WildChild

A fanfiction of Sonic the Hedgehog

By

Jeanette 'Illys' Hansen

Contact at: www.knothole.info

---------------------------

Disclaimer: This is a non-profit work of fiction, in no way earning the author monetary gain. Sonic the Hedgehog and all associated characters are properties of Sega of Japan or DiC, and are used without license. This work may be distributed freely under the conditions that none of the text is changed, and that the author's name remains with the work.

---------------------------

Author's note: This is a followup to 'A Different Sky', in which Tails is discovered to be a female fox upon reaching puberty, and 'You've Grown', in which Tails and Knuckles begin their long-distance relationship after a short weekend of training on the floating island. In ADS she is 13, in YG 15, and in Wildchild, now 17 (in the flashbacks), and 18 at the present scene.

P.S., This story is also in answer to a contest on FUS ( about pregnant SatAM females. It's on the message board there.

I don't need people writing one-line reviews just to say Tails is officially a guy! Read 'A Different Sky' and open your mind just a little bit. Haven't you ever heard of something called 'author's license' or … hmmm… something called plain old 'creativity'?

---------------------------

Tails' eyes rose slowly to the summer-heavy branches of the Great forest canopy, searching for spots of bright sunlight that filtered through them when wind rustled the green blanket of leaves. Her heart ached to rise up among the leaves – to loose herself in the jungle of green, and to lay up, hidden among the great network of wooden bridges, and to hear the songs of the birds. Part of Tails belonged in the sky, and always had.

But for now she was grounded, trapped at the forest floor. It had been two months since Sally had laid down the restriction - no flying – not even a greater leap, now that Tails had progressed into the third trimester. In fact, Tails was pressed into a sedentary state – Rotor refused her help with his annual re-organization of his workshop, Bunnie had shooed her out of the garden with a sound reprimand, and even Antoine had refused her participation in his daily sword practice.

And the greatest blow to her freedom had come three weeks ago – Sonic had volunteered himself as a makeshift sentry, tagging alongside her at every possible waking moment. Now he trailed her, with an almost guilty look on his face, as she had in years past. It was strange – he followed her to the ring pool, he waited dutifully at the path that led to the bathing beach, and he stayed nearby when she took walks past the ringpool, growing steadily more quiet and reflective as the days passed. The silence of his company was almost eerie, a complete opposite to his former frothy personality. He had turned slowly from recalcitrant teen, to a brooding figure that followed her shadow, speculating things that, when she asked, he never answered.

So now she took advantage of his silent vigil. Her head was propped on his stomach, her eyes closed again while she daydreamed in the heavy midday heat. The drone of cicadas had risen in the background, drowning out her thoughts as she lay, bringing a feeling of eternal stillness to that summer glade. Under her ear, Sonic's soft belly fur rose and fell slowly. He had fallen into a daze, elapsing into sleep as he tended to do on lazy days. At least that part of him had not changed – he was still in love with speed and sleep, and great amounts of food between those two.

Tails nuzzled against the hedgehog-scented fur and breathed a long sigh, for a moment forgetting the time, place, and her heavy form. What if Sonic had been her conquest? What if? For the moment she could dream that perhaps she had fallen for her first fancy.

Sonic belonged to Sally. The two were inseparable, as bread and butter, or sun and sky. They complimented eachother, and worked well, despite their contrasts and conflicting personalities. He was a wild, burning fire, quick, impulsive, fantastic and full of passion. She was a princess of cool, calculating cunning, waiting for the moment to come where her hand could crush her enemy, her patience long and legendary, and her eyes cool and warm at the same time.

Tails had no place between them – but she still had a place in her heart for Sonic.

Sigh… the leaves above rustled a sentiment for her, carrying her breath with them as she fell into a state of sleep.

--------

Up in the stratosphere, in a world all his own, Knuckles sat in a quiet trance, sitting stock-still on the cold stone floor of the emerald shrine. His eyes were focused in on the glowing, green rock, his eyelids low and his breathing slow.

Somewhere, down there, in the foreign lands, she was waiting, like he was, for something wonderful. Something that made his blood run warm. Something that would change his life forever – but for now, it was him, the island, and the emeralds. He was surrounded by them – the cool blue behind him, humming softly with the sounds of life as it had for centuries. To his left, the yellow emerald, thrumming in tones which only he new. And on his right, the violet emerald, with small, seedling crystals growing in the bed beneath it, their tiny forms echoing the parent above them, singing in the same high tones, echoing and mimicking her harmonies.

One of those seedlings lay on his mate's neck, a million miles away, on the surface of the planet. It still pulsed with the same life as its parent – echoing, as it were, his sentiments for her. No matter the distance, he was there. A little piece of the floating paradise, lay close to her heart. He had harvested the seedling himself, years ago, and set to polishing it to a smooth stone, not for a moment thinking of its purpose or future, but rather smoothing down the amethyst for the sheer beauty of it.

But it fit well, now, on the breast of his mate. Yes, something he'd himself fashioned, from the heart of his island. Even if he couldn't live with her down on the fixed land, he could send a part of him with her.

--------

The year before, he'd shown her the emerald shrine. Led her through its halls, read the old tapestries, shown her the wall hangings that mirrored the events of seasons past, when Sonic had destroyed the threat to his emeralds. He'd showed her the tapestries that he had yet to fathom, further down the spiralling halls that wound nearly endlessly down in his cavernous island. There, at the bottom, he'd shown her the hall of ancestors.

Her voice had echoed down the crystalline walls, when he lifted his torch to light up the likeness of his father's face. A clear, soft gasp, that seemed to breathe life into the sleeping figures, and brought magic back to the hall. But the figures were but likenesses, not the people themselves – this place, a record of guardians that had lived long, long lives on the lonely island, watching its company rise and fall. Far up the hall were proud and decadent figures, of a time forgotten, and closer to the entrance were the humblest ones, their faces showing the wear of a quiet island and the long defence of its secrets.

"Who…?" She had asked, when they moved to the other side of the hall, where a long line of female figures stood, their eyes drooped in sleep, facing the proud males on the other side.

Knuckles reached out a hand to sweep a small layering of dust from the last figure, his eyes almost tender as he brushed the clothing of the statuesque, small figure against the wall.

"My mother." He said softly, then lowered his torch and bowed his head.

"All echidnas suffer a fatal flaw – their pride fell their race."

Tails eyes glinted blue in the firelight, then her eyes dropped too, feeling the silence of the hall sink into her heart, and the expression of Knuckles' parents, for a moment, graced her own face.

The island – both a blessing and a curse – Knuckles' prison, and his fortress. The thought was heavy, enough to make her hold her breath in fear of breaking the solemn silence of the hall of guardians. Quiet reigned there in the crystal hall of figures, just as it should.

Knuckles looked up one last time at the likeness of his mother's face, then silently walked back to the entryway, setting his foot on the winding stairs. Tails followed quietly behind, her tails swaying low, tracing trails in the dust on the floor. And for a long, long time, that was the last breath breathed in the hall of guardians.

--------

Far above the silent statues, Knuckles' eyes drooped slowly closed, and he drew in a long breath in the twilight of the emerald chamber. The lullaby of the emeralds lulled him, gently, sweetly – drawing him into a half-slumber in that great, echoing hall.

And then, there, in the harmony of the song, was a high pitched note, sweet, and out of place. It rang, very softly, from the violet emerald, and was echoed in turn by the green in a low, pulsing tone.

Knuckles' eyes shot open, and he stared hard at the green depths of the master emerald, his entire being focused in on its song and light.

