Before the others were well enough to consciously focus on where they were, Jameson closed the door and turned to leave. Barely a single day had elapsed from what he couldn't refer to as anything but a fiasco at Eggman's Egg Fleet. By some miracle, no one had been killed. Just, almost.
He swallowed and slid his hand across the door, turning to stare blankly down the long, white corridor of medical staff and people shuffling around him with folders and clipboards and such dull things. Though his head still throbbed, he'd been cleared good to go. Not too soon, either, as the tremendous guilt he felt still had yet to subside. And, he could use a bath and a change of clothes.
Dylan shouldn't see him. The poor child was still in critical condition a couple floors up. Time would heal both of their bodies, but what of their souls? He felt the bandage on his head for some second dozen time and began to walk slowly for the elevator.
What to do now? GUN had it in for him, first; some disgraceful termination if he was lucky. Jail time if he wasn't. The atrocity he'd committed could never be forgiven. Even though Jameson took some small comfort in knowing he'd never meant to be involved in such evil, that he'd been ignorant and had truly followed Richard for the hope of a good result, that's not what had happened. Only his desire to try to tape some ripped thing together had kept him there.
But it wasn't good enough. Never would it be. Whatever GUN had in store for him, he'd accept it without complaint. That also meant it was better for Dylan not to see him again, lest he slip away into some punishment where no one would have access for visitation.
Jameson pressed the elevator button and waited. Quietly, he stepped in, went down, signed some final papers for his release from the hospital, and trudged outside into a surprisingly warm, sweet-smelling mid-morning. If not for his heavy conscious, he would have basked in the beauty.
Instead, he took slow and careful steps to the bottom of the stairs and headed for a bus stop. First place he'd go would be his apartment; then GUN to face the commander and most likely to be placed in cuffs under arrest.
He had just sat down at the stop when a figure of black and red caught his eye. Jameson looked to the right, near the stairs he'd just descended. That dark hedgehog must have just appeared there, for he hadn't seen him just a minute ago. As if to intimidate, the slightly narrowed, red eyes were pointed right at him.
Jameson tried not to fidget, and then he sighed with a worn smile, "Shadow, are you here to visit Dylan?"
Wind blew his spines a bit and Shadow dropped his arms, "You're leaving."
"Pardon? Oh, well, yes. I have to deal with personal and professional matters. I just had a whack to my head, after all. Nothing serious. Isolena told me what happened, so no need to catch me up."
"You shouldn't be leaving," Shadow's voice was stern.
Jameson considered the deceptively small frame of the life form and felt more tired. "I'm sorry," he wasn't sure to whom he was apologizing. "It's better for me to step out like this. Not make some scene or worry anyone."
"You know you're wrong," Shadow persisted. "The youth is very fond of you. If you leave, he'll worry about you."
A child skipped past with their mother, smiling at the entire world. A peaceful scene, and both males waited until it was past to resume.
Jameson gazed out at the pretty little park the hospital had erected some years past, "Really, Shadow, Dylan is better off with good people around him."
"You're being preposterous," there was an uptick of annoyance now.
Just, why had Shadow come? Jameson examined the hedgehog, who yet kept his stoic posture. Was it really, only to see Dylan? He knew that Shadow did hold some interest in the boy, but this was rather revealing and, almost, Jameson smiled.
"You do feel some sympathy for Dylan. Though you're both so different, there's some similarities between you two, too. I didn't know you were so soft, Shadow."
Shadow only scowled at him.
A wave of more guilt washed over Jameson. Shadow had been through tremendous suffering all up and down the spectrum of experience. Had he been living, then or now? Did he still mourn for the past, though he'd been trying so hard to reach only for the future? Every living being could never be adequately described and understood even through a thousand tomes. That's what it meant to be alive and Jameson blinked at the living individual near him with sadness, facing the truth that people always seemed to take life for granted.
"Shadow, you know you're just as alive as any child that came from a womb, right?"
A strange question and Shadow furled his brow.
"The method of development doesn't matter at all. It's what comes out of it." He shrugged and scratched at his unwashed, tangled hair, "I don't know if you're aware, but I've read most of GUN'S ARK research. I know the scientists were beside themselves with fear of you, because they never acknowledged you as a sentient person. But you are. Just like me. As valuable, unique, and worthy of being loved and pined after—maybe more so than most of us."
"What's your point?" Shadow grit, turning halfway away.
"My point is that I'm acknowledging you and I'm thanking you for having an interest in Dylan."
More silence at first. Shadow took a step for the stairs, but he responded, "You're making a mistake to run away."
Jameson knew the hedgehog was right, but he just couldn't hang around to get eaten up by guilt and hope that Dylan was a sweet enough person to forgive him. Maybe at a much later date, and if he ended up free to go where he wished, he could reflect on this whole experience and take some steps to return. But just not now.
Isolena was the next person to wake and hobble up on legs completely wrapped up to the thighs in bandages. Her sheer willpower and stubbornness, with the aid of crutches, gave her energy to rise, to struggle, to make the slow trek to her son's room. A nurse insisted on accompanying her, to her annoyance, but she let it slide.
Finally at his door, she insisted on opening it herself and stepping in unaided. Just inside, she stopped. A black figure was standing before the broad windows at the end of the room, gazing up at flickers of clouds against an otherwise clear sky.
The tension almost turned palpable and the nurse happily left the room to return a little later.
