Chapter 30 – The Hardest Words to Say.

A/N: Here it is; the last chapter of this story; believe me I never intended to write so much, but once I got going I really couldn't stop. As always, thanks to the reviewers who have stuck with me all this time:

HHH – Don't panic, see end of chapter for confirmation of sequel coming! Now point that sequaliser somewhere else; and in the meantime, if you haven't already, read AODAI as some aspects of that could become important in the future.

Proplayer – Just getting to the good bits you are; sorry about the extra detail but I'd just got back from Alton Towers when I wrote those chapters and wanted to get it all down on paper; maybe I overran it a bit. My characters are human I suppose, but I really can't picture them any other way; but what's so disturbing about Vanilla? I made it very plain she's not going out with Shadow; I have plans for him in the future.

TH – (Author and cast watch TH leave; most of the cast is in tears as the Last Post plays in the background. Author quickly brushes away a tear and turns to everyone). Right, you heard the lady; let's make this chapter something special! I want to see you acting 'til you sweat tears and cheek me (author swells up with evil author powers) and I'll write your worst nightmare! (Cast all fall over, praying for mercy and falling over each other to get to their places – Author refused to divulge what the worst nightmare actually is, but trust me – no-one ever goes into the 'classified' folder on his computer. Oh no – not twice).

Komodo – I prefer to chew uranium pellets myself, but anyway, listen up for a second. If you're feeling down, or if you've got a few problems and need to let them out, drop me an e-mail; I'm impartial and believe me I can probably sympathise with most of the things that can go wrong in life. I'll help if I can; if anything, us geeks gotta stick together :-).

The fight raged on, at times a dance in fire; she swung again and again at the flickering flame, each time it narrowly avoided her punishing swing and leapt up to sting her bare arms. She refused to give in, rushing forwards and driving her faceless adversary back with wide sweeps of her trusty hammer, beginning to see something through the smoke of illusion, something she should not be seeing, something the flame around her leapt up to shield from her gaze.

Within the hospital wing of Haven, there was a shuffling noise as one of the occupants shifted position, twitching under the covers as her dreams led her onwards.

But see it she had; a great monolith was obscured by the fire, all power flowed from it; with a triumphant snarl, she charged through the flame protecting it, hammer raised to swing and strike…nothing. It had eluded her, and the fire scorched her legs, forcing her to leap backwards.

The feeder tubes clinked gently against the drip tube as the arms they were connected to shuffled, the patient shifting more violently, slight cries now just audible in the still air.

Several times she ran and was forced to fall back; the fire beating her will to win and beginning to exhaust her strength. She had only the power for one last attack, and it was all or nothing. Slowly, but with swiftly gathering speed, she began to swing her hammer around, mindful of the fire that clustered around her, evaporating the sweat from her brow, so close did it come to her.

The blanket was kicked off, the hedgehog now thrashing around as her mind came to the brink of the barrier between consciousness and dreams.

The hammer weighed as much as a tree trunk but she swung it still, the fire approaching her now stopping, unsure; too late it heeded her plan, too slow was it to react. With a last effort, the hammer left her hand, arrowing towards that which the fire should have guarded, the hateful idol that had imprisoned her here. The aim was true and her strength was sure; the hammer impacted on the face of the malevolent god; cracks formed and it shattered. Light engulfed her senses, she was carried on a tide, away from her testing ground, back to where she should be…

Amy's swing was drunken and wild; it was much more by luck than judgement that she failed to hit anything, her hand instead falling to slap the side of the mattress she lay upon. For a second she was blinded still, the great burst of red light all that remained in her vision, until she blinked and, hit suddenly by the scent of disinfectant, sneezed suddenly, covering her nose with one hand as she screwed her face up reflexively. Ah, that's better; sniffing deeply, Amy was able to throw off some of the lingering images of that vivid dance she had been a part of and start to concentrate on the present. For instance, she was very curious as to where she was, and why was it dark, but first and foremost there was the very pressing concern as to why her feet hurt, and as they did hurt, why were they covered by thick woollen socks?

It was dark in here; she couldn't see much at all so, being as practically-minded as she was, rather than strain and squint her eyes, she simply sat up and reached forwards, feeling with her fingers even as she tried to remember whatever she could to try and make sense of this scenario. It was as she registered the rough cottony feel of the fabric binding the toes of her left foot that it suddenly hit her, the very simple, very basic and very wonderful truth; I was fighting Dimitri, and I won! I saved Angel Island!

