Waiting was one thing Amy was not good at.

She could stand in shopping queues for hours just to get a long sought-after product; she could wait weeks for a refund if that product proved faulty. Her patience was not that bad – she had waited for Sonic's affection for whole years…

Actually, Amy Rose was good at waiting.

But waiting in uncertainty, unsure of her friends' fates, was a different matter altogether. Waiting endlessly, accompanied by rain so fierce it could be a funeral in its own right.

And when the heavens were torn apart by an explosion like no other she had seen in her life, the hedgehog's anguish grew tenfold.

After what seemed like ages – when all finally calmed – a single light illuminated the sky, descending like a shooting star. Not knowing what news it brought, Amy felt, for the first time in a long while, that her knees were growing weak.

That shining light – none other than Knuckles the Echidna – struggled his hardest to remain gliding, all the while holding onto his two friends – their forms limp in his arms.

He neared the sea of metal carnage formerly known as the Egg Fleet too tired to feel relief – the last bits of his chaos energy were forsaking his body and even he – the most durable of their group – was on his edge.

He was silently praying as he let go of the fox and the blue blur; hoping against hope that what little chaos was left in them would allow them to survive a plunge into the steel. He himself would cope somehow, he thought.

That did not make the crash anymore pleasant than it would otherwise be, though.

XXX

When he next regained his bearings, those who did not partake in the fight were all around him, and the still unresponsive bodies of Tails and Sonic were lying nearby.

He prepared his throat for the effort of emitting sounds, ignoring its protests.

"What is the situation?"

It was Shadow who spoke first, getting straight to the point. Knuckles was thankful.

"Metal Madness is no more – we vanquished his chaotic capabilities."

That short answer seemed to take all the air out of him. He breathed in and out heavily.

"He is powerless, but…"

"Still alive?" Shadow cut in. The echidna merely nodded.

The ultimate life form rose his arm into the air. Part of the debris shifted, filling their ears with rumbling and screeching, before a green gemstone erupted from under the metal and sailed right into Shadow's open hand.

The hedgehog seemed to sway as he caught the emerald, but a moment later he was already standing still. Knuckles wondered how much the others must have suffered stalling Metal for time. Omega wordlessly placed a steadying, almost reassuring, hand on his partner's arm and an instant later they were both gone in a flash of chaos energy.

Knuckles used the time to steady his breathing. Shadow being on the case put him at ease – of all the people he could think of, the ebony hedgehog was the one best suited to take care of the situation.

"What happened?" Amy was the next one to query him.

He didn't respond immediately. Most of the battle remained beyond his comprehension; its magnitude defied understanding, and the world of blankness came back to him only as a vague image – like one from a dream. He went for the abridged version.

"We fought; our last attack went right through him – another heavy breath – Tikal and the master emerald must have blessed us and neutralized the power of Chaos shielding him."

He looked at his unconscious comrades.

"Even with the astonishing power at his disposal, he couldn't attack us directly. But his chaos enhanced abilities could still bypass some of our protection.. I don't think Tails and Sonic are in any danger, but we were all at out limits, they aren't likely to wake up anytime soon."

Seemingly satisfied, Amy nodded her head.

With a slight effort, he twisted his head to look for Rouge. He did find the bat off to the side, but all that he saw was her back turned to him. No words of worry or consolation from the pesky female.

He would let her have her way – he didn't need support from those unwilling to give it. Though it didn't make him any less annoyed.

Extortion caught up to him suddenly, hitting like a wave of cold water. In less than an eye blink, the guardian of Angel Island was fast asleep.

XXX

The rumble had been deafening, but now it slowly turned into a serene silence.

Final Fortress remained only as a wreck, grounded and dead. Its humongous motors no longer active, cannons torn to pieces, robots absent from their posts. Amy would remember it as eerie, the way the first streams of light tore through the clouded sky and danced among the metal – replacing the ship's buzzing with a different kind of life.

She trusted Big to be about finished with the leftovers of Eggman's once-powerful army. Thousands of robots had been running amuck – with no purpose but to escape as far away from Metal Madness as possible. Most of them had fallen off, inevitably meeting their end when they had reached the ground below. The rest had thrown themselves at Big, the biological creature easiest to notice in the area. But they couldn't harm him – she was certain – not when his every move was so confident, and his vigor doubled – the cat was not to be stopped with his best friend by his side. If there could be anything beautiful in conflict, that would be it.