Isolena's chest thumped with a mixture of negative reactions at seeing that artificial thing in the room. Then she reminded herself how she felt was wrong.
Observing the still form, she reached her son's bed and ran her eyes over him. The boy wasn't awake. Probably hadn't been yet, considering how he'd only been laying there for a day. A series of tubes ran from his body to various monitors and devices. Rudimentary things. A large bandage and monitor were attached to his middle. The cut had been severe, but she wasn't concerned he'd recover. It would only take time.
Her own stinging legs were just an annoyance she'd easily cope with.
But, that hedgehog still stood so quietly.
She waited a bit, before prompting, "If you have no intention to say anything, then leave."
Shadow turned to glare at her, but he couldn't resist a smirk. The woman and he shared quite a bit of personality similarities. She just voiced her cruelty more than he.
He asked, "What are you going to do with him when he recovers?"
Isolena resisted snarling at him, "That's none of your concern. He's my son."
"Up until yesterday, you denied that. In fact, you almost killed him. Twice."
"Wh—" She stopped herself. Of course, he—and the others—knew that she'd cut him into pieces and put him back together. And then they'd been right there when she'd poisoned him. Her own treachery disgusted her.
Shadow noticed every miniscule change of her expression and he softly continued, "The entirety of this situation is because of you. And you expect me to just let you take him with you so easily?"
"You have no right to keep him from me," she glowered. "The points you mentioned are meant to guilt-trip me, but that won't work."
"I don't care about your emotional state," he bit. "But I do care about how you'll treat your child when he leaves this place. Do you think he'll be psychologically stable after all you've put him through? Your level of arcane psychosis surpassed clinical insanity weeks ago. You are viler than anyone I have yet encountered in my life, and that even surprises me."
Isolena had to sit. She hated him just then, for he was right; and all her bravado about his words not reaching her was a front. Inside, she was churning, and though her exterior was collected, she knew that he could see right through her.
"I didn't know you cared for my son," she nearly sneered. "Isn't the ultimate life form above all the petty interactions of mere mortals? Don't concern yourself," she bitterly snapped.
Shadow stepped over to the bed and he spoke to her while facing Dylan, "I used to think like that. My mind is clear now, though. And you—I won't be a mere spectator if you harm this child. I know he will eventually, fully forgive you. There are lessons I've learned from what you call mere mortals that I could never learn on my own in a thousand years. Your son transcends the baser plane you live in. He always will and you will never be on his level. I hope you will be miserable in your own filth for the rest of your life." Suddenly, he turned to her, a dark, dangerous aura radiating from his emotions. "If not for the love Dylan somehow kept for you, I would have killed you by now. Don't think I won't be back to see him."
She said nothing. This must have been what the GUN scientists on the ARK felt whenever Shadow walked past them. Her fear changed more to loathing at him than anything else, as he walked to the door, a reflection of how she felt about herself.
The hedgehog left without another word and she sat in the hospital room thinking about many things for hours.
Once Shadow left that horrible woman's presence, he was so disturbed and so uptight from holding in what he really wanted to say, from strangling her, that he bolted away for the countryside. For over an hour, he ran without purpose or destination, just to vent his anger and deplete some energy to calm himself down.
It was over for him, mostly, but not for Dylan. When the boy awoke, he'd still have to deal with years of healing, and may not ever find perfect peace. After decades, Shadow hadn't. However, unlike Dylan, he'd had many years to spend pondering over a million things, trying to sort himself out, to be comfortable in his own skin. Even still, at times, Shadow felt like he'd been a sleeping soul floating out in some ether and then he'd been sucked into this hedgehog body and put through a living hell. Like this wasn't his body, but just a shell he was trapped in.
No doubt, Dylan would feel such similar dysphoria for a long time.
He slowed and stopped under a tall cherry tree, intending to drop and rest for a while. No such allowance. As soon as his communicator went off, Shadow knew who it was. Rising, he skated quickly back to the city. Chaos control was always an option, but he liked to run more than he had before. And it took just mere minutes to come to a halt in front of the thirty-story high building, and just another few minutes to rise up via elevator and step down the hall to her door.
Rouge was who knew where. She was in self-imposed communication blackout with everyone. Most likely GUN was looking for her. Who knew where Sonic was. The blue streak had taken off for his own release of a run a while ago, Shadow assumed. He wasn't that hedgehog's keeper. Tails was in the city somewhere. As for himself, he didn't fear GUN. They feared him, hence why he was left alone.
He knocked and Amy wasted no time in ripping the door open.
"Hi, Shadow," she was wearing that other, more body-con red dress again with the leggings and the sneakers.
He was busy inspecting her, while trying not to be obvious, and then he noticed her slightly ashen face.
"Is something bothering you?" He sincerely asked.
She pulled him in and locked the door, "Did you visit Dylan?"
"Yes. He's not awake yet."
"Ah," she sighed.
That chao Berry was fluttering about. At least Shadow had done that for her: chaos controlled to Seaside Village and brought the annoying creature back so she could take care of it while Dylan slept. Yet, this time, Shadow was less annoyed with it, finding value in the baby, as both Amy and Dylan loved it, and he felt positively about both hedgehogs.
