying her funny...
"Ashley..." Andros's voice was tinged with chagrin now. "Ash, I'm not laughing at you."
"Sounds like it," Ashley grumbled. She did pull her face away from the pillow, though, just in case he said anymore. "I don't see what's so funny."
"Ashley..." Andros studied her for a moment, frowning. "You do remember last night?"
Ashley looked at him strangely. "We were watching the stars..."
He averted his gaze quickly, but Ashley glimpsed his expression and sighed. That shouldn't have brought a grimace to his face.
"I..." He cleared his throat awkwardly, not looking at her. "I, um..."
"Out with it," Ashley ordered. She rolled her eyes and propped herself up on one elbow. "What did you do?"
Their left hands were clasped together, their fingers entwined. Very carefully, Andros shifted back to face her. He pulled his fingers from hers and held her hand up for her to see. He winced when her eyes widened.
"I did ask you to marry me," Andros explained quietly. His voice grew softer as he added unnecessarily, "And you did say yes."
Unhearing, unblinking and mouth slightly agape, Ashley could only stare at her hand. The ring was real; she could feel the weight against her finger. A simple silver band twisted into a loop, set with a tiny heart-shaped diamond on either side of a larger golden gem. The ring was beautiful, elegant--perfect. And very familiar...
"Are you all right?" a voice inquired the moment she closed the bedroom door behind her. "You're an hour later than normal."
"I'm fine," she assured her boyfriend wearily. "Or I will be as soon as I take a shower," she added with a rueful glance down at herself. Another day rebuilding KO-35 had left her dirty, grimy, and completely disheveled. Her sweat-dampened clothes stuck to her like a second skin, only adding to her discomfort.
"Hard day?" Andros shot her a commiserating glance.
She shoved her hair back from her face and nodded. "Tell you later... if I feel like it," she added as an afterthought.
Andros laughed. He was sprawled out across their bed on his back, hands clasped behind his head. His clothes were clean, though Ashley was willing to bet that he had been just as filthy as she an hour ago.
"That bad?" he said dryly. He pushed himself up with a groan, swinging his legs down to the floor. "Just go get cleaned up, Ash."
"Love you," she called over her shoulder, stepping into the bathroom and closing the door firmly behind her.
"Love you too," Andros shouted back. He waited a long moment, his eyes fixed on the bathroom door before he stood and crossed the room. With one final glace in the direction of the bathroom, he let out an anxious breath and pulled the door closed silently behind him.
Andros jumped a foot in the air as a voice sounded in his ear without warning. "How'd you get in here?"
"It's nice to see you, too," Zhane said cheerily. While Andros glared, he leaned back against the wall, shifting his weight around until he was as comfortable as possible. "So... you really going through with this?"
Andros nodded, his throat very dry. "Yes."
"Don't look so nervous," his friend advised him. "It's not like she's going to say no!"
"You think so?" Andros kept his tone dry, even idle, but his eyes reflected an inner turmoil that went deep into his core.
"You're serious," Zhane realized with a silent groan. "You really think she's going to say no."
"No," he muttered. His shoulders hunched defensively as he turned his gaze to the side. "Just that she might."
"Why are you asking her, then?" Zhane demanded, half in exasperation, half in genuine curiosity. "If you really think she might say no?"
"Because," Andros said simply, "she might say yes."
"She's rubbing off on you," Zhane complained, "if you're thinking like that now."
A faint smile formed on Andros's lips. "It's not a bad thing."
"For you, maybe," Zhane grumbled.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded, his indignation half-hearted at best.
Zhane cast about for a safe response, but in the end was spared from answering: Andros's attention was diverted by the slender, lavender-clad blonde who appeared at the head of the stairs.
"Hey," Karone greeted them both. "You ready?"
"Yeah," Andros said, his voice rather strained. "Sure."
Karone rolled her eyes. "Like Ash is going to say no."
"Told you so." Zhane smirked. "Look, Andros, what's the big deal? All you have to do is say 'Ashley, will you marry me?' It's just five words. Four, if you don't bother with her name."