She had lost sight of the 'good old doctor', but didn't allow herself to be bothered by it. The Chaotix Detective Agency was in hot pursuit – while it seemed impossible to put Eggman away from action for long, he would receive a spanking to remember them by.

The battle was over. It was time for their part of cleaning the mess.

"Cream, help Tails while I take care of Sonic."

The doe had been flying and scanning the area in case any threats appeared or one of their friends returned. Now she landed gently and gracefully, nodded her head curtly and obediently followed the instructions. The pink hedgehog often marveled at her friend's level-headedness, even if these situations could no longer be called 'uncommon' for them.

After briefly examining Sonic for external injuries Amy noted that, at least on the outside, he appeared uninjured. She knew better – Sonic never fainted when his condition wasn't serious. She gently heaved him up and slung him over her shoulder expertly. Hedgehogs knew how to carry other hedgehogs safely – it was written somewhere in their genes.

Sonic was very light, enough so to make her worry.

She heard Cream lifting Tails with a small grunt of effort. The doe had a harder task; she would need to fly with an unconscious passenger the whole time – going on foot would take far too much time. But Cream would manage – she always did. And Amy was proud of her.

"I'll be at my place in Station Square" she informed the rabbit "get the fox boy back to top-notch shape…" Amy's voice softened mid-sentence; as if she changed places with a different her "and let him rest up and enjoy himself a little. I think they've earned that much".

Cream smiled in response.

"Do try not to stress mister Sonic too much, miss Amy"

The hedgehog returned the smile with one of her own. Even if, inside, she didn't fell like grinning at all. It hurt every time she saw him stiff and uncomfortable around her. When he ran from her she told herself running was simply what he loved the most. When he avoided stepping into her household when visiting Station Square she told herself that he might have an aversion to overly bright colors. When she was out of excuses, she bought chocolates.

And when the situation called for it, she could forget about it altogether.

"Will do" she replied easily.

Treating them on their own was for the best. Sonic the Hedgehog was a celebrity; with many followers across the world. But he also had enemies, more after each and every one of his achievements. The doctors of Station Square were an honest group that did its best for the well-being of their patients, but the city was a dangerous place.

And Tails provoked questions – questions stemming from who he was (and Amy had endured such questions herself) and those about how he looked like (and those made her blood boil, teeth clench, arms shake).

She had clarity – their recovery was the only thing of importance. And she swore that until they were healed, they would come to no harm. They deserved that oath.

Heroes deserved to be well.

XXX

Tails' mind cleared slowly, as if refusing to start up. He relinquished the comforting darkness only haltingly. Soon it snapped. His thoughts refocused. His senses shot outwards. His muscles tensed urging him to jump.

Then he heard the light sounds, and later recognized them to be the carefree singing of birds behind the window. And he was mostly puzzled.

He slowly opened his eyes, but closed them soon after. The too-bright light was too much for him, as he had suspected. He concentrated on his sense of touch and came to the sound conclusion that he was lying on something soft, which was equally as comforting as it was confusing… Why was his mind so cloudy?

It should have been, but the situation did not appear to be dangerous. He toyed with the idea for a whole three seconds before accepting it as a fact. And when he did, all strength poured out of him.

An uneasy breath left his chest and he felt the sensation of tiny needles pricking his insides: arms, legs; even his tails felt cramped and were unwilling to move. It always bothered him when he couldn't use them – they were his main means of defe-

It came back in a flash.

The angry thunder splitting the sky; how he hated lightning!; the roaring of Metal Madness; the abominable creation; and the bone-chilling intent to kill so pure that he could feel it in the air as if it had substance.

He didn't notice when exactly his breathing became shallow.

"It's alright. It's alright…"

He whispered soothing words, aimed only at himself. And he hoped it would help, somehow. They had gone further than he had thought it possible; still not to put a single scratch on Metal Sonic. Their final efforts appeared, in retrospect, nothing short of delirious.

'See me as I am, no longer afraid of anything,"

But it was over – and he was safe.

His eyes fluttered open once more, this time more determined to withstand the light. What met them was the sight of a familiar room, with bright, yellow walls and cheerful flower decorations. Recognition quieted his suspicious thoughts – this was most certainly not a mere daydream. It couldn't be – his nose was filled with the scents of wood, flowers and perfumes. He never could smell anything in his dreams.

