Authors Notes: This is the second story in the 'Buried Secrets' series, and it is rated, PG-ish I think. Mary, again my dear you truly are the best. You've kept me on my toes with this adventure, and I thank you so much for that. Also, I want to thank all the nice people who have written to us, you are the ones we are doing this for. Thank you, and please enjoy the story.
Authors Notes 2: Dawn, you know I couldn't even have done this story without you. You put my erratic thoughts into such order; I can't say thank you enough! And yes, thank you to everyone who reads our story and especially to those of you who have been kind enough to send us your feedback. Also, we want to thank Jacqui for her wonderful proofreading.
In her mind there was nothing for her on earth. Her brother had died when they were young. She had no clue as to her father's whereabouts, or if he really cared about her anymore. Her mother's hatred for her was more than any child should have to bear. In the nightmares that never ceased for more than a few nights at a time, she relived her horrible childhood. Every endless minute of pain induced on her at such a young age.
The MegaShip had felt like a home to her over the past 2 years. A safe haven from her past, someplace where she could love and be loved in return. But with evil destroyed and the entire team staying on Earth, there was not a need to stay aboard. The thought of leaving one of the few safe places she had, scared her to no end. Ashley could not recall much about the first morning that she had woken up in Andros' room. All she could remember was a feeling of cold and emptiness. Something did break through her mental block though, two things actually. The first was the feeling of him in her mind. Like a lone spot of red amidst a huge black Canvas. Very slowly, the red dot got closer and closer until she was able to physically see him in her mind standing before her with only the metal bars between them... 'Ash, I want to help you, but I need to understand what's going on first. Please tell me what is wrong.' He pleaded softly to the yellow form huddled against the far side of the thick metal cage.
After a long moment, her whispered response came, 'I can't.'
'Why can't you? Is it that bad?' He asked, in hopes of something more. Sitting down a few feet in front of the bars, he stretched his legs out in front of him. 'You wouldn't understand.... You got her back' she said, her voice barely above a whisper, 'you were able to save her... I couldn't.'
'But Karone and Josh are two different situations. Karone was kidnapped; even though it seemed to fade a little, I could always feel her in my mind. That meant that there was a chance that she was alive. There was always hope, and that's what I went on for 13 years of searching. I promised my parents I'd never stop searching for her. Josh was at the wrong place at the wrong time, that's all. 'Andros tried to reassure her, but the words did not seem to make a dent. 'It's my fault he was out there. I broke her rules and he paid for it! I couldn't stop him from running into the street after the ball! I'm so selfish!' She cried, tears streaming down her face once again. 'Ashley, you are not selfish by far! You're the most giving person I have ever known. Your brother had just gotten over being sick and you wanted to make him feel a little better by playing. There was no harm in playing, even if you both were bending the rules by going outside for a few minutes. There's nothing that anyone could have done to change what happened.' Andros tried explaining. 'Don't you see, everything's my fault! I was bad! I was selfish and bad! I shouldn't have thrown the ball! I didn't love him enough to save him!' She tried to yell between sobs; the words becoming jumbled as they left her throat. Andros wanted so badly to pull her into his arms and hold her until she felt better, but with the dead bolt on the door all he could do was sit and wait out the storm.
Upon its end, she finally sat up against the wall of bars. 'Ash, will you please come out of there?'
'I can't' she replied softly. 'Why not? The dead bolt locks from inside.' He voiced, confusion tingeing his words. Tucking her legs up in front of her, as if wanting make herself smaller, she whispered. 'But it's always been on the outside, that's how she kept me in here all the time.' 'Who's She? Your mom?' Andros ventured hesitantly. Ashley nodded her head yes, refusing to lift her eyes from the floor. Ashley nodded her head yes, but would not look up from the floor.
'She's not here Ash; it's only you and me. Your mother has no power over you or this lock anymore, only you do,' insisted the red ranger.
'I don't understand...'
'You never forgave yourself for what happened, did you? For not being able to control the situation and save him?' Explained Andros. 'She won't let me forget it. All she ever does is remind me about how it was my fault. I'm the reason Josh died and I'm the reason our father left!' She sobbed quietly.
