A/N: Okay, I found, Sword.

Pen: Peh, great.

Sword: *hides in a pillow fort* I'm not coming out until this is over!

Pen: Fine by me. Tails and all related characters belong to Sega. Sword, I, and the story belong to the author.

Please don't use without permission. Try not to scare her or anyone else too much, Pen.

Pen: No.

Chapter 6- Cosmo's Gift

Sonic cracked his neck and knuckles, then stretched his legs, leaning to the right and the left. Amy twirled her large hammer effortlessly. She smirked and set it down, crossing her arms on the point of the handle. Their green eyes glowed in the dark. Upon closer inspection, their fur was dirty and unkempt, sticking up at odd ends. It gave them a feral appearance, like a pair of blind, wild animals on a nightly prowl who had sniffed out and found their kill.

Cosmo held out her hands. "Please, Tails. Put down your weapon. There's no need for it."

He looked at Shadow, who stayed on his knees. "Don't," he said, sharply gasping with every breath. "Shoot her."

"Tails, would you really shoot me?" As she moved closer, he stuck out the flamethrower, threatening her with the end. "What have I ever done to you except love you?"

"Besides infect everyone?" he asked, sneering at her. The moonlight played tricks on his eyes, causing him to think Sonic and Amy were coming toward him as well. He jerked the flamethrower between the three, unsure who to focus on.

"They would have condemned me either way." She raised a hand, but recoiled when he squeezed the trigger. Only a puff of flame came out. It was enough to scare her back a few feet. She didn't seem to be aware of the flamethrower's damage.

"As well they should have," Shadow said, groaning and pressing his wound.

"Why? I've had a few upgrades from the soil, but I am still the same." She looked at Tails. "You know the truth, don't you?"

"You're not Cosmo. Not the real Cosmo," he said. His headache returned tenfold. Every blood cell felt like it sought to tear through his skull and explode forth.

"Tails, why do you continue to hurt me like this? Can you not see how much I love you? How much I truly love you?" She stepped closer to him, her sad eyes full of tears.

He closed one eye, aiming at her and wanting to shoot. Shadow whispered encouragements to him. "You got this. Take her out."

But he couldn't. Cosmo reached out one of her small hands, her lips trembling, like he was the real monster and she appealing to him. She made no sudden gestures and when they were right next to each other, his grip slackened on the flamethrower, lowering it. Her frown picked up slightly and she cupped his cheek. A small sense relief washed over him and the headache subsided momentarily. "I never wanted this for you. All I wanted was for us to love one another like we used to. It's not too late. We could still have that love and be happy."

His eyes fluttered close and his thoughts started to drift away. "No, you're not real."

"Tails, look at me." He did and she was right in his face. "Stop refusing to accept me. It is me. The seed was me. I left it behind so we could be reunited and now we are. Please." She rested her forehead on his. "We've both wanted this for so long. We deserve this, to have one another. I can't stand living without you for another day."

He dropped the flamethrower. Somewhere on the edge of hearing, there was a fierce protest, but his attention stayed solely on Cosmo. He ran his fingers through her hair. The gaze in her eyes was strange, yet familiar. Off-putting and comforting. The more he stared, the more he knew that it had to be Cosmo. This was no copy. She was in this form and he caught glimpses of her inside.

"Cosmo, I…you…" Words failed him. He fingers brushed her cheek and she nuzzled into his palm. Her cheeks were warm and wet as thin tears stained them.

"You finally realize it," she said, smiling. She held his hand in place. "I've missed you."

Tails found himself leaning in to her. His head was fuzzy, devoid of any pain. It seemed like he was in a tranquil dream, about to arrive at the best part before waking up. But that expectation was smothered as he inhaled her fresh, flower scent. This was real, like when she first budded from the flower. His lips touched hers, the small contact electrifying.

"Cosmo," he muttered, slurring her name.

"Tails," she replied, puckering for him.

"Tails, don't!" Shadow swept his foot into Cosmo's legs, tripping her. She fell and Sonic and Amy stepped up to take her place. The pod behind them opened and its vines extended to their full length.

"Take care of him," Cosmo said.

