Disclaimer: I own the kids. Nothing else.
Author's Note: This is the sequel to "Three Little Words." I'd recommend reading that first, but it's not entirely necessary. "More than Anything" takes place about fourteen years later.
More Than Anything
Andros smiled gently as he watched his daughter twirl around, the soft white fabric of her wedding dress still floating about in the air for an instant after she'd stopped.
"You look beautiful," he said softly, ignoring the sudden lump in his throat. "As beautiful as your mother did."
"Did?" Ashley repeated indignantly, raising her head up off of his shoulder to glare at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Andros made a face at her and she laughed, relaxing against him once again. "As beautiful as your mother does," Andros corrected himself, feeling Ashley's body quiver as she swallowed down another round of laughter.
"You look gorgeous, Cara," Ashley added.
"I should." Cara laughed. "It's your dress."
"What's who's dress?" Cody poked his head into the room.
"The one I'm wearing." Cara made a face at her brother. "It was Mom's wedding dress."
"Oh." Cody paused. "It's a pretty dress, Cara, but are you sure you're allowed to wear white after you're pregnant?"
"She can wear whatever color she wants to," Ashley told him, a little more sternly than she'd meant to. Cara laughed quietly as Cody thought for a moment, doing some quick math in his head.
"Oops." He grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Mom."
"That's not what I meant!" Ashley groaned, shifting to burrow her face into Andros's shoulder in an effort to hide the fact that she was blushing furiously. He laughed softly, hugging her closer to place a kiss on the top of her head.
"You look beautiful, Cara," he repeated, steering the conversation back into safer territory. "I know Jake will think so too."
"Thanks, Dad," she said softly, her bright eyes growing misty. "I'm going to change out of this... I'll be right back."
"She did look pretty," Cody admitted reluctantly once Cara was safely out of earshot. "Really... happy."
Ashley turned her face out of Andros's shoulder to smile at her son. "That's because she is happy," she said softly. "She and Jake are perfect for each other."
"Maybe," Cody said with a grin. "But I wanna see Jake changing some stinky kid's diaper."
"Hey, you were a stinky kid once yourself," Ashley reminded him. "A very stinky kid."
"Thanks very much, Mom, for deciding I needed to know that."
Ashley smiled innocently at her son. "You're welcome."
Andros laughed softly as he eyed his son. "If you give her the chance, Cody, she'll decide there's a lot more you need to know."
"Is there anything I'd possibly want to know?"
"Probably not," Andros said wryly, running his fingers through Ashley's silky hair.
"So I think I'm hungry now," Cody announced, darting out of the room. Ashley shifted, hiding her face against Andros to muffle her laughter. He laughed as well, inhaling the sweet scent of her shampoo as he buried his face in her hair.
When he raised his head up again, Cara had reappeared, the wedding dress traded in for a pair of faded jeans and a yellow sweater. In her arms, she carried a squrming, fussing little girl with bright brown eyes and blonde-streaked dark hair.
"She woke up," she announced unnecessarily, carefully handing the baby over to Ashley. "I checked her diaper and she's not hungry... which can only mean she wants her mommy."
"Thanks," Ashley murmured gratefully, rocking her daughter for a few moments. "What's wrong, Melissa?"
Melissa calmed the moment her mother's soothing voice reached her ears and gurgled happily, her chubby hands flailing in the air as she strained to reach up. Ashley laughed and sat her on her lap, stroking her soft, short hair absentmindedly as she glanced over at her eldest daughter, now settled cross-legged on the floor in front of her.
"What it like?" Cara asked suddenly.
"What's what like?"
Cara shrugged. "This," she said, gesturing around their living room. "Being married. Having kids."
"It's not going to be the same for you as it was for us," Ashley said finally. She shared a glance with Andros and smiled at him, a gentle, secret smile. He smiled back and pressed his lips to her temple, his arms tightening around her waist more instinctively than anything else.
"Well... then what was it like for you guys?"
Ashley shifted, burrowing herself comfortably into Andros's embrace, keeping one arm around Melissa, who was babbling contentedly to herself. With a grin, she glanced up at her husband. "Do you want to start?"
He shook his head. "You can."
"All right." Ashley shrugged and glanced down at Cara, smiling faintly. "If that baby is anything like you were, don't expect to sleep for the next two years or so."