Now, as she kept remembering, she realized that the second thing breaking through her thoughts was that he had not left her. He had stayed outside her cage for as long as it took. Blinking back the tears, Ashley once again found herself not so alone since she had meet her newest family.
For the past few days, Andros had insisted upon her getting up with DECA's belated alarm, to shower, dress and have breakfast with him and the rest of the team in the dining area. All of her friends would greet her happily, hoping for some kind of response, but getting none as she walked directly to the synthetron and punched in a selection.
They all noticed that she never seemed to take more than a few small bites before pushing the food around on her plate. She would leave as quietly as she had entered. After that, Ashley was found in one place. The only place she had felt safe.
Although scattered nightmares still haunted her nights, they did not seem so bad now. Maybe it was because Andros was there to hold her and comfort her from the horrors of the, as Karone called them, 'night visions'. Ashley had refused the idea of trying to sleep in her quarters. Partially knowing that it would mean the images would come to her more frequently, but mainly she despised the thought of having to awake from her nightmares alone.
Being constantly blamed for her Brother's death locked in a room for days, weeks, and in a few cases, even months, like a criminal. Food was withheld as was any communication with the outside world, including a radio. The woman had slowly broken Ashley's will.
The following morning scared Andros more than he wanted to admit. Ashley had withdrawn completely into herself, acting as though she was catatonic. Not moving or speaking, she simply stared straight ahead. She still had her death grip around Andros and refused to let him go.
When neither of them had shown up for breakfast, Zhane had made it his priority to search for the pair. Andros could still recall the conversation the two of them had.
'Did Ashley have another nightmare?' Had been the blonde Kerovian's first response upon seeing the situation. 'Another one? What did she tell you the other night?' Andros demanded, even though he knew he should not be upset. 'Just that the nightmares come and go, but Ashley's been having them constantly for the past 2 weeks straight -- ever since they made the decision to return to Earth. She also told me about her brother and the accident that killed him." Glaring at his friend, Andros once again spoke without thinking 'and you didn't think that was important enough to tell me about? I'm her boyfriend!' He declared. 'Look, I promised Ashley. She's never told anyone what happened. Now that Karone has been found and is back with us - Ashley was afraid that you'd think differently of her if you found out about Josh. I got the feeling that there was more to the story, but she wouldn't tell me.' Zhane finished, as he continued to study Ashley's ghostly-white unchanging expression.
'I know' the two-tone hair colored boy responded, 'she told me she went to you the other night because she felt like you'd be the least judgmental of her.' Andros paused, his gaze shifting from the girl in his arms to his friend sitting across from them.
'Sorry for snapping at you - and thank you for being there for Ash.'
Zhane shook his head in quiet acceptance of the apology. 'How long has she been like this?' He questioned. 'Since she woke from the nightmare. I was able to get her to talk for a few minutes she began telling me about it, but then she just stopped. I'm not really sure what to do' admitted the once red ranger softly.
'Have you attempted telepathy with her?' Andros shook his head, 'I don't know if I should, she could feel that I'm invading her space and pull away even more.'
'But you're the one she trusts the most... If she didn't, I doubt she would have taken a chance and let you get so close.' Zhane coaxed.
'Actually she sounds a lot like someone else I know!' He grinned.
'They were pretty persistent about helping DECA and me' Andros recalled humorously. 'Is there anything I can do to help?' Offered his best friend. 'Actually, If she'll cooperate, could you take over here for a few minutes?' Andros asked, motioning for Zhane, to take a seat on the edge of the bunk. Hugging her a little tighter, Andros stroked her cheek gently with his finger.
'Ash... Ashley, Zhane's here, can you say 'hi'? Ashley, can you do me a favor? I need to get up for a few minutes and go to...'
Upon hearing the word 'go', Ashley clamped onto him tighter than ever.
'Ash, It's all right! I'm just going to go bathroom and then get us something to drink; I won't even be gone 5 minutes. Zhane will stay with you, OK?'