--------

A strange snort and a bump from her furry pillow woke Tails from her semi-slumber. Apparently Sonic had half-coughed in his sleep, and disturbed Tails' repose. She took in a deep breath and folded her hands over the great bulge at her belly. Up above, the shadows in the leaves had shifted to high noon, the greenery glowing as if they had a light of their own. Every few feet, the sun glinted through, as the winds brushed over the branches. It reminded her of a late summer day up on the floating island, when she'd seen the same sight…

--------

She had tumbled like a sack of apples from Knuckles' exhausted arms as he landed in the jungle of the eastern edge of the floating island, her first taste of the lost continent being the rich, loamy soil that greeted her nose. Knuckles landed not a second after her, dropping down on his clenched fists and knees and panting for breath. The glide back to the island had been a lengthy, wearing process, that Tails had helped boost with her unique hovering skills – but in the end Knuckles had done more than his share of gliding up thermal columns to reach home.

The world seemed to spin around for longer than it should, but somehow Tails managed to toss herself over onto her back, spread-eagled to pant at the leafy canopy above. A cool breeze blew through the forest itself, wafting over her fur luxuriously, and cooling her tongue, which flopped lazy out the side of her muzzle. And this was what Knuckles had done for two years, season after season, to visit her down in Knothole?

Her respect for her mate rose one notch. She drew her tongue back in her mouth and smacked her lips together, trying to rouse some saliva over her parched maw. It had been ages since she had set foot upon the island, and smelled its delightful scents. She closed her eyes and drew in the air, filling her chest with the clean air, and hearing the leaves rustle, the birds sing, and her mate groan and shake his head.

There was a quiet huff, and a small, black nose nudged its way around her ear, sniffing her fur and wafting her scent. Tails giggled and tried to push Knuckles' insistent nose from her ear, the large flap of skin and fur folding itself down against his tickling breath. The echidna growled a soft protest, pushing back against her hand with his forehead, being rather bullish and playful towards her. She kept her eyes closed, trying to resist the temptation to curly up and giggle wildly at his advances.

It had been months since his last hesitant, quiet visit in Knothole, where he had rapped on her door quietly and waited an hour before knocking louder still. He was a different being in Knothole than on the island – in his own territory, he was self-assured, confident and full of energy, ready to tackle challenges with a mood that hid the difference between dead-seriousness and play all too well. And in Knothole, he was shy, suspicious, and wary, his eye following every person that walked by him. Knothole had grown used to the sight of the red guardian walking through her leafy paths, but Knuckles had never shown signs of settling down in the Great Forest's sanctuary hideaway.

Suddenly Knuckles lifted his head from Tails' hand, and there was a heavy thump on the group at Tails' side. The sun was blocked from over Tails' white-crested stomach, and the warmth of the sunlight faded slightly – and Knuckles' hands landed on both sides of Tails' shoulders. She cracked her eyes open to catch a blur of bright light and the red and peach of Knuckles' dreadlocks and cheeks, as he dipped his nose to her neck – and ruffled her fur.

Tails shuddered and scrunched up her shoulders, her eyes closing tightly again. She was halfway between giggling and murmuring, and Knuckles was persistent, forcing her head to the side and diving his muzzle into the soft cleft of her neck.

"Muh.. Knuckles – What are you- ah!" Her last word was cut short as Knuckles made a soft but firm bite on the muscle binding her neck to her shoulder and pressed himself to her form. Things became less a matter of words after that moment, and more of mumblings, kisses and movements, punctuated by the sounds of two voices purring at eachother in the rich soil of the tropical forest basin.

--------

The wind had picked up by the time Tails awoke, whipping through the high branches and causing an eerie creak in the trees as they swung. Far above were rolling clouds, very dark and dramatic so that they appeared lower than they actually were. The scene above kept her on her back for a few moments, bringing a tingle of urgency as she listened. The feeling began in her gut and crept up her spine, until she sat up, stock-straight and glanced about for Knuckles.

She found him, his great, deep amethyst-purple eyes riveting hers. He was seated beside her, still and serious in the way he often was. His mercurial changes in mood were somehow fitting for the intensity of his gaze – which suddenly broke off to stare up at the clouds.

"It's time to head out." Knuckles stated plainly. He stood up, straightened his gloves, and offered her a hand.

Tails accepted and was hefted roughly to her feet, and the world swam briefly around her as blood rushed from her head. Knuckles paused only for a moment, gave her a flashy grin, and took off into the vegetation. She stood for a moment, her perceptions of Knuckles and Sonic crossing paths, before she shouted and took off after him.

"Wait, dammit!"

--------

The storm had reached full power by the time Tails popped into the tiny cave entrance behind Knuckles. She sat now with her back to a comfortably curved dirt wall, brushing dirt from her voluminous tails and staring out at the deluge. The small excavation was thankfully dug into a bank, with the entrance angled upwards to prevent moisture from dripping in.

Further in the small den, Knuckles rumbled around in the semi-dark and produced a thick mat, presumably from a cache in the wall, and unrolled it. It was a large, sturdy weave of plant fibers, just large enough for its owner to stretch out and then a little more. On this he dropped a pair of very large, round fruits that he had snatched somewhere along the way to the cavern. Then he removed his gloves, and cradled one in his palm.

Tails twitched an ear at the ripe 'thunk' that the fruits produced, and she turned to look. Knuckles sat looking at the fruit, rotating it several times in his hand before viciously splitting it in half with a blow of his spikes. One half fell neatly on the mat, open-end up, revealing a large, oval seed surrounded by orange-yellow meat.

"What is that?" Tails inquired, her nose twitching at the pungent aroma.

"Mango." Knuckles answered simply, using his spikes to flip his half of the seed out of the fruit in his palm. "It's good. Eat."

Tails noticed the low growl in Knuckles' voice as he spoke, and it was followed up by a loud gurgling protest from his stomach. She chuckled and reached out to take the fruit, but instead drew her hand back quickly when the fingertips were soaked in juices. She blushed and drew off her gloves, quickly laying them aside and took the great round half-fruit in her hands – and Knuckles paid her no attention, devouring his portion with gusto.

Her first bite was quick and hungry, because the smell was sweet and musky, tempting her. The fruit itself ended up being a strange, stringy flesh, requiring the strength of her jaws to pull out a bite and causing juices to run down her jaw. Knuckles cast her an amused look, and watched her eat, as he masticulated on a particularly large bite.

Tails managed to tear off a strand, working awkwardly on it in her canine teeth until she managed to get the practice down. It was indeed a sweet, addictive taste, which, as she swallowed, turned into an almost overpowering sensation of peppermint aftertaste. Had she not, at that moment in time, found herself so hungry, she would have eaten much slower. By the time she was more than halfway through her fruit, she found Knuckles gazing at her, rumbling softly as he lapped the last fruit from his fingers. His eyes in the semi-dark reminded her of a night, a very long time ago, around a campfire…

And her reverie was broken off when he sat on his knees, bowing to keep his head down from the low ceiling, and brushed the second mango aside off the mat and came towards her, to sit down at her side. She rumbled slightly at him in greeting and a partial thanks for the meal – then closed her eyes and continued eating the last of her mango. As she ate, she felt Knuckles' arms curls around her form, drawing her in to lean against him while he sat up against the cavern wall. He nuzzled his chin over her head and suddenly, with her ear pressed to his throat, she could hear his rumbling, deep and merry in its own way. The sound was relaxing – soothing – until the crash of thunder echoed into the cavern from outside, and she lept, frightened, in Knuckles' lap and dropped the last nugget of mango into the dirt of the floor. He managed to just turn his head, avoiding a nasty knock of the teeth together as she bounced.

He chuckled and brushed down the fur of her back and neck as she unfurled slowly, rumbling to her even more in the close contact. Tails had no great fear of thunderstorms and rain, but for some reason the crack of thunder had snapped her out of her reverie and tripped her nerves. Knuckles simply took advantage of the situation – after she had stopped twitching her ears about, he lifted her chin gently with his ungloved fingers, and smiled at her.