Amy, though, looked downcast and understandably so, worrying about her friend. He slowly reached out and took her hand and she peered up in puzzlement at him. He said nothing, leading her to the couch to put her down, and he beside her. They'd gone through a lot in such a short period of time and he could feel that Amy had stepped up another notch in the maturity scale. Not the best way to do it, but so the world was imperfect.
He needed a favor, "Will you check up on Dylan regularly? I'm most likely going to have to deal with GUN for a little while."
"Oh, right: the whole blowing-up-their-lab thing and destroying Project Miracle thing."
She loved so easily. Her very slouched posture amused him. Shadow rested his hand atop hers, once more pulling Amy's eyes to him. Then he adjusted to turn more fully to her. A part of her heart still longed for Sonic, but had he been mistaken that there was something else there now, too? She'd been the one that had held him when he'd been terribly hurt from his chaos control. Then again, Amy would have shown such care for any of her friends.
Friends. He didn't want to stay in that place. With Amy's Sonic stalking noticeably reduced, he felt that he had every chance to test her now. Things were finished. Dylan would recover. Everyone would scatter to their places and life would go on. Some other adventure would rise up, but not today.
Today, right now, Shadow began to lean down over to her.
Amy at first was confused and she retracted, but then she stopped. Hadn't that Jameson scientist said he was alive as any natural-born, sentient being? Shadow had hidden the swelling of new self-awareness he'd begun to feel, but the man's words had realigned him more solidly and quickly than years of his own inner reflections ever could. A human, a GUN scientist had apologized and validated him.
Why didn't he deserve to discover if someone loved him how he wanted to be loved, then?
A rise of his own nerves gave him pause, but Amy hadn't said anything or moved away. She was waiting. He slid his arms around her to bring both of their bodies closer and he dropped his face to hers.
First, he brushed her lips and stopped, waiting a second time in case she pushed him away. There was nothing besides a small exhale from her and she inching in closer. A wonderful feeling of release and tranquility sunk down in Shadow's heart as he softly kissed her. Amy brought her arms around his neck and let herself lean in more. He adjusted a little awkwardly, this being his first kiss, and felt her back as they both tentatively tasted the other.
What—what was she doing?
With a giggle, she scooted as close as she could to him and slid her legs on both sides of him.
It was okay. She reached up and kissed him again. She was so sweet and tender. He dropped his defenses and entered into her trust and love with all the true feelings in his heart he possessed.
A week more passed before the last hospital charge awoke to the empty, bland white room. He was disoriented and couldn't move and his whole body hurt from, most likely, laying in the same position for so long. However long that was. A minute after, a woman entered and started reviewing things on a clipboard and a set of monitors next to him.
When she noticed him blinking, she gave a little start, then recovered and smiled, "Hi, there. Can you see me?"
Dylan slowly blinked once at her.
She took that as a yes, "I'm one of the nurses looking after you. Just give yourself a few more days, and you should be able to get out of this dismal place. I'm so happy you've been recovering so well, too! Oh, you've had some visitors come by regularly."
"What happened?" He half croaked out, voice raspy from disuse. The memories were honestly foggy.
"Uhm, you came to us with a pretty big stab in your stomach." She seemed to finish her review and put the clipboard under her arm. "Well," she sort of looked aside and then back at him. "Your—your blood is very interesting."
Dylan knew just what she meant, and he was confused about it. If he'd healed the chaos emerald, hadn't it sucked all that powder out of his body? Why did he still make powder?
"If you need anything, please tap this button," she moved a small pad over to his fingers where he could reach it. "Just hold on a bit longer! You'll be back running through loop-de-loops in no time at all!"
And she gave him one last smile before taking her leave.
Dylan lay in the bed and spent a good chunk of his time thinking about what had happened and what would lay in store for him now—after he left this place. Amy came by at least once a day and gave him hugs and chatted about whatever. Berry was always with her and the chao never missed laying kisses on his face.
Tails visited with her often, too. The boy was always scribbling on notepads or tablets and volunteered a plethora of confusing explanations about the new Tornado blueprints and designs he was tweaking. As his precious airplane had been turned into melted metal goo, he was taking the opportunity to build another, and improved of course.
Sonic also sped in unannounced, always with some fun thing to describe with animated gesturing. Some run he'd been on. A new loop-de-loop. An obscure village hours away that had the best chili dogs he'd ever tasted. Wouldn't Dylan love to go running with him again? He still had a lot of speed to gain and Sonic was eager to help him with it. But most of all, the spastic blue hedgehog was concerned.
"Are you gonna be okay after this? Are you gonna go live with your mom?"
His tone held something else to it. There'd not been any discussion about where or how he'd live, not that he'd also allowed himself to ponder it. He did love his mother, and he did want to live with her again, but could he? Love, trust, and forgiveness weren't the same and he certainly didn't trust her. She'd put him through ordeals that had changed parts of him irreversibly. And her, too.
In fact, thinking about cohabitating under the same roof with her sent chills through him. He was afraid. Was it fear of something physical she'd try to do to him, or fear of being unloved by her?
"I—I don't know," was all he could give to Sonic.
"Hey, if you need time, you can come live with me and Tails for a while. Uh, I think that may be the best thing, too, Dylan, 'cuzz your mom's not been around since she left the hospital. That guy Jameson told me they'd both have to deal with GUN for their crimes."
After a bit more discussion on that topic and many others, Sonic left, his visits always ending in a quick, abrupt style.