Amy hefted her hammer and wound up for a swing. Tails jumped to Shadow's defense and bashed her with the flamethrower. She slid back and came after him instead. He hopped out of the way of her hammer, each swing connecting with the earth. The ground rumbled fiercely, throwing him off balance.

Sonic leapt into the air, curled into a spinning ball, and homing attacked Shadow. The black hedgehog rolled aside, but Sonic followed him like a tracking missile. He gasped and grunted, holding his stomach with one hand and pumping his other. Sonic collided into him, knocking him onto his front. Shadow lay there, catching his breath.

"Don't fight it. A minute in there," Sonic said, thumbing the pod, "and all the pain will be gone. You won't even care anymore. No more paralysis, no more brooding, no more Maria."

Shadow's fist came shockingly fast. Sonic whipped around and held his cheek. As Shadow stood unsteadily, his fist refused to open. "Fine then. I tried to be nice," Sonic said.

Sonic dashed forward, arm outstretched for a punch. Shadow stepped to the right at the last minute. He chopped into the other's neck. Sonic hit the ground hard, eating a mouthful of dirt.

Tails couldn't stay ahead of Amy. After several attacks, she caught up to him. As the hammer came down, Tails leapt backwards, then flew overhead. The hammer drove into the earth. Before Amy lifted it, Tails punched her in the back. She stumbled and turned around. He jammed the flamethrower's end into her gut. The hammer slipped from her hand briefly.

Grabbing it's handle, he tried to wield the weapon. But the weight was like trying to pick up a small car. How does she hold this thing?! He gritted his teeth and yanked hard, dragging it through the dirt. He managed to whack her feet. She fell down with a yelp.

Sonic was back up on his feet and threw punches and kicks. Shadow couldn't deflect all of them. His limbs were stiffening by the second. Soon, most of Sonic's attacks were connecting. Shadow was pushed back to the pod, its vines waiting to wrap him up.

"Hey, Sonic!" Tails shouted. The two combatants stopped. Tails pointed the flamethrower directly at the pod. Shadow took advantage of the halt and headbutted Sonic. The blue hedgehog hissed before Shadow kneed his ribs. Sonic fell over while Shadow continued kicking him until he sprawled onto the ground.

"Tails, what are you doing?" Cosmo asked.

"Ending what I started," he said, slipping his finger on the trigger. Please work.

"You would kill me?" She walked toward him, but he shoved the flamethrower into the pod's side. "Please, Tails. I just want to be with you. That's all."

He grinded his teeth and looked between her and the pod. Tears were welling in her blue orbs as she begged, "Tails, please. I love you." Several stings pricked his eyes and the headache built, nearly bringing him down. He swallowed the lump in his throat as fresh drops dribbled down her cheeks. He shut his eyes tight, squeezing the water out of them.

"I'm sorry, Cosmo. I have to." But his finger only rattled the trigger, unwilling to pull.

A figure swooped down from the sky, knocking Tails over. Then, landing beside Shadow, Rouge folded her wings and winked, her minty eyes chilling. "That's no way to treat a lady, Tails."

Suddenly, one of the vines lifted him into the air. Tails shot the flamethrower at it, but only a little fire came out. "Having trouble with that?" Rouge asked. Sonic and Amy joined her, watching him struggle.

Shadow tried to climb the pod, but another vine smacked him down. Cosmo nodded to Sonic, who pinned the hedgehog down. "I'm sorry, Tails. You've forced me to make a difficult choice once again," she said. The pod dropped Tails and the flamethrower inside of it.

This pod was many times larger than the previous one he had been trapped in. Right away, it went to work, spraying the strands of sticky gunk onto him. Tails sprayed the flamethrower all around him, but only started little fires on the walls.

There had to be some way to destroy this from the inside. The pod shook as the fires seared away parts of it. It threw Tails and the flamethrower back and forth. When it stopped and pinched him in a hold between its burning walls, Tails dropped the flamethrower. Inside, the gas sloshed around.

That's it! Tails wiggled his feet, trying to reach the flamethrower's strap His toes caught it and lifted it up slowly. As if sensing what he was doing, the pod tossed about again and he lost the flamethrower. More strands covered his face and the headache was overwhelming, moving down and covering his entire body.

