Oh. My. God.

This thing is a BEAST. It is legitimately three chapters. If I knew it was going to be this long, I never would have written it! But I did. So, you all better enjoy three full days of my life, because I blew off a LOT of necessary cleaning and packing for you guys. Lmfao!

A HELLA lot of research went into this one, too, so appreciate my need for details. You may not even fathom the amount of work I put Google through to hunt down some of this shit. XD

Okay, but here's the deal.

The song at the end? Yeah. It's MINE. As in, I wrote it, I put a LOT of effort and emotion into it, and if I find out that anyone STOLE it, god forbid, I will hunt you down. It's MINE. *growls* Mine. As in, do not copy or repost without my permission ANYWHERE. And, for the sake of your financial future, no not claim it as your own! It's mine, I have proof, that's it. I had a LOT of reservations about putting it up on this site, and if it's stolen even once, that will be it for the epilogue. Please, please, please don't make me regret posting this up here, because I have a lot of plans for that song in the future, if I have anything to say about it, anyway.

SO DON'T STEAL. Because I'm not kidding about the proof. I have it. And here is the official deal:

"Out Of Mind" © its-dei-chan-un (08/12/2010, 3:33 AM)

So, that's it. Don't steal, feel free to show love or even to hate, and CERTAINLY feel free to comment on my paranoia. It wouldn't be anything new. :D

Standard disclaimer applies. They are not mine (for the last time! T^T)!

Shadow: Wow... so this is really it?

Dei: Yeah... at least for now.

Sonic: I'm gonna miss your craziness.

Dei: And I'm gonna miss your drama. You guys have been such great characters.

Shadow: I can't believe that it's over. Less than two months, and you've cranked out NOT ONLY a complete fic (your first to be started and completed on this site, other than oneshots), but over 110K words of said fic.

Dei: I know, it's a miracle. Seriously. I never actually thought that I would finish this, let alone make it so long and STILL want to continue.

Sonic: Well, you know where we'll be.

Dei: And you know where I'll be- in California for a year of no internet or cell phone in an intensive weight loss program.

Shadow: Have fun with that.

Dei: I plan to, don't you worry, Shaddycakes. I'll raise hell on both coasts, baby!

Sonic: *rolls eyes* You know, I never found out what that pill was...

Dei: And this is why there are sequels, boys.

Shadow: Well, here it is.

Sonic: The epilogue of Black & Blue.

Dei: I can't believe you guys have stuck with me this far. I seriously love you all and I truly appreciate it. I hope you don't get scared off by the sequel, which I will hopefully be writing while I'm away and posting at some point around the winter holidays in part, if not in entirety.

Shadow: Because she has no idea if she'll even be allowed to have her computer.

Dei: I know... a year without fanfiction... a year without YAOI! D: Dear god, I hope I don't turn straight.

Sonic: *smacks forehead*

Shadow: *rolls eyes* You'll never be straight, Dei.

Dei: Awww! *glomps* I'll miss you boys! Lots of love, everyone! And thank you for reading Black & Blue.

One Month Later...

It was snowing.

That in and of itself was unusual, as Mobius was usually warm and didn't get a whole lot of snow. Sonic could count on one hand the amount of times that the fluffy white ice particles had ever stuck to his city. And he preferred it that way- even frozen, snow was water, and he hated water. Snow was also cold, another thing he didn't like.

He would have thrown a fit, but it had been Christmas, and the kids loved going outside to play. They had spent the holiday at Cream's house, helping Vanilla with holiday chores so she could relax and tend to the crowd of children that were sprawled over her living room floor as they played games and watched television. Even Amy, who insisted she was too old for things such as Christmas specials, joined in with the younger kids eventually. Once the snow hit, she seemed to have no problem doing such 'childish' things as making a snowman with the others. Even Chip stopped munching on the Christmas cookies for long enough to help roll the body and take a bite out of the carrot nose.