His warm chocolate eyes were suddenly met by her cool hazel ones; giving him a slight nod, she allowed herself to be pulled into a sitting position with him as she felt another warm arm wrap around her shoulders. Andros hated having to leave her side for even a moment, but it could not be helped. Upon his return, Andros barely had time to set the glass of juice on the floor next to the bunk before Ashley quickly lunged for him, seizing whatever part of him she could get first. Zhane sat back and watched the pair in silence. Ashley only relented her tight double-handed grasp on Andros' wrist once he had encircled her with his arms. His gently whispered promises not to leave again combined with the tight embrace of his arms around her seemed to calm the girl slightly. Once again lying down with her, Andros lovingly kissed her hair, as he wrapped one leg around hers as if to ensure her that she would not slip away from him. Returning to the chair, Zhane could easily see the red marks left in his friend's wrist by fingernails. Gosh that had to hurt, the silver-clad boy thought to himself, although Andros seemed not to notice. ~Who would have ever thought?~ Andros heard him his mind. As he looked up from the form in his arms, Andros caught the faint smile on his friend's face. ~What? ~ Was his reply through the bond. ~The way you've changed. I never thought I'd see the day that you fell in love.~ ~And then I almost gave her up... I don't even want to think her going through this and my not being here.~ finished Andros as DECA's small red light blinked on. 'Zhane, Karone is asking if you still want to join her on the simudeck' the computerized voice informed him. 'Uh, yeah. Let her know I'll meet her there in a few minutes' he said, as he slowly rose from his seat. 'I'll check on you guys later on, let me know if you need anything in the meantime.'
A few minutes after Zhane left to meet his sister, Andros decided to make his first attempt. Closing his eyes, the young man cleared his mind as he began slowly.
~Ashley.... Ashley... It's Andros. Where are you?~
To Andros' relief, Ashley had made her return to the real world in the wee hours of the following morning. Holding her close as she sobbed her heart out once more. Andros could feel his own heart breaking. How could someone inflict such emotional pain on another human being? Especially a defenseless child! He was thankful that the woman had not hurt her physically or had she? Andros could not help but wonder.
The sound of footsteps on the deck plates from behind, flung Andros back to the project spread out before him. Turning, he saw the yellow and red clad girl standing just behind him. Her eyes were still tired, but the hauntingly frightened look had faded slightly.
"Hey Ash, how are you feeling?" The young man smiled, turning on his stool in order to give her a hug. As she withdrew from his arms, Andros used his telekinesis to bring another seat over so Ashley could sit.
"Why are you still here? I figured you'd be down on earth with everyone else" she asked softly as her eyes scanned the colorful images of happiness.
"Zhane told me that you wanted to stay instead of going to the surface, so I thought I'd keep you company. Besides, I wanted to work on this without Karone around - it's a surprise "he added, motioning to the materials spread out before them.
Ashley's eyes stopped on a picture of two adults and a younger version of the man beside her.
"These are your parents?" She questioned softly, reaching out to touch the pictures.
"Yeah, that was about 5 years before the attack on KO-35. It's supposed to be what you call a scrapbook, Cassie thought of the idea." Andros replied, watching his girlfriend closely.
Picking up one of the pictures, Ashley studied it for a moment. "What were they like? Were they nice?"
"Very nice. Our father was a senator on the great council. Mom taught young children the basics of telekinesis. I remember she used to paint while father would play his - well, I guess you would call it a clarinet" he finished with a smile on his face.
Placing the picture back down, Ashley picked up a nearby pencil and started to doodle on a piece of scrap paper. "Our dad wasn't around a lot, he was always traveling with his job; when he was and Mom wasn't around, he used to read Winnie the Pooh to us... it was our favorite. Josh and I would always beg him to read more, even though we knew it was past bedtime." Ashley quietly recalled, just as her stomach let out a loud growl.
"I think we could both use some fresh air and something to eat... Will you come down to Earth with me?" Andros asked, his voice tinged with hope. He watched as a startled look crossed her face.
"I'm not sure I'm ready to face everybody yet. Especially Cassie - I was pretty rude to her earlier when she asked me to go with them" confessed Ashley, as she lowered her eyes from his.
"I'm sure it would mean a lot to her if we met up with them. You can't stay here for the rest of your life Ash. Let's just go down for a little while - it doesn't have to be the rest of the day" assured the boy in red.
He looked so hopeful, how could she not give in? "OK" she answered quietly, knowing that he had a good point.
"I guess I should go change then" she replied, as she rose from her seat, making her way towards the door. As she reached to doorway, Andros watched as she paused and turned back to face him. His heart began to pound thunderously as he listened to her speak the words he had longed to hear from her, before she disappeared through the door.