"It will be over soon," Cosmo said, her voice seeming to come from within and without. "But the more you fight, the harder it will be."

He elbowed the walls that held him and stretched his foot out. He pulled the strap once more onto his foot and up his leg. Then he drew his leg into his chest and flipped the flamethrower around, unscrewing the gas container.

"Tails, what are you doing?" Cosmo asked. He ignored her as the container loosened, spilling drops of gas into the fire. "Tails, stop it. Don't you realize what will happen?" He dropped the body of the flamethrower and held the container aloft over the flames. "You'll not only destroy the pod, but me as well. Is that what you want?"

He paused, the walls continuing to squeeze him firmly. His brow was mopped in sweat and his throat tightened. Outside, the vague shape of Cosmo touched the pod, reaching out to him. "Tails, please. Not again."

With a shaky breath, he dumped the gas onto the fire. The flame rushed up in a great inferno, filling the pod. Cosmo withdrew as the pod opened wide in its death throes. It spat him out in the middle of an agonized cry. The vines whipped across, hissing and gnashing their small teeth.

Cosmo collapsed and convulsed on the ground, screaming at the top of her lungs. Tails scrambled over to her, but her body was already burning away into dark ash as the pod blackened. Her body was brittle and broke apart faster when he propped her on his knee. "I'm scared," she whimpered, grabbing a fistful of his chest.

"Cosmo," he said, looking her over. Her legs were already gone and the decay was eating away her torso. "Cosmo, I'm sorry. I-I had…I'm sorry!"

The grip on him weakened and her arm flopped onto the ground. He picked it up, holding her palm in his hands. It too crumbled into dust. Tears rolled down his face and there was nothing he could say or do.

When the decay reached her chest, Cosmo's lips moved a tiny bit. He leaned down. "I love you and," she sharply drew in one last breath, the light fading from her eyes, "always will." Soon, she was just a head left. Then that was gone, the ash blowing away from the raging fire of the pod like she had never existed.

Tails closed his hand, desperately trying to keep the last of the ashes as they slipped through his gloves. His eyes were burning and sobs wracked his being until a gentle weight rested on his shoulder. He looked up at Amy, no longer under any control. He hardly registered his own headache dying away and turned toward her, burying his head into her dress.

"I couldn't save her," he said through muffled cries. "I tried. It's my fault. My fault. I couldn't save her."

"I know," Amy said, stroking the top of his head. Behind her, he caught sight of Rouge and Sonic helping a fully paralyzed Shadow to his feet. Rouge was remarking that the barb's poison would wear off. Tails let go of Amy and watched the pod fall apart, splitting into several flaming pieces. His fists unclenched, draping on the dirt, and the entire group stayed there until the last of the embers died out.

I couldn't save her. Tails hung his head. Cosmo, I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough. Please forgive me.

Tails had to be carried to Amy's house by her and Sonic while Rouge flew Shadow to her place. Tails allowed them to do whatever they pleased: cleaning him, taking off his shoes, and tucking him into a spare bed. The night dragged on for what felt like forever as he stared at the ceiling, the bumps once again reminding him of Cosmo. This time, the stubby fingers begged him to rescue her, pleading as her face formed into the plaster.

The next morning, he wandered into the kitchen, where Amy had cooked waffles for all of them. She set a plate and glass of juice before Tails when he sat down. He poured some syrup on the waffles she plopped onto his plate, but chose to stare at the food rather than eat it.

Amy and Sonic glanced at each other. Neither said anything and quietly ate their breakfast, keeping one eye on him. Although Tails' stomach growled constantly, he only ended up eating a little to satisfy their worried looks. Afterwards, they continued to sit there, waiting for him to speak first.

Tails cleared his throat and opened his mouth. It was like he forgot how to speak, so a simple sigh came out instead. He drank some juice and started with, "How is everyone?" He raised his head. "How's the town?"

"Everyone's fine," Sonic said, folding his hands. "I went out last night. Turns out everyone's back to normal. There's some injuries, but thankfully, nothing too serious."

He nodded. "Good. Any sign of any other monsters or pods?"

