Friends and Lovers.

Disclaimer and Author Notes: First off, normal spiel – I don't own Sonic the hedgehog or any of his friends; a crying shame, but there we go.

All righty then; this fic will be lucky number seven in the series, again I have to stress things will only really make sense if you've read them all so far up to this point. In reading order, the series goes: Angel of Darkness and Ice, The Best Medicine, A Bloodstone Rose, Iron Skin Golden Heart, Lose Your Illusions, Psyche Out and now lastly Friends and Lovers. Hope you enjoy it and the old crowd of reviewers like what they see. Just to be clear:

"-----" – Speech.

Italics – Thoughts.

The show goes ever on and on…

Chapter 1 – A Father's Duty.

This is going to be delicate; despite all his years of training in possibly the most difficult and taxing profession of the lot, Sabre was still nervous about what he had to do now; no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get the scenarios of wrath and despise from out of his head. He was no fool and as such had no illusions that there was going to be no easy way out of what needed to be said now; at best, only one person out of this mess was going to end up hurt, and a certain fatalism was gleefully pointing out it was probably going to be him. Well, on the bright side, I can at least heal myself; it wasn't a cheery thought, but given the circumstances it was the best he could do.

His slow, solitary footsteps echoed down the long steel hallway that led to his eventual destination; he fiddled with his monocle as he went back over what had happened to bring events to this; Spectre had ordered all bar one of the Brotherhood of Guardians to the centre of their ancestral home, the mighty underground fortress of Haven, to impart the news granted to them by the youngest member, the current guardian of the Master Emerald Knuckles. The atmosphere was undeniably grim in the conference; with the return of the Brotherhood's ancient foes, the enigmatic, technocratic faction of the Dark Legion as well as the sudden reappearance of the echidna civilisation to a world that they were only just beginning to explore and understand meant the threats to the Master had never been so great, or so varied. Pausing for a second, Sabre examined this thought and nodded, his deadlocks chafing over the white gown he wore as a matter of course; yes, I have to agree with Rouge; his own limited experiences of the world outside Haven had prompted him to concur with one of the first statements his granddaughter-in-law's had made to the Brotherhood; Knuckles has had to deal with threats the rest of us had never known.

He sighed as he realised he was stalling; try as he might, he couldn't delay the inevitable. As Spectre, eldest and most serious of the Brotherhood, had told them calmly, the news Knuckles carried was not grim in the least, but it would impact greatly on the single member of the Brotherhood who's absence from the meeting was noticeable. He would have to be informed though, there was no way he couldn't not be told what was now going on; the problem was no-one wanted to actually do it – even Athair, once he had figured out the problem, had for possibly the first time in his memory calmed down and paced, actually paced, around the floor in concern. The argument as to who should do it had been fast, furious and hushed, they didn't want to alarm him before the time was right; in the end, Spectre had decreed the only way it could be done was by the roll of a single dice. The black furred echidna had also implied that any telekinetic tampering of this roll by the common powers of the guardian bloodline would be punished by a month's worth of latrine duty or, in Athair's case, a month of wearing the lead-reinforced straight jacket that stopped him flying. Each echidna had crossed every digit they possessed and Sabre's horror had been matched only by everyone else's relief and mingled compassion for him as, treating every step as though it could be the last he may take in this life. But I am Locke's father; the former guardian spoke in his mind, steeling his resolve as much as was possible; this is my responsibility if it is anyone's.

The journey was slow and stretched almost to breaking point, but it progressed still; Sabre knew he was coming to the end of it and prepared himself mentally and physically; even for a guardian, he was looking remarkably sprightly for his sixty-eight years. Just for a fleeting second he regretted never having taken up his fourth-father's offer of extra fitness classes up; right now the ability to do a four minute mile sounded a very tempting prospect indeed. But; his medical mind finally poured oil over his churning thoughts, allowing him to take a deep breath and clear his mind; there's no time to take back the past – I have to deal with the present and the present alone here. With this in mind, the surgeon of the Brotherhood of Guardians drew back his spurred hand and knocked on the door in front of him, a few last traces of red paint smudged on the front depicting that it had once been off-limits to visitors of Haven. For a second there was only silence, he began to believe that there was no-one in, when to his mixed dread and relief, there was a little shuffling from behind the heavy metal door and it was suddenly swung open, the echidna on the other side also bedecked in a white coat as he looked Sabre up and down and queried,

"May I help you father?"