"What Zhane is trying to say," Karone broke in, catching sight of her brother's murderous scowl, "is that you have nothing to be nervous about. You and Ashley have been living together for months now. It hasn't always been perfect, but you love each other, and you have no idea how happy you make her. So there's nothing to be worried about--Ashley loves you, and she wants to spend the rest of her life with you."
Andros managed a shaky smile. "Thanks."
"Anytime." Karone smiled and then cocked her head to one side. Andros frowned and listened for a moment, hearing what Karone must have--silence. The sound of the shower had stopped; Ashley would be dressed and out of the room in minutes. "We should go... Good luck."
"But you won't need it," Zhane insisted as Karone tugged him down the stairs. "It's not like she's going to say no."
"Nothing to be nervous about," he muttered under his breath. "Right."
It's not that easy, Zhane. Andros sighed painfully, momentarily overcome by a small fit of jealousy. He knew only too well that for his friend, smooth words and grand romantic gestures were as natural as breathing. He had never been that way--he had counted himself lucky if he could go a sentence without stuttering. Ashley had once mentioned that his shyness had drawn her to him, much the way her ebullience had attracted him to her, but just this once, he wanted to tell her everything she was to him without blushing and stumbling over his words.
He slipped a hand into his pocket, carefully feeling cold, smooth metal warm at his touch. Almost since the day he had returned to KO-35 with Ashley at his side had he carried that ring. He'd meant to propose to her on her birthday, but his nerve had failed him at the last minute. Weeks later, he still had yet to ask Ashley to be his wife. No more, he had decided firmly. Before he went to bed this night, he was going to get the words out one way or another.
Infused with determination, Andros turned purposefully back to his closed bedroom door. Ashley tugged a T-shirt over her head just as he re-entered their room, offering him a tired smile as he strode across the room to take her in his arms.
"Where'd you go?" she murmured.
"Oh, I was just, um..." Ashley felt his body tense against hers for several seconds. Then he drew away enough for her to glimpse his expression and she melted to find the sweetest, shyest smile she had ever seen on his face. "I have a surprise for you."
Too lost in his eyes to do anything else, Ashley merely nodded. Andros dropped on arm back down to his side, but kept the other wrapped snugly around her slender waist.
"Come on," he said, giving her a tug towards the door. "This way."
That too-sweet smile still playing on his lips, he led her first out of their room, and then down the stairs to the front door. She protested half-heartedly when they stepped out onto the front porch, gesturing down at her bare feet with a small frown.
"I don't have any shoes on," she said, backing up a little. "I'll be back in a minute."
"You don't need any," Andros said, startling her.
Without another word, he swept her up into his arms and cradled her body against his chest. Ashley giggled and swung her bare legs idly through the air.
"I don't need any," she agreed and felt him stiffen a laugh. Relaxing, Ashley nuzzled close and draped her arms loosely around his neck. "Now, what's this surprise you have for me?"
"It's not really anything," he told her apologetically. His voice was uncertain now, though his grip on her was every bit as sure as it had always been. "I just thought... it'd be nice..."
He was carrying her around to the back of their house, she realized. A small grin formed on her face--she knew where he was taking her. Their house, as well as Karone and Zhane's, was set away from the city district, nestled into the hills that separated the city of Kanith from a freshwater source too large to be a lake and too small to be a sea. A small ridge just behind their home overlooked the uncolonized portion of the valley, with the water just visible in the distance. The untouched slopes below and the wide open sky above supplied the illusion of complete and total seclusion.
Ashley had fallen in love with the view the day she had arrived on KO-35, and knowing that Andros remembered that set a warm, lazy happiness welling up within her. After the brief tour he had given her to familiarize her with the nearby landscape, Andros hadn't spent much time with her outdoors. She didn't blame him for that--she was just as exhausted as he was most days--but as much as she enjoyed the quite peace and solitude, the view always seemed so much more spectacular when he was at her side.
