Chapter Five – Wounded Heart, Diamond Spirit.

A/N: Last chapter – short but sweet story. It all ends here, but in what way:

HHH – Get out of the flowerpot – no matter how much you might want to miss sports, you'll never look like a begonia. Besides, Locke's not here to do Wyn in. Is he?

Ri2 – It doesn't sound good I know, but sounds don't often match appearances. Big's family will make an appearance later, but for now, read on for another recipe right from the cookbook of Mama Armadillo!

TH – Yeah, for us it was blackberry vinegar; sour enough to shrink your face for days afterwards; you'd rather than the bug than the cure. But is Locke about to cause trouble – I'll bet it's nowhere near as much trouble as you can cause!

As the former guardian stepped into the room, it took Wyn most of his courage not to bolt away; though Locke wasn't a patch on him in the physical sense he recalled enough of Locke's action when Lara had been kidnapped by the Dark Legion to know there was a lot more to him than met the eye. He's got powers I can only dream about; the brown echidna licked his suddenly parched lips and took in a sharp, shallow breath, flicking his eyes around where everyone now lay sprawled, a testament to Locke's formidable bloodline; and he loves Lara, he still loves here – and here I am taking her away from him. As much to distract his own deadly thoughts as anything else, Wyn indicated around him, tone hard but not accusing,

"What's going on Locke? What did you do to them?"

"Nothing they won't recover from", he didn't spare any of the unconscious Mobians, not even his own son, a second glance as he advanced steadily, "they will wake when I'm gone, remembering nothing". Oh good, no witnesses; try as he might even the normally cheerful chef couldn't see anything positive emerging from that statement,

"So, ah, why…"

"Because", Locke stopped pacing forwards, letting his eyes meet Wyn's; the brown echidna had the impression of being under a microscope as this strange, bitter thing loomed over him, probing, searching for a weakness he could use to denounce him as unworthy to wed the woman he loved. He cares for Lara, even now, years after their divorce; he tried to put himself in the former guardian's shoes and made a little headway in understanding why Locke would do what he was surely about to start as his lips moved again,

"…I have some things to make clear Wynmacher. Very clear indeed".

It wasn't the words exactly, it was the tone they were spoken in that caused him to bite as he did; Wyn crossed his arms, not about to be spoken to like he was some kind of moron and this lecture was a great treat for him,

"Well then, let's hear them, but let me tell you this Locke", he took his own step forwards, hands raised even if he knew worst come to worst he was probably less than nothing in a fight against this Mobian, "nothing you say or do will stop me walking up the aisle about two hours from now". He held the gaze of those ice cubes and; now what was going on; instead of swelling with anger, choking on his pride, Locke instead backed down, a smile, cutting and caustic maybe but a smile nonetheless, broke over the former guardian's face,

"Good"; what?; this was getting rapidly out of hand in Wynmacher's eyes; if he's not here to try and stop me, why…? "you're getting there Wynmacher; I'm glad Lara found someone like you after…we separated. Now I need you to prove to her, that", Wyn could almost see the other echidna's strength draining away from him; Locke's fists were curled, his eyes screwed shut as he forced his lips to speak the next mangled words, "there are Mobians, who will care for her". I don't get it;

"That's why I'm standing at the altar with her today", Wyn tried to make sense of Locke's seemingly cryptic statement, "I love her as much as it's possible to and…"

"Exactly", the single word stopped him cold; the fire in Locke's eyes now burned with a freezing heat, passionless flames dancing in his eyes as he carried on, "you have to put her first in everything; she must be the most important thing in your life. I forgot that, I thought the Master was more important than she was and I stabbed her in the back because of it; oh I hurt her, more than she'll ever let on because, somehow, she still respects me", an ugly laugh punctuated the tirade, Locke's eyes narrowed as the fires turned inwards, "I don't know why; I don't respect me, I know I have no excuses for what I've done and the best I could do was let her go, give her the chance to recover from the knife I slid into her back. And she's done that; Wyn", this time it was the need, the want he could see permeating every facet of Locke's being that forced the brown echidna back a pace, "you are her second chance and I ask, no, I beg of you; don't let her down. She needs to know she has people who will love her the way she is because I forgot how to. Put her on the pedestal she deserves to be on, treat her like she gem she really is; you have to do this, honour and keep her…"

