Chapter 12 – The Gift

The hours following the kidnapping skimmed Amy's threshold of insanity. Mercury's RFID tag was tracked straight from Golden Gate Bridge to the Mobius portal, where the signal was lost. Local authorities coordinated their efforts with Mobian officials to conduct a search on that end, and Sonic set off on one of his own, but nothing more than a few eyewitness accounts turned up. The hours stretched into days and the days became weeks, a nightmare from which she would never wake. Her hopes, dreams, and prayers that Shadow would return spiraled disintegrating into an abyss of depression.

After nearly two months had passed, Sonic gazed upon Amy's ragged, bony body, curled up on the horseshoe couch of the upstairs lounge. She'd barely eaten or slept since the fateful night, and now she barely even moved. It couldn't go on like this. Sonic stood raking his mind for something, anything he could do to bring her some kind of comfort. Then it occurred to him.

"Amy…." he spoke softly, resting a hand on her shoulder. She didn't respond, but he went on. "There's something I want to show you." Her head snapped up, her eyes hopeful. Whatever she was seeking in his expression wasn't there, however, and she lay her head back down, staring blankly across the room. He wobbled her shoulder with a couple of nudges. "C'mon…let's go for a walk." He took her hand and pulled her toward him, forcing her to stick her foot out to keep from falling to the floor. She finally pushed herself upright and allowed him to lead her from the room. They continued downstairs to the front door. "It's pretty nice out today."

They stepped outside hand in hand, an extremely rare occurrence between them in public. He couldn't really help it; he was almost afraid to let go. They walked several blocks to a ritzy shopping plaza. None of the cute accessories in the windows they passed received any more than a fleeting glance from her. Sonic brought her to a crusty three-tier fountain that had been shut off for the winter, where he stopped and turned to face her, looking suspiciously upbeat. "Thought you might want to do some shopping."

Amy blinked and peered somberly at the fountain. "I don't really feel like it…."

"Not even here?" He smirked at her as he gestured with a nod at the store behind her. She turned, and her eyes instantly widened. Standing in the display window was a mannequin donning a gorgeous flowing bridal gown, holding a silk rose bouquet. Amy redirected her gape at Sonic, speechless. He grinned. "Let's do it!" Her jaw dropped all the more.

"R-really??" She put her hand on his shoulder, suddenly out of breath. "Hhhh…wait a minute—aren't you supposed to propose?"

"Oh, uh," he asked amid laughter, "wanna get married?"

"And-and a ring! Aren't I supposed to get a ring?"

"A ring?"

"Yeah, you know, an engagement ring?"

"Oh, uhhhh…." He scratched his ear, starting to tense. Amy broke into a smile for the first time since Mercury was taken.

"Oh, who cares?!" She threw her arms around her fiancé.

"Oh, that's a great idea!!" Chris told Sonic in a hushed voice back at the mansion that night. "That should really help take her mind off things." He paused thoughtfully, eyes bouncing about the kitchen, then turned back to him. "Congratulations, by the way!"

Sonic responded with a modest chuckle. "I really hope it snaps her out of that funk. We should try to keep things fast paced so she stays occupied. How long does it normally take to arrange a wedding?"

"Umm…when my mom's sister got married , she had a really big wedding, and it took her, like, almost a year to get it all planned and everything."

Sonic nodded. "We'll do it in five months, then." Chris flinched as Sonic rubbed his chin. "No, wait, make it four. …Yeah…four oughta do."

Amy trotted into the kitchen with two sheets she'd printed from the Internet. "Okay, what do you think of these for the wedding colors? Do you like this one, or this one?" She held each page up alternately, then did it again. "This one, or this one?" Chris' and Sonic's eyes jumped from the pink and powder blue to the pink and sky blue.

"……I'd go with the lighter one," Chris commented.

Amy eyed Sonic. "What do you think, Sonic?"

"Yeah, that one's good," he agreed. He couldn't tell the difference.