He reminded himself, really for the last time, and only briefly, that it was all real and he was safe.

And as the sense of security was fortified within it, his mind started wandering, analyzing different aspects of the situation. It was then that he remembered a matter of 'secondary' importance – Sonic.

The hedgehog had taken heavy blows, some of them he hadn't had to, but he had chosen the safety of his teammates over his own. Tails was aware of this – of the nature of his hero and brother. And it made him worried sick.

He pushed himself up with his arms, giving his tails space to coil up around each other. He leaned forward and prepared to jump-

A bolt of petrifying pain shot through his whole being. He curled up in a fetal position. His fists clenched and claws extended. His small frame shook. Finally, a low growl forced its way out of his throat – resounding in the empty room.

He gritted his teeth in frustration. That shouldn't have happened.

As the pain left his body, his ears twitched in a panicky fashion. He listened to the silence, trying to detect footsteps, or any other sign of someone nearby. Nothing disturbed the peace. After a minute spent in the stillness, he let out a tired sigh of relief.

It would have been much easier for him if he had woken up in his own workshop.

XXX

Knuckles was of an entirely different breed.

Even after he had woken up, he would not stir nor move so much as an inch for minutes on end. He would lie with his eyes closed and take the world around him in through small hints: frolicking scents and insects' whispers. The echidna was, in his essence, the most serene calm before the wildest of storms.

And as time passed, his puzzlement, unexpectedly accompanied with amusement and fondness, grew more and more.

After all, he didn't have to be exceptionally perceptive to realize that if insects could work in such perfect unison, birds could be heard from so far away and the scent of the wind could be composed solely of blossoming flowers untainted with any other smell; if all those conditions were met, there was only one place where he could be.

The guardian had been returned to his island.

His eyes swept open and the sun told him the time, the shrubbery told him how far he was from the edge of the island and a single passing bird reinforced the feeling of solitude within him.

Calmed, he spared the time to look into himself.

His body felt fresh and relaxed, and it seemed he had slept soundly without much trouble. However, he couldn't say how much of the effect was only a wicked illusion. The chaos emeralds could grant any power without limit but they took a lot in return. A small, tingling sensation was left within him, strongest in his arms and fists. It was the telltale sign of energy still to be recomposed… and internal wounds not yet healed.

The wind swiveled around him, sweeping his hair into disorder, bringing with it colorful petals and-

Knuckles smiled in recognition of that peculiar fragrance. He was only mildly surprised to hear the clicking of high heels on the pebbles in the area.

"I see you woke up," came the feminine voice from behind him "what a coincidence that I was just flying by."

His lips formed a small smile, quite without him realizing it. It could not be denied – such a lucky coincidence it was indeed.

"Never thought I would see you care so much, Rouge," he remarked.

The clicking sound came closer and closer until the bat came into his view. It would be impossible to tell whether or not she had taken part in the recent battle by sight alone, so clandestine were her appearance and manner. Any other would have been fooled into overlooking the weariness of her stance.

She didn't look into his eyes, merely gazed at the sky – presenting herself aloof and elegant at the same time, so completely her.

"Not at all, sweetheart," she chided, her tone, as often, between mocking and seductive. "I was just on my way to pick up someone else's treasure." She whirled around and-

-and as she was doing that he glimpsed something within her eyes – imbedded in the reflection of heavens, a tiny spark of worry. It strengthened him more than anything else ever could.

She was walking away from him. He grinned openly, and then slowly, tenderly even, picked himself up. Rouge was, without pause, between one game and another. Only this time, he wouldn't mind joining her.

A minute later, and only when his footsteps resounded right next to hers, the female bat took into the air. Even then, it was obvious she wasn't flying half as fast as she could.

To his amazement, Knuckles couldn't shake off the feeling of fondness which suddenly overcame him.

"Damn that batty bat," he grumbled under his breath.

And he ran after her.

XXX

Sonic was a fast healer, but then again, he was fast about everything.

To a certain extent it was who he was; and past that point it was what the world expected him to be – made him out to be. The opinions of others were yet another restraint, endlessly trying to constrict him.

That was why Sonic the Hedgehog chose to stand motionlessly and silently, gazing out of the window at the city below and appreciating a rare moment of calm.