And then, to his surprise, Shadow also came a few times. He'd not expected to see the silent hedgehog even once.
Shadow dropped his arms and came near the bed with surprising soft words of, "When you leave this place, leave it behind you. Don't dwell on it or the past but move on in good time. I'll come see you every now and then."
After some more days of itching and irritation and bouts of tears now and then, Dylan was allowed to sit up, and then allowed to drink fluids on his own; and after that, he proved he could eat yogurt, then oatmeal, and then more solid foods. Soon after, his stomach had healed up well enough that he was discharged, under the strict order to eat soft, simple foods for two more weeks, before reintroducing other things.
The moment was almost disorienting. Not one time did his mother visit while he'd been awake. All his friends had been able to affirm to him some time after Sonic's initial assumption, was that she was indeed dealing with GUN breathing down her neck. Still, that she didn't somehow make it possible to step in for even five minutes hurt. He wondered if GUN had detained her.
Dylan was too afraid to call her, and so he didn't; and she didn't communicate. With the offer still open, his natural choice was to go live with Sonic and Tails. It was the fox who actually had a small, two-bedroom house in a quaint, older neighborhood of trimmed and charming houses.
Tails let him into the somewhat stale-smelling house with an amused, "Sonic's more of a free spirit. I let him stay here whenever. How do you think I pay for the workshops and stuff, though? I don't just make things to help us stop Eggman! I have patents and copyrights on all sorts of things!" The fox rubbed his hands together with a devious grin, "Yep, the royalties just keep comin' in. Passive income, baby!"
He'd dropped a large binder on the table, boasting of dozens of devices from smarter vacuums to engine parts used in sports and racing cars. Dylan was truly impressed and leafed through some. And then he was tired and his stomach hurt some.
He was allowed to sleep in the second room, which also turned out to be where Sonic took his leisure at any given time. As he lay on one side of the bed, his friend took no umbrage in rolling over next to him and drifting off.
Dylan lay for a while in thought before he let himself do likewise.
An entire month passed under ordinary, ever-hotter suns and long days. Amy brought Berry to Dylan and the chao spent every moment with him, just as he'd done before. Dylan warmed further to Sonic and Tails, but he always wondered why his mother didn't contact him.
It hurt, so he occupied his time taking over Tails' kitchen, much to Amy's delight. As soon as he produced a single dozen cupcakes, she was always finding excuses to visit, to ask him to teach her how to make this or that. Even Shadow dragged along every so often, but he never talked of GUN or even hinted if he was dealing with legalities. Rouge didn't step in once.
Then, one early afternoon, as Dylan was scrolling through PicSnap, his ears burned. The news was on. There was a breaking announcement about Project Miracle. Everything left of the project had been dumped into public internet streams, with a spin condemning GUN of atrocious crimes against morality, trying to play God once more, and accusing them of corruption by daring to try to charge the two GUN agents with crimes for having broken into the facilities and stolen project data.
The news anchors went on to discuss how the information had been leaked out online and how it exposed all of his mother's and Jameson's virtues and vices, without naming them.
Dylan placed a stainless steel bowl on the counter and watched with glazed eyes. Director Marshall, an ex-GUN scientist who was in the midst of an investigation by GUN, had dropped this major bomb. The public had been quick to respond that GUN was in the wrong and shouldn't prosecute her or the other involved parties who'd tried to stop Project Miracle. Overall, the facts tossed so much mud all over GUN's collective reputation, that he knew public outcry would prevent Shadow, Rouge, his mother, and Jameson from seeing any jail time. It didn't matter if any of the four should have been accountable. The court of public opinion would defend them.
"I bet your mom had enough of GUN trying to prosecute her and the others, that's why she did this!" Tails pointed out.
It was a shame campaign. Neither his mother nor Jameson would walk away without their reputations completely smeared, their careers ruined, but at least they'd walk away free. As for Shadow and Rouge, those two were infinitely capable and he knew they'd easily find some other occupation together.
Dylan quietly finished his baking project and stepped out to sit on the back steps. In one aspect, he felt incredibly relieved. GUN should be raked across the coals for this latest breech on their part concerning all their public propaganda of keeping the peace and protecting society. Yet, he felt exposed all over again and just wanted to live as normally and privately as he could. At least he hadn't been mentioned by name in the report and the media didn't know where he lived.
To his relief, nothing happened over the next week. Sonic took him on daily runs, whether he wanted to go or not, which did help Dylan increase his speed. Running didn't hold the same thrill for him as it did for Sonic, but it was enjoyable enough that he really didn't mind the exercise. He secretly got far more joy out of watching Sonic laughing, spinning, and having an absolute blast than he did from his own physical exertion.
It was on a Saturday, with only the three of them present, as he'd just finished drying his spines and quills from a short bath, that there was a knock at the door. Dylan listened as Tails went to answer. He put his sneakers and gloves on in the back bedroom and held Berry, coming down the hall to see what was going on.
There was a familiar, stern voice that made him stop behind the wall at the end of the hall.
"Is Dylan here?"
Tails hesitated, "Well, yes, he is."
"Then may I come in? I want to talk with him."
Dylan didn't want to talk. Fear with the force of a wall slammed into him.
"Go, Berry," he whispered to his friend, pushing the chao to go sit on the top of the couch. Then, thanks to all his running practice, Dylan efficiently bolted out the back door to escape. The back yard was very small, fenced in, neat just like how Tails liked it. Dylan jumped over the fence and took off down the sidewalks for wherever. Just some blocks away, he came to a park with walking paths and children playing. There were numerous bunches of bushes and trees dotted about.