"It really isn't anything," Andros repeated anxiously as the ridge came into sight. "I just wanted to--"
"Shh," she interrupted. "Stop apologizing."
He fell silent then, and Ashley sighed. Rearranging herself in his arms, she shifted to place a kiss in the crook of his neck. The times when he doubted himself were now few and far between, but it broke her heart every time she knew Andros felt that he was disappointing her somehow.
Her eyes lit up in delighted amusement when she saw what Andros had planned for them. "A picnic?"
"I know you like it out here," he explained quietly, seeing her expression. "We've both been... busy lately, and I..." He shrugged sheepishly, offering her a small smile. "You hungry?"
"Starved," Ashley said brightly. Famished was a much better word, actually. She wasn't entirely sure that she had eaten lunch, and her stomach growled in anticipation at the thought of food.
Andros laughed and knelt down on the sleeping bag he had spread out across the grass with her still in his arms. She giggled when he settled her carefully on the ground, watching gleefully as he blushed.
"Thank you, Andros," she said quietly. His blush faded at her words, a small but unmistakably smug smile replacing it.
"You're welcome?" he said hesitantly. The words were more a question than anything else, and Ashley nearly burst out giggling again.
"Let me help you," she insisted. Andros had pried open the container he had stored their dinner in, and she reached past him to unpack the food. To her surprise, their meal wasn't Karovan, as she had expected it to be. Instead, Andros was passing her food that was distinctly Terran. That looked like chicken he was setting on the blanket, and that was definitely a salad...
"I updated the Synthetron," he said, clearly pleased with himself and trying to hide it. "You won't have to eat that tasteless goo anymore."
"I never said it was tasteless goo," she said indignantly. In the privacy of her own mind, however, or at least the part of her mind that Andros couldn't read, she agreed with the name wholeheartedly.
"No," Andros agreed. His hazel eyes sparkled at her in the evening twilight as he handed her a fork. "But it is."
Ashley looked up in surprise. "You hate it too?"
She hid a smile when Andros did his absolute best to look offended and failed miserably. "You didn't think we actually ate that stuff by choice?"
She squirmed under his amused gaze. "Well..."
Andros laughed. "Other things were more important, that's all," he said, sounding a bit subdued. "But now... we've done so much here that there's time for little things like good food and new clothes."
His voice was hopeful now as he watched her. Ashley smiled and set her plate aside to clasp his hand. "You can see a future here, can't you?"
"I always could see one," he said quietly and gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. "I just... couldn't believe in it."
"And now?" she prodded.
Andros toyed with his fork for several moments before he answered. "Now... I believe in you," he told her finally, an unbelievably shy smile lighting his face. "You make anything possible."
If she wouldn't have disrupted their dinners by doing so, Ashley would have flung her arms around his neck and strangled the very life out of him. Instead, she settled for tightening her fingers around his and beaming. Andros laughed before he dropped her hand, his expression vaguely flustered.
"I should have brought a table out here," he said abruptly as he glanced down at the plate balanced on his knees. "It would have been easier."
"Maybe," Ashley agreed, wondering at the sudden change of topic. She stared out across the ridge and smiled into the rapidly fading sunshine. "But then we couldn't lie here and look at the stars. Remember the Observatory?"
"Of course I do," he retorted. This time, he managed to force his expression into a wounded pout. "That's where we first--first kissed."
Ashley giggled when Andros hastily edited his sentence. His cheeks flushed crimson, but his eyes were alight with a laughter that was still far too rare a sight.
"You're cute when you're blushing," she said with a fond smile. She didn't have to wait long for the effects of her words and simply smiled innocently when Andros blushed beet red.
"Eat your dinner," he said, pretending to ignore her. Ashley watched his gaze glide across the horizon before landing on her once again. He caught her eye and smiled, pointing up. "Look, stars."
Ashley glanced up, and sure enough, the sun had sunk below the horizon. The northeastern sky behind them was a deep blue that darkened to black as they ate in content silence.