He had been fast all his life, fast about everything, and watching the hectic roads of Station Square made him realize that maybe he had been too fast and too slow all at once.

He had slowed down only reluctantly, occasionally, and had been off again in a flash. He had been all around the world; seen all there was to see, tried all there was to try, always on the lookout for something new. The knowledge came gradually – Tails' birthday, Christmas at the Rabbit household, even Charmy's crazy 'flower appreciation day' – he understood slowly that one sometimes needs to stop to get the important things done.

The barely audible sound of the doorknob moving reached his ears. In a flash, he was already under the covers of the single bed in the room. He was thankful for his incredible speed. The door opened, and Amy Rose entered inside.

He held his eyes shut; breathed in and out deeply and slowly. Apparently, he was rather good at faking sleep, as his acting had yet to be revealed. Sonic had never thought he would make a good actor.

Amy didn't move forward for what seemed like ages. It was a habit of hers, he noted.

She would come in and stop, taking her time watching him. What thoughts came to her mind in those moments he couldn't guess.

Finally, she proceeded deeper into the room. He could tell by the soft rustling of the carpet under her feet, and the sweet fragrance that crept ever closer to him.

A soft clatter resounded from behind him. It was just as it had been the day before – Amy would come and leave something for him to eat behind. That would be it – she would be gone seconds later, checking back only to collect empty dishes.

She whirled around – the air and perfume mused his cheek. There was, momentarily, silence – he hoped it was her hesitating. But steps from further and further away followed soon after.

Amy must have dragged him away from the battlefield. Now she was taking care of his well-being – cooking for him and allowing him to sleep in her bed, while she probably had to be satisfied with the less comfortable cot. He knew that caring Amy from how she acted around Cream, but there was still something amiss.

It irked him beyond comprehension that she seemed to dance around him and avoid confrontation. How hard was it to wake him up? Especially when he wasn't actually asleep half the time! He was frustrated, because this Amy wouldn't take the initiative like he wanted her to, wouldn't make it easier on him.

The door opened once more – with what seemed a silent gunshot. It hit him Amy was leaving. Quite humorous. Sonic the Hedgehog being left behind, all alone. Like he had left her before, time upon time.

What reason was there for her to speak to him? She certainly cared – but she also learned. If she interacted with him, it would just lead to an unpleasant situation, and he would push her away, and then run away without a word, regardless of his health. Amy was merely being prudent, avoiding harm on both sides. But it was he himself who had placed them where they were now.

Since when was he a coward?

"Hey Ames!" he called, sitting upright and in mid-motion of throwing away the covers.

He was not a quick thinker, but somehow Amy had not moved from her spot in front of the entrance for all the time he had been pondering. Now she turned to him, and he decided to get it over with before he managed to read anything, either positive or negative, from her face.

"Thanks for helping, me Ames. A lot."

He gestured at himself and the general vicinity.

"And not just now. You've been a great support in the tough times. I'm glad to have you as a friend."

His speech must have been not half bad – the pink hedgehog smiled and nodded her head a little. He saw her eyes lighting up with a spark of joy.

He didn't feel as miserable as before when she turned to leave once more. But he was the fastest thing alive, and not one for stopping.

"Hey, Ames?"

She glanced at his grinning face questioningly.

"Stay awhile?"

She moved immediately, and Sonic expected a life-threatening hug. He was left in surprise when met with the gentlest embrace of his life.

XXX

When Tails woke up for the second time, he felt better than before, less confused, but much more hungry.

He stood up slowly and carefully – inwardly worrying that he would be overcome with pain once more. Thankfully, no such thing happened, and he was happy to note his almost complete recovery.

How much time had passed?

He left the room, taking care to step softly and make as little noise as possible. His old timidity always came back to him when he found himself in the meticulously clean household.

The sounds of cooking worked on him like a bait, leading him straight to the kitchen. Although his mind would prefer some more alone time before another confrontation, his stomach did not share that opinion.

He saw Vanilla moving busily from the stove to the ingredients lined on the table and back. A thought came to him if his own mother had liked cooking, but he was already used to such random thoughts and tended to ignore them.

Careful not to startle the older rabbit, tails cleared his throat to catch her attention.

She spun around with a look of pleasant surprise on her face.

"Good morning, Tails! I'm glad you woke up, we were starting to worry a little."