Dylan sought a particular close-by cluster of bushes and set himself down in a small opening inside of them, subconsciously feeling his leg. He wasn't thinking about the weeks ago when his mother had cut him, but his body remembered. And though he only had a faint scar where she'd cut his chest and put his heart in, he paused his fingers over that, too. The scar wasn't easily noticeable. His fur covered it.
Why was he still so pathetic? He was starting to cry and couldn't even figure out if it was simple fear of his mother, longing, or loneliness that he wanted arms around him, or something else.
She'd never been overly loving! Maybe he'd been starving for her to be a better mother since long before this, and all of what had happened to him had just amplified that craving.
He sighed at himself, wiping his eyes. What could she possibly do to him, now? Innocence had been taken from him forever. Dylan was sadly aware of how evil people could be now. His mother had shown that to him.
He sat in the little clearing around the bushes and calmed himself down. No more heart attacks or hemophilia. The chaos emerald had healed him permanently but had left him a heart that still pumped golden powder, therefore with blood that could still heal others. Strange. Had it done that to him as a gift for him healing it?
Even here, breezes tried to cheer him up. Dylan closed his eyes to relax. After some uncertain amount of time had passed, he'd sneak back to Tails' house and sleuth around to see if his mother had gone.
The sun was rather warm and all his fur wasn't an asset now. Summer had always been a bit sticky for him, but now it was just, well, a new and magnified experience in the department of lethargy and discomfort. He'd probably end up asking Tails for some kind of rag so he could dry himself from time to time. Didn't Sonic have to deal with this, too?
The perspiration would be funny, if it wasn't so wearying at this moment. And he'd just bathed, too.
He listened to the children and the birds, the whirling of much welcomed breezes and chiming of bicycles. After a while, he started to doze off, missing an approaching step and a rustle of bushes. When he felt a touch on his shoulder, Dylan gasped awake and sprang several steps away.
His mother had found him! How? How'd she know he'd come here? Tails must have told her.
Dylan dropped his eyes and turned his face away, taking another backward step. She stood there, looking self-composed and healthy, in solid, black leggings and knee-high, cream-toned leather boots. Her dark brown tunic fluttered around her hips from the wind, arms exposed to the shoulders. She'd recently gone to cut her hair, as it fell just to the top of her neck, thick and waving. She looked nice and he was glad to see her standing on legs once again firm.
Isolena took an apprehensive step and he again retreated.
"Dylan," came her low voice.
He bristled and wouldn't look at her.
"I came to talk to you."
He wanted to make some quip about that being obvious, yet still said nothing.
"Are you going to keep stepping away from me?"
Maybe. Even still, he kept his gaze on the yellow wildflowers near his feet.
She stopped trying to approach, "I came to see how you were doing. I did know that you'd gone to stay with your friends, but I was busy." She chuckled under her breath, "That's what I've told you for years, isn't it? Well, this time I really had to deal with GUN. They thought it would be prudent to host proceedings against me for my crimes. I don't think that will be a possibility for them, now."
"I saw the news," Dylan gave her that.
She nodded, voice still reporting statements, not at all bragging, "Yes, and I don't think GUN will be pursuing any prosecution or charges against Jameson either, or their two agents."
That was such a relief, that Dylan let his guard down enough to look up at her. Though there was no menacing anger, his mother held a passive expression that was hard to read. It was like looking at a piece of blank paper. There was just nothing. He was unsettled.
She kept an even gaze with him, "Now that I've finished that affair, I came to get you."
"G—get me?" Dylan automatically added more distance between them, and nearly tripped over a root, trying not to gasp as he stabilized himself on both feet.
She didn't even quirk a brow at him, "Yes. I've come for my son."
Her son. Really? With that lack of any emotion on her face? He kept his mouth shut, but reflected disbelief, speculation, offense in how he both widened his eyes and lowered his brow. Dylan felt insulted and hurt, heaving under his breath, "Since when was I your son?"
She responded, "You were always my son. I just—" Finally, a hitch in her voice that drew his attention. "I just didn't want to acknowledge that for a while. I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" He burst. "That's all I get? After—after you ripped my entire life away, my identity, my ability to defend myself? You—you threw me away for your precious science! When was I ever your son? How could anything you could ever have done have been more important than me? Why did you even have a child, if you could throw me away like that?"
He hadn't meant to burst out so, especially in a public place, but it was too late. The words burned in his mouth and he wept to the point that he had to keep wiping his eyes. Certainly, people were watching. He didn't care.
His voice cracked as he tried to contain himself, "For years, I hoped you'd give me some love, but you only cared about your project. I waited so long! But—" Dylan turned entirely away from her and pressed both his hands to his eyes, "You don't love me. You've only come because of obligation. Why? You already abandoned me."
"That's not true!" She contradicted him, more with a disapproving sort of mild anger than hurt. "You are my son! Yes, I'm not good mother material, and I probably never will be, but that's just too bad for you, because you're not getting another. You're stuck with me, Dylan. Deal with it, because I'm not letting you go!"
In a weird way, that was sweet. Dylan peaked back, eyes large.