XXX

What does dad want here?; Locke looked at his father's face in concern, seeing apprehension and fear, why was Sabre afraid, here in Haven? Had he done something wrong, or was he having a problem with something mechanical that he needed Locke's help with; yeah, that was probably it – Locke was careful to keep his face neutral, but inside he was smiling as he pictured finally being able to get his own back after listening to so many young pup jokes. Settling his weight onto his back foot, Locke waited for his father to spell out his request,

"Hello Locke", the older echidna shifted restlessly, Locke imagined he was screwing up the courage to make his request, "mind if I come in?" He didn't reply, merely pivoting around to allow Sabre into his workshop, where he created the machinery that helped Haven to run as smoothly as it did. He watched his father step inside, head bowed slightly and his suspicions rose a little; if it was just a request to fix something, why did he want to come in – this isn't going to be a speech about not getting out enough is it? Locke silently closed his eyes; that was the last thing he wanted right now but, as Sabre turned around, he braced himself for it.

"So", the surgeon began, trying to paper over the lengthening pause, casting a glance around the half-completed components liberally strewn around the interior of this disorderly mess; in his quieter moments, he had to wonder how his son managed to find anything in a heap like this, though Locke always assured him he knew exactly where everything was at any given time, "what are you working on now?"

"I, ah", disarmed by the question, Locke was stumped for an answer of a few minutes, "it's, er, just a device that shuts off robotics for a few minutes at a time. I was hoping to develop it as a weapon against the Dark Legion".

"Good idea", Sabre complimented his son, trying to build a rapport before moving onto the more delicate news he had to impart, "shut their augmentations down for a while, enough for a capture or knock them out, I like it. Enerjak seems to be a pacifist, maybe even more so than Dimitri was, I suppose it's only fair we reciprocate". A sneer creased Locke's face,

"He might be pacifist, but he needs tighter reins for his family", Sabre winced, he hadn't thought of that possible reminder; got to limit the damage;

"True, but they have learnt their lesson – one of them paid for that mistake with her life; no matter what her belief, she was still part of our extended family"; Sabre recalled the silence the Brotherhood had observed religiously in memory of the departed Dark Legionnaire who had been one of the masterminds behind that plot to capture Knuckles, his wife Rouge and the Chaotix who now shared his sacred duty. Locke nodded slowly, accepting the point before biting the bullet,

"Be that as it may, you didn't just come here to discuss my pet projects", he smiled guardedly as Sabre looked up, eyebrow high enough to set his monocle wavering a little as it looked for support, "I know you well enough father; you have something you wanted to say?" Having cast his die, the younger former guardian settled down, preparing for a lecture that never arrived.

Well; he'd put it off as long as was conceivable, but now he had no choice; it's time to end this. Licking his lips and praying to the spirit of the Master Emerald to help him in this difficult time, Sabre looked up and began,

"We, ah, have had a call son; a little while ago, Knuckles spoke to grandfather Spectre…" Suspicion seized Locke's keen sense of pessimism,

"Is he alright?" Sabre was quick to set him at ease,

"Yes, he's doing fine", the surgeon had to chuckle despite the grim situation, a light moment in the call penetrating through the gloom, "apart from Vector accidentally setting the doorway to his home on fire, everything's going swimmingly". Locke smiled as well but, Sabre saw, the smile never touched his cold eyes; he's too determined – he'll hear this and nothing I say will change that;

"Glad to here that, but anyway, you were saying?"

"Yes, well, he has contacted us with news, news of…Lara-Le".

As he had expected, the name alone transformed Locke; in the space of a second he had changed from a clinical scientist to a sworn protector, his eyes aflame with the want, no, want was too gentle a term, the need to protect his ex-wife. Despite the bitterness of their divorce, Locke wouldn't let go of the memory of what had, and more damagingly, what could have been; he was besotted by the female echidna who had been his wife and as such, any threat to her was flattened by any means he possessed. Locke's hands balled into fists, beginning to glow with a green flame as he unconsciously channelled the power of the Master through him, the physical manifestation of his love from Lara, springing into life as he grated,

"What news?" His eyes bored into Sabre like a scalpel through tissue paper, "what has happened to her?" Sabre swallowed gently; I can't back out now;

"Lara-Le…is now, engaged, son".

XXX

He had tried to predict the reaction, but there had been far too many possibilities for him to consider them all; as nothing had blown up apocalyptically and Locke was screaming for blood and murder, he guessed this was one of the more favourable options. Locke stood still as stone; Sabre could virtually see the words sinking in, through his flesh, past his bone to burn directly onto his brain – there was a virtual struggle as he tried to disbelieve what his father had said, but it was a struggle in vain. Helpless, Sabre was forced to watch Locke, his obtuse but still loved son, have even his wildest hopes of reconciliation with his former spouse smashed to ruins. To his credit, the former guardian did nothing more than close his eyes for a second, a terrible second after the words had been accepted by his numb brain, and speak softly,

"I see". Sabre said nothing; what was there he could say? He waited patiently for Locke to take his first few breaths and ask, eyes still closed,

"To Wynmacher, I take it?"