He couldn't go on and the only think that surprised Wyn about that fact was that he'd been able to talk for as long as he had; every single one of those words must had ripped him up internally, forced him to rake over the old guilt he still felt as he had failed his wife and child. Locke sagged, physically exhausted as he breathed raggedly; he somehow mustered the energy to raise his head and, with a jolt, Wyn realised he was waiting for an answer. Trying to keep a cool head and think logically, the brown echidna spoke,

"I will do my best Locke", the tear-stained eyes jerked up; the best is no good, you've got to succeed; "and it will be good enough, to do all you said and more. Lara already is the most important thing in my life, by a distance; I can't forget, or even pretend to forget who she is". He still didn't know how Locke would react to this; as far as he knew Knuckle's father was still deranged and dangerous; all he could do was cross his fingers and hope as Locke digested his reply.

"Good, good", the second word was final, an acceptance even at the cost of pain he couldn't even, didn't want to even try to contemplate; suddenly looking a lot older yet somehow more fulfilled than he had when he'd entered, Locke turned to leave, speaking over his shoulder as he did so, "you and your wife won't hear from me again Wyn, not unless it's necessary; some scars can't be healed, not even by a nurse as proficient as Lara. The others will awaken when I'm gone; look after her, be the one she can love forever, the one who'll never forget her". Right; Wyn watched on solemnly as Locke left; it was as he was turning away that, just on the very fringes of his hearing, the brown echidna heard words that truly, finally let him understand how huge a burden Locke was taking on in being here.

"Be the Mobian I was too weak to be".

The depth of bitterness and loathing in those words was enough; Locke's self-hatred was enough to shatter even a heart of ice and Wyn could never be said to possess one of those. Heedless of the groans as the others awakened from enforced slumber, he vaulted stirring bodies and wrenched open the door to his apartment, desperate to offer succour even if there was nothing he could even remotely offer to compare to that ocean of malice. He looked left and right, only to be met with emptiness; as silently as he had arrived, the guardian was gone.

A few hours later, as he lifted the veil from his new bride's face and took her into his arms, Wyn let his eyes flick over the scene arrayed before him one last time. Everyone was smiling, cheering and applauding but, more important than that, just out the corner of his eye Wyn fancied he could vaguely see the ghost of Locke which had sworn to protect her, honour her and keep her even if its physical body had been forced to forswear such vows, finally fracture and prise loose its hold, eventually passing the treasure it had yearned to possess once more to someone it had judged worthy of the honour. Silently, as she kissed her true love, Lara lost the guardian she had never know had watched over her.

XXX

When Athair had been located unconscious in one of the vehicle bays with Locke nowhere to be found, the Brotherhood had scrambled; all their efforts had been bent on finding their errant son. However, only one of them had the sense and, Sojourner shook his head as he accepted the truth, bitter experience to have a good idea of where to look. And; the willow-thin echidna ducked past a gaggle of casual onlookers, sighing as he saw the sight ahead of him, wondering what it was that caused his fourth-son to act as he had wrongly done and still did, unable to help himself.

Locke sat ahead of him on a nearby bench; a spot check would have shown him as disinterested, even half-asleep, but a closer inspection would have revealed that to have been as wrong as it was possible to be. The mechanic was tense as a steel cable, every muscle in his body virtually humming with the effort of keeping him in one place as, Sojourner closed his eyes at the irony, the church that overlooked this scene began to play the wedding march. Why do we torture ourselves like this?; he saw the twisted grimace that was writhing over his fourth-son's expression, now at a loss to explain what it was that drove people to punish themselves for their sins. Sitting here, listening to the muted sounds of the ceremony he had once been a part of was a self-inflicted punishment; Locke forced himself to see again and again what he had lost through his own failings. Sojourner could understand; since Cream had inadvertently given back a fraction of the light and warmth to the dusty shrine Janelle-Li's bedroom had been, he had been able to analyse why he had kept his wretched vigil as he had; it was a punishment. Now that he could see, the wisdom of hindsight clearing his eyes, Sojourner could not quite believe he had done what he had; I didn't stay there on those two nights to remember my daughter; tears threatened to blur his vision as even now thinking about her hurt somewhat; I did it to recall my own pain, my own failings.