"You are simply a mess. Worse than I was at age 5 with my fruits."

Tails found herself looking up into his eyes, finding them calming, and the rest of her fur settling into place. "Oh?"

"Yes, my father said I learned to be very neat. And look at you, you're a soaking mess. "

"Well, I do have an excuse." Tails whimpered, her ears swivelling back as Knuckles' other hand rose to brush a fleck of mango from her muzzle.

He simply murmured an 'Mhmm' and leaned forward, his nose almost touching hers. Tails found herself flinching for some reason, a pleasant warmth stirring in her.

"Relax." He said as she twitched – then he quietly placed both hands at either side of her head, and began grooming the remains of the fruit from her short fur.

The sensations of Knuckles unexpended tenderness made Tails feel almost ashamed for flinching away, She fell silent, her eyes closed as he paid her extra attention and started purring again.

She fell into a lull, and then a shiver as Knuckles followed the sticky line of juice down her throat. He nipped here and there, his muffled rumbling growing stronger – and a thought hit Tails as she nestled there.

"Knuckles?" She called to him, trying to draw his attention. His face was buried at her collarbone, engaged with the great tuft of fur there. "Knux, what about the tea you always gave me?"

He paused only a second in his attentions, not loosening his grip on her shoulders. If he had exposed ears, Tails would have seen them twitch. He paused in his purring, and spoke, "We don't need it right now."

"But…" Her protest was cut short by a nip at her neck, and his rumbling returning in full force. She had it in mind to protest further, but he distracted her by trailing drown from her collarbone, and drawing her form up against his.

And from that point, until the rainstorm stopped, neither of them really felt the need to speak.

--------

The strange storms continued through the week, seeming to arrive with pinpoint accuracy at the same hour every afternoon. They came when the sun was at its highest in the sky, and then left 3-4 hours later, as if the storm had never been. In their wake they always left a long, lingering sunset, which was breathtaking from the edge of the island.

Tails became increasingly familiar with the lay of the land where they lived for those days, and Knuckles introduced her to many more exotic fruits (not all of which she enjoyed).

Knuckles' appetite for making love faded not in the slightest, and he seemed for some reason especially focused on keeping her well-fed, well-rested, and otherwise occupied. Tails protested often on the second day, but afterwards became only too glad to accommodate him. For once her cycle was permitted to run fully through its course, and the effects on the male echidna were all too apparent. Tails was sorely tempted to make some of the hormone-suppressant tea on her own, but the one time she came across the appropriate plant, Knuckles gave her a sound rebuke.

Slowly the days waxed onward, and Tails fell into a contented lull, enjoying the island paradise that Knuckles created for her. Three days became four, four became five, and on the seventh day Knuckles woke her early in the morning. The sun had just peaked over the horizon, and the sky begun to lighten, when he nudged her at the shoulder and handed her a pear for breakfast.

It took a while for her to clear her eyes and sit up – and a little longer for the sounds of daybreak to ring in her ears. The birds had long since begun to sing, each competing to drown the other out with song.

When her eyes finally opened, she found Knuckles sitting on his haunches before her with a satchel of fruits between his knees. He had an orange in his hand, and his eyes, looking bemused, were on her. She smiled back and obligingly took a bite of the pear, pondering in the back of her head where from he had produced the satchel.

Surely it had been fished out of a cache somewhere nearby, like the mat that they lay on while hiding from the rains. Tails inwardly smiled, the scent of rich, dry earth, clean fur and fresh rain lingering in her memory. She closed her eyes and absorbed the sounds around her while she ate. The island was a peaceful place – both alive and full of life. It filled her with a sense of both gratitude and envy – that she was privileged to share a few precious days on the island, and that Knuckles was so free to do as he please.

She suffered a twinge of guilt at the thought. It was untrue to the core – Knuckles was a slave to the island. He could only come to see her when his island came close to the great forest in its long orbit around the planet, and his everyday life was filled with the maintenance of the island and the protection of its treasures.

She looked up and caught his eye, giving him a look of renewed respect and appreciation. The burdens he carried were boulders in consideration of her pebbles in Knothole – and she felt that it was something she should never forget.

Her look was returned with a sly smile, and he began to rumble lowly to her, causing her ears to perk up. "Oh… No, not again -" Tails groaned, rolling her eyes.

Knuckles' teeth showed as he grinned even wider, then lurched forward and knocked her to her back in the grass. He hunched over her, purring, "You don't think I would leave you alone after you look at me like that, now do you?"

Tails smiled back, returning his mischievous grin. "No, I suppose not…"

--------

After they had worn another groove in the forest floor, Knuckles groaned and stood, offering Tails a gloved hand. She accepted and was pulled to her feet, where she wobbled for an instant, then began brushing grass off of her fur and laying it straight. Knuckles watched, still amused, then grabbed his satchel from the ground behind them and slung it over his shoulder.

"Let's go, Tails." He gestured west, into the island, taking a deep breath.

Tails looked up, a look of surprise in her expression. "Go? Where?"

"You'll see."

"But -" And she huffed, prancing slightly on her feet with an awkward expression. "Shouldn't I clean off first? I mean, we just - "

He glanced at her, first down at her waist, then up to her face. "Do you see Sonic anywhere? Or anyone else for that matter?"

"No, but…"

"Then there's nothing to worry about. Come!" And he dashed off again, straight in the direction he had indicated.

She huffed, growling lowly before taking off after him. "Men!"

Knuckles' speedy trail took them straight through the tropical forest, over a great, hilly meadow where their passage spooked a great flock of white birds, and down into a deciduous forest that lay in a valley. There, at the bottom, was a small lake, connected to two winding streams, one leading in and one streaming away. Knuckles stopped only at the lip of the water, waiting for her to catch her breath while he took in great gulps of the air. He stretched, giving long, satisfied yawns, looking very glad for the exercise.

When Tails had finally stopped panting, she stood up straight and cast her gaze about, feeling an odd pang of homesickness among the tall leafy trees. Beside her Knuckles bowed to his knees and dipped his muzzle in the water, taking long gulps of the clear water as if quenching a deep thirst. Watching gave Tails a similar feeling, and she bowed beside him, leaning into the bank, her gloved fingers rustling pebbles while she took long draughts of the cool liquid.

As they both rocked back again, Tails turned to Knuckles inquisitively. "Is this what you wanted to show me?"

"No." He answered, using the back of a forearm to clear the water from his chin.

"What, then?"

"We still have a ways to go." And with that he stepped into the water, flinching not an instant at its coolness.

"What!" Tails exclaimed, scrambling a little bit back from the bank. Knuckles nodded, smiling a bit, then offering his hand beckoningly.

"Come. We have to swim. There's an underwater cavern here, that leads to where we're going."

Tails eyes widened, suddenly understanding. She sat there a moment, looking wary of the water – but she stood resolutely, and accepted Knuckles' extended hand. She could go where he could – if but with a minimum of trepidation. She loved water and swimming, but the idea of going into a watery, dark cavern was a frightening prospect.

Knuckles led her out into the water, wading slowly into its depths. First the water only lapped over their shoes, then it crept to their toes, then – suddenly, the rock dropped off, and Tails was wading water, following Knuckles out to the center of the lake. There he paused, waiting for her, swimming awkwardly in his gloves, shoes and with the satchel. When she arrived, he took a great gulp of air, and then dived.

And she shook her head, breathed in deeply, and dove after him.

--------

Knuckles' seemingly suicidal dive into the lake actually did lead to an underwater cavern, where the entrance was cunningly disguised in aquatic plants that had to be swept aside for their passage. He led her deep into the curving waterway, and surprisingly, after a moment in the cave, Tails discovered that the walls were lined in a gently glowing algae. Just when she thought she was going to faint from lack of air, Knuckles urged her upward into a pocket of air at the cavern ceiling, just large enough for her to pop her head into and take a deep breath. Knuckles filled his lungs in turn after her, then they continued the cold swim down through the caverns, where there were regular intervals of these air holes.