He smiled in response and leaned against a chair. Vanilla gestured for him to sit down and turned back to her cooking.

"You must be starving, dear. I'm just finishing up here, so wait a moment longer, alright?"

Tails nodded, even though the rabbit wouldn't be able to see it with her back turned to him. He occupied himself with gathering the mess of elusive thoughts in his head. He was only half-successful – the saliva gathering in his mouth at the promise of food made a fine job of breaking his focus.

"How much time has passed?" he finally asked.

Vanilla turned her face to him halfway, but never lost sight of the now-sizzling eggs before her. He wondered whether it was even possible for her to break a plate by accident. Not that he wanted her to. Maybe he had been working too hard lately. Thinking about such things.

"Nine days since cream departed with miss Amy, which makes it three days of your stay here."

Three days. They had had a lot of luck – he admitted that grudgingly. Only a few of them knew (and it was better this way, he thought), but the chaos emeralds were dangerous. They gave away seemingly unlimited power, but also lured the user in, baited him with promises of achieving 'freedom'. Delving into them as deeply as they had had been a risk – plain and simple – and he hated that.

The telephone ringing cut into his musings. Vanilla took a step back and reached for the cordless receiver lying on the fridge. She held it with her left hand, leaving the right one free to control the pans. Tails admired the precision and confidence in her movements – he employed similar skills in his work at the workshop.

The rabbit spoke quietly and softly (but clearly enough to make up for it – he knew from his own experience), and he couldn't hear everything of the conversation over the sounds of boiling water. Maybe he shouldn't listen in to others talking at all, but there was a natural curiosity in him he couldn't stop.

The voice on the other end suddenly rose in pitch, and he recognized it as belonging to Amy. At the same time, he noticed a small jerk of surprise in Vanilla's usually composed movement – and it unsettled him. He subconsciously prepared himself for bad news. There was little reason to do so, really. Amy did not sound distressed. But it didn't matter.

The rabbit pushed a button on the receiver and it fell silent. She returned it to its former place, and then proceeded with turning off the stove (how was the gas supplied… but he shouldn't get distracted). When she considered everything to be wrapped up, she gave him her full attention.

"Miss Amy notified me that mister Sonic has made a very nice recovery and is in good health, although he still desires some rest before he can visit us."

Tails looked momentarily away, letting out a small sigh, and then composing himself once more. He felt a little bit of shame tearing at him, for being unable to show his emotion openly even in the place which was close to a home for him. However, he ignored the tiny voices in his head and steeled himself, he knew from Vanilla's untypical reaction that there was more to come. He nodded for her to continue.

"She also said that-" the doe paused, as id to decide whether to rephrase the information or not "we are not to worry should the two of them prove inaccessible during the following days."

Tails nearly choked on air. The rabbit's reaction no longer surprising to him.

It had always been only a matter of time – he told himself. If what they were doing was some kind of wicked game, it was inevitable the two hedgehogs would one day proceed to the next stage. But as years had passed, nothing had changed the status quo, and gradually they had stopped waiting for the moment that would turn another constant in their lives into a mere memory. But it came – their two friends were seeking refugee from the world; time only for each other.

Amy had never hidden her feelings – even if one could question how serious they really were. Sonic, on the other hand, had always been passive in the relationship. Tails hadn't failed to notice that while the blue hero frequently denied anything existing between him and Amy, no other gossip was even worth his comment. But even if the interest had been there, why the sudden progression?

Did Sonic, in spite of his hot-headedness, consider the battle against Metal Madness too dangerous for comfort? Tails would have never expected that from his cocky friend – the thought itself left an unpleasant chill behind. And for more than one reason.

Once again, he would be alone. Like when he had been a kit – distancing himself from all the children bullying him for his appearance. He had thought his life was changed forever when he met Sonic – the eternal kid. They had been drifters – people with no connections except for each other, living for the sake of fun and occasionally saving the world from a senile old man – how distant it now seemed! Regardless of if he liked it or not, Sonic had decided to grow up and leave him alone once more.

A pleasant smell came from right under his nose and he heard the dishes clunk on the table. Startled, he gazed at the soup before him, not comprehending when it had appeared. That's what he got for getting lost in his thoughts.

"I apologize for not having anything more filling," Vanilla's voice came from behind him, and he whirled around in his chair to face her "but vegetable soup was the best I could do with what was at hand. I didn't feel like going shopping in quite a long time."