Every night, every isolated, solitary hour he had locked himself alone in his daughter's former bedroom had been full of recrimination; would it have been seen had he made her go to a doctor earlier? Had the headaches some months ago been a symptom he had failed to pick up on? And worst of all; this was where he and Locke differed, why it would hurt the younger guardian more even than the elder; in Locke's case, it is his fault. And that was the killing statement; Locke was more than smart enough to have realised why he acted as he did, but that was only his head, his intelligent brain thinking the error through. The heart is an organ that lacks the capacity to think; all it knows are feelings, and these feelings had culminated in this masochistic ritual – Locke's mistake had lead to this eventuality, of the only woman he would ever love leaving him forever, and now that heart demanded he stay here, reap the bitter fruit he had sown. Every guardian knew the pain of loss as their partners passed away long before their unnatural life-spans were spent, but he and his fourth-son were special cases even then; for them, there was more hurt present than should ever be. But now; Sojourner squared his shoulders, about as thick through as both his father's clenched fists held together; it's time to finish this.

XXX

"Fourth-son", the voice was quiet as though not wishing to be overhead; Locke looked with his eyes and saw Sojourner, but his mind was gone, away on the inside of the church where he had once been, only now there were no celebrations, no light, no laughter, just a blackened, burnt ruin, "it's time to be away". The voice was persuasive, but no, not yet, there had to be one last act, the last words that would end his hope forever. So he shook his head, looking forwards again as Sojourner waited also; it would have been folly to try and convince Locke to leave now. Both echidnas waited until, with a jerk of fear, Sojourner realised what they were waiting for; with the music died down, a single voice could be heard muffled through the heavy stone walls,

"...these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace".

Locke sat straight, his teeth bared as war reached fever pitch; his heart slammed into his chest, railing at the treatment as he knew he shouldn't, couldn't let the unthinkable happen. She'd be gone forever, and he'd have nothing, no-one, yet he couldn't move as the equally strong force of his mind anchored him in place. This was the right thing to do, give his ex-wife the chance to be free of his oppressive shadow with a new love and he had to grant it, even as it crushed him to ash and dirt to do so. He remained in this tortured limbo, at war within, until the voice began again and the moment was lost, reconciliation beyond him for good. And as it had been in strife, so too in peace – he couldn't feel anguish, nor could he feel relief; he just felt something that was at the same time neither and both. A hand settled on his now relaxed shoulder; he looked up, his eyes met Sojourner's and this time he stood. Silently as words were unnecessary, the two guardians silently departed the scene.

XXX

Another pop let the champagne flow as another toast was raised, Wyn just about managing to raise his voice and shout,

"You guys are the best", as everyone cheered and just generally let their hair down. There was music and dancing for those who wanted it, a mini-bar present if anyone fancied some refreshment and food and non-alcoholic drinks aplenty. True to the promise, everyone had brought something to help the reception go with a bang; even Cream had been able to chip in with the party poppers and small affairs such as that. In the middle of such high spirits, with merriment and joy high in the air, no-one, least of all the person it was aimed at, suspected skulduggery on the air.

"Hey Mighty, don't move", of course, the armadillo turned around at this and Big clapped a hand over his eyes, hoping he was doing a good job on this as he'd got the wink a few seconds earlier.

"What, what's up?"

"Well I was going to say you'd got confetti on your back, but now it's slipped down your shirt; if it gets under you'll never here the end of it. Here, let me"; the armadillo gave him the nod and froze, not moving as he untucked the back of her white shirt at the same time as revealing one of his natural blades; a second later she heard him moan, "oh great; don't move and I'll hook that little gribble free" At his partner's nod, Big turned his head and winked back, still not quite sure what the plan was but, seeing as he owed Mighty one anyway for drenching him a third time following her most recent visit to his home, he was content to play his part.

Man, that was lucky; though her shell was nerveless, the skin that ran underneath it was sensitive and could feel as the cat's claw levered open her armour; if that had have got under…hey. Something light hit the skin exposed by Big's claw like a miniature snowstorm; taking her time, the armadillo nevertheless spun around to see Cream and Sonic both beaming, one stood at each side of the huge cat.