"I was a good baby," Cara protested. "You always said so."
"You were a good baby," Ashley agreed. "Just always awake. And always hungry."
Cara made a face at her. "So that's all the advice you've got? Be prepared for a hungry baby that doesn't sleep?"
"I've got hours of advice," Ashley said, smiling wryly. "But unless you're in the mood to sit still until midnight--"
"We'll have that conversation another time, then," Cara broke in hastily. "How many hours of advice do you have for marriage?"
Ashley hesitated. "You and Jake aren't us, Cara. It won't be the same for you."
"I know," Cara assured her. "But what was it like for you? What was hard? What was it that kept you together?"
"Well..." Ashley glanced at Andros uncertainly. "That's a good question, actually."
He chuckled to himself, the fingers of his left hand dusting lightly across her face. "You're perfect," he said simply. "That makes everything easier."
"No, I'm not," she objected, smiling a bit sadly. "I'm not perfect, Andros."
"Then you're beautiful," he murmured, brushing his lips over her cheek. "And sweet... strong... smart... loving... beautiful..."
"You said that one already," she interrupted, grinning sheepishly as he made a face at her.
"I meant it both times," he retorted lightly, squeezing her hard. "You are perfect, Ash, and to me, you always will be."
"So are you," she said softly, her free hand catching ahold of his, lacing their fingers together.
"Aww, I was being serious, you guys," Cara complained, smiling up at her parents fondly. "I need some help here... and Melissa doesn't need to be a big sister."
At the mention of her name, Melissa looked round the room curiously, pouting at her sister. Ashley laughed quietly and bounced her up and down, kissing the top of her head.
"You know your name already," she marveled. "You're smart."
Andros laughed, lightly stroking his daughter's cheek. "Let's just hope she takes after you in all other ways," he said with a wry grin.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Ashley demanded.
"Mom, I think that was a compliment," Cara put in, laughing, from the floor.
"Oh." Ashley glanced at her husband, who stared back at her sweetly. "Oops. Sorry."
"You'd better be," he grumbled, smiling.
He kissed her cheek lightly before twisting around to kiss the top of Melissa's head. The little girl squirmed, her chubby little hands reaching up to grab at her father's hair. Ashley giggled at his expression, laughing harder as Melissa tugged hard. His hair fell in tangles across his face as he pulled back, causing both Ashley and Cara to burst out laughing as Melissa smiled up at him sweetly.
"Sorry," Ashley said again, reaching up to smooth his hair down. "You just looked so funny..."
"And that's supposed to make me feel better?"
"No," she said, still running her fingers through his hair. "But you did."
"You're welcome." She tugged gently on his hair before glancing back at Cara. "You're not done, are you?"
"Well..." Cara hesitated. "There's some stuff I've always wondered."
"Like what?" Andros asked warily, hearing something in daughter's voice that reminded him a great deal too much of her mother.
Cara stretched her legs out in front of her, settling back against the front of an armchair. "All right then," she said with a grin. "Mom, when did you know you wanted to marry Dad?"
Ashley blushed faintly, the smallest tinge of pink coloring her cheeks. "The first time he told me I was beautiful," she admitted finally. Her fingers curled around Andros's as her eyes flickered up to meet his. "Do you remember that?"
"Yeah," he said softly, almost saddened at the memory. "We were saying goodbye... and I... I was trying to tell you something else."
"I know." Ashley squeezed his fingers hard. She turned back to Cara with a small shrug. "It wasn't exactly the best timing. I mean, we were going to be on different planets and I had no idea how he felt about marriage... but I still knew, and it all turned out all right."
"Only all right?" Andros teased.
She smiled, eyeing the daughter in her lap and the one seated on the ground. "Perfect, then."
"So... it took Dad a whole year to tell you that he thought you were beautiful?" Cara asked increduously. "He says it about twenty times a day!"
"Twenty years later," Ashley said with a grin. Her smile softened as she glanced at Andros. "You were never good at hiding how you felt, you know."
"So you knew, then?" He truly wasn't surprised.
"Well... it was kind of obvious when you wouldn't stop staring at me." Ashley laughed, craning her head back to laugh at him. "And you were horrible at pretending you weren't... It was so cute!"