An ecstatic smile blooming on her face, Amy Rose let herself fall backwards onto the softest feather bed imaginable as, like a stream of soft, silky bubbles from a popped bottle of the very finest Champaign, a feeling that went beyond elation flowed all the way through her, banishing every bad memory that might have ever haunted her and stilling the niggling pain in her feet as it carried her gently into the waiting arms of sheer heaven. She basked in the triumph she so richly deserved, accepted the plaudits she was due from herself as that truth rang loud and clear all through her very soul. Now was not the time for doubt and concern about such things as where she was or how badly she was hurt, now there was only this internal celebration, of drinking from the jewelled cup of ambrosia the sweet nectar of victory. Now I think I can understand; transported as she was by these visions of the hard-fought win, Amy was able to realise something that had thus far eluded her; that's why Sonic fights so hard, why he risks his neck all the time – it's for this; she smiled and wriggled as a fresh surge of this jubilation swept over her; nothing can beat this feeling.

It could have been seconds or it could have been days; time was immaterial in that nirvana of joy. She allowed her ears to inform her of their knowledge only when she felt she was ready to hear it; she was in total control here, there was nothing outside her grasp, nothing she couldn't do, but, she mused idly as she let herself be titillated further by her memories of victory, the news was interesting and needed some further research. Effortlessly taking a long, deep breath of the sweet air around her, Amy held it for as long as was necessary to make sure. A few inky drops of confusion were added to this sea of contentment; apparently, she wasn't alone here – there was someone nearby, breathing heavily and rhythmically nearby in a pattern she associated with slumber.

She thought and her mind obeyed instantly; there was no resistance of memory in a mind as energised as hers was now. With a single sharp move, Amy brought her hands together in a single clap, shutting her eyes lazily in case she was right. The sudden brightness through her closed eyelids proved she must have been; she simply relaxed there for a minute; so I'm in Haven – I wonder how I got here. Still not seeing, she gave a small shrug; that really didn't matter at this moment in time. When she was good and ready, the pink hedgehog blinked her eyes open and looked up; the light was dim, obviously it wasn't meant to illuminate the whole room, merely the immediate area around her. It was then she glanced around to where the breathing had come from; what she saw there managed to siphon away some of her triumph, polluting it with some dull regret as she realised, once more, she'd made Sonic wait for her.

The blue hedgehog was sprawled across the table next to her, the blanket covering his shoulders not quite hiding the bandages that wound around his chest like clean tapeworms. His head was buried in his arms and he was certainly asleep; Amy fought down a giggle as the sudden thankfulness that he didn't snore burst into her thoughts. She was tempted to leave him sleeping still, but no, she couldn't put this off; shifting as far to the left of her bed as she could, she reached up and inched her fingers forwards; it seemed such a long way, but no, she stretched and rekindled her mood of moments earlier; nothing was beyond her reach. Buoyed up by this knowledge, she found her target; her hand enfolded the one Sonic had closest to her and gave a soft squeeze, releasing the pressure after a couple of seconds. The blue hedgehog didn't react, so she tried again; this time he tried to pull away; she strengthened her grip and prevented the escape attempt, smiling slightly at his even unconscious attitude of stubbornness; he really didn't want to wake up. Sorry Sonic; her smile widened as she tried a harder hold this time, noticing him begin to stir under the insistent pressure; I was always more stubborn than you. With that thought, she gave her most forceful grip yet and felt him pull away, rising upwards as sleep sped away defeated, giving a full yawn as he rubbed his eyes. It was as he stretched out, the soft popping of stiff joints audible in the dimness that she made her introduction,

"Hey Sonic".

XXX

The words ripped apart the veil of still-clinging slumber; he froze, mid-movement, and rolled his eyes down. His brain blocked out the light, his own twinges of pain and the fact that he was stiff as a board; all he saw was Amy, awake and looking up at him, and he just reacted. Leaping up, he skirted around the table and threw his arms around her, heedless of anything else bar her. He embraced ice; he needed her so much it almost hurt to touch her, to sully her pure spirit with the mere presence of his cowardly, unworthy hands, but he couldn't let go, couldn't risk losing her again. Unbidden, words spilled from his lips before he could think of them; words from the heart, unaltered by the conscious mind,

"Amy, you, never scare me like that again; never", his breath hitched uncontrollably, a sharp pain rising to stab him in the chest as he repeated himself, "never". She didn't respond immediately and he was unspeakably grateful; he had a few more priceless seconds with her.

"Ah, um Sonic; I'm sorry, I…" Never! Never again; the only thing she could have said, the one thing he knew he could not allow; she should not apologise for his craven mistakes. Leaving her was like tearing himself from an angel's caress, but he did so, he fought his way back and dashed the tears from his eyes, looking at her squarely, tone all at once hurried and sincere,

"No Amy", he took a deep, shuddering breath and dared once more to meet her gaze, the green of his eyes glinting in the dim overhead light, "now it's my turn to say sorry".