"That was for telling tales about Tails", the rabbit piped up, grinning as Sonic added his two cents worth,

"And for spreading my old name around shelly"; not liking where this was going, Mighty raised a cautious eyebrow,

"What did you do?" Both other Mobians shared a glance, then simultaneously raised the objects they had hidden behind their backs; as if it were a catalyst, when Mighty read what was printed on the side of the small plastic bottles she exploded into action, howling with torment as it felt like a nest of angry fire-ants were burrowing into the skin of her sensitive back. Sonic and Cream exchanged a high five as the armadillo shrieked, spasming wildly, then left calmly as Mighty fell to the ground, rolling around in a vain effort to stop the awful torture as Big was shouting for help to pin her down long enough for him to stop it for her. Rabbit and hedgehog waiting until they were far enough away for her not to see, then, as Vector commented his work mate on her hitherto unrevealed break-dance skills, broke down laughing together as the itching powder continued its vengeful work.

XXX

Lara was really, truly, content; here everyone she loved and cared for, and who cared for her in kind, were together and celebrating for both her and, she leant silently against him as he sat down, her new husband as well. Nothing could make it better than this; and it was true – she could think of nothing she wanted now, no single entity that could add a new dimension to this complete picture. Well, maybe there was one; she tapped Wyn on the shoulder, watching as he turned around, just giving him enough time to hoist his glass up before she threw her arms around him, hugging him close now and always.

"Hey babe", the brown echidna placed his free arm around her shoulders, drawing her in even tighter before she heard his voice chuckle, "don't get too comfy; someone broke your rule". She stepped back a bit and looked at him curiously before following his eyes to see something peeking out from under her place mat, a scrap of paper protruding from under the bride's place. Anticipating even if she was slightly miffed that someone had forgotten her and Wyn's declaration of no gifts but yourselves, the echidna lady carefully lifted a corner of the mat up and slowly eased the paper; it wasn't a paper at all. It was an envelope; well, I have to say I never specified cards – trust him to think of a way round that; she smiled as she slit open the top, recognising the handwriting on the front and allowing the card to fall into her hand.

"Careful"; Wyn quickly snatched a few falling leaves out of the air as they fell from the inside of the card, Lara not seeing them as she opened it and read the quiet, touching message it contained. She closed it again, seeing the front picture of a bride holding a bouquet of red roses, passing it for Wyn to see, turning only when perturbed by his sudden lack of interest.

"Hey, you…" she tailed off, seeing his open-mouthed shock as she looked at her husband again, the brown echidna's eyes fixed on the pieces of paper he'd managed to rescue for an inglorious end on the floor with the rest of the remains of the confetti. She was shocked as well by the vision, but before she could say anything he wordlessly offered her one of the slips, his hand trembling like a leaf in a breeze as he did. She took it, her eyes glossing over it as most of her attention remained fixed on him; it was only on the second read she really understood what she was holding, and on about the sixth when she truly believed it. Oh dear…no; she couldn't accept this, never in a million years; I need answers!

XXX

With a sudden jerk the music was cut off; even as the last few bars lingered in the air a voice, high-pitched and apparently on the verge of hyperventilation cut through the silence and confusion that was just beginning to dawn,

"Miles Prower", all eyes turned to the fox in question, a particular threesome especially cringing as they remembered what had happened last time he'd been centre stage as a gig like this, "get both your tails up here right now!" Okay, they found it; Tails took a deep breath, running through the speech he'd had prepared in his head, realising how suddenly flimsy it now sounded as he took his slow, deliberate steps to the front of the stage, where Lara and Wyn were both waiting, tracking his progress with minds oblivious to any other whisperings or conspiracy theories being voiced in the air behind the fox's back. Eventually, when he could feel the butterflies in his stomach settle down to hibernate again, Tails managed to look up and offer an innocent smile,

"Yes…"

"Don't you yes us young man", to the consternation of most Wyn was looking almost angry as he thrust something into the fox's face, "what the hell is this?" Somehow, even at this late hour, the fox managed to conjure up a tiny spark of sarcasm,

"It appears to be a piece of paper, with", he quickly amended his plans as Lara threatened to Look at him, "with, er, an invitation printed on it". Lara's answer was a bone-chilling whisper,

"An invitation", her fist was shaking as she waved it near the fox's nose, virtual tears smouldering in her eyes as she finished, "but why, how?"