In one of them, Tails surprised Knuckles with a deep kiss, instead of drawing her head out when he rose. She surprised him enough to cause him to flounder in his swimming, and she laughed as he sputtered, until the air became stale and they were forced to move on.

It seemed soon to Tails that she had become completely numb, when the last air hole turned out to be an entrance to a dry cavern. Underneath her Knuckles suddenly took ahold of her and heaved upwards, grounding himself on the water cavern's floor. She was heaved halfway out of the water, and was able to catch the lip of the ledge above, and pull her heavy, water-soaked self up onto the stone floor. She dragged herself a few feet, trailing water and wet fur behind her, before flopping down and gasping like a fish.

Behind her Knuckles came up second, crawling over to the wall and heaving his wet satchel to the floor, while leaning back and gasping himself. The swim had taken its toll on both of them, despite his greater endurance and physique.

After some time, Tails rose to her hands and knees, groaning with the effort – then initiated a long shiver that shook droplets from her fur in all directions, ending with her tails, causing it to spin and splatter a long ring of water on the floor, ceiling and walls of the cavern. Behind her Knuckles howled in surprise as the water hit him, adding to what already resided in his fur and waking him out of his reverie. He glared at her when she stopped shaking out her fur, and caught her eye when she looked back over her shoulder.

He growled lowly at her in the dim light from the glowing plants, sounding irritated before he looked at the position she was in.

"Mmm.. Looks a bit like something I saw a long time ago one starry night…"

Tails gasped and whipped around into a sitting position, curling her now-damp tails around her waist. "No such thing!"

Knuckles laughed heartily, and begrudgingly got to his feet, hefting the satchel over his shoulder.

"We still have a ways to go."

She sighed, standing up, and walked over beside him. "Lead on, Mister Knuckles."

He grinned and reached around to cup a hand at her backside. "Certainly, Miss Vixen."

She gasped and shuffled to the side out of his reach, blushing. He simply shook his head, smiling, and led her through the cave, striking up a whistle. He was definitely at home in the caverns, his step seeming just as light as when he had first led her to the edge of the floating island.

Knuckles led deep into the caverns – the tunnels slowly grew warm, so that they both dried out – and to last Tails was glad for the sogginess of her shoes as the floor grew hot. It was a relief, however, when they emerged into a cooler area – where the walls were lined with delicate crystals that had formed in the wake of the volcanically active area. The tunnels seemed to wind forever on, leading through spectacular, high-vaulted ceilings where their footsteps echoes solemnly, and through tight cracks where Tails lost track of the left and right turns, and the ceiling seemed eager to close in on them. Knuckles plunged ever forward, seemingly certain of his feet, and swift in his travel, only stopping when she lost her breath.

In time they reached the destination, and Tails' feet were relieved to walk upon an even floor, while her eyes wandered upwards. The ceiling rose up, and up higher still, to where she was surprised to see a great crack, and a glimmer of the sky, still light after so much time traversing the caverns. And to the left and right of her, everywhere she looked, were great columns and walls and tapestries, wrought no doubt by hands long gone from the face of the island. Her nose pointed high into the air, following the sights high up into the air, fascinated by their color-rich beauty in that cathedral-like building.

Her fascination with the lofty heights above her proved foolish, however, when she tripped over a step in the floor and she tumbled forward, only to land in Knuckles' quick arms.

"You might want to watch where you walk." He murmured with a smile, setting her upright. "Come, I have things to show you."

And show her, he did. The tapestries, the stories, the great hand empty ringing halls, and the long, winding stairs down to the hall of guardians – and back, up towards the crowning glory of the island, the emerald chamber.

Here, in the high-arched doorway, Knuckles stood, his eyes closed, breathing in deeply of the air and listening – and Tails gazed, fixated on the large glowing crystals, awed in the complete silence. The emeralds danced without moving, drew breath without breathing, and sung without singing. It was almost too much – her fur stood nearly on end, sensing the energies that danced in the room. She wanted to cry, to shout, to jump, to run away – anything but stand there and bear their presence. Instead, she stood, transfixed, at Knuckles' side.

When the moments had passed, and a small tone of inquiry entered the emerald's song, Knuckles reached out and took Tails hand, leading her forward even with closed eyes. Her expression took on a brief appearance of panic, her eyes wide as she followed him reluctantly forward. He led her, silently, up forward – through the circle of the lesser emeralds, which pulsed in recognition of him, and up, before the master emerald, where he held her hand gently, and opened his eyes, to gaze directly at her.

For that instant, Tails' apprehension dropped, and she saw a tenderness in Knuckles' eyes, standing there in the heart of his island. Here his expression was as she hadn't seen it before – full of something she could not identify. Whole – perhaps. Knuckles was a creature, dependant upon the emeralds, as they were upon him for protection. He was their guardian, and they, his future.

He squeezed her hand gently and spoke, being the first noise she had heard since they entered the chamber, his voice seeming like a whisper in the deafening silence.

"Can you hear them?"

She creased her brow, peering oddly at him. "Hear who?"

"The emeralds." He whispered, his eyes falling to her lips.

She shook her head, ears rotating, straining as if to hear some sound.

Knuckles sighed softly, and brought his other hand to join the first at Tails' own.

"Tails – listen to me. This isn't easy for me to say, but I need to."

She gazed up, quietly, and gave his hands a squeeze, her ears rotating forwards towards him.

"I'm in love with you. I want to be your mate, not just every few months, but always. I want to have my family with you. I want you to be in my family." He paused, drawing his breath in. "This is important – will you be my wife?"

Tails swallowed, her whole attention fixated in on him. She quivered a bit, feeling suddenly small, out of place, and young. "I … I thought we already were…?" She indicated the stone at her breast, nudging the amethyst crystal with a gloved finger.

His gaze softened, and he smiled. "I chose you out, dear – but now I'm asking you, instead of just acting it out."

She closed her eyes for a while, and simply breathed. The reasons came to her, at last – the tour through the hall of tapestries, the hall of guardians, and now in the heart of his island. The whole reason he had brought her here, the very question he'd waited a week to ask, or even longer.

"Yes, Knuckles, I want to be yours."

He smiled back at her and released her hands – leaned down as if to kiss her, his muzzle only an inch from hers – then placed his hands at her sides and hefted her up into the air. She squealed, surprised, and cried out, writhing as he lifted her. His face was a look of sheer joy, and he shouted as he held her aloft, "This is my mate!" – as if there was an audience that needed to hear it aloud.

And with that he turned her so her back was to the master emerald, and began walking forward with intent. At the sides of her vision, Tails could see activity stir up within the stone, the glow increasing, and jolts of what seemed to be electricity arcing out from it, contacting the lesser stones. Her ears folded back in fright, and she struggled more in Knuckles' hands, perceiving his goal. He was going to place her atop that monstrous stone! She braced herself, her teeth clenching, and her fur bristling out in all directions – the fine hairs of her tails wafting towards the stone.

She expected pain – a great surge of electricity to arch through her – and just when Knuckles placed her down on the smooth, emerald-glossy surface, exactly that happened. Great, yellow-and-white bands of lightning arched away from the stone and made contact with her fingers – with her feet, with her chest, lacing through her, winding mercilessly through every nerve in her form, causing her to flail backwards and lay on the emerald, arching her back. She tried to scream in the shock, but not a sound emerged from her – she tried to move, but she was unable. The feel of the lightning, however, did not cause her pain, or any trace thereof. It made white glow in the sides of her eyeballs, blanking out her sight of Knuckles, and the great ceiling above. She became blind to everything in the room, and a sensation began building in her – as if she were sinking, down, deeply down through some great vast sea of water. She began to hear things – voices, songs, echoes. They spoke at first a foreign language, babbling incoherently, muttering things as if to her, but not to her. And slowly, she began to understand them. One spoke of the great, green expanses of grass, and the animals that grazed upon it. It described the sky, with great, fleecy clouds, and how they danced like the island upon the sky.