She continued, "I can apologize all day long to you. I'm sure I'll be doing so for many months. But I don't care much for words, so I've come to get you and take you with me to Station Square so we can start over. Only time will mend some of the things between us, Dylan, but that's just the reality of our situation. Regardless, I intend to work on us even if you don't."
Dylan shut his mouth and wiped his eyes again. Not exactly how he wanted her to say the words, but the meaning was coming across. Yet, he was nearly trembling with phantoms of pain that just wouldn't leave him alone.
"You cut me apart and you put me back together in this," he put his hand on his stomach. "Do you expect me to trust you?"
He was stunned and stood there staring past her.
Isolena sighed and fixed her even, intimidating irises on him, "I expect you to obey me, because you're my son. I shouldn't have to tell you twice to come with me. Don't run away from me." There, she then relaxed her posture a little and managed a small, crooked frown of something close to softness, such did her tone change, "And don't hold in just what you're feeling anymore. You did that before all this, too. Don't think I didn't know; I just didn't want to deal with it. I guess that's another thing I'm sorry for. Dylan, when you're ready, tell me how you're feeling."
Had he heard that right? Dylan slid his arms behind his back so she wouldn't see how tightly he gripped his hands together.
She continued, "I'm not going to deny what I did, but I can't change it now. I can only advise, that if you don't want to live in that moment over and over again, you must learn to live with being a hedgehog now." And she again adapted a sterner tone, but this one held a slice of possessiveness almost like a warning, "But also know this: I won't ever let you forget that the human blood you inherited from your father and I is part of your genetic makeup even now. In the most biological sense, you are my son. In addition, you're my son because your father and I made that body that's now yours. So, you see, there's absolutely no way you can escape this fact that I'm your mother and I want you."
Her face held a bit of tension now, and something else.
Overwhelmed, Dylan yelled, "I don't want to hear that! I want to hear that you love me! I want a mother who will hug me and help me!"
"Why should I say it? Dylan, I do love you, but do you believe me?"
Dylan did want to believe her, oh, so badly! She was right, though. He wasn't convinced she was being genuine. Like she said, words were cheap. How it hurt though! Why did he have to wait for time to bring about change? The psychological stress was almost too much for him.
Catching his breath, Dylan wiped his fingers over his eyes again. While he tried to slow his tears, his mother came over and dropped in front of him, pushing his hands aside with a kerchief. He felt the cloth and couldn't move, not even after she put it back in her pockets and dropped a hand on his head.
"Dylan," now her tone was soft, a voice he'd only heard from her in his dreams.
He unwillingly met her eyes again.
"I'll work hard to earn your trust. We'll start over. In fact, I have to find some other form of non-harmful employment, as GUN has completely destroyed my reputation. I got out with my freedom, but that was it. They'll be no more laboratories for me." She snickered ironically. "So, I'm sure we'll have a hard time at first, but I'm going to do my best. Take it or leave it. I'll be sure to prove it."
The woman most likely would never be the cuddling type of comforter, but she was already different in some ways. Taken in by her words, he took a little step forward. She matched his intent by bring him the rest of the way to hug him closely.
Dylan grabbed onto her shirt in desperate fear that she'd disappear. It was too much, and he couldn't stop sobbing. Isolena let him cry. In fact, she thrust her arms around him more securely and stood, adjusting him against her. At some other time, this would have been embarrassing, but she had to go. Their flight would be departing soon. Her son was in no mental state to deal with himself at this time.
He did manage to ask, "Are your legs okay?"
The boy was so endearing. She adjusted him closer to her and answered, "Tolerable for the rest of my life. I can walk, but I'm sure they'll hurt for a long time. It's not something I'm going to concern myself with."
Dylan left off talking. Almost certainly, he'd again ask about the state of her legs later on. She could walk fine and even jog some if she liked, but her legs weren't meant to be seen by the world anymore. The deep gashes, the dark scars would remain, slowly fading, but never would they leave her completely. A rough reminder of her sins, fitting for a harsh person as she.
Isolena turned about and stepped out, ignoring all the eyes of people who'd most likely heard quite a bit of their confrontation. Some of them had probably seen her picture on the media that day, too. So what.
She more firmly clutched the bundle in her arms, who was presently wetting her shirt, and she took her leave of the suburban neighborhoods. Dylan didn't manage to calm himself into an unsteady silence and mostly dry eyes until they'd stepped out of a taxi at the airport. They said nothing, but when she let him down and claimed his hand, he didn't try to remove himself from hers.
"I don't want you wandering off. Every time we'd go some place big, I'd turn around and end up spending an infuriating amount of time looking for you," was her official reason.
Dylan let her go with that supposed reason.
Their flight took some hours. She didn't ask him any questions about himself or his adventure or his friends, to his slight disappointment. But they would require much time to break down even little barriers. Years of her personality and years of his desire for affection couldn't just be fixed overnight. And, he reminded himself that she'd rarely even asked him about his baking hobby. It was characteristic that she didn't seem curious about his personal matters at this time, either.
Dylan did manage to drift off, finding himself laying across his seat and hers, head in her lap, next time he awoke. Because he moved his arm, she knew he was awake and he knew that she knew. Yet, she simply gave him a rub on his back and turned the page of whatever she was currently reading. The implied gesture of that meant so much to him, Dylan cried quietly, facing her stomach.
When they stepped off the plane, she was thumbing through her phone, "Our ride's here. He's probably waiting at the baggage claim."