XXX

Of all the things she had possibly expected, this had to be if not the least likely, at least one of them; Sonic looked like he wanted to do nothing less than break down and cry, but he didn't let himself; instead, screwing up his face and preparing himself for what looked to her like an act of incredible bravery, he spoke once more,

"First I said to myself it was Eggman; I couldn't say anything in case he found out, nothing more than a convenient excuse to hide my weakness. Then I said the same about Metal; if anything he could be worse than Eggman and you'd be in even more danger. The we all junked him, so what could I do next", his lips spilt into an ugly sneer, leaving Amy confused as to why he was damning himself like this, "easy; I did what I've done all my life; I ran away. I was too stupid to think about what would happen, too blind to see what effect it would have on us all and too wrapped up in my own god-damn sense of image to tell the truth. I lied to myself, I lied to my friends and", he was tearing himself apart as he met her gaze again, tears, so many of them she could hardly have credited he could have shed them, coursing down his face and onto the floor as his voice degenerated to a whisper, "and worst of all I lied to you. And I kept on lying; you offered me so many chances to come clean and I was too much of a coward to take them – I thought my coolness was worth more than your feelings". Amy didn't want to hear any more; Sonic was hitting the self-destruct button right in front of her and she didn't want to see that.

"Sonic, you're not thinking straight; please, no…"

"Oh Amy, can't you see", the blue hedgehog bit down a sob and continued, trying to let her see through his words, the core of what he was saying, "I am thinking straight; for the first time in ages, I'm telling the truth. It took this", he swept an arm downwards to where her bandages gleamed in the light, "to make me see what was in front of me all the time; you nearly", no, can't say that; he rearranged his words hastily; thinking of that was too painful, "you could have died without…" he steeled himself, couldn't let himself loose it again; there was something so much more important than his at stake here.

"Sonic…" Is this, what I think it is? Amy had to fight down her primal ideas, had to see if he had the courage to speak. Hearing her, the blue hedgehog looked up one last time; the image of her ready to die, give up her own life to make sure the Bloodstone would never be found again, suffused him and he realised, compared to that kind of effort, the strength of character she must have shown, this was less than nothing. The struggle ended instantly and, with far greater ease than he had even anticipated, the truth came out at last,

"…Without knowing, I love you".

XXX

There, I said it; Sonic let his head fall, knowing with gut-wrenching certainty that everything else was in Amy's hands. She was quite within her rights to throw him out, tell him to never go near her again, and though it would break him apart, he would do so; it was nothing less than he deserved after the way he had callously treated her feelings like rubbish. He heard shifting on the bed but didn't dare look up; he would give her nothing she didn't ask for; not a smile, not a glance, in case she drew offence from it.

"Sonic, come here". Burned hollow with worry, anxiety and doubt, he let his gaze lift, and gasped.

She had drawn herself up into a sitting position, her back resting against the pillow she'd fluffed up on the end of her bed. Her arms were open, wide but crowning all, Amy was smiling; that most special, secret smile that only he could ever see starting to cut though his web of lies to the very heart of the matter. Not sure why she could want him, after all he'd done, he moved forwards nonetheless, creeping closer as Amy shook her head, smile stretching further as she started talking,

"You honestly think I would have run after you the way I did, chased you all over Station Square and done all those things if I believed you really didn't feel anything for me? Sonic, sometimes I don't know if you're totally naive or totally stupid", she let out a tinkling laugh, the jingle of those merry peals of laughter lighting up the darkness that had descended on Sonic's mind as he continued his slow approach, listening intently to every word she said, "I knew you had to feel something for me; listen and think hard – would you have sweated blood to rescue me as often as you did if you really thought I didn't matter? What you just told me isn't new – I've known it for a long time and, let's face it, a fair few of the others have probably caught on as well, Tails especially".

"But…"

"No buts", she said sternly before relaxing again, eyeing up his approach as he slid to the end of her bed and came forwards more, talking all the time to calm his nerves, "as for all that stuff about lying, I don't believe a word of it; no backchat", she said lightly, raising a hand before carrying on, "you have never, ever told me you didn't like me, you've always treated me with courtesy and respect and most importantly as a friend. You couldn't lie outright, it's just not you; you hate hurting people like I do, so you evaded the question, the same way you've evaded everything Eggman's ever been able to dream up and throw at you".

He was close now, so close their noses were almost touching, but still he wouldn't go that extra inch into her waiting arms, still he shied away, unworthy in his own mind. Not even knocked out of her stride, Amy said the final, most compelling piece of evidence she had; the simple facts she had discovered about him all the time they'd been together as friends.