Another echoed. It chirped in delight, and there were the sounds of something cracking, splintering, and falling. Another, deeper voice joined it – they were male and female, calling to their young. The child answered from within his shell, calling for aid, struggling to emerge – hands reached down and scooped him up, and embraced him. And gave him a name.

And as soon as it came, the sound was gone, filled with others, deeper, older, and somehow more faded. Memories, stories, echoes of the past. Further, and further down, until the light was so bright, it seemed that it could burn her away. There were screams of fear – fire – a memory of heat, so much so that she feared she would be nothing but charred remains. A great sound of metal wrenching from metal, and of people wailing in fear. The sounds of earth and steel screaming and groaning at each other.

The sounds of the emeralds, pulsing, injured, laying in a crater deep in the earth, feeling for its people.

Knuckles waited, patiently, his eyes softly filled with tears as his mate's form sank slowly into the emerald, her lips still and her eyes closed, bathed in light. He felt years wash from him – relief, anxiety, ache, seeping away as she took in the same experience as he once had, years ago. He simply stood there, listening, as the emeralds sung in a crescendo, their eerie voices leading a song to no one in particular, and to everyone who cared to hear.

And he was still standing there when her unconscious form slipped out of the emerald, limp but breathing in a deep, exhausted sleep. He took her in his arms, and carried her gently away.

--------

The sound of flowing water brought Tails out of her deep dreams, the memories of the emerald sea fading slowly away as she opened her eyes. She was laid out on a reclining couch, her head propped up on a cushion and a blanket pulled over her. The air was crisp and had a slight bit of cold to it – but the feeling invigorated her, and she stretched, letting the blanket wiggle down her form slightly.

A voice from a short distance chuckled, bubbling softly with mirth like the water. "Finally awake, huh?"

"Yes, at last." Tails rubbed her eyes, clearing away the dried moisture of a long sleep. When she at last grew accustomed to the light and her eyes focused, she saw Knuckles, seated at a wooden table, leaning forward on his elbows, staring at her from across the room.

The room itself turned out to be a veranda, where light streamed in through two open porches, a waterfall within view from one porch, and two walls cradling the corner where Tails sat. The walls were lined in blue and green tiles, sparkling lightly in the daylight.

Knuckles followed her line of sight, out the porch and too the vast array of a maze of waterways and high buildings.

"Amazing, isn't it?"

"Where… where are we?" She murmured, her eyes again lost, as she recognized in the far distance, the walls of a cavern.

"Still inside the island. This is called 'The Waterworks'. "

She nodded, but her eyes still begged for more explanation.

He chuckled at her, and scooped up a cup of what she could only assume was a warm beverage.

"You were asleep for quite a while. I thought this would be the best place for you to wake up…" He sighed softly, and took a sip of the brew. "This place used to be alive with echidna kind. It was the most popular place to make a home – settle down, raise a family… " His eyes drifted out over the rooftops. "Now it's just a place for fish, and water. Just me, you, and the water."

Tails caught a sense of sadness, drifting up from him as his eyes closed.

"I'm sorry - "

"It's not your fault… And…" He smiled and lifted his gaze, "I've got you, now."

She smiled softly, and nodded. He stood up, and came over to sit beside her on the wide recliner, wrapping an arm around her.

"That -" she took in a small breath, and gave him a questioning look. "What happened, at the emerald – what was that?"

Knuckles smiled again, and kissed her forehead. "I had to make our bond official."

"Official?"

"Yes – now you know what it is like, to be in the family of guardians."

"Oh…" She sighed, softly and thoughtfully. Her head drifted, lightly, down to his chest to rest upon the crest of white there. Knuckles' hand curled up, around her shoulder, and he began to purr, thrumming a soothing song for her, and she felt comforted and loved.

--------

Tails' stay on the island lasted but three days more, before Knuckles pointed out at the edge of the island that they had drifted now to the very edge of the great forest. He seemed solemnly quiet as they stood there, as if he were to sigh. He explained, that while he wanted desperately for her to stay, he still must attend his duties – and that meant sending her back to the home she knew so well – so that she could be safe, even though they might be separate.

"And…" He added, with a small, wane smile on his lips, "You know that you always have a part of me with you. Hold it, and listen to it. I am always with you, Tails."

She lifted a hand to her necklace, clutching the small stone and nodding. He placed his hand over hers, and kissed her, softly, before squeezing her hand.

"Let's go."

--------

The hardest part of returning home were the weeks that followed – where she longed to see Knuckles worse than ever. The few days where they had been together – shared meals, bedding, and even love, had brought her closer than ever before to him, and the experience with the master emerald raised a longing in her that seemed unsurpassed by any other in her life.

She felt ill in the mornings, too. She ate little at the communal table, and at times felt like the small amounts of food that she did ingest were too much. When Sally saw her run off to cast up her food, she reprimanded Tails for not having mentioned the issue sooner, and took the vixen in to Brookshire's hut.

"I think she may have the flue, Brookshire." Sally said, concern ringing in her voice. "I know she looks okay, but the way Tails has been eating lately – well, it's just not normal."

The great old racoon shifted in his sandals and adjusted the one-size-too-large lenses on his nose. "Yes, I see… Well, the only way to see this out is to ask the patient herself." With that he swivelled around in his chair, to face the vixen in question.

"So, Miss Prower, I hear you have been having difficulties lately. Have you been sleeping alright?"

Tails smiled shyly at the typical question, and nodded. "Just fine."

"And eating?"

"Just queasiness in the mornings. I feel a lot hungrier around lunchtime."

Bookshire nodded, sounding a deep 'hummm' in his throat, leaning forward and checking her pulse for show. "And they say you were on vacation up on the floating island, not a long while ago?"

Tails flushed a deep red, almost jerking her wrist away. Sally noticed, and stood closer to the youth, placing her hand on the vixen's shoulder. "That's right, Doctor. She was away for almost two weeks."

Bookshire chuckled deeply, his cheeks bowing up and nearly hiding his eyes. "It's quite alright, Tails, we all know the story." He said knowingly, as Tails hid her face for a moment.

"Yes… well, I have my suspicions, but I can't say just yet. " Bookshire cast a gaze up towards the princess, then held out a small paper cup to Tails. "Here, dear. Do give me a sample. The toilet's that way -" And he pointed over his shoulder, towards a door off of his main room.

Tails flushed a worse shade of red, but did as she was told, and returned after two minutes with a half-full cup and a blush that burned under her white cheeks. Bookshire accepted it with nonchalance and stepped out of the room, apparently to do whatever mysterious laboratory tests that doctors did, leaving Tails to sit with the princess glowering at her suspiciously.

The clock on the wall of the hut ticked away, glad enough to remind the two females that time was passing, second for second. Tails felt nearly that she should say something, but Sally's hand fell again on her shoulder, weighty, as if a single movement would be seen as an attempt to escape.

Tails had not an inkling of why, but she felt as if she had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

When Bookshire finally returned, he had Tails' folder in his hands, and was shaking his head, mumbling something to himself. He sat heavily at his desk, opened the folder, and added a paper to it and began to write. Both of the girls felt as if he had forgotten they were in the room, and the princess shuffled on her feet and coughed.

The racoon took no notice, and continued to scribble, until Sally interrupted him audibly. "What was the result, Bookshire?"

"Obstetrics…" Came the mumbled reply from the papers, and the doctor coughed.