As they went, Dylan felt the first pang of true interest and curiosity in what was going on. Reality was slowly settling in. His mother hadn't forgotten him. She'd come to get him. They were going to start again in their old city!
Still ensuring he was near her, she fetched a small piece of luggage off the belt. Dylan watched the many people hurrying about. One person was standing near the revolving doors, sporting a long, open beige coat, hands in his pockets. His eyes were already on Dylan.
Realizing who the man was, Dylan was overcome and he rushed through the crowd, jumping literally up to the man's open arms.
"Jeez!" Jameson dropped a foot back to counter the momentum. "You've been running a lot, haven't you?"
"I'm sorry," Dylan clung onto him.
"That's fine. Hedgehogs are such speedsters, the lot of you. Drop down, now."
He slid Dylan to the floor and dropped to a knee to be near eye level. The two took in the other, with Jameson pulling Dylan to him for a real hug.
"Ah, kid, I missed you a lot! I just had a bunch of drama I had to handle, like your mom did. I'm sure she told you what was going on."
"That's okay," Dylan pushed his face against the man's neck.
Isolena kept a few paces away, but even her hardened face dropped into a bittersweet smile at the two of them hugging. During the time when all of this had been unfolding, she'd been highly irritated at her ex-colleague's closeness to her son. In hindsight, she'd felt so even then because she'd known far down that he'd been giving affection to her son when she should have been, and she'd felt guilty.
Now, their relationship was nothing but innocent sweetness and she hoped Jameson would be a foundation in Dylan's life.
"Do you still like the quill treatment?" The man tugged on a spine and ran his fingers through it.
"Yeah," Dylan admitted, then gasped at how shamelessly honest he was about the matter.
Jameson got a good laugh out of the boy's discomfort and stood up, "Shall we three go? My car's just outside."
Summer sizzled by and broke with a forced crispness of leaves changing into vibrant colors. Often, Sonic ran over to visit him. Tails, sometimes, as the fox had to pilot his plane over and that took more time. Sonic's speed made it an easy joy run from one city to another. It was longer for Amy, so she came even less often. Shadow? Though it was the easiest for him to visit out of them all, what with chaos control, he was only a rare surprise at Dylan's doorstep. Rouge still hadn't visited even once.
All that was dandy with Dylan. He did miss his friends, but life had begun to move on; and, Dylan soon had new stress dropped into his arms.
When autumn arrived, he was forced to return to school.
Being behind on his studies wasn't a big deal. It was the different way that he was treated that was almost a culture shock for him. No one knew his backstory. All they saw was a mobian hedgehog in black, fingerless gloves and black and green sneakers. Most people were fascinated by him per nature of something about him: quills, speed, ears. Those he didn't mind. It was the surprisingly large quantity of humans that disliked mobians for no stated reason, and the few outright human bullies that gave him grief.
But Dylan persisted. He wasn't prideful and had no arrogant ego to protect. Maybe that was good and bad, because his mother taught introduction to geology, the study of gems and minerals, and volcanology at the high school and everyone knew it. There was ongoing questions and confusion as to how a human was a hedgehog's mother, but neither would ever reveal anything as to how such an arrangement came to be. The most accepted assumption was adoption. But, why would a human want to adopt a mobian? Those were the questions the cruel students asked, in outright repulsed, mocking tones, that Dylan had to ignore.
He hadn't been aware of such hate and discrimination when he'd been a human and his heart sunk that he'd been so blind. Though some mobians had moved into originally human cities and integrated into the local culture, they no doubt still experienced automatic negativity from humans. It hadn't been that long ago that even the current amount of integration around him had happened. Quite a few humans still didn't like it, feeling threatened by non-humans daring to supposedly pollute their perfect society.
The fact that the mobians would never be driven out of the cities angered them further. They couldn't stop a so-termed invasion of mobian filth, for the President had endorsed it and even hired some mobians into his cabinet.
Growing up, Dylan hadn't been exposed to many mobians and naturally his thoughts hadn't dwelt on them. Now it was different. To further widen the rift between creatures like him and humans, those that hated him applied the term "overlander" to themselves, an artificial divider of their supremacy. The term was an outdated derogatory word mobians had actually first applied against humans, during the past days of warring between the two. Now those humans had commandeered it and twisted it for their own motives.
To say the least, Dylan was upset by all the drama. Yet, many times he couldn't give any thought to it, for his own educational stressors insisted his attention hours and hours every day.
As he ended up in his mother's geology class, Dylan was first dismayed that she treated him absolutely no differently than any other student. Then he appreciated it. She was harsh on everyone equally and let every student, mobian or human, on the same level, know with the same language just what she thought when they failed.
And she tolerated no shenanigans or discrimination under her observation. Even the most fowl-mouthed bully cowered to her, after she slammed a metal ruler centimeters from his fingers on his desk, glaring ice daggers at him in silent disapproval. No class pranks worked on her. She seemed to know not only when there were traps and pranks lying in wait for her, but who'd come up with the idea and who all the parties were who'd been involved. Those students were expelled from her class for an entire week. If any parents dared march into the building to demand to see her, Isolena was always unimpressed serenity at first; then unimpressed savagery after, laying out the exact story just as it happened, with no flourish. Just her tone alone usually disarmed the parent. If that didn't work, her sour, bored eyes did the trick.