Amy meekly smiled to herself as she examined the selected color scheme once more. She took it into the dining room where her binder waited and slipped it into one of its folders. Organizing the marriage, though it didn't really take her mind off of Mercury, was a welcome task for her. It gave her something thoroughly good to think about and hope for, and it was something over which she had total control. Such a simple luxury had been painfully absent for far too long.

The preparations were appreciated on Sonic's end too, though for him they entailed addressing a few unpleasant loose ends. In Mobius on the following morning, he shielded his eyes from the sun's potent glare as he emerged from a cave connecting the Mystic Ruin's dense jungles. A short distance away, the Master Emerald refracted a luminescent brilliance. He shifted himself into high gear and raced across the tropical terrain, closing the gap within seconds. Knuckles, who'd been lying peacefully across the mossy steps leading up from the massive gem, jerked upright at Sonic's sudden arrival. He beheld the hedgehog with something less than a scowl.

"What are you doing here?" the echidna inquired, his tone bordering on annoyance.

"Nice to see you too!" Sonic quipped, provoking the full scowl. "But in any case, I'm afraid I've got some bad news." His demeanor shed its cocky edge. He explained Mercury's abduction and unsuccessful recovery to Knuckles, who lowered his head.

"I'm sorry," his deep voice scraped the ground.

"Yeah, well, keep an eye out and let us know if you see anything," Sonic requested, shifting his weight onto his other foot. "So anyways, now comes the part that has to do with why I'm here!" Knuckles lifted his watchful eyes back to him. "Amy and I are…" Sonic drifted off into hesitation. It wasn't any easier to say now than it was when he told Tails half an hour ago. "...well, circumstances being what they are and all, I thought she could use some distraction…sooo…we're getting married."

More surprise crossed Knuckles' face at this news than at that of the kidnapping. "Oh……wow……but……I still don't get why you're here…."

The simper returned to Sonic's face as he shrugged. "Thought you might want to be a groomsman."

Knuckles leaned forward, eyes wide. "Really…??" The two had never been the best of friends and at times had barely been friends at all, so these words served as the biggest surprise of the morning. From what he'd heard, being selected as a groomsman for a wedding was quite an honor.

"Sure, why not? But," Sonic emphasized, "if you do come, and I'm gonna say this slowly, dooooon't…menshun…the bay-beeeee."

"I know!" Knuckles snorted irritably, turning his face aside. Then he turned back, smiling. "Thanks, Sonic. I'd be honored to attend."

"…And so I've got Tails coming as best man and Chris and Chuck and Sam and Tanaka and Knuckles as groomsmen so far," Sonic informed Amy as they sat nestled together on the suede couch. They had the night to themselves now that the Mobian Research Team had cleared out.

"Wow, great!" Amy beamed. "I haven't decided on a maid of honor yet, maybe Ella, but I've invited Cream to be the flower girl and asked Francis, Helen, Sandy, and Melissa to be bridesmaids."

"Sandy's that girl you know from work, right?" Sonic inquired, confirmed by Amy's nod. "And Melissa…is she the one with the red hair and the…teeth?" Amy nodded again, stifling a laugh. "Yeah, okay. You gonna invite any Mobians besides Cream?"

"Hmmm…I'd like to invite Big, and maybe Raspberry," Amy mused, referring to a mouse she'd known since childhood. "Oh, what about Rouge?"

There was a pause, and then they both simultaneously expressed their hesitation, "Ehhhhhhh…." followed by Amy's suggestion.

"I'll put her on the maybe list." Sonic nodded agreement. After jotting down the name, Amy put her pen to her lips. "Hmmm…what about your friends in Knothole? Princess Sally?"

Sonic's eyes darted aside. "Mm, they're pretty far away, and she's probably got more important things to do."

It seemed like an odd thing for him to say, Amy thought, but she didn't press the issue. She really didn't want Sally there anyway.

"Well, I think that'll do it for tonight," Amy decided, setting her notepad on the coffee table. Sonic sat up as she leaned back, licking the top of her head as he typically did every couple of days, just to keep the scent fresh. She sat in thought as she waited for him to finish. "You are gonna get me a ring, right?" He backed away just enough to make eye contact as she continued. "I mean, it's okay if you wanna skip the engagement ring, but it's only proper to get a wedding ring!"