"Excuse me?"

Bookshire cleared his throat, at last setting down his pen and levelling his glasses, giving Sally a direct stare. "I am going to have to clean my obstetrics equipment, Princess. Your baby fox…" A look of small amusement crossed his face, "… Is going to be a mother."

The princesses' face zipped through several different expressions all at once, crossing what seemed to be a volley of impossible emotions. "What!" She squeaked, as if her breath refused to go through her vocal cords properly.

Bookshire extended a hand to Tails, which she numbly took and shook. "Congratulations, and may you have a healthy pregnancy. My compliments to the father," At this he paused and chuckled, before clearing his face with his other hand. "Of course, I offer my full services to you for the duration of your pregnancy, and after, as required."

After he released her hand, the appendage fell loosely to her side. Tails' pupils were dilated, and her expression blank – going through her mind were all the bits of the puzzle, fitting together for her to understand. Knuckles' refusal of the tea, his ardent embraces, and the unusual foods. His showing her all of his family's heritage, then proposing to her before the emerald, and his words, 'I want to have my family with you'.

"Pregnant." She muttered breathily, and her eyes rolled up into her head, fainting right then and there.

Sally caught her before she slipped out of her chair, and Bookshire stood quickly, giving the princess a knowing look while helping her heft the limp form over to the couch.

The princess sighed after they set her down. "I should have known."

--------

The sky overhead had changed from the golden brightness of midday to evening by the time Tails roused again, her slumber having been peaceful and long. Sonic had woken a while before, the rhythmic rise and fall of his stomach stopping and giving her reason to wake.

When Sonic noticed her stir, He gently pushed her head off of his abdomen and stood, stretching under the great old trees and letting a long yawn. Tails sat up and groaned for a minute, placing her hands against her back and stretching out a cramp that had developed while she snoozed.

The hedgehog scratched at the back of his head, and blinked. "Well… I think we should be getting back."

"… Yeah." Tails muttered her reply, having an issue shaking off her sleep. "It just so nice here, though."

"Come on. You never know, we might be having chili dogs tonight." Sonic grinned cockily and stretched out his hand towards her.

She took ahold of his outstretched hand and gripped, coming to her feet awkwardly. "Yeah, that and Sal will have a fit if I come in late."

Sonic simply chuckled, and turned in the direction of the camp, expecting her to follow as normal – though he walked, feeling that Tails should move slowly.

Tails stretched again as she walked, exhaling a long sigh again, and trying to work out the crick in her lower back. It was a constant accompaniment to her pregnancy, especially in these late weeks, and was always worst after laying too long on one side or the other. She stretched her hands over her head, and wiggled as she walked.

Sonic heard a small 'Eep!' from Tails behind him, and then a great splash. He whirled around, a surprised look on his face – and Tails' eyes caught his. She was just as much in shock as embarrassed, and she covered her legs, suddenly now awake.

"What was that?" Sonic's voice sounded an octave too high, even for him.

"Bookshire – now!" Tails squeaked, her eyes round like saucers. Her ears had flushed pale, and Sonic nodded quickly. He dashed forward, scooped Tails up in his arms, and took off to Knothole the shortest root possible. He gave no heed to the mess at Tails' legs, but forgot it near entirely, rushing forward.

--------

Knuckles jolted awake from a great pulse of the emerald, his eyes wide and alert the moment he sat up. There was no mistaking the sound of it – the birth had begun. He stood up quickly and dashed out of the emerald chamber, leaving his supplies behind and racing towards the west side of the island. At the edge he paused, took in a deep breath, then lept free of the land, freefalling for a short distance before flinging out his limbs and catching the wind to glide.

It was going to be a long trip, but he simply had to go.

--------

Bookshire had not but sat down two minutes before, with a plate of steaming potatoes and meat, before Sonic appeared beside him, his chest heaving and eyes like pinpoints. The hedgehog was panting, which he almost never did, and the awkward interruption caused Bookshire to rotate on the bench to face Sonic.

"My goodness, boy, you look like you've seen a ghost!" Bookshire's exclamation carried an undercurrent of truth, as he adjusted his glasses. "What's all his about?"

Sonic's ears flickered, and he began to gain a little color in his cheeks after gaining a little breath. "Tails!"

"Tails? Yes, quite a lovely young woman…"

"No! Tails, clinic, now!" Sonic lurched forward, his face within inches of Bookshire's, his eyes wide. "Something's wrong!"

The old raccoon bobbed backwards, surprise washing over his face, then realization. "Oh. OH!" He exclaimed, and began getting up from the bench. Before he managed to heft his second leg from under the table, Sonic had grasped the racoon's hand and taken off, making the old doctor curse loudly as if his arm was being wrenched from its socket.

Sally had seen the whole exchange, and flushed a deep red at the sounds that came from Bookshire at his hasty departure. She cast a quick look across her table at Bunnie, then they both rose and departed, leaving their uneaten dinners behind as the scampered out from the maze of the mess hall.

Antoine's eyes darted after his princess, as usual on the unawares. He stood up, nearly knocking over the bench and Rotor with it. "Preencez, what is ze matter!" He yowled after her, then scrambled over the bench to lope after the girls.

Rotor grumbled lightly, shaking his head and setting his cap straight and finishing off his plate before taking off after them. He had a good idea what was going on – and didn't want to crowd the poor doctor's hut any worse.

--------

Bookshire shook out his fur when Sonic finally set him down, setting his clothes and glasses straight and giving the hedgehog an indignant stare, before stepping through the doorway into his hut, also his makeshift clinic.

Inside he found a panic-stricken Tails, clutching the armrests of the couch where she had been laid like a basket full of eggs. He ears were flattened against her head and her teeth clenched, a look of sheer fright on her face – and she held the look for a moment, before it passed and she fell, panting.

Bookshire sidled up to her, reaching out and taking a stethoscope from his desktop and lowering to his haunches before the stressed young woman. He placed a hand over hers, while putting the stethoscope around his neck. "Shhh.. relax, Tails, it's okay. "

She lifted her head, the story written plainly on her face of fear. Her eyes shifted between Bookshire's and Sonic's eyes, who had come up behind the doctor and was looking anxiously on. "What's going on!" She whimpered, beginning to quake.

"It's alright, Tails, calm down." Bookshire tried to soothe her, moving his hand to her face to check her eyes and the color of her gums. "It looks like you're having your first contractions. It's normal. Just take a few deep breaths…"

The unnerved vixen tried to take his advice, breathing in one short breath after the other until she had more control over them, and looking dizzy. Bookshire smiled softly and put the stethoscope to his ears, and lifted the listening-piece to Tails' chest, listening calmly to her heartbeat and the sounds of her breathing. Then, when he was satisfied, he lowered the earpiece, and listened carefully at a few spots on her belly.

When done, he patted Tails' hand gently, then rose to his feet. "Just relax there, Tails, and practice that breathing. There's nothing to worry about." He then turned to Sonic, lowering his glasses and peering along his nose at the nervous hedgehog. "So, what happened?" He inquired.

Sonic startled when he was addressed, his eyes having been focused on Tails, watching her try and calm down. "Wha- Ahh.. we had just gotten up, in the forest, and were walking back here for dinner, when she made this funny noise, and there was this great splash of water…"

"And then?" Bookshire inhaled a great breath, as if he was going to sigh.

"And then we ran straight here!"

"She ran?"

Sonic shifted uncomfortably. "I ran, and I carried her. "

"And was she having contractions when you left her here?"

Sonic looked confused for an instant. "You mean tensing up like that? No – she was just frightened…"

"Then it just started. " Bookshire let out his breath and took his glasses off of his nose, and cleaned them with a bit of cloth, looking for the world like this sort of thing happened every day. "We have nothing to worry about – she shouldn't be in any hurry to push the baby out. It could be six to eighteen hours before she's seriously in labor."