Cara laughed as Andros blushed. "Mom, you are evil."
"Oh, I know," Ashley assured her. She looked at Andros and added airily, "Sorry."
"You're not sorry at all," he protested. "You're enjoying yourself."
"Is it my fault you're so cute when you're embarrassed?"
Andros's blush deepened and he shifted, ducking his head against her hair. Ashley gave his fingers a quick squeeze, sensing that she was moving closer to making him truly uncomfortable. He squeezed back, silently telling her that it was all right. She smiled into his chest, still amazed at the ease with which they could read each other.
"Hey, I'm still here," Cara's voice reminded them. "You're supposed to be giving me advice on my future, remember?"
"Advice that at some point became interrogation," Andros said dryly.
Cara stuck her tongue out at him. Melissa shrieked with laughter and squirmed against Ashley's arms, silently demanding to be put down. She crawled across the floor into her sister's lap, mimicking the gesture. Ashley burst out laughing at the startled look on Andros's face.
"Be careful what you teach babies," she warned seriously. "You'll regret it later."
"I'll remember that," Cara assured her. Her gaze shifted to Andros and she grinned. "Dad, when did you know you wanted to marry Mom?"
Her father shrugged, gazing down at the top of her mother's head for a long moment. "There was never any one moment where I realized I wanted to marry her," he said finally. "But I think I knew it for a long time before I admitted it to myself."
"And when was that?" she prodded.
"We'd all gone to see a movie," he told her. Cara nodded, not needing to be told that 'we' was her parents old teammates. "And after, we were having Chinese for lunch..."
Ashley started to laugh quietly. "Are you serious?"
Andros shrugged sheepishly and nodded. "I know it's silly, but... I'd never realized how close you'd gotten until then, and it was then that I knew that I didn't want you farther away anymore."
"That's so sweet," Ashley whispered, studying his expression intently.
"It's true." Andros smiled and touched her cheek, stroking her skin absently.
Cara laughed. "Is that why we always got Chinese take-out instead of pizza?"
"We're getting pizza?"
"Boys." Cara made a face as her brother reappeared. "Do you think about anything besides food?"
"What's wrong with food?" Cody demanded. "Where's the pizza?"
"When have we ever gotten a pizza?" Cara asked him with a grin at her parents. "Mom and Dad like Chinese. 'Cause Dad figured out that he wanted to marry Mom while they were eating Chinese."
"Is that why we always have to watch Mom sit on his lap and feed him?"
"I don't sit on his lap," Ashley protested, flushing pink.
"Not when we're around, anyway," Cody muttered just loudly enough for Cara to hear.
"But you do feed him," Cara said, choking on the laughter brought on by her brother's comment.
"Just until he remembers how to use the chopsticks," Ashley replied defensively, though she was smiling to herself. Andros muttered something his children couldn't hear, causing Ashley's blush to deepen.
"Ick." Cody made a gagging face at his sister. "Dad, I'm right here! I didn't need to know that."
Andros studied his son for a moment, clearly amused. "I doubt you'd be doing that if you'd really heard what I said."
"Yeah, okay." Cody dropped down alongside his sister. "What are we talking about?"
"I'm not sure anymore," Cara admitted. "I think I'm just asking Mom and Dad a bunch of questions they get all embarrassed answering."
"Oh." Cody grinned. "Well, keep asking!"
"Andros, our children are evil," Ashley complained as Cara considered.
He laughed. "They take after you, then."
"Hey!" she protested, shoving him playfully.
"What?" He smiled at her innocently. "I didn't say it was a bad thing."
"It had better not be."
"Well, it's not."
Andros was having enough trouble keeping a straight face without the distraction of his children. Cody was making gagging faces at both of them and Cara was laughing hard enough to turn her face blue. He felt the corners of his lips twitching, and he struggled to keep his expression serious, at least until Ashley had broken down.
It didn't work. The moment she began giggling, he found it impossible to hold in his own laughter. Hugging her hard, he burst out laughing, the sound of her laughter warming him inside and out.
"Andros..." Ashley whispered his name and hugged him hard, her grip on his hand becoming vise-like. "I love you so much."
Cara stared down at the top of her sister's head as her father pulled her mother into a kiss. It was the only way he'd ever had of returning those three little words, and the least she could do was give them a moment of privacy.