So, she was barred from any so-called real science job in some big corporation researching this or that. But it didn't mean Isolena's spirit had wasted away. In addition, she kept some tutoring room hours at the school. Overall, she was productive, a bit reclusive, and rather feared by students and faculty alike.
To say the least, Dylan's grades, for the first time in his life, greatly improved. His mother insisted he tell her whenever he had trouble with homework and she personally put time aside to help him with everything, whether he wanted her to or not. That was a stark difference to her barely even asking him how school was in the past. As she was a grueling tutor, he had no choice but to finish everything she demanded, and to her standards. This was, at times, embarrassing for him, when she made him go over homework with her in the public tutoring center. Explain to him what mineral cleavage was. What hardness is Talc on Mohs Hardness Scale? How could he mistake pyrite for gold, again? The four types of rock were limestone, metamorphic rock, granite, and what? He heard every little snicker from students around him.
But that was just one of the ways she showed her love. Dylan's pain subsided a bit, never completely disappearing, but he knew he'd be alright now.
Jameson also lived in Station Square. Similar to Isolena, he was also teaching, but at a middle school, adjunct: chemistry, biology, and anatomy. He visited often and took Dylan out on lovely walks, where they talked about whatever wasn't important. The man was almost like a therapist, as Dylan often poured on about innermost dreams and troubles to him. Always, Jameson listened and never judged.
He resumed his pursuits of baking with any free time he had. No one had known he was a human when he'd been active on PicSNap, so Dylan kept that account and started posting photos again. Amy continued to leave comments. Even Sonic and Tails did so, too! Rouge surprised him by following, and he almost choked up his food when Shadow also subscribed to his postings.
"Dylan, what did you bake today?" His mother now asked on regular basis. She was trying there, too, and actually gave him honest attention when he explained the details of his latest edible pursuit to her. Her interest grew when she realized baking was like a form of science. Typical.
The two otherwise kept rather to themselves and fall fluttered away into a bitter winter. One sunday afternoon, in the warmth of their small house, Dylan was in the middle of preparing a large batch of cupcakes when there came the chime of the front door.
His mother was at school, dealing with educational bureaucracy. Therefore, he wiped his hands in a hurry and blurred to the door, opening it to the happy faces of all his friends!
"Dylan!" Everyone exclaimed in unison.
He was speechless.
"I smell something yummy! Move aside!" Amy scurried in with everyone else right on her heels.
"Wait, we can have some of these, right?" Tails asked in a second of propriety.
Dylan tried to soften his happiness at the sudden cluster of mobians in his house, "Uh—sure! I wasn't baking them for any specific reason."
"Score!" Sonic snatched one of them.
Dylan was still standing at the door and gasped at someone sliding a finger along his front.
"Hi, honey," Rouge gave him a wink, politely pressing snow off her boots before she also stepped over to the kitchen counters. Dylan knew he was blushing.
Almost too shocking for him, Shadow was also there, and he entered after the bat. He closed the door for Dylan with a smirk, as the boy was too confounded to handle that task himself.
"How's your mother treating you?" He placed his maroon scarf on a nearby rack.
"What? Oh—very well! It's actually been really nice," he recovered sensibly enough. "Did—did you want some of the cupcakes, too?"
Shadow shook his head and invited himself to sit on the couch. Amy wasted no time in hopping over with two more cupcakes and snuggling up next to him. It was anyone's guess if Shadow pinkened a little, for he held in whatever he was feeling rather expertly with Amy so publicly showing him affection.
"Shadow, want one?" She asked him.
He glanced at the sugary, chocolately thing with a thick swirl of pale pink frosting and blue sprinkles and looked away. Then he grunted. Amy had dabbed the frosting on his face, smearing it across his left cheek and then his mouth. After two seconds, Shadow slowly opened his hand and Amy placed the cupcake in it. There was no use to deny the treat now. He ignored how gleefully she bit at her lip in triumph as he began to slowly eat it.
Dylan took himself back into the kitchen and began to make cocoa and tea. Everyone was chatting happily, smears of icing abounding, with never enough napkins.
"Wanna go for a run? Great weather for it!" Sonic snickered even as he asked it.
Dylan swallowed, "No—no thanks."
Everyone shared a round of hearty laughter, even with Shadow giving a slight chuckle. Dylan watched all his new friends and decided to do as much as he could to focus on the feelings of love and family they all shared with him. He'd survived so much and had started to learn to rely on others in the process. The feeling had terrified him and then exhilarated him. No one had asked for anything in return from him. Everything would be fine now that he had this new family.
"Photo for social media!" Amy sprang up with her phone. Everyone instantly cloistered together in the living room, all around Shadow, to his grunting disapproval. Sonic grabbed Dylan to bring him over, as well. Before Shadow could escape, Amy placed the phone on a selfie stick and snapped the photo of everyone crushing in upon the other, chocolate and frosting-smeared mouths abounding. Most of them laughed, holding up their delights in the photo.
Done. I'll soon start posting the 20-chapter, loosely connected one-shots featuring Dylan and a smash of Sonic characters. The one-shots will be my "in-betweens" before an official Dylan sequel with a lot of Shadow involvement. They'll deal with an assortment of things from high-school bullies, Dylan getting a gf, meeting Knuckles on Angel Island, and even chao racing. How was this little fic, generally? Did you like it? Thanks for reading!