"You mean – give birth?" Sonic asked incredulously, and Bookshire nodded his head then replaced his glasses.

There was silence in the room for a few minutes, nothing sounding but the tick of the clock, and Tails' relieved breathing. She had cast her head back on the couch, and looked, for all, like she had just climbed a mountain.

Her repose, however, didn't last, when two excited females broke in through Bookshire's door without even knocking, asking questions and looking about in a flurry of activity. Sally spotted Tails nearly right away, and came over to the fox, clucking away like a worried mother hen and hugging the poor pregnant woman as if Sally herself was about to collapse. Bunnie was questioning Bookshire, her imposing figure flustering him as she hardly gave him pause to answer.

Finally the doctor became fed up, and shouted for quiet, his voice getting increasingly louder until the women were hushed. "For goodness' sakes, the child is already worked up enough as it is, give her some peace and quiet!"

He flushed slightly when he realized how loud his voice was, and found four sets of eyes focused on him. He coughed slightly, then shuffled on his feet. "Ah.. well, now that you're all here, we might as well get started. Sally - " The princess looked hopeful, glancing from Tails to Bookshire, then back. "Just stay put, and help the dear get comfortable. Sonic, Bunnie, this way please – I'm going to need your help."

The two nodded dully and followed Bookshire through the door in the back of his hut, and down the stairs into his storage cellar, where he led them into a darkened corner and motioned at a large, dusty object.

"This here, I need moved." He patted the large contraption, nodding sagely. "Up there." And he indicated the upstairs room with a pointed finger.

"Up there?" Sonic repeated blankly, Bunnie chuckling at him from the side.

"Yes, hedgehog. It should be sufficient punishment for getting my young patient so worked up."

Sonic blushed a bright red, visible even in the dim light of the basement, and Bunnie ended up laughing. Bookshire's gaze ended up directly on her, and she swallowed her laughter, ending up with a hiccup.

"No need to laugh, Miss Rabbot. I really had expected you to be the first to require my services."

It was Bunnie's turn to blush a bright red, and she covered her mouth with a hand. "Why, Ah never-!"

The evening had waxed into night by the time Bunnie and Sonic had successfully hefted the great, heavy object up into a calm corner of Bookshire's clinic, and after setting it up and dusting it off, stood back to see it for what it was – a birthing chair, with a great padded seat and back, with foot rests and arm rests, and with a hydraulic pump at the base for lifting and lowering the seat. It was covered in leather, and looked ominous, standing there and dominating the corner where it sat.

Tails had experienced more contractions as the night wore on, each one increasing in strength and duration, and taxing her, making rest all the more necessary between the straining periods. She stuck to the couch, clutching it with such strength that she punctured the cloth of the armrests with her claws – then tossing aside her stained shoes and torn gloves in embarrassment after the contraction had passed. Bookshire convinced her, too, albeit reluctantly, to take off and set aside her necklace from Knuckles. He had convinced her that it would not do for her to choke on the string, and so it was set carefully near her gloves.

Sally ended up with the task of boiling water and cleaning Tails' forehead and eventually the amniotic fluid that had dried on the vixen's legs, causing her to sigh in gratitude and relax with the loving attention.

Bunnie was sent out to fetch fresh linens and towels from the village storage room, and returned shortly thereafter loaded with as many cloths as she could carry, and then was instructed to stand by for moving Tails when needed to the great chair – which Tails shook her head at violently.

Sonic was ushered out when Antoine barged in the door, his French accent even worse so as to render him incomprehensible. They were both pushed out the door and Antoine was given strict orders (as was necessary when he ended up so flustered) to deny access to any visitors to the hut, except dire medical emergencies. Which, of course, Antoine interpreted as people who were on the verge of death. He sat himself stock still on the steps to Bookshire's porch and kept his hand on the hilt of his sword and stared out into the darkness, murmuring something about protecting 'ze honour of ze preencezz'.

--------

The great old clock on Bookshire's wall had hit three in the morning when Bookshire decided Tails' contractions were near enough to warrant a transfer to the chair, and he shook Bunnie awake in her chair. The rabbit shook the sleep off her, murmuring softly and then stood up, rubbing her eyes with her right hand, then walking over to Tails and scooping her up lightly.

The young fox protested only slightly, exhausted from yet another contraction and distracted enough not to care any more about being placed in the raised chair. She looked even relieved when her legs were placed up, her back reclined, and her head supported.

Bookshire himself took a long draught of water from a cup at his desk, then disappeared into the restroom to wash his hands – then returned and began to inspect Tails more thoroughly. She was oblivious when he ducked his head between her legs, checking her dilation and appearance, then rose and began feeling the unborn child through her distended belly, feeling for the head and feet. His brow creased as he felt, pressing down on the small form and frowning, then checking a second and a third time.

Sally noticed the doctor's look of concern, and questioned him with an urgent look, confused. "What is it, Bookshire?"

"The baby – It's in a breech position. " He shook his head and straightened up, and rotated his shoulders, stretching his arms.

"You mean – upside down?" The princess frowned too, her eyes showing deepening concern.

Bookshire nodded and placed his hands on Tails' stomach again, and began slowly massaging upward, trying to move the infant up, out of the pelvis for rotating it.

"Yes, " The doctor muttered while focused in on the child within. "This isn't going to be easy. Try and hold off just a little while, Tails."

Tails craned her head forward, grimacing as she felt another wave pass over her, "You try and hold off – Aauugh!" The cry rang clear as another contraction came, and her entire body tensed. Sally whimpered slightly, and squeezed around behind the chair and took ahold of Tails' arms to hold her steady while Bookshire massaged.

--------

Outside the hug, Antoine was oblivious to Tails' cries as he stared off into the darkness. He felt as if he were staring off into eternity, but he maintained his post, taking his duties deadly serious.

He began to consider letting his conscious slip off, even just a little, when a dark form began approaching, his eyes shining purple in the dim light coming from Bookshire's windows, and his form deep red. His hands floated as if separate from his body, in great white gloves.

When the great red creature came face to face with Antoine, he had risen from his seat at the porch, and faced the intruder bravely, if not knocking his knees underneath his uniform.

"Out of my way." Knuckles commanded, staring own into the eyes of the sweating creature in front of him. His fur bristled, for the moment fully indignant that this little cowardling dared to stand in his way.

Antoine did the bravest thing he had ever done in his life. "N-no, eet eez by ze order of ze preencezz that zere is no one zat passes."

Knuckles was surprised, his lips pursing slightly at the gall this fool showed. "And this is because?"

"Be-cauze zat iz what she has sai-ud!" Antoine lipped, puffing up slightly. "Tails eez not to be distrur-bed while she eez in labor."

Knuckles' eyes flared up, and he leaned forward, his nose nudged up against Antoine's, eliciting an 'Eep!' from the poor creature. "If I were you, I would step aside. Two steps, to your left, very quickly, and not a word more, because I am the father of Tails' child."

Antoine did exactly what Knuckles commanded, looking a few seconds from fainting when the hulking form of the raging echidna passed, closing the door behind him. And after that, Antoine shifted queasily back to his post on the steps, shuddering like a leaf in the wind for the rest of the night.

Sally was shaken when she saw Knuckles stride in the room, looking all the more impressive for having flown into knothole in the middle of the early hours, his eyes dilated from the dark and shifting quickly to pinpoints in the brightness when he saw the three forms in the corner. He walked over, removed his gloves, and stood near the doctor, speaking plainly as if his statement made all the difference in the world.

"I'm here."

Bookshire stood up, his hands not leaving Tails' belly as he looked into the eyes of the stranger and stuttered, "P-Princess – who is this man?"