"Because I heard it from Knuckles", the words came out in a torrent, the fox finally coming clean about this bombshell, "he said you two were saving up, going to be careful for later, after the big day, maybe even next year and I thought no". The fox shook his head, resolve and determination set deep in his young face as he took a breath, no-one able to interrupt him before he carried on,

"You always said, both of you, that you wanted to see the world, well go ahead; you of all people deserve a damn good time. That's what I could do, the least I could do because you treated me so well, almost like a part of the family, when I was around and so I did it. Those are your tickets, the ship leaves next week; you said bring something that'll help the reception go well, and I have. That's your wedding present from me; I've given you your honeymoon".

Silence fell, there was nothing that could be said against that; the emotion in the fox's voice told everyone that he'd wanted to say words to that effect for a long, long time. He panted, mentally exhausted by the confession, just having the energy to look up and see the new husband and wife looming over him; say what you want, say it was too much – I don't care, and I'm not sorry I did it; he was defiant, but suddenly he saw it – there was no need to be. As the two echidnas fell upon him, squeezing him tightly as somehow single claps merged together to form wild, exultant applause, Tails felt his heart soar, enlightened that his hard work had paid off.

"All that work", Wyn's voice was choked as though he couldn't believe this was really happening to him, "all those times you were completely knackered, all for this, for us; you damn near broke your back, just for Lara and I".

"And I'd do it again"; there was no bravado, no false ego boost; Tails meant every word he said as he answered, "I don't think there's a single person here who wouldn't if they'd have had my chance".

"A month", Lara really was in tears, Tails feeling his own eyes start to leak and he didn't try to stop it, feeling the press of more Mobians; he might have seen Rouge's ear tips visible but didn't look too hard as he concentrated on listening to Lara's voice, "a whole month, seeing the world, luxury cruise ship"; until Vector and the others told me, I never knew what a cruise was – going on one was a distant dream, not even that – he's made it all come true; she hugged the fur in front of her, not caring of the scene she was making as she was sure no-one else did, "you are…a diamond Tails. A real, true diamond".

XXX

It was a long time later when he could finally writhe free of all the people who wanted to hug him, congratulate him or just gaze in mute astonishment of his feat, but eventually Tails managed to earn a little breathing space, bustling out of the room rented for the now really raucous celebrations and into the cooler hallway, the ringing in his ears starting to subside as he drank in a deep, cool breath. Well; he chuckled even as his mind understated the reaction he'd received; that went better than expected. He leant against the wall, the brickwork cool under his back as he relived that moment over and over again, the sheer triumph of that moment he was sure would never leave him, never be diminished. It was as perfect as it was possible to be, even if…

"Tails?" Uh oh; he was hoping she wouldn't have figured his sham out so fast, how he'd callously used her birthday present as a way to cover his butt against awkward questions while preparing for this, but now he didn't have a choice. Trying to put on a wobbly smile, the fox turned and answered pleasantly,

"Um, hi Cream", his voice tailed off; he couldn't find anything else to say as the rabbit came a little closer, leaning on the wall near him with a single hand as her eyes pierced him hard, scanning for the guilt that was now rolling off him in waves. After a second, she spoke,

"Well, that's one way to make a party go with a bang", he smiled at the frippery of humour before things went undeniably grim, "but help me out here", she looked into his eyes directly, "the reason you were working so hard, that was for this wasn't it? The ALT was a bonus, but you really did all that for this didn't you? My birthday was nothing compared to their wedding was it?"

He couldn't deny it and he couldn't think of a single word to excuse himself; with a lump in his throat he hadn't expected to feel, the fox gave a single nod and waited with heart in mouth, waiting fort he executioners axe to descend and finished him forever; and here we go; he braced for it as Cream shook her head,

"That is so sweet".