"You've had to be stubborn all your life; you couldn't give up or your enemies would have won, so every aspect of you is geared towards resisting; I realised that when I fell for you, and more importantly I knew the only way to get around that". She smiled again, more broadly as the words sank in; Sonic let his nervousness and worry drain away, defeated by the confidence Amy could never have faked,

"I had to be more stubborn than you; okay, my techniques weren't great and maybe chasing you was a lost cause from the off as I'd never catch up, but I knew I could do it eventually and, well, I guess I did", she looked up at him fully, smiling broadly as she reached out, placing a hand firmly on his arm and leading him inwards; sliding her other arm around his back tenderly due to his injuries, she whispered her three final words into his ear, "I understand Sonic".

XXX

There was no resistance, there was no trying to pull away from this as the scales dropped from the blue hedgehog's eyes; he gave in to her slight tug, let it guide him to a place he needed but had always been blind to; as he let his arms complete his embrace with Amy, he finally knew where he was. This was where he didn't have to fight, where the cares and concerns of being a global icon of freedom and a hero could just waft away on the breeze; here, with this girl in a million, he could just be Sonic Hedgehog, as scared and with the same concerns as the next guy. And I could ask for nothing more; he let his head fall on her shoulder and heaved with sobs, the tears feeling good, cleansing and he was not ashamed to see them fall; because she knows, she understands and doesn't condemn me. Dimitri was right;

"What?" It was only then he realised he must have been thinking out loud but it didn't matter; not letting go an inch, he just spoke the truth, for it was so much easier than trying to lie,

"I said Dimitri was right".

"You talked to him?" There was slight chuckle through the grief as Sonic spoke again,

"He came to Haven, knocked out everyone bar me and did what someone should have done a long time ago; pinned me up against a wall and made me see what I'd been missing", he felt her arms slide free of his back and likewise withdrew, the look of shock on her face was incredibly funny as he smiled, "yeah, he said you were a girl in a million, and he was right". Amy blinked out the shock and knitted her brows,

"What is it?" Suddenly concerned, Sonic leaned over, breathing a sigh of relief as he saw she looked up and smiled again,

"Nothing, it's just that, I hope he's okay, Dimitri I mean".

There was a very pregnant pause at this as Sonic looked at her expectantly; he personally hadn't given the echidna, or anything else for that matter, much thought, but now he did he rather surprised himself; much as I hate to admit it, I hope much the same thing.

"I guess; he had us all in the palm of his hand and still didn't finish us off; he refused to get violent, unless provoked of course".

"Same with me; after he took me back to Station square, he stayed with me a while", the pink hedgehog let her eyes mist over as she saw those few confused minutes again, now a little better positioned to make sense of what the grandmaster had tried to tell her, absolve her of blame, "he tried to say it wasn't my fault; could you imagine Eggman doing something like that?"

"Not in a month of Sundays" Sonic agreed; Dimitri was an enigma and that was for sure, but he didn't want to think about what had just happened; wanted to get as far away from that area as was possible. Speaking the first words that came into his head to disrupt his melancholy thoughts, he said,

"So, where do we go from here?" Amy goggled at him for a minute before a devilish smile broke across her face; time to let him in on a couple of ideas

XXX

As the two hedgehog talked and joked on in Haven, another reunion was about to take place; since Dimitri had interred himself within Central Dogma, his grandchildren had been unable to concentrate on the orders they'd been set; though they were making progress, it was nowhere near enough and they were still some way off freeing the remainder of the Dark Legion. The still air of Necronopolis was rent with a crash as Kragok, snarling with impatience, brought his fist crashing down on the computer he was having to use,

"Blasted machine; if the guardians attack now we're history; we have to get these things to go faster". Looking up, agitated by her brother's frequent temper tantrums, Kommissar wiped a trail of oil from her leather top and barked back crossly,

"They're old Kragok; this is as fast as they can go. If we push them any faster they may go down all together and that's the last thing we need; it took me four hours to break that shut down clause, I am not doing it again if I can help it", she span around to face back to her computer screen, tapping at the keyboard irritably, being forced to think of words that didn't include the letter Y as the keyboard had that tooth missing. She was so engrossed in her work that she only flicked her eyes up briefly when a shadow fell over her from the front; she didn't really see who it was and spoke out of habit,

"No Kragok, I don't want anything".

"Good"; the mechanical rumble was not her twin's voice; freezing in her seat as the bass tone rolled over her, she slowly looked up again at the speaker, just about holding in a scream of panic at the monster in front of her.