"Not a one," Sonic said. "All of them were shriveled up."

Amy pushed her plate away and leaned on the table, staring at Tails. "How are you feeling? Okay?"

He looked down and shrugged. "I guess." He didn't really want to talk anymore. Pushing away from the table, he stood and headed to the door.

"Where are you going?" Amy asked.

"To the garden. See what's left." Tails expected an argument. Instead, they decided to accompany him. It was slow going through the town. Many were wandering around in bewilderment. Others reunited with family and friends, crying, hugging, and kissing. Sonic and Amy offered encouraging smiles to him. He knew he should be happy that nobody in town died and he was. But that didn't fill the gaping hole ripped asunder in his chest.

Several people ran up to the three, thanking them profusely. Cream waved from her house, clinging especially hard to Vanilla as Cheese did to her, cooing and nuzzling her ears. Tails feigned an easy grin and it satisfied all the citizens. Once they left the town behind and entered the forest, his face drooped ever further. His footsteps slowed, as if he was being held back, until they reached the mansion.

Rouge, Shadow, and Knuckles were already there. They were all patched up, their wounds dressed. Most eye-catching was Knuckles' swollen cheeks and bandages tied about his head with a bow on top. Tails supposed that resulted from Rouge's kick. Sonic drew a sharp glare from him, daring the hedgehog to say one word when he snickered.

Rouge and Shadow greeted them. Shadow leaned over, supporting his wound. "Not much left," she said, pointing to the burnt-out remains of the pod.

"What about the Chaos Energy in the soil?" Amy asked.

"Knuckles is going to draw it out with the Master Emerald." The echidna waved at his name. "It should prevent anything else from being corrupted."

"Good," Sonic said. He looked down at Tails, but the younger one had already walked ahead, rooting through the pod.

The black husk fractured at the slightest touch. Tails ran his hands along the skin and in the ground beneath it. "You won't find it," Shadow said, his tone labored. "We already tried searching for a seed in there."

Tails tossed aside a piece of vine and it shattered into dozens of pieces. Then she was really gone. He had had one chance to bring her back and he had botched it. No, he absolutely ruined it. Tails broke down and bashed his fists into the husk. Shadow stood behind him, watching until Tails drove his hands into the dirt, grabbing fistfuls of it.

Shadow rested a hand on his back, soothing him. Tails wiped his tears and gazed at the hedgehog. Shadow nodded and patted his back and for a moment, Tails sensed a deep connection between them, like he had been welcomed into a private area for a brief instance and his pit of loss given reassurance.

Amy approached and Shadow backed off, allowing her to kneel beside Tails and comfort him. Sonic joined in on the other side and together, they held him as he sobbed. When he was spent, they helped him to his feet. Rouge tried to offer her own sympathy. "We'll keep looking for anything," she said, mainly to Tails.

He bit his lip. "Thanks," he said, choking it out.

Knuckles left shortly after for Angel Island. Sonic elected to stay behind and help Shadow and Rouge while Amy took Tails home. Before they left, Tails noticed a small, shiny insect nestled in the dirt. Yet the longer he stared at it, the more he realized it wasn't any sort of insect he had ever seen.

He stopped and picked it up. It was cool and hard, like a pebble. "Tails?" Amy asked.

Turning the object over in his hands, his laughter came out in short, gasping bursts and fresh tears sprung to shimmering eyes. His lips spread from ear to ear and he held up the object to her. "It's," he waved his hand furiously, unable to get the words out. "It's-"

"A seed," she said. "Cosmo's seed?"

"It has to be," he said, examining every spot of it, comparing it to the memory of the previous seed in his mind.

"Guys!" Amy shouted to the others. "Guys! Come here!"

Tails closed his eyes, holding the seed to his heart. Another chance. He had another chance to do things right. And he would do things right this time. Thank you. He opened his palm and looked at the seed again. Thank you. I will take care of this, Cosmo.

A/N: Whew! Done!

Pen: What?! What happened to the ending?

Sword: *secretly writing in her pillow fort and laughing*

Tough break, Pen. Hope all of you out there enjoyed it. Please, let us know. We'd love to hear from you and thanks for reading!

Pen: Sword! En garde!