What?; possibly the last thing he'd expected to happen – he opened his mouth to ask, raised his eyes to see the rabbit shake her head, smiling from ear to oversized ear as she explained,

"Of course it's not; listen, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, you should have gone all out to make sure it went as well as you could make it go, no scrimping on the excess. I get a birthday every year, but this is something else – Tails I'm flattered you even thought about my test in the light of this, you paying for it really was the cherry on top. You've done something amazing today and you can't even see you've done it, you're scared I was going to be angry weren't you?"

"How'd you…?" That answer and his expression of gormlessness was enough to send her into laugher,

"Your tohhoho, much like Sonihihihic", she giggled as he tried to make sense of it, "you really don't get it". Nope, not a clue; he gave up trying to fathom it out as Cream wiped her eyes and looked at him again, humour dispersed as something else, something at the same time more terrifying and yet more welcoming, beckoning, seemed to take over. Tails felt his mouth go dry and the butterflies in his stomach whirl up again as he saw the rabbit girl before him; her soft eyes seemed to let him sink into them, envelope him, blot out the horizons of his world until they were all he could see. Almost magnetically it seemed were the two young Mobians drawn forwards, the breath of one ruffling the fur on the face of the other as the time seemed to stand still.

There was a sudden echoing explosion; the two sprang apart as a blue blur swept past them, a second purple one not far behind,

"Creamlegitorshe'llgetyou"; huh; the rabbit looked behind her, straight into the jade green eyes of a seriously ticked-off Mighty; the armadillo raised one doom-laden finger,

"YOU!"

"AHHH" the previous few seconds forgotten, Cream hurtled headlong after Big and Sonic, racing like a mad thing as Mighty bulldozed her way forwards behind her; Tails stood on tip-toe, squeezing into the passage side to avoid being run over as the armadillo shrieked,

"When I cop hold of you I'm going to make myself a lucky rabbit's foot; one of mum's old recipes to try out as well, rabbit-ear fritters!"

"Mercy".

"Forget it"; watching the chasing foursome depart, Tails saw the back of Mighty's now drenched shirt, the bubbles atop it showing what had been used to flush out the lingering itching powder from under her shell; he managed to wait until both the hunter and hunted were out of earshot before folding up in hysterics and staggering back to the still heartily blazing party.

The celebrations lasted well into the night; it was only as they were winding down finally that another Mobian found it within himself to say goodbye.

XXX

He sighed to himself as he saw the way he needed to go; though not usually a night owl, Thunderhawk had been forced to rise in the middle of the night to use the bathroom following over-hydrating following one of his exercise sessions. After the biological necessities had been dispensed with, he'd swept Haven more out of habit than anything else; that had been when he'd realised something was badly awry. Not like we weren't expecting this though; since Locke had been teleported back to Haven by his own son, the rest of the Brotherhood had kept their distance, unsure of what to make of seemingly indifferent mood. Only Spectre might have seen, and Locke wouldn't let anyone close enough to even touch him without suddenly turning away. Only now at this ungodly hour was he venting some much-needed rage and aggression; and I've got to pick up the pieces. Thunderhawk shook off the gloomy thought as he walked on, trying to ignore his own tiredness at the same time as wonder what sort of state his training room would be in when he got there.

XXX

It was ahead of him, mocking, taunting; he flew at it with everything he had, everything he believed in and some things he'd never even known he possessed but it was still not enough. Not enough; he snarled as he hammered at it again, doing the same damage a gnat would do if it struck a suit of full armour; the story of my life – I was never, will never be enough. The face before him knew this; sometimes it morphed into Wynmacher, sneering and claiming what had once been his, but every time it did he snarled and shook his head – that was an illusion, nothing more than a mask for the real evil to hide behind. Only when it showed itself again would he let fly, seeking to crush something he could no more harm than smoke could topple a mountain, yet still he would try.

Because the face before him, that mocked and sneered the fact that it was what it was, belonged to him.

XXX

By the Master's shadow; Thunderhawk watched on, incredulous at what his youngest but one son was doing, what he'd never revealed when Thunderhawk had finally managed to collar him for training. Locke was stood before his heaviest anchored bag and pounding at it hell for leather; the younger echidna was unloading fists, feet, elbow knees and even occasionally, as his limbs were deadened by repeated impacts, his forehead as well. But Thunderhawk knew he had to step in; Locke had been doing this for who knows how long and already he was suffering; his elbows and knees had been abraded of both fur and skin, blood trickling down and flying off in tiny droplets, mingling with the sweat streaming from his body. Stepping as close as he dared, the lavender echidna tried to sound imposing,

"Locke, that's enough of this for now; it's late".