Sally shifted her hands on Tails' arms, as the fox lay there, in between contractions. "Bookshire, this is Knuckles, Tails' mate."

Bookshire gaped a moment, then closed his mouth as he regained his countenance. "Pleasure to meet you sir. I would shake your hand, but as you can see, I am a little preoccupied - "

"Likewise, I'm sure." Knuckles replied, then bowed beside the doctor and placed his hands in a similar position, beside the doctor's. "Just tell me what to do."

Bookshire stuttered again, his muzzle agape at the echidna, and he froze for an instant before taking it all in.

"Are you certain?"

"Yes." The answer was very plain.

"Alright - " Bookshire's ears twitched, then he began guiding Knuckles' hands. "This here is the infant's feet, and the head is here - " He indicated at Knuckles' upper thumb near Tails' ribcage, "Normally the baby's head should be in the pelvis at birth. I've managed to lift the child out of the pelvis a little, and now you need to gently rotate the form in the womb," He indicated a half circle, clockwise, on the distended abdomen. "It's critical that the baby is head-down, to prevent damage in the birth canal."

Knuckles nodded lightly, then no sooner than Bookshire was finished talking, began the laborious process of pushing his child slowly in the mother's belly, taking painful care about it. Beneath his hands, Tails was nearly fully dilated, and ready to birth her child.

Bookshire stood, amazed at the patient and cool father – then went to the small kitchen in the back of his room and brought a basin of warm water and washcloths forward, indicating to Bunnie to bring dry towels. The rabbit did exactly as she was told, quiet about it this time and focused when she ended up standing on one side of Tails, her arms occupied with cloths.

It took a long half-hour of slow coaxing, but Knuckles' gentle hands managed to rotate the infant, at one point his deep voice telling his baby to stop being so stubborn. Surprisingly, after that, the child did indeed yield to his fingers, and before long was nestled neatly in the birth canal, Tails stomach looking much better for it.

After that, things picked up speed right away. Knuckles was nudged out from between his mate's knees, and he took her hand at her side opposite Bunnie. His concern began to show around the corner of his eyes, even though he knew that she was in good hands. At Tails head, Sally learned forward and spoke encouragement into Tails ear, even though she was only half listening, and cursing in pain at every contraction.

Bookshire spoke too, commanding Tails to bear down as the head of the infant passed into the birth canal, and Tails screamed with pain, feeling as if her form was being split in two. She grasped Knuckles' hand, squeezing down on it hard and screaming out his name, blaming him for all the pain and agony, her back arching off the seat as she pushed down.

It took three more contractions. Long and painful, to push out the head, and Bookshire supported the small head in his hands in a clean wet towel, while he directed Tails to breathe, then push again to finish the job.

Tails was near exhaustion, but she arched her back, squeezed, and screamed out her frustrations to the world in such a voice of agony that Antoine nearly jumped out of his skin on the porch.

And Knuckles' first born child was pushed into the world in a flow of liquid and blood, Bookshire's hands cradling the small form, which was soon followed by the placenta from Tails' womb. Bookshire indicated to Bunny to grab the placenta in a towel, as he wrapped the mewling form in his warm wet cloth, and lowered the baby to the basin of warm water and washed off the blood-stained fur. He rubbed the baby vigorously, cleaning fluid out from it's eyes, ears and nose, then used a suction bulb to gently remove fluid from it's muzzle, massaging it's tiny chest to encourage breathing.

The first reaction of the baby was to bawl, long, loud and clear, then gasp for air and gurgle, and repeat it's performance for all in the hut to hear. Bookshire smiled proudly, and in her chair, the exhausted mother cried in relief, her hands finally free and lifting her hands to her eyes. Bookshire called Knuckles over, and indicated a pair of scissors on the desk, which Knuckles retrieved.

When Knuckles kneeled to look at the form in Bookshire's hands, his eyes shot wide open. "No egg!"

Bookshire looked up from the baby, to Knuckles surprised look. "Oh – that's right – you're a monotreme. Uh.. We mammals don't have eggs."

Knuckles looked incredulously down at the struggling infant, and his mouth fell open. Bookshire beamed, then indicated the umbilical cord, at the child's belly. "Cut here, about five centimetres from the base. Yes - like that. Good. "

The raccoon deftly tied the stump of the cord in a secure knot, then took the mewling form out from the water and wrapped it in a fresh, warm towel from Bunny, who was also in tears beside Tails. He tucked a single, tiny tail in under the bottom of the baby, then laid it on Tails' chest, where the mother embraced the tiny form gratefully, looking down on its tiny, flattened ears and golden crown. There were tiny tips of red on both ears, and the baby settled down when again near the heartbeat it knew so well – and found a nipple to suckle.

"Congratulations, Tails, Knuckles – you have a healthy baby girl."

Princess Sally looked down wonderingly at the little form on Tails' chest, and felt a pang of longing, looking at the tiny baby, and her heart melted. She had been silent as the baby was washed and laid to rest on her mother's form, but now she cried, too, and watched as Knuckles kissed his mate on her forehead, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. She instantly forgave them both, and wiped her ears although being unable to stem the flow.

Bunnie stepped forward and looked down on the little head at Tails' breast, and beamed through her tears, "Mah, if that don't look like a little firey girl… She looks so much like y'all when yah was a kit, Tails."

Knuckles looked at Bunnie and smiled, looking nearly as exhausted as his mate. He bowed down, rumbled deeply, and kissed Tails, stroking his hand over his mate's forehead.

--------

Knuckles remained with his mate the first two weeks of his child's life, staying with her in her hut, catering to her needs and the kit's as best as he could. It was a miracle in action, and he cried when his daughter first opened her eyes a week later, showing blue eyes, that would later deepen to her father's amethyst gaze. He was in love with his baby, and was never far from them, except one sunny day, after a week had passed.

He had taken Sonic by the elbow to a little-used side of the village, and indicated that he wanted to sit and talk. When Sonic sat, he drew in a breath and spoke,

"Tails told me what a good guard and support you were for her while she was pregnant, Sonic."

"Well… Yeah." Sonic shifted a little uncomfortably on the rock h perched on, a slight blush in his cheeks.

"I really appreciate it." Knuckles added, dipping his head.

Sonic just nodded, an ear twitching while he wondered where Knuckles was going with this.

"But you know I can't stay here forever."

Sonic blinked. "Can't you take Tails with you?"

Knuckles shook his head and lowered his eyes. "No – there's no way I could protect them and the emeralds at the same time, Sonic."

"What are you trying to tell me, Knuckles?"

"I want to ask you – please be a good father for my little Fire."

"Whaaa-at!" Sonic nearly fell off his rock, his eyes widening.

Knuckles looked up, his eyes dark and pleading. "Please. At least until she's old enough for the island."

Sonic's lower lip quivered, wavering at that look.

"Please-?"

"Oh. Damn it… Knuckles… Alright. "

Knuckles smiled, a great look of relief crossing his face.

"But you're going to owe me, big time, echidna, mark my words!"

---------------------------

Footnotes:

Trimester: n 1: a period of three months; especially one of the three three-month periods into which human pregnancy is divided 2: one of three divisions of an academic year

Tea: A natural hormone suppressant and contraceptive for Mobian females which undergo a quarterly cycle. Knuckles introduced Tails to the dried leaves of the plant to ease the problems with her first cycle back in the story 'You've Grown'.

Obstetrics: n : the branch of medicine dealing with childbirth and care of the mother

Stethoscope: n: a medical instrument for listening to the sounds generated inside the body

Breech: 1) The lower rear portion of the human trunk; the buttocks. 2a) A breech presentation or delivery. 2b) A fetus in breech presentation.

Umbilical cord: n. The cord by which the fetus is fed with oxygen and nutrients from its mother while in the womb, and by which wastes are removed.