It was a now-familiar kiss, and came as natural as breathing, yet for Ashley, it was no less special than anything that had come before it. There was so much tenderness between them, so much gentleness, so much passion that she could let his love for her go unspoken and not care in the least.
She sighed quietly when Andros's lips left hers and tucked her head beneath his chin, perfectly content in the warm safety of his arms. He hugged her close, breathing in deeply the scent of her hair every now and then as a warm, comfortable silence spread throughout the room.
"Psst, Cara," Cody hissed. "Can we look yet?"
Cara couldn't help her giggles. "Cody, you are going to pay for that somehow."
Ashley grinned evilly. "Oh, he knows it."
"I'm leaving now," Cody announced hastily, making for the door. "I have... uh, homework."
"So that's how you get rid of him," Cara exclaimed. "I'll have to remember that."
Ashley just grinned and kissed Andros's cheek. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Cara laughed, carefully working her way to her feet without dropping her sister. "Actually, I have to go now. I'm supposed to meet Jake in half an hour... I'll see you tomorrow."
"Bye, then," Ashley said, standing to wrap her daughter in a hug.
"Bye, Mom," Cara whispered. "I love you."
"Love you too," Ashley murmued. "Have fun."
"I'll see you later, angel," Andros said, hugging her the moment Ashley released her.
Cara smiled. "I love you, Dad."
Andros held her closer for a moment, kissing her forehead lightly. Ashley smiled at the two of them, retreating to the couch with Melissa. The little girl squirmed down out of her mother's arms, crawling across the room to hide beneath the window curtains. Ashley laughed and shrugged, keeping one eye on her youngest and one eye on her eldest as she settled back into the couch.
Cara waved and vanished from the room, leaving Andros free to rejoin her on the couch.
"That was sufficiently awkward, don't you think?" he said dryly as Cara slammed the door behind her.
Ashley giggled and relaxed completely against him, sinking down as far into his arms as she could go. "It wasn't that bad," she murmured, nuzzling him with her cheek.
"No," he admitted, toying with her hair for a few moments. "But we don't have to do this with Cody and Melissa, do we?"
"We'll see." Ashley laughed and glanced over at the window curtains with a shake of her head. "Andros, did you really decide you were going to marry me while we were eating Chinese?"
He shook his head slowly, smiling at her gently. "It wasn't until then that I admitted to myself how much you meant to me, but I think I'd already decided by then without knowing it."
Ashley looked at him suspiciously. "You don't know when?"
He hesitated. "I..."
"Aww, come on," she pleaded. "Please?"
"Your seventeenth birthday," he admitted softly. "You were just so... happy, and then when I gave you your present it made you even happier. I just realized... that seeing you so happy made me feel like everything was going to be all right."
"I know it's dumb," he said, turning away from that gentle, caring look in her warm eyes. "But that's when I knew."
"Andros, that's not dumb at all," she murmured, curling up against him. "It's so sweet."
She nodded, laughing suddenly. "And kind of funny, if you think about it."
He pulled back just enough to shoot her a suspicious look. "Ash?"
"It is," she insisted. "You wanted to marry me before I even knew how much I liked you, and you still waited almost two months before you even asked me out!"
"And you think that's funny?"
"Well, no..." Ashley squirmed at Andros's wounded look. "But I meant... Hey!" she exclaimed, watching his lips quirk into a smile. "That's not fair!"
"Not fair?" he repeated indignantly. "You've been doing that to me for twenty years!"
"Is it my fault you always fall for it?" Ashley grinned up at him and nuzzled closer, her arms securely around him. "I love you."
His kiss was nothing less than expected, but rather than pulling back, he let his forehead rest against hers as his hands moved up to cup her face. "Ash," he muttered. "You know..."
Andros swallowed visibly, but his intense hazel eyes never left hers. "You know I love you," he whispered unsteadily. "More than anything."
Ashley's only reaction to the words she had waited over twenty years to hear was the smile that threatened to split her face and the tightening of her arms around his waist.
"Yeah," she whispered, nuzzling her face into his chest. "I know."
Author's Note 2: I hope you liked it. This one is dedicated to Melissa--it's her birthday today. :cough:Say happy birthday:cough: Mel, have a happy sweet sixteen! You deserve it. :P Please review.