It looked like nothing less than a tank on two legs; two mighty hands the size of dustbin lids flexed together with a mechanical whine as the red LED eyes winked and flashed. But; she was in a fine tizzy as the beast looked down at her; what is it? I'm dead. She shut her eyes, preparing for the worst before she heard Kragok's voice, stiff and formal as always, speak out,

"Grandmaster Dimitri; your orders?" Grandmaster?; looking up again, the female echidna's eyes bulged out as she took in details fear had hidden from her; the way this machine had dreadlocks and was cut into the template of an echidna, albeit much larger and seemingly stronger than the average. Unable to stand due to her trembling knees, she could only watch mutely as the machine's head raised to confront her brother's and the computerised growl sounded again,

"Carry on Lord Kragok"; he saluted and turned back to his work as Kommissar finally managed to get her mouth moving once more,

"Great-grandfather?" She was once more under the gaze of those red eyes and was struck dumb again, unable to speak as his patience must have run out,

"What Lien? I have little time to waste".

"The, the Central Dogma?" She stuttered and pointed a trembling finger; the armoured echidna gave a nod and set his hands on the swivel joint of his hips,

"Yes, this is the last release from the jaws of death; the body of steel to blunt the scythe, but it is not yet perfected", he pointed at her, the glow of his eyes maybe dimming as his tone became softer, "the emotion programmes are absent; we require your work in that field; I am whole now only because of my enlightenment, another would be shut off forever, lost within the complexity of their immortal state. Now, we have the Legion back?"

"Er, no, no not yet", aware of his now more unnerving gaze on her, she forced her eyes down to the console, "there have been difficulties, but we…"

"Overcome them", he said brusquely moving around to stand behind her, the floor trembling with each step his new metal form now took, "we must get our full strength back soon; the Bloodstone is lost and that is a crippling blow, but we can get past that eventually". As he said that, Kragok stepped to his side and spoke insinuatingly,

"Once we have the full force of arms back, should we not hope to even the score?"

"Explain".

"The guardian is not infallible", Kragok pointed out, "a squad or two of drones and we could capture the Master Emerald, replace our lost strength as the Chaos Siphon could be rebuilt". The robotic shell Dimitri was now encased in and bonded to could not smile, but instead clapped the younger male on the shoulder, almost buckling his knees due to the extra weight.

"A good plan in theory Kragok, but I fear not; the runes protecting the Master have returned to full power and, though I saw the hated green whilst I was with Amy, I did not see it with my own eyes. Thus, I don't know where the shrine is. Besides, most of our drones were lost within base alpha; we must conserve whatever we can salvage and, on top of all that, my bargain with Amy remains".

"You still hold to that?" Kragok looked outraged, his mechanical eye blazing away in a red slit as he answered, "grandmaster, after what she did to you, sundering the Bloodstone, surely she…"

"…Is still alive as am I; while that is the case, our pact is intact", the tone was final, there was no arguing any more. Kragok bowed his head respectfully and spoke once more,

"As you wish, grandmaster Dimitri".

"Ah, yes, both of you", Kommissar turned in her seat to regard the robot as he made plain a decision he'd come to within the room of the Central Dogma, "I believe it would be wise to let the guardians believe I did not survive the conflict; I wish to, as it were, fake my own death. Therefore, from now on, address me as", there was no smile on the fixed features of the steel face, but both the twins knew their great grandfather must have been smiling as he gave them his new name,

"Enerjak". Without a word, both nodded and went back to their tasks; there was still much work to be done.

XXX

Their conversation ranged from distant memories of the past to all sorts of wonderful, far-flung ideas for the future; tiredness fled from them both as they fed upon each other's nearness, a closeness that neither wanted to break again. It was only when a third voice intruded that they both realised how long they had been alone together,

"Well, well", Sabre was stood in the doorway of the hospital, a politely puzzled expression on his face as he nonetheless smiled at the pair of them, "once more you defeat my knowledge of medicine Ms Rose; I expected you to be out for far longer than a mere day and part of a night. Are you both feeling up to scratch?" Looking down, Sonic gave Amy the nod and she answered in a slightly strained tone,

"Well, the thing is about my feet; how bad is it?"

"Bad, but it could be worse", Sabre was quick to reassure her as he walked up casually, taking to clipboard off the end of the bed and making a couple of causal notes upon it, "you'll need bed rest for today and tomorrow, then if all is well, we can get you walking again. I'll need time alone with you of course, but not now. And you Sonic?"

"Nothing wrong with me", he got to his feet, only to pause hurriedly in an undignified half-crouch as pain sheeted up his back; he was very still for a minute before grimacing, "except that". He couldn't turn around, he could only hear the surgeon's voice as he felt something take hold of a handful of his back spikes,

"So I see; you've been sat in one place too long; brace yourself, this might sting a bit; on three. One…"

"Er, what are you doing?"

"…Two…" Sonic felt a gentle hand placed on his injury and made to squirm out the way,

"Hey, hold it; I wanna know what…"

"Three!"