They exchanged small gifts on the actual holiday- some science kit for both Tails and Milo, a doll for Cream, a pair of earrings for Amy- Knuckles was eternally thankful for Rouge's presence on that shopping trip- and a large tin of caramel-covered popcorn for Chip, who powered through the gallon-sized drum by night's end.

In return, Cream presented them both with a poster-sized drawing that she and her two adopted brothers (Cheese and Chocola, who were both still too young for school and were usually in day care) had drawn of the group. The boys had been pleased to see that Rouge was present next to Knuckles, who had been adopted graciously by the little girl, and even Shadow was there, though frowning (and Knuckles laughed until he couldn't breathe). The teens mentioned were absent, though they had promised to come by later- something about their caretakers and having to report in, even on holidays.

Amy had blushed upon presenting Sonic with a new chain to put his ring on, and Knuckles received a red-and-white woven bracelet that the girl had made herself, punching him in the arm when he told her that he didn't wear girly things such as friendship bracelets. He dutifully put it on, though, and wore it the entire night. Chip had, unsurprisingly, gifted them with food that he claimed he made on his own. After much hesitation, they took hesitant bites of what as some kind of chocolate-covered snack mix, and, to their surprise, liked it. Chip was pleased, though slightly agitated when he responded that he tested everything himself before he let anyone else eat it.

Tails and Milo had presented them with the strangest gifts, though. For Knuckles, they gave him a small, felt-covered box. He looked skeptical and shot the boys a strange glance until he opened it and found a dime-sized diamond inside.

"Where the hell did you get this?" He exclaimed.

"We made it," Tails replied with a wide grin.

"From carbon," Milo added. "We made a machine that applies huge amounts of pressure for long amounts of time. This one took us a week to form before we cut and polished it."

"We thought you might want to get it set in something and give it to Rouge," Tails finished. "Of course, we could always take it back and sell it for approximately one-point-five million dollars. Fifteen carats is pretty big, you know."

Sonic and Knuckles stared at the boys, open-mouthed and not completely sure if they should be horrified or amazed.

"I want it," Knuckles replied, closing the lid of the small box. "And I don't want to know what else you guys are doing with your spare time."

The boys grinned.

For Sonic was something much more simple- but twice as mysterious. Inside a yellow-plastic pill bottle was a large, deep red capsule. He showed it to Knuckles, who winced at the last memory of the last capsule Sonic had taken.

"What is this?" Sonic asked.

The absolutely shit-eating grins that covered the two boys' faces made Sonic put the lit back on the bottle and shove it into the backpack at his feet.

"Something you may or may not want a few years from now," Tails answered.

"Um," Sonic replied, not exactly sure how to reply. "Thank you?"

"Oh, you won't be thanking us once you've taken it," Milo added, snickering.

The alarmed look that Knuckles shot Sonic made the blue-haired boy not want to know.

At all.


"We'll talk about this later," he growled when the doorbell suddenly rang, Knuckles shoving his 'gift' into Sonic's bag once Sonic had gotten up to get the door.

Rouge looked perfectly happy in a knitted pink hat and scarf, fuzzy boots and a white coat- Shadow, not so much in his leather jacket and sneakers, bag over his shoulder, arms crossed over his chest and eats flattened down as he shivered, snow in his hair beginning to melt from the heat of the small house.

At least I'm not the only one who hates snow, Sonic thought, amused, as he gestured for the others to come in and leave their outerwear in the mud room, where countless little pairs of boots were lines up below their owners' respective coats. Rouge hung up her coat after shoving hat and scarf into the sleeve, toeing off her boots and slipping past Sonic with a smile to join the others in the lining room.

Shadow, however, had a little more trouble, removing his jacket before taking a seat on a large wooden box that held all off-season equipment. He scowled as he crossed one leg over the other, attacking the snow jammed into the wheel-socket with his finger. Sonic snorted and sat beside him.

"It would be easier if you just took them off, you know," he reminded Shadow. "Or just let the snow melt."

"It'll rust the wheel's axle," the cold-flushed boy replied. "I need to take the wheels out and put the inserts in, but I can't do that if there's snow caught in there."