And this was the other side of the coin.

How could have Vanilla gone shopping when, for a whole week, her mind would be filled with nothing but worry for her daughter's safety, and questions whether the younger rabbit would come back home at all? This was their second failure – not only did they face danger recklessly, they had also endangered people close to them by dragging them into the fray.

"Not at all Mrs. Vanilla. It is enough that you had to endure the absence of your daughter. Because of what we did."

Somehow, his voice came out completely wrong – it showed exactly what he was thinking, like it wasn't supposed to.

And Vanilla looked at him with sad eyes.

The next instant, she was gone. He barely registered her saying she had to fetch something.

"Get a grip already," he muttered to himself. Maybe social interaction wasn't his forte, but this was beyond irritating.

He relieved his frustration on the soup, absorbing it in what must have been record time. He hadn't realized how hungry he really was. He happily helped himself to seconds – Vanilla wouldn't mind.

He washed his plate in time to see the rabbit returning from wherever she had gone to before. She took a seat at the table and gestured for him to do the same. He did, glancing at her unreadable expression as he passed her.

"I hadn't taken that out in quite a while," she began slowly "we try to enjoy the present and such things bring so many memories…"

Tails examined the black square she placed on the table – he had failed to notice her bringing it with her. It was thin, and the metal reflected the sunlight coming from the window. A photo case?

He looked at the rabbit and, seeing her nod in allowance, picked up the object. He turned it around and his suspicions were proven true – the other side was covered with glass, and a worn-looking photo rested behind it. It was black and white, but exceptionally clear. He didn't attempt to date the picture based on that, though – the technological differences between regions made that impossible. Instead, he concentrated on who was in the picture.

A young wolf with a dazzling of sharp, milky-white teeth met his eyes. The canid was looking at the camera with bright eyes full of joyful spunk, leaning easily against the frame of an ancient airplane. He wore the usual pilot outfit – jacket and long trousers, both most likely originally orange.

The youngster made a good impression on Tails (but the fox suspected he could be a bit biased because of the plane).

"He insisted that I shouldn't change my last name," Vanilla spoke "Seeing as our only daughter doesn't have much of a wolf in her, maybe it was for the better."

Tails' head whipped to face Vanilla. That would mean the man was-

"My late husband, Ronald Wolf."

Tails only rarely forgot how to speak, but now was one of those times. He gaped in silence.

"This is the only photo I have left of him now. It's rather old – it must be twenty years old or so." Vanilla let out a small giggle "He's just posing, back then he couldn't pilot an airplane to save his life," she smiled "But we were young, so very young and innocent… we had done more than our share of foolish things together."

Tails could be mistaken, but for the shortest moment, Vanilla seemed to smile a trickster's smile.

He said nothing, and the doe remained lost in her own world. Only, her grin was slowly but surely fading, making way for a more melancholy expression.

"What happened?"

The female rabbit blinked before answering.

"He was helping stop a fire. Heroism was in his blood, it seemed. His luck had to run short sooner or later, though," Vanilla let out a sigh.

Tails lowered his head in respect for her loss.

"Cream sees him in you."

He looked at her in surprise. His lips twisted to form a question, but he was at a loss for what to say.

"They spent every moment together, playing with flowers, chasing butterflies or reading books, it wasn't much of a surprise when her first word was 'daddy' and not 'mommy' either. She idolized him."

Tails was captivated, hearing about emotions he himself hadn't had the chance to experience.

"He disappeared before she turned three, and she was devastated. She became silent and soft-spoken. She was very young – with time, she forgot more and more about him, and I removed all the photos to help her, and myself, move on. But she remembers him deep down in her heart. My daughter might seem a rabbit through and through, but she inherited his spirit. That's why she is saving the world while I'm cooking dinner."

He smiled at her joke, and inwardly wondered at the depth of her analysis. There were some things that only a mother could sense, he decided.

"And one day – I remember Eggman troubling our neighbourhood – Cream came back home very excited, animatedly retelling an adventure of hers. I was genuinely interested what made her so happy, but when she mentioned a 'young fox boy', the mystery was solved.

Tails thought about his first meeting with Cream, but didn't have the time to dwell on it.

"And what a coincidence, the young lad had a plane, engaged in world-saving escapades on a daily basis and was oh-so-nice. She wouldn't stop talking about it."