"Nowhere", his fifth-son threw a vicious elbow that left a dent in a bag even he had to put some effort into beating, "near, enough".

"I think it's got the impression you don't like it".

"I don't…like me". Thunderhawk felt his temper rise, the early hour of the morning gnawing away his good spirits as he added an edge to his voice,

"Listen, I've got better things to do than watch you pound leather all night".

"Do them", a knee strike thundered home, Locke's teeth bared in a feral snarl as he followed up with a volley of punches, "then".

"No, because they involve you getting to sleep before I do". Thunderhawk made a mistake then; he grabbed one of Locke's hands; next second he was on his rear end, the world spinning as the red echidna moved like lightning, screaming like a dying soul,

"Sleep, how can I sleep; I've lost, I don't care what happens next. I've seen it, there's nothing left for me now – Dimitri take me for a fool", the rage was ending, the pain coming back; Thunderhawk saw it, managing to struggle to his knees as Locke began to storm up, "I deserve nothing, no-one. My wife, she's gone to another man; I heard them wed, I could have stopped it, but didn't; the Master knows how weak I am, how black my sins are and it should have been me", his bruised knees gave way; the purple echidna managed to catch the falling former guardian as Locke's hatred at himself finally ran its course, "it should…be…me".

Easy fifth-son; Thunderhawk could think nothing less even if he knew there was nothing he could do to stop this; Locke had avoided these tears for too long, now they had found him with a vengeance. He'd shed them when his own wife had been buried as had the rest of the Brotherhood before him, even his own father, but Locke's fate was possibly crueller still than the separation by death. Locke stood alone from the rest of the Brotherhood by the very nature of his heart's wounding; something not even Sojourner would properly understand. All the rest of his family could do, as Thunderhawk was beginning now, was help support him and pick up the pieces.

XXX

He remembered dimly being carried here, barely conscious, by his fifth-father; the words he couldn't place, but he was sure they would be to do with moving on only he couldn't. He knew that, following the explosion of emotions he had held within for so long, his heart was finally deceased; he'd never love another woman as he had Lara – maybe someday he could talk to them, even be friends with them, but love, no, that was impossible. I have died; the former guardian lolled miserably on the floor, propped up by the wall as his eyes travelled down to where he had held his heart at bay for so long, denied it to ensure Lara could live once more. With a shrug and in gradual movements, Locke eased his hands into his lap, tugging his tight-fitting, reluctant gloves from his hand, exposing his final secret, the one no-one, not even his own doting father knew of. With nothing inside but a dull, empty ache, he turned his palms over.

The backs of Locke's hands, reflected in the pale light around him, were a hairless mass of scar tissue.

This had been the cost of safeguarding Lara; whenever he had wanted to see her, whenever he had yearned to be close to her, touch her, hold her just once more, he had quenched the desire in pain and blood; his head knew she was no longer his, but his heart had refused to let go even if to refuse had meant to die. The pain had been so much easier to deal with then the guilt, but gradually, oh so slowly the urge had gotten less, the knife wielded on fewer and fewer occasions to curb his forbidden desires. And now, I have no desires; Lara was gone, her departure finally shattering his wounded, weakened heart – the irony made the former guardian smile, a sad but true smile, the first step on the long, winding road to recovery; with my heart dead, I can let these scars start to heal.

A/N: Sombre at the end, but Locke would go to any length to make sure Lara was protected; she'd hate to see him, he'd not go near her even if he had to use pain to do it. It takes a lot to make that sacrifice; if you feel nothing at all for Locke, at least respect his courage in doing that much for her.

So, where does it go from here? Well, with Lara and Wyn married, it might be someone else's turn to drop a bombshell, but who might it be? Can you help someone get back on your feet when you're just about finding your own? Will Tails and Cream finally get together at last? Maybeee…but the title would give too much away! Keep reading!