It was an old trick, but it still worked; simultaneously, Sabre pulled back with the high grip and pushed forward with his lower hand, the antagonistic motions forced Sonic to straighten out. Amy cringed as there was a long crunch and a thin, piping wail of pain, not unlike a steam whistle, from Sonic's rictus grin of torment,

"Urgh, I heard that".

"Believe me", even his voice had been shot into the stratosphere by that holistic treatment, "it was even more painful than it sounded. Ow".

"Oh stop moaning", Sabre moved to stand by Amy's bed and looked at the blue hedgehog sternly, "now, I'm giving you permission to leave the hospital, but no running; walking only. Got it?"

"Anything to stop that happening again", Sonic muttered before raising his voice, "fine; now what do you want to eat Ames?" The pink hedgehog shuffled back under her blanket and folded her arms behind her head, face smug,

"Ohh, breakfast in bed; just something light, toast maybe, oh, and I can have visitors right?" When Sabre nodded, she smiled at Sonic again, "let them know…"

"Already ahead of you; they'll be here before you know it. See you in a while Ames". With that and a last, deeply felt look, Sonic was gone.

XXX

It was all different now; somehow, Sonic knew he was lighter than he had been before, and more importantly he knew why. Because I told the truth – guilt's a heavy burden to carry; the blue hedgehog smiled unstoppably as he was denied the ability to skip only because of his bad back. He knew where he was going without really thinking about it; in no time at all, he was within earshot of the main hall, and a couple of seconds later, he stood framed in the doorway. Almost instantly the hubbub died away and he was left in a silence so oppressively heavy and expectant he almost felt it press on him. He took a second just to stretch the tension out a tiny fraction more, inwardly chuckling as Vector unintentionally mangled a spoon by clenching his fist, waiting for his words. With a smile, he started,

"Amy's ready to see you all now".

XXX

He fully expected a rush, but what followed wasn't exactly a rush; stampede would perhaps be a more appropriate term as bedlam exploded. Food was forgotten, seats tumbled over and bodies pressed against each other as everyone made full speed towards the hospital, all obstacles ignored or overcome as they raced to greet the hero of the hour. Somehow Sonic stood against this tide as it flowed around him, only Tails, swept up in the excitement, paused long enough to hug his brother tightly and whisper his tearful thanks that he had broken free of his depression before running with the tide again, swallowed up in the sea of running bodies. In a few seconds, Sonic stood alone, a strange, wistful expression on his face as he realised he alone had been present when she awoke; I thought I had it bad – imagine having to wait until morning to find out, for Sabre to tell me. He moved forwards slowly, not hurrying unduly as he reached for a spare plate; there was so much untouched food around it was relatively easy for him to quickly fill up a tray for Amy to feast upon when she was ready to eat. Quickly analysing what he had, the blue blur reached for a pot of marmalade, only to see it being offered to him. Shaking his head as he took it, he just had to ask,

"How does someone so red stay so well hidden?"

"Practise", Knuckles said shortly before stepping in and doing something Sonic had never expected the tough-hearted guardian to do; with no witnesses and no inhibitions, the echidna embraced him briefly. It was such a shock to the system Sonic was dumbfounded; as Knuckles let go, all he could do was blink and stare like some obsessed goldfish.

"I saw it in your face, the second you came in", Knuckles continued conversationally, adding a little more butter to the side of the tray, "I reckon I was the only one who could; you have to have been there to see it properly. You two finally…?"

"No, I finally", Sonic corrected him, "I finally saw the truth Knucks; she's the one".

"Oh right", Knuckles hadn't expected the hedgehog to be so forthright about it; that didn't stop him taking the golden opportunity though, "can I be best man?" He received a withering glance in response, though fortunately both Sonic's hands were full, so he couldn't try to slap him for his cheek. With a heft, Sonic turned and headed for the door,

"Coming, she'll really want to see you there?" Knuckles shook his head,

"No, not yet; Spectre wants a word, but tell her I won't be long".

"Sure thing Knucks; see you in a bit". As Sonic turned away, the echidna took a different exit, to where the rest of the Brotherhood awaited the return of their youngest to complete their circle and turn their minds to the judgement.