Tails felt his cheeks reddening, and Vanilla grinned seeing this.

"She considers you very important Tails, and so do I. Should anything happen, you may consider the Rabbit household your second home."

He sputtered, looking for a proper answer. Vanilla stood up and headed for the exit, still smiling.

"Th-thank you!" he shouted at her retreating back.

She stopped momentarily, but didn't turn around.

"Cream's playing at the field behind the house – she would be glad to hear you are well after all the worrying she's been through."

She resumed walking.

"And if I cannot stop that girl from seeking danger, don't blame yourself for her decisions. But… do take good care of her, Miles.

And then she left.

XXX

The sun stung his eyes – he was unused to the brightness of the world outside. But it didn't bother him in the least, he preferred the refreshing sunlight to the dimness of his room. The colorful flowers were distracting, the wind playful – it ruffled his hair as he marched forward.

Joyful disorder was welcome, it kept him from overanalyzing his situation and forgetting about what was ahead. For the sake of himself and those he cared for, it was time for him to grow up, like Sonic had. And to do that, he needed to stop doubting his actions and living in fear of his own exaggerated expectations.

Tail's resolve became firm – to do things on his own terms – as he walked through the fields of carefree plants tinted with all shades of happiness.

He hadn't even noticed the moment his steps had become light and energetic.

Cream's laughter resounded from far ahead of him. He had already been heading that way from the very beginning, he realized. His nose had picked up a faint trace of the honey-like fragrance most common of the doe, and he had followed it instinctively.

The rabbit's small figure appeared in his sight soon after. She was hunched over, occupied with the flowers before her, and she didn't sense him approaching.

He stopped a few steps behind her. He didn't want to startle her, but obviously wanted her attention. His tails twisted nervously, chopping a few flowers in half, but he never noticed.

"Uh… hi there, Cream!" did he get an award for being lame?

Cream jumped in surprise. She spun around. Flowers of all kinds flew from her hands, discarded. Her eyes widened. She leapt at him – catching him in a firm embrace. He nearly fell from the force of the impact.

For a moment, he wasn't sure how to respond. And then he hesitantly returned the embrace, trying vainly to fight off the crimson hue making its way onto his face.

"I was so worried, Tails!" Cream cried, distress evident in her voice. But it was gone in the next instant "Cheese and Chocola are here! You should greet them!" she pointed at the pair of chao chasing each other under the shade of a tree.

He waved at them absently, still in a silent stupor (it was a nice stupor and he didn't feel like coming out of it just yet).

Cream gave him a detailed report of the three days he had missed – it started drizzling soon after they finished fighting Metal Madness and wouldn't stop for a whole day. The local postman was very unhappy…

Maybe he wasn't exactly listening to what she said, but at least he paid great attention to how she said those things.

When she paused to catch her breath, he seized the chance to speak.

"Cream?" he asked softly.

She looked at him, puzzled.

"What is it?"

"Well…" he took a deep breath "I wanted to apologize. For that kiss. I…" he still wasn't sure what to say.

Cream blinked and shook her head.

"Don't worry, Tails," she chirped "It was nice – a bit funny."

And she giggled.

Tails let out the breath he had been unconsciously holding. 'Nice and funny'? He grinned. He couldn't imagine a more Cream-like answer.

The doe's attention was caught by an especially colorful butterfly that had passed next to her. When she followed it, Tails shouted after her.

"Hey Cream!" no longer doubtful.

"Yes?" she asked, her eyes still following the butterfly now resting on a nearby bush.

He grinned.

"If it was nice, may I kiss you again?"

The rabbit's eyes left the insect and slowly traveled to his own. And as they gazed at each other, Cream's smile widened minutely.

So he did.

Piko piko trouble END


AN: I suppose there are things to be said about finishing a story after over a year's hiatus, but those are not for me to say. It just took this long for me to throw many useless pages of this final chapter into the rubbish bin and decide on its final form. If the end result is satisfying, then I am also satisfied.

I'd like to thank fairy-girl27, azngirlchibi, Star the Hedgecat, Tazkol and everyone else who reviewed, added this to their C2 archive or otherwise accompanied me on this journey. This was the first true multi-chapter fic I attempted here at fanfiction net and I'm happy to see it finished.

Hoping to see you again, in this fandom, or in another one.

- Cytrus