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Milkshakes and Grilled Cheese

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The AstroMegaship was almost eerily quiet, after weeks of it being far too loud. Andros wandered the halls, checking on systems, planning repairs, taking inventory of supplies. In three hours, he’d accomplished more in terms of general upkeep than he and his team had managed together in almost three weeks. Still, in spite of that accomplishment, he was unable to shake the feeling that the ship was simply… too quiet.

After two years of running the ship entirely on his own, after two years of fighting the forces of Darkness with no team at his side, after two years of hearing no voice break the silence but his own and DECA’s, Andros had long grown used to the quiet. Before the Turbo Rangers had come into his life, at least, that had been very nearly true. But now… the Turbo Rangers were loud. They were loud and gregarious and completely unashamed in their exuberance and enthusiasm. They said everything that was on their minds, and expected Andros to do the same, whether he was interested in speaking or not. In the beginning, that had grated against nerves already working overtime to process all these new interactions. But, over time… over time, Andros had not only grown used to the constant chatter, but he’d come to rely on it. Because in those quiet hours between 8 AM and 3 PM, when his teammates were in school, suddenly all Andros could hear was the one voice that was missing.

Zhane would have loved the new Rangers: TJ’s passion, Ashley’s spirit, Cassie’s sense of adventure, Carlos’ kindness. He’d have fit right in, and he’d have loved every pushy minute of learning to interact the way they did. He’d have loved every facet of Earth, the way it was untouched by a galactic war that had raged for centuries. He’d have love Adele’s Surf Spot, her special smoothies, video games, even the mall. He’d have loved it all. It was the least Andros could do to attempt to enjoy them in his place.

Chocolate milkshakes. One more thing to check off on this list of “things Zhane would love.” Andros took another sip, his eyes closing involuntarily as the sweetness hit his tongue. Apparently it was also something to check off on his own list. Turning to Adele, he offered her a small smile. She offered him a beaming one in return. Unlike those he’d met on his first solo adventures on Earth, Adele didn’t have a cruel bone in her body. Adele was another item on the list of "things Zhane would love." She was right up at the top, near Ashley, TJ, Cassie, and Carlos. Adele had taken Andros under her wing from the first day she’d met him and had been looking after him ever since. The part of Andros that was a battle-hardened soldier was endlessly bemused by this. The part of him that had lived far too many years of his life without his loved ones? That part of him was just flat out grateful.

When Adele finished serving the last of the people at the bar, she threw her towel over her shoulder and came over to join Andros at his table. “So, this one was a success, then?”

“Very much so, Adele. Thank you.” Andros drank the last of the milkshake out of the bottom of the glass and pushed it aside. “You haven’t steered me wrong yet, and I didn’t expect any differently today. So far, that faith has been more than justified.”

Adele smacked Andros lightly on the shoulder with her towel. “Oh, stop. Really. I’m glad you like the milkshake, sugar, but what exactly do you think you’re buttering me up for, anyway?”

“Buttering you…?” Andros frowned. There were some things that the universal translators just didn’t process. Day-to-day language, it handled well enough. It was idiom, slang, words with double meanings, that it never quite seemed to get right. The words came through clear enough. It was their meaning when combined in such a way that defied translation. The other Rangers had found it hilarious at first when Andros would mangle the meaning of some Earth turn of phrase, but when they’d seen how hard he was trying to understand and how very much it frustrated him that he didn’t, they’d quickly ceased to see the humor in it. They went out of their way now to find common language when they spoke to him—phrases that meant the same thing on both worlds. It was harder than it looked, but they tried. And so did Andros. It was one of many reasons why he spent at least one or two of the hours the Rangers were in school each day with Adele. She never laughed when he didn’t understand. She never teased. She would just smile and explain.

“Buttering me up… hmm… let’s see, now… ah!” Adele snapped her fingers. “Buttering someone up, is like paying them excessive compliments to try to get them to do something for you that they might not want to do otherwise.”

“So, the excessive compliments would be the butter?” When Adele nodded, Andros’ eyes widened. “I see! When someone talks about ‘laying it on thick’ is that the same usage?”

Adele beamed Andros a wide smile. “Now you’ve got it—good for you, Andros! And I think that bit of deductive reasoning deserves a reward. What’ll it be? Another milkshake or something else?”

Andros shook his head. “I can pay you, Adele. I may have difficulty with your colloquialisms and I may seem to be itinerant, but I do have money.”

Reaching out to pat Andros on the cheek, Adele’s smile softened. “I know that, honey. I do. But I do so enjoy spoiling you when I get the chance. Something tells me you haven’t had nearly enough of that in your life, and considering all you do for… your friends…” She patted him again. “Well. This is just my way of giving a little something back, all right?”

Andros met Adele’s gaze for a minute, perhaps two, surprised when she held his unwavering the entire time. It almost sounded as though… but no. She couldn’t know. There was no possible way. Adele finally broke their mutual stare by reaching out to pat Andros again. “I’ve known my fair share like you, Andros, make no mistake. My friend Ernie, too. You hang out in this business long enough, you learn to recognize the ones that deserve a little pampering for—let’s just say ‘services rendered,’ hm? So, I will feed you as many milkshakes as you want and gladly throw in as many extras as you let me get away with. OK?”

Andros turned away, then, deep in terrible thoughts. Time was, with what Adele had just revealed, he would have quietly taken her away and erased any memory she had of him, just on the off chance that someone could use that knowledge to his disadvantage. Time was… time was, he’d let his heart harden under the burden of living too long alone. But, now…?

“Ah! He is here!”

“See, guys? I told you he’s usually here around lunchtime!”

“Hey, Adele! How’s it hangin’?”

“Oooooo… is that a milkshake glass I spy? Further adventures in foodie-ing, Andros?”

Andros turned, a fond smile that he couldn’t quite hide chasing across his features as Carlos, Ashley, TJ, and Cassie all piled into the Surf Spot and draped themselves around himself and his table. Time was, he hadn’t had a team to look out for him, to keep him human. Turning back to Adele, he said, “If that offer still stands, I’ve been told that ‘grilled cheese’ is something that I simply must try.”

As the other Rangers took turns clapping him on the back and squeezing his shoulders, Adele laughed and said, “Grilled cheese and another milkshake, coming right up!” And as simply as that, Andros suddenly understood something that he hadn’t before. It wasn’t just about learning to communicate. It wasn’t just about understanding new customs or learning to navigate the mall without pulling a blaster on someone. It wasn’t even about trying all the things that Zhane might never get a chance to try. It was about finding his place; it was about building a life in a new home.

Looking around the table at those boisterous, laughing faces, even as they started lapsing into good-natured groans about their newest homework assignments, Andros couldn’t help but let that fond smile take full possession of his lips. He had a home… and a family. Things he had been lacking for far too long. Well, he had them now. And someday—hopefully soon—Zhane would be able to share in them, too.