"Andros, I love you."
As she made her way away from the room, Andros' declaration in return faintly reached her ears, as a feeling of utter bliss and happiness cascaded over her. For the first time since her world had spiraled downward, she let a genuine smile spread across her face, as her pace picked up.
TJ and Zhane could not help but smile at each other, for they both of them knew what shop-aholics Cassie and Karone were. Both having had the unfortunate experience to be bag carriers for both of the girls on several occasions. After a second though, Zhane watched, as a tiny frown seemed to make its way across the blue ranger's face. Nudging him slightly, the silver ranger waited for his friend to comment.
"It's just, it's usually Ashley that goes crazy with the shopping" sighed TJ as he glanced away to look at the two happy girls.
Nodding slowly, Zhane could not help but silently agree. When he had first met the yellow ranger, they had all warned him not to go shopping with her. But he found her charming and could not understand why the others would not want to spend time with her. After his first Earth shopping trip, he found Ashley's favorite pass time.
He had spent hours following her around. The girl was the queen of shopping; no matter what store they were in. She had even bought all the rangers something, just because she though they would like it. It was only when Zhane was weighed down and unable to see where he was going, that Ashley had decided to take a break.
Shaking his head, Zhane chuckled to himself, as he remembered how the cheerful girl had convinced him into teleporting her bags back to the ship and then continue on.
"What?" Inquired TJ, as he took in Zhane's amused features.
"I was just remembering my first shopping trip" replied Zhane, as he watched TJ's face light up.
"Oh man, that was so funny" insisted the blue ranger.
"Every time Ash asked if someone wanted to go down to earth with her, you would go tearing out of the room" kidded TJ, stepping back as Zhane took a swipe at him.
"Well can you blame me?" Argued the teen happily. "She kept me down there for hours, with no end in sight."
Their laughter brought Carlos and the two girls over to them as they waited for their teammates to calm down.
"What are you two guy's laughing at?" Cassie asked anxiously.
"Nothing really" snickered TJ, trying to hold himself back from laughing again.
"Hey, you were not the one that had to listen to her go on, and on, and on about a certain red ranger" declared Zhane, as the other's tried to hold back their own laughter.
"Oh come on guy's, it's not that funny," insisted Zhane.
"Speak for yourself bag boy" came Karone's unexpected response, shocking the others for just a moment, until they joined in with her laughter.
Thoroughly embarrassed by now, Zhane turned away from the others hoping they would not catch the smile that was accompanying his slight shade of red. For weeks he had been teased unmercifully by everyone. They had nicknamed him bag boy, 'cuz when they did finally arrive back that day, he had been once again weighed down with bags.
"Do you think she will be OK?" Whispered Cassie, bringing everyone back to why they were on earth in the first place.
"I think she just needs some time to sort it all out" replied Karone softly, as she looked at each of them, then rested her eyes on the back of Zhane's head.
As if sensing that she was looking at him, the silver ranger turned to face them all again, reaching out to take the bags out of her hands. Karone smiled softly at him, knowing that they had shared a conversation almost exactly like this.
"Of course she will...she's got us" declared Zhane and TJ at the same time.
Grinning at each other again, the two boys' loaded themselves down with all the packages their friends had purchased. After discussing what to do next, the five teenagers decided to take a break and head over to the Surf Spot, for a bite to eat. It was not a very long walk, but it gave them all time to think about what Zhane and TJ had said.
The one and only time Ashley had really talked to them since her breakdown, had been a couple days after the park incident. She had asked them all to meet her in Andros' room, and tried to explain to them what had happened when she was a little girl. How she had lost her brother to an accident that was eerily similar to what had happened in the park.
Glancing about every once in awhile to make sure he wasn't about to walk off the sidewalk, Carlos could not help but think about what his teammates had said just a few moments ago. He had known Ashley the longest out of all of them, but never once had she mentioned to him that she had a brother. And why would she, stupid, that had to be a painful memory chastised the boy silently.
Still, Carlos could not help but wish she had confided in him; he had shared so much of his own troubled past with her. Shaking his head, the black ranger forced his own problems away; he did not matter at the moment, only one person did. The more he thought more about it, he knew they were correct. She had them, and they would stand by her no matter what.