His eyes narrowed as his smile expanded. "Says who?"

"The…customs and stuff! It's the way it's supposed to be done!"

"Heh, if we did things they way they were supposed to be done here, I'd probably be in trouble for rape since you're technically not allowed to consent to sex until you're eighteen." He chuckled as she snorted.

"Seriously, though, Sonic, I really want one…."

"Okay, okay, I'll see what I can do," he answered amiably with a tip of his head. Amy smiled endearingly.

"Thaaaanks," she said sweetly, nuzzling him. His head turned and engaged her in a tender kiss. In its midst, she could feel him pressing on her, advancing. Her hands pushed against his chest as her back hit the couch, forcing its abrupt end. "…I don't think I'm ready yet." His eyebrow sank a bit as he blinked at her, saying nothing. He turned aside and nestled his head just below her shoulder. Her hands gently gripped his quills just as they did during their most intimate moments, of which they hadn't partaken since his injury. They lay that way for several seconds before Sonic spoke.

"How 'bout now?" he joked, at which she giggled.

Word of the world's first formal Mobian wedding—between a famous couple, no less—raced through media across the globe. An outpouring of public interest overwhelmed the Thorndyke household on every front. It quickly became clear that this would by no means be a small scale ceremony. Chris selected the location in which it would be held, a mega capacity affiliate of his own Baptist church. When the highly anticipated day had at last come, guests arrived by the scores. Even the Mobian Research Team was there, bearing dozens of expensive gifts in a hopeful rectification of its infringement. The entire massive sanctuary and balcony were filled until overflowing. Offsetting the noise of people trying to find seats, a one-hundred-member choir lifted its collective voice in a magnificent hymn.

"Majesty, worship His majesty;

Unto Jesus be all glory, honor, and praise!

Majesty, kingdom authority,

Flow from His throne unto His own, His anthem raise.

So exalt, lift up on high the name of Jesus!

Magnify, come glorify Christ Jesus, the King!

Majesty, worship His majesty,

Jesus who died, now glorified, King of all kings!"

Knuckles stood listening behind the scenes, breathless…though he'd been breathless for quite some time before the music started.

"H-how did I let you talk me into this…??" he stammered in hyperventilation. He pawed at the increasingly tight bow tie of his regal tuxedo as he peered in desperation at Sonic. "I…I don't think I can go out there!!"

"Ha! If I'm goin' out there you're sure as heck goin' out there!" Sonic shot back, picking at his own tux in front of a full length mirror. All but of a few of his quills had been strapped down just so he could wear it. Dreadfully uncomfortable as it was, he was inwardly pleased at how sharp he looked.

Tails' tails seemed to have a mind of their own as he sat on the counter. "I'm so nervous," he admitted, though he managed a smile. "Where's Chris?"

"I think he's out helping seat people," Sonic responded blankly. His mind had wandered in another direction, to Mercury. They weren't any closer to finding him now than they were the night they lost him. He found himself resigning hope into the marriage; it would be a fresh start.

On the other side of the wall, in the ladies' powder room, Amy sat staring into her own mirror, which at the moment may as well have been a window into Sonic's mind. A fresh start……no, never…. Her sorrow would not allow her to embrace it. How could she even consider pushing forward with her life as if Mercury had never existed? Her lips pressed into her clasped hands, hot tears forming in her eyes. A prayer, not much unlike the others she'd made over the past several weeks, emanated from her grieving soul.

Gracious High One, thank you for this special day and the loved ones who are here to support me. Please bless everyone here…and please, please look after Mercury and help us find him soon…or at least give me a sign that he's okayplease….

She opened her eyes, her heart pondering whether the Creator of all things to whom she prayed was indeed one and the same as He who was worshiped in this church. Compared to humans, Mobians had very little in the way of a religious doctrine. The descriptions of the High One in theirs were strikingly similar in many ways to the Trinity of the Holy Bible, but for Mobians there was no original sin, and thus, no offer of redemption. She recalled a conversation she'd had with Sonic the first time they attended a Christian service, which had been in the much smaller church of which Chris and his parents were members.