The pleasant warmth that had lingered in the air was long gone by the time they finished eating. Ashley shivered and wrapped her arms around her legs, cold enough to wish that she hadn't worn shorts, but too lazy to do anything about it.
Then Andros tugged her into his lap, holding her between his legs with her back pressed against his chest. He wrapped his arms snugly around her as well, telekinetically flipping the edge of the sleeping bag over their legs.
"Warmer?" he murmured in her ear.
"Mmm..." Ashley couldn't seem to summon the energy for a more lengthy reply. There was no need to say anything at all, not when she was so safe and comfortable and warm... Drowsily, she snuggled back deep into his arms, the sparkling stars blurring together as she yawned sleepily.
"I love you, Ash," he said softly.
She should answer that. "Love you too," she murmured. "Lots."
Ashley heard him chuckle at that, and the corners of her lips turned up in a smile. Andros still didn't laugh enough. His fingers tugged her hair away from her neck a moment before she felt his lips warm on her skin. Making a small noise of content deep in her throat, she nuzzled closer, letting her eyes slip shut.
"I love you," he repeated, hugging her close. "And I--I'm glad you're here, Ash."
"Me too," she murmured with a smile. She twisted around in his lap, slipping her arms around his waist and resting her knees on his thigh. Her face disappeared into his chest as he rearranged his arms around her.
"Ashley," Andros whispered in her ear, his breath warm and tickling her skin. "Will you marry me?"
Oh. This dream again.
Ashley smiled sleepily. It really was the best dream... at least until the part where she woke up and realized that was all it had been. A dream.
Just another dream...
But just because she was dreaming didn't mean that she was about to say no.
"Of course I will, silly," she whispered into the air. "Thought you were never going to ask..."
A ring. He always had a ring, whether he was down on one knee before her, walking into a room and blurting out the question, rolling over in bed in the middle of the night and whispering in her ear... There was always a ring. The same ring, too, one with a sparkling gold band and a princess-cut diamond. This time it was different: a slender silver band, two tiny heart-shaped diamonds, a square-cut gold gem. This one was better, she decided, feeling cool metal slip over her finger. Much better.
Andros would use this ring... if he ever asks you.
"It wasn't another dream?" Ashley stared at Andros with wide eyes, a jubilant smile upon her face. "It was real? You asked me to marry you? We're getting married?"
Relief flooded Andros's expression and he laughed aloud, gathering her up in his arms and holding her tight. "If you still want to," he whispered.
"I still want to," she answered immediately. "I've wanted to for a long time."
"You have?" Andros breathed, a smile to match hers creeping across his face. "Really?"
Ashley giggled in sheer delight and nodded. "Ever since you almost let us leave without you."
"That's when I knew, too." Andros tightened his arms around her. The moment Ashley had closed the space hatch with him still on the outside he had known that he could never be whole without her, known that everything he had fought for meant nothing if she wasn't there at his side.
"We must be meant for each other, then," Ashley mused, eyes straying down to the ring she now wore. "I love you."
"Love you too," he whispered, burying his face in her neck. "Always."
"Always," she agreed.
"And Ash?" The teasing tone of Andros's voice matched his grin. "Don't sleep through our wedding, okay?" He feigned injury when Ashley swatted his arm playfully, then laughed and hugged her hard. "Just kidding."
"You're going to tell everyone, aren't you?" she groaned, hiding her face against his chest.
"No." Andros sounded distinctly amused as he added, "Except for our kids... and our grandkids... and maybe their kids..."
Ashley's head was suddenly filled with visions of tiny babies, all with Andros's hair and eyes and her features. She pictured herself pregnant, a part of Andros growing within her. She saw Andros proudly holding their daughter, the living proof of their love. Ashley could almost feel the little girl cradled in her arms, warm weight against her chest.
Ashley snuggled closer to Andros, tucking her head under his shoulder as they both savored this brief moment of peace before their day began.
She had something new to dream about now.
Author's Note: This one is a (belated) birthday present for Jenny. :P :shrugs guiltily: Happy birthday anyway.