XXX

"Like I said", Amy spoke thickly though a mouthful of warm toast a little while later, "I was just upset and wanted to stop him, but I couldn't kill", her eyes darkened for a minute, the memory of that reckless rage thundering through her was sore; for one mad half-second she had been tempted, so sorely tempted, to finish him forever, but she hadn't been able to follow through with the fatal blow. Seeing the change in her face, Espio nodded as if that had been explanation enough and moved backwards a touch, letting Rouge slip into the gap, though she paused at Amy's gasp,

"What happened to you?" The bat gingerly fingered her bruise and sent a nasty glance Sonic's way,

"Ask the hedge-head over there, but anyway it's not important", the bat sat down carelessly on the end of the bed and smiled saucily at the pink hedgehog, "you scarlet woman; I'll never be able to look at you the same way again after that little lip-lock. How did you know it would work anyway?" Amy blushed and her eyes flicked to Sonic before she answered,

"Well, I wasn't sure at first, but I remembered what he'd said about the Bloodstone being part of him. I thought that must be why he could drain power from it at long range, and as I could touch the Bloodstone and go hyper, I thought I could try the same with him". The bats' smile widened,

"Oh right I see; was he a good kisser?" There was an outburst of outraged hissing and booing, Shadow reaching over to cuff the bat lightly on the back of the head; seeing this and reminded of their words last night, Amy sat up a bit straighter and looked over at the black hedgehog,

"Shadow?"

"Yeah?" Amy beckoned him forwards,

"Sonic told me last night; you saved both of us with your Chaos Control". The former ultimate life-form squirmed at this as he moved forwards, trying not to sound boastful as he gave a small bob of the head,

"Well, yeah; couldn't have just left you there could I?" He gave a weak laugh, then started as Amy leaned over and took hold of his hand, looking him square in the eye and speaking sincerely,

"Are you feeling all right about it?"

"I made a few notes in my diary, but not much has come back", he replied softly, head down as he tried to make this as positive as possible, "I remember something about making everyone happy, but not really anything else. But it's a breakthrough, and if I have enough of them, I'll break this amnesia for good".

"That's the way Shads", Amy gripped his larger hand with both of her own and smiled deeply; Shadow felt the blood rise in his cheeks and was marginally grateful when there was a very indiscreet cough from Charmy. The two hedgehogs broke apart as the crowd of Amy's friends parted before the ethereal hands of the newly arrived Brotherhood.

It was a fairly intimidating sight; all of the Brotherhood, Knuckles included, were marching forwards towards Amy's bed, the looks on their faces as grim and sombre as the clothes they wore. Even Athair was unadorned with the cheery wrappings many had come to think of as part of his body, and to top it all off he was walking as well. It was a silent procession than ended only when Spectre, at the head as the eldest, reached the edge of Amy's place of residence. Despite her good mood, even she couldn't help but feel a little apprehensive; the seventh-father could certainly look imposing when he wanted to.

"Amy Rose", his voice was low and solemn, "you have committed a crime against the Brotherhood of such magnitude that the whole of Angel Island was placed in jeopardy". While there were howls of protest from everyone present, Sonic especially telling the black echidna in no uncertain terms where to sling his hook, Amy didn't drop her eyes from his face and caught the tiny twitch of his lips an the way his eyes were still smiling despite his cold voice. Time to play along methinks;

"I know", she lowered her head, thinking of the most unhappy things she could to avoid spluttering with laughter and giving the game away, "I set Dimitri free and then delivered him to the Bloodstone once more".

"Too right you did", Thunderhawk broke in sternly, fighting harder than she was to keep the play going; it was working a treat if the furious protests of everyone else was anything to go by, "and you assaulted a guardian in doing so". Amy let her head fall into her hands, hiding her face as her shoulders heaved with laughter; Cream had been so overcome with a sense of injustice that she had bounded up on the bed, interposing herself bodily between echidna and hedgehog, shouting violently at Spectre to back off. Perhaps realising the time for games was over, the eldest guardian raised his hand, waiting for silence which took a few minutes to fall. When he was satisfied you could have cut up and stacked the tension in the room, he spoke once more.

"Had you merely survived, it would have been enough", Rouge was glaring daggers at him now, having seen what was going on by the softer tone of Spectre's voice, though before she could voice her protestations he had carried on, "but to come back, to have realised your strength and face him once more; an act of courage unparalleled by any guardian since Edmund himself". The ebony guardian fell silent once more as Athair stepped forwards, face once more beaming as Amy felt a hot little worm of guilt slither around inside her; se had hurt him after all.

"And you let our great-uncle go; that was a really brave and noble thing to do", the hyper third-father bounced on the balls of his feet, looking at the ceiling as though sizing it up; Amy felt compelled to make a bit of a point here,

"Well, he did help me as well, I couldn't just…"

"We know Ames", it was Knuckles this time, the current guardian smiling as he stepped forwards, "we know, and because of that, there's only one thing we can do". Without another word, the youngest of the Brotherhood dropped to one knee, sinking his right fist into the ground, head lowered in a gesture of deference as around him, his family echoed the salutation. Even Spectre, ancient as he was, struggled down to his knees despite Amy's protestations that this was all unnecessary; she didn't want to be thanked for saving friends, they'd have all done the same for her.