"This is kinda complicated," he'd murmured to her in the pew as the pastor spoke.

"Why do you say that?" she whispered back.

"There's so many…rules, commandments, expectations…I don't see how they could ever hope to get it right. By the way this guy's talking," Sonic pointed his thumb at the pastor, "I don't think anybody could make it into heaven!"

"That's the whole point," Amy replied, causing him to make a bemused face. She explained, "He's saying that people can't earn God's approval, or else they wouldn't need a Savior. Jesus died on the cross because no one would get into heaven otherwise."

"…So…even if someone lives a good life and is nice to everybody and stays out of trouble, he'd still go to hell if he didn't believe in, in Jesus?"

Chris, who was sitting on Sonic's other side, leaned over. "It's not about how good you are. It's like a…peeled apple that's been dropped on the ground. It's doesn't matter how good the apple is because it's covered in dirt and hair and dead bugs! It's not going to be acceptable until you remove the bad stuff covering it, but apples can't wash themselves, so Christ does it for them. That's why they call it being washed in the blood."

Sonic turned to look at Chris, gesturing to himself and Amy with his finger. "A and B conversation here," he teased.

Amy broke into soft laughter at the memory's nostalgic comfort. Her nagging worries of her son's whereabouts and welfare didn't take long to resurface, however. Carrying on with such a rosy occasion while he was still missing weighed her heart with an especially heavy lump of guilt. She'd promised everyone that she wouldn't cry today, but she knew it was only a short matter of time before she could no longer hold the tears back. She glanced over her shoulder at Cream, who was fiddling with the flowers woven into the band resting atop her head.

"Don't pick at it; you're just going to make it worse," Ella warned the young rabbit, working to replace a flower that had fallen out. Glancing from them to the corner of the room, Amy observed the bridesmaids chatting amongst themselves. She got to her feet and attempted to keep her voice even.

"I'll be right back…."

Lifting her pearly pink gown a couple of inches from the floor, she stepped quickly down the carpeted hall. Just around the corner, an elevator opened wide and spewed out its mouthful of people. Amy hurried over and stepped inside before the doors shut, making sure her train didn't get caught. She depressed the button bearing a bold number 7, the top floor of the church. The lift hummed as it carried her upward, then emitted two soft dings at its destination. The doors spread apart to darkened corridors. Amy realized that this floor wasn't currently in use—which offered exactly the privacy she needed right now. Slowly, she exited the elevator, feeling the walls for a light switch. At last her hand met one, and she flipped up the first of the five toggles. Every other fluorescent panel illuminated in the hall on her left. She proceeded to follow their lead, glancing into open doors as she went by. It was eerily silent except for the faint strains of organ music from downstairs. Suddenly, the elevator dinged behind her, warning that someone was about to come out. Not wanting to be found, she darted into the women's restroom nearby. She discovered it to be another lavish powder room, with a satin-upholstered circular sofa, exceptionally long makeup counter, and two private rooms with toilets. She kept her steps light as she made her way into one of the tiny rooms and locked herself inside. The lid of the toilet was quietly lowered before she sat and waited for whoever was probably looking for her to leave. She listened for footsteps, hearing none, but there was a thud in the room just outside, causing her to jump. Cream's voice called out.

"Miss Amy? Are you in here?"

Amy said nothing. She held her breath for several tense moments. Just when it seemed like she was finally alone, there was another thump from the powder room. Cream obviously knew she was there. Sighing sharply, Amy stood up and emerged from her hiding spot. She froze astounded at what she saw before her. Sitting on the circular sofa, elbows propped on his knees, was Shadow. Beside him, a blanket-wrapped Mercury lay sleeping in a woven basket. Her heart nearly beat itself out of her chest as Shadow lifted his head and looked at her.