"Yes, he proposed to her this morning; apparently the trip with the Legion had been enough to convince him that she really was the one he loved".

"I see", Locke said again as Sabre tried to analyse what was going through his son's mind; nothing good – he's far too calm to be taking this in; he stopped his thoughts as Locke looked at him again, drawing in another rattling breath,

"Knuckles…?" Sabre was smart enough to take an educated guess what he meant,

"As far as I can tell, he…doesn't oppose the idea"; Sabre thought it better not to tell of the ecstasy in the guardian's voice as he had hollered that his mum was getting married down the phone to Spectre; Locke could hear of that later. Right now, the mechanic of the Brotherhood needed, something, but what that might be Sabre couldn't tell – he still refused to display anything meaningful for him to work with, no anger or rage, nothing beyond the ice-Mobian persona he so often affected.

"So", Locke's voice again dragged him back to the present, "how did it happen?"

"Apparently, Lara was dining with Rouge and Vector of the Chaotix at Wyn's place of work; he apparently smuggled the ring under their bill with a small note – there was a little confusion when Rouge picked it up, but I think Lara was smart enough to realise what it meant".

"And she said yes".

The words were heavy with fatalism; Sabre wasn't meant if Locke was talking to himself or to him but a second later it was a moot point as Locke looked up and pointed to the door,

"Thank you father, for bringing this to my attention. Inform Lara of my congratulations if she is willing to accept them, but now I must get on".

"No Locke, you don't", Sabre stood firm at this point; Locke wanted to be alone as he always was, deal with this on his own but not this time, "you need to talk…"

"Very well", the admission caught Sabre off-guard; before he could recover Locke's words of acid and spite had cut him to the bone, "the only woman I have ever loved I threw away and now she's marrying someone else to be happy again; good for her. My son is happy with this arrangement and so is everyone else; in the light of this what I think is immaterial. Nothing I do will alter what will happen and even if it were to, Lara would only hate me more for doing it – therefore, I shall do nothing to oppose this union; if it is what Lara wants, I will bear it".

"And you will let Wyn…?"

"What should I do?" Locke let a grim, mirthless chuckle slip from his lips, "challenge him to duel for Lara's hand? No, that is stupidity and will only hurt her again, something I will never do while there is breath in my body. Now I have work to do to make Angel Island's future, Lara's future, more secure from the threats against it". With that, the finality in Locke's eyes as well as his tone, Sabre knew there was nothing he could do; not now at least – the pain was too raw, too fresh fro him to try and staunch it yet, that was something only time, and lots of it, would heal. Bowing his head, hoping Locke was sensible enough to do nothing stupid, Sabre slipped from the room, hearing the door bang shut behind him as he departed far more rapidly than he had arrived.

XXX

"Son", Sabre was so preoccupied with the problem of Locke that he looked around before he looked up, "how'd it go?"

"In truth", the surgeon sighed as the flying form of his own father, the at least half-insane Athair, descended to hover in front of him, "better than I expected, yet at the same time worse". The child-like eyes widened, Athair rolling his body as well as his eyes as he sought to understand what his son had said,

"You mean he's locked himself in his room and not coming out?"

"Something along those lines".

"Well in that case…"; it was only Sabre leaping up and grabbing his arm that stopped Athair rushing to Locke's lab, the surgeon whispering frantically,

"No, not anything yet; it's been a big shock for him, we better leave it a while before we try anything".

"Very well son, you'd better tell the other oldies", Sabre smothered a smile at Athair's proclamation as the flying echidna made to shoot off, his wrapped spines trailing behind him as the younger echidna called off after him,

"Where are you going father?"

"To see grandfather Spectre; maybe he'll let me go and see little Lara and say congratulations". Maybe he will; Sabre waited until his father had turned a corner before sniggering; and maybe we'll hear the yelping of devils with frostbite as pigs go sailing overhead as well; for a delicious, fleeting second, under the lightness of his father's madness, the problem of what he was going to do with Locke was forgotten from Sabre's mind.

A/N: Sorry for the updating delay; I now have a nine-to-five job, so this may slow my work up somewhat. I'll still try though, just bear with me a bit.