Cassie had been so consumed with her own thoughts about her best friend that she almost completely passed the Surf Spot, before she realized what she was doing. Sheepishly she glanced back and noticed the others heading for one of the tables that where located outside. Quickly she made her way towards them hoping that they would not see her mistake. But a wink from the boy in silver, as she grabbed the chair next to him, told her that at least one person knew.
Smiling briefly in return, Cassie sat down as she accepted her bags from TJ. Once again she found herself drifting away from the conversation that had started up. It had upset her greatly that Ashley had not come with them, or even replied to her when she had sought out the girl earlier. Every since she had known the perky brunette, she had never seen her like this.
Ashley was the picture of happiness, or so it seemed. She was always there for the others, especially back in the beginning of their adventure. Always one to lend a hand and cheer someone up. Ashley had brought so much happiness into their lives by just being near them. Not once letting on what a tragic childhood she had lived.
"Is this seat taken?" An all too familiar voice asked, snapping Cassie back from her thoughts, as the girl in pink looked up into the face of her best friend. A huge smile began to make it way across Cassie's face as she watched the hesitation flow over Ashley's.
"Actually, it is" grinned the slim Asian girl "my best friend said she
may join us, and I was saving it for her" Cassie finished, as Ashley
smiled in return. There was so much acceptance in Cassie's eyes that
Ashley thought she might fall apart on her friend, but held back as
Andros pulled her seat out for her.
After seeing to Ashley, Andros grabbed a seat from a near by table and placed it in between his girlfriend and Carlos, as the black ranger nodded his head at the Kerovian. As he sat down, the conversation around them flared up again. Taking a quick glance at the girl beside him, Andros knew without a doubt that Ashley was on the road to recovery.
"You could've stayed with the others if you wanted to" she added, as the pair walked hand in hand towards the living quarters.
He felt bad for the girl in yellow. Does she really think there is anything that would make me want to leave her side? Andros wondered to himself.
"Lei, It's all right. You've had a long day and need to get some extra rest. I know you didn't sleep well last night either..." As they stopped in front of his quarters, Andros turned to face her "and I'm staying right here to watch over you" he insisted, pulling her into his arms once more. "Why don't you go take a long warm shower. I've still got to clean up the work area before Karone gets back" he mumbled softly into her hair.
Slowly drawing herself back a bit, she replied "OK, but don't be too long?" As the words formed she knew it sounded more like a plea than a question. Ashley hoped she did not sound too much like the typical female victim in a bad horror movie. Even though the depths of her eyes gave her away.
"I'll be done by the time you're drying your hair" he assured her.
After a quick kiss, Ashley entered his room, only turning back to smile at him just as the door slid shut. He could not help but feel bad for the slight fib, since he had already stowed the scrapbook in his locker while Ashley had gone to change her clothes earlier, but it could not be helped. Andros only had one thing in mind as he made his way quickly to the bridge. As the doors opened, he was immediately greeted by DECA's computerized voice.
"DECA, I need you to show me Ashley's house on earth" he commanded softly, not even taking a moment to sit down.
"Image on main viewer now" chimed her instant response.
"Can you detect any life forms inside?" He asked.
"Scan for life forms is negative."
"Can you pinpoint Ashley's room and teleport me there?" Andros requested, as he looked up at her camera.
"Then do it. I do not want Ashley to know where I've gone DECA" he declared.
Again, he was met with complete organization. Every book was alphabetized and sorted according to size on the five shelves, but now was not the time to think about it as he scanned each spine with determination. His heart sank slightly as he rose from examining the last shelf. Where else would it be? I have to find it! Andros vowed once again as he reached the door, turning the handle freely, however it would not budge. With a slight glance upward, the ex-red ranger realized what was stopping him in his tracks. She was not making it up. Recalling the 'prison cell', which Ashley had trapped herself in when he had gone on his mental search for her.
Clearing his mind, Andros sought out the dead bolt from the other side of the door as he mentally grabbed onto it. A moment later, there was a loud click, as the door swung open freely. Not wasting any time he quickly passed through it, as the talented young man made sure he re-locked it so not to raise anyone's suspicions.