"The Brotherhood of Guardians is eternally in your debt Amy Rose; should you need us, we are yours to call upon and if it is within our power, we will aid you".

"And there's not much beyond their power", Athair said cheerfully from the floor, "I'm not a guardian remember?"

"Right, well, umm", Amy really wasn't sure what she wanted first, until a twinge in her legs informed her of a potentially good start, "well you can all stand up", they did, "and Sabre, could you…?" The surgeon was already way ahead of her,

"Not a problem Amy; everyone out, I've got bandages to change", he ordered the room at large. Without further ado, all bar the doctor and his patient were left; as soon as they were out of earshot, the Brotherhood was pounced on for leading everyone on like that; Sonic in particular venomous about this; Knuckles later confided to Rouge privately that he'd never thought a hold like that had been even physically possible – it was only when she offered him a massage that he began to make a miracle recovery from the blue hedgehog's stranglehold.

XXX

Time passed beautifully for Amy as everyone kept popping in and just whiling away the hours with her; she was never lonely as honeyed hours lapped around her. In fact it was only when Sonic reappeared in the doorway, holding a tray, that she realised it must have been getting on a bit. A delicious scent wafted over to her and she licked her lips expectantly,

"Wow, smells divine; what have you got there master-chef?"

"I'm not sure, but as Vector was eating it with gusto before I left, I assume it tastes good" Sonic answered promptly, causing her to laugh a little,

"Vector has a cast iron stomach; he's a crocodile for goodness sake, but I'll trust you on this". She watched as the blue hedgehog set her meal down in front of her and made to dig in; it was only then she noticed he had two trays in his hands.

"Eating here?" She was surprised by this, and even more so when he nodded,

"Yeah, getting a bit hectic in there now, especially with Athair trying to persuade Spectre to let him do afters", Sonic shuddered as his stomach made plain it hadn't forgotten the last time he'd seen Athair's cooking, "I'm in here for my own safety as much as your pleasure". Amy scowled playfully as she picked up her knife and fork,

"Well I can deal with that".

They dug in without another word, eating hungrily with no real time for words; it was only when Amy had cleared her plate and reached for her dessert that she suddenly paused, thought for a second and then, realised she could be onto a winner here, let out a sputter of laughter,

"What's so funny?"

"I can't believe Rouge", she began, holding onto her bowl of custard as Sonic nodded and agreed with her,

"Half the time neither can I".

"Calling me a scarlet woman", Amy carried on, keeping half an eye on Sonic's reaction, "I did what I had to do to win; and how am I supposed to tell if Dimitri's a good kisser or not?"

"What?" Sonic raised a curious eyebrow and Amy snapped her trap,

"Well, that was only my second kiss"; Sonic finally cottoned on and grinned nervously,

"Oh"; realised what she'd been fishing for, he sidled a little closer, tensing himself up as Amy smiled shyly herself. He gently placed his hand on her shoulders and leaned in; Amy could feel his breath ruffling the fur on her cheeks before some priceless words were whispered,

"Was his better than mine?"

XXX

"Hi Amy"; she looked up to see Athair peeking his head around the door, "can, er, can I come in?" She beckoned and in he floated, looking a little pensive as she waited for the question he knew he was dying to ask. All was quiet for a minute before, after looking closely at her face, he twiddled his thumbs and finally snapped,

"Not meaning to snoop, but, er, is there any reason why Sonic walked past wearing a custard bowl like a hat, and how did you get custard on your nose?" Amy simply smiled sweetly and answered in a frank voice,

"Well I told Sonic I'd only ever had two kisses, and he asked me if he was a better kisser than Dimitri; that's how he ended up with my dessert in his hair".

"Right, that makes sense; and you?"

"After I'd done that, he mentioned he might have deserved that and we kissed, I guess he had some custard dribbling down his snout that ended up on mine". She brought her hand up to wipe it off as Athair beamed, well remembering his first youthful courting games, chuckled a little before suddenly sobering up,

"Any reason you can think of why he hasn't taken it off yet", as Amy shrugged, the flying guardian simply sighed and threw his hands in the air, heading for the door, "I guess some people are just plain nuts". With that he was gone.

Amy bottled it up until she was sure her favourite guardian was well out of earshot before throwing her head back and letting the best medicine of all flow through her unchecked in an almost dangerous dose; we might well be mad; she managed to think when she wasn't howling with laughter; but at least Sonic and I'll make it to the asylum together!

A/N: So it ends, this tale of heroism, sadness, love between friends and honour between enemies. But it is not the end; coming soon, the next step in this journey – great joy will clash with sacrifice as someone returns in a way you've never seen her before. Soon it will begin; Iron Skin, Golden Heart.