"Don't be afraid," his lowly voice implored. His eyes, she suddenly realized, were different. There was no vengeance-bent malice, no calculating leer…just fathoms of profound sadness. "I'm not here to harm anyone." Unable to speak, Amy repeatedly shifted her eyes between him and their baby. He rose to his feet and backed away. "Come and see." She hesitated only one additional moment before dashing across the room and taking Mercury into her arms. His size and weight had drastically increased, and his quills had developed a thin, thorn-like appearance, accentuating their lustrous red gradient. He whined irritably as he started to wake, his face wet with Amy's tears. Shadow watched them, arms crossed. "…I just want what's best for him now," he stated. "He should be with his mother."

Amy's eyes returned to Shadow in wonder. Why now, after all this time, and why today of all days? Her mouth opened, but still the words didn't come. Instead, her conscience spoke…

why else would he come on your wedding day

…and at last she understood. He still loved her. Never until that moment did it dawn on her how much harm she had actually caused...the full impact of her careless decisions. In salvaging her own ideals, she had essentially mutilated his.

Just as the realization sank in, Mercury squirmed in her arms and caught sight of Shadow. His tiny hands reached out

"Daaaadaa…."

Shadow's eyes narrowed as his brow sank. He turned and began to walk out. Amy finally found her voice.

"No! Wait!"

He stopped but didn't look back. She stammered breathlessly for more words. "I…I don't want it to be this way...." Her heart was shredding. The one thing she'd so desperately hoped, dreamed, and prayed for was now in her hands…and yet it wasn't right. Everyone had sacrificed their own interests to atone for the mess except her, the one who'd created it in the first place. Now, something told her, it was her turn. Another flood of tears prompted her to return Mercury to his basket. She wiped her face with one hand while tucking him in with the other. "He's……become……attached to you," she could hardly get the sentence out. "It'd be…better…if.......he stayed with you……."

Shadow turned, the telltale trails of grief streaking even his own face. Seeing him this way surprised her but fueled her resolve. "I know now," she explained, "that you have what it takes to be a good father to him…because you were willing to give him up after all this time just so he could have what you thought best." She closed her eyes, and another tear rolled down her cheek. "I want you to have him." Taking a steadying breath, she waited for a response, but he said nothing. When she opened her eyes, he was standing right before her.

"…You do?" he almost whispered.

Her mouth crumpled as she nodded. "Just promise me you'll take good care of him…." she requested, nearly losing her voice in her throat.

He cracked an amiable smile for the first time since the day they met by their bench. "I will."

She threw her arms around him, releasing the remainder of her grief into his shoulder for every bit of pain…that which she'd caused him…that which he'd caused her...everything. He closed his eyes and held her this way until Mercury had had enough.

"Waaawo!!" He kicked furiously in his basket, demanding attention.

They both turned to him warmly. Amy gently stepped up and planted one more kiss on his forehead. She stroked his cheek as she whispered to him.

"I love you…."

Organs blaring, Cream skipped gleefully down each aisle of the sanctuary, tossing generous handfuls of petals until she realized she wouldn't have enough for the rest of the way and started skimping what was left. The bridesmaids were escorted in by the groomsmen and took their places. At the end of the entrance formalities, the humans stood politely while the Mobians suffered in stark contrast, Tails biting his lip, Knuckles wavering like a windsock, and Sonic absentmindedly scratching his ear. Finally, the Bridal March began to play, and everyone in the pews turned to behold Amy. She made her entrance right on cue, trembling a bit and breathing deeply. Sonic turned, noting from a distance the tears streaming down her face. He frowned slightly, distraught that even now her thoughts were on Mercury. As she neared, however, he could see that she was smiling. He whispered to her as she came to a stop beside him.

"You okay?"

She inhaled deeply, receiving a serene composure. "I am now."

X x X x X x X x X x X

Author's Note: Thank you very much for reading my first completed fanfic! If you enjoyed it, by all means, please let me know by posting a review! You're also invited to check out the sequel Thorn Latch, which, among other things, details what happened to Shadow during his recovery time in Mobius, what becomes of Mercury, and the birth of Amy's second child. Your compliments and support are greatly appreciated!