Creeping slowly along, Andros made his way down the hallway, poking his head into each room as he went. After passing by what seemed to be her mother's room, a guest room, a sewing room of sorts, and a bathroom, Andros found himself face to face with another closed door, only this one had no lock. As he reached out to grasp the doorknob, something in his mind told him not to continue; as though he was about to enter sacred ground. This must have been Josh's room he theorized, as an uneasy feeling washed over him.
Taking a deep breath, Andros finally turned from the door to peer into the next room. Unlike most of the previous rooms, this one had dark carpeting with wood-paneled walls. A large window took up the far wall. Towards the middle of the room a masculine wooden desk and oversized chair rested, with two large built-in bookcases behind it. As he stepped through the entryway into the dusty air, Andros noticed the fine white film that covered most of the contents of the room. As he approached the tall bookcases, his eyes immediately began skimming their contents. Disheartened upon finding no sign of the children's book, Andros turned back towards the desk.
He knew he did not have much time left to search; Ashley never stayed in the shower long and time was running out. Subconsciously, his eyes began scanning the dusty wooden surface in front of him. He was not sure why, but the arrangement of the desk struck him as odd. The desk pad had been doodled on, while paperclips, a couple pens and a few other desk accessories were not as impeccably placed as the objects that had been in Ashley's room, or the other rooms for that matter.
Something tickled the back of his mind as though it were beckoning to him. The young man in red dropped his eyes down at whatever had grabbed hold of his attention. The second drawer on the far side of the desk was open just a fraction of an inch. Before he realized what he was doing, Andros had reached over and carefully slid it out. What lay on the top surprised and elated him at the same time. It was what he had come in search of.
"The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" he whispered softly, as he triumphantly picked up the old, slightly dust-covered book, his eyes instantly taking in something that stuck out from the center of the book. Turning to the page, Andros found a snapshot of a smiling man with two happy children.
A feeling of warmth began to wash over the young man in red as he took in the happy face of the little girl before him. So full of life was she, as Ashley sat upon her father's knee, while her brother partook of the other one. She was practically glowing as her cheeks dimpled in from her radiant smile. The sparkle in her eyes was magical to look at, almost casting a spell over anyone who dared to look at them. The three looked so joyous together, as if nothing could ever tear them apart.
Frowning slightly, Andros could not help but wish he almost had not found the picture. Seeing Ashley so happy made his heart burst with joy, but reality came crashing back like a rock through a window, as everything that was captured in the still frame picture shattered. No longer did the girl in the picture smile like that. No longer did her eyes shine with such love and happiness. Oh, he knew she loved him without a doubt, but it could never replace the love of a sibling or parent.
Pulling the picture away, so not to ruin it from the slight onslaught of tears that suddenly sprung from nowhere, Andros was instantly drawn into the colorful designs that sprang to life in front of him. Wiping his hand over his eyes, the young man began to read a passage from the book before him.
"There, that should do it," said Rabbit as he gathered up an armload of carrots from his garden. But then he heard a sound he knew all too well: BOING! BOING! BOING!
"Oh, no!" Cried Rabbit. "Stop!"
But Tigger didn't stop. He bounced Rabbit right off his feet, sending the carrots flying every which way.
"Hello, Rabbit! It's me, Tigger," said Tigger. "That's T-I-double Guh-Er..."
"Oh, please, please! Don't spell it," moaned Rabbit, sitting up and pushing Tigger away.
"Oh Tigger, won't you ever stop bouncing?"
"Why would I? Bouncing is what Tiggers do best. Hoo-hoo-hoo!" exclaimed Tigger. He started to sing:
"Oh, the wonderful thing about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things.
Their tops are made out of rubber, and their bottoms are made of springs. They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is that I'm the only one!"
As Tigger bounced away, Rabbit stomped angrily around his garden, gathering up his scattered carrots.
A loud slam of a door yanked Andros from his amusement, as his heart leapt to his throat. Shoving the photo back between the pages he flipped the book shut. The former leader of the power rangers stood frozen like a statue as more noises began to float towards him from downstairs, all the while they seemed to get closer. Clutching the book closely to him, Andros quickly hit the two buttons on his communicator that would take him home as he disappeared in a sparkling stream of crimson.