"Why didn't you put the inserts in before?" Sonic asked, grinning.

"It wasn't snowing before," Shadow growled, placing both feet on the tiled floor and stomping them, tightly-packed snow escaping from the treads. "There. Now I should be able to take them out."

Sonic watched, amused, as the dark-haired boy fished out the wheels and replaced them with rubber inserts, leaning over the side of the bench to put the wheels into the pocket of his coat. He then kicked off his shoes and stood, carefully avoiding the puddles of melted snow as he made his way safely to the hall, Sonic following behind.

Sonic slipped his hand into Shadow's, the other smiling faintly for the first time since his arrival. He pulled the elder into the living room, where Knuckles had relocated to an oversized chair, curled up in it with Rouge and Cream as they read a book with the delighted little girl, her two adopted brothers crowding around the side, desperate to be a part of the (admittedly low-key) action.

Sonic grinned, leading Shadow to the small couch, where they sat on either end, putting their feet up and chatting, Sonic passing off some of Chip's snack mix onto the skeptical elder, who seemed to enjoy it enough once he actually tried it. Of course, Shadow was a sucker for sweets, as much as he denied it to everyone else, so the chocolate-covered aspect went down well.

Sonic, for the life of him, tried his hardest to ignore the conspiratorial grins that Tails and Milo still wore, but even Shadow was starting to catch on and send alarmed and slightly-creeped-out looks. Sonic shrugged- discounting the mysterious 'gift', he really had no idea what their deal was, either. But, Tails' troublemaking streak was starting to worry him quite a bit. He just hoped that it stuck to raising hell with science and being a smart ass rather than getting him into fights and that shit.

Other than the boys' awkwardness, the night went on fairly well. Cream fell asleep soon after she was done reading, the boys along with her, and Knuckles and Rouge carried the three to bed. Amy and Chip watched some TV special until they fell asleep, unconsciously curling together on the floor. Sonic got up after about twenty minutes of them staying asleep to cover them with a blanket. Tails and Milo fell asleep not long after, finally dozing off where Vanilla had originally intended the kids to sleep, sleeping bags and pillows spread out in the far corner of the living room.

Knuckles and Rouge came back after they tucked the younger kids in, reclaiming their seat on the chair across from the couch. Sonic shifted so he sat between Shadow's legs, leaning back against the slightly-surprised male, who quickly settled in and amused himself by playing with Sonic's hair. The four talked almost all night until they all succumbed to sleep around two in the morning. Knuckles and Sonic shared a silent agreement not to say a word about the 'gifts' from Milo and Tails.

Which was probably a good idea.

The next week went by fairly quickly, and Sonic and Knuckles found themselves faced with New Year's Eve before they knew it. Not wanting to spend the night in the dorms, they started looking for options.

And then Knuckles suggested his old apartment.

Sonic was hesitant to return to the place, and, honestly, so was Knuckles. Neither had returned after Tikal had died, since their things were already at the school and the apartment held too many memories. It was time to face those memories, though, and Sonic knew it. Tikal had sent her message to him in the form of Shadow- she wouldn't want Sonic to run away from her memory. She would want him to embrace it as a part of his life.

They brought Blaze and Silver with them the morning of the thirty-first, Knuckles having to root through his things for nearly an hour the night before to find the key and hoped to god that his father hadn't changed to locks. He doubted that he would have, though- the man had showed up for his daughter's funeral and Knuckles had never seen him again.

He knew his father enough to know that if the man wanted him out of the apartment, he definitely would have known about it.

The four took the stairs up to the fourth floor of the brick apartment building, congregating around the door in the hallway which still had the same slightly-faded paint. Knuckles and Sonic shared an uncertain look before the redhead slid the key smoothly into the lock and it turned, the door opening.

Everything was exactly where they left it, albeit a little dusty. Five mismatched chairs were still crowded around the old kitchen table, and when Knuckles flicked on the light switch, the lightbulb on the left was still blown out, just like they'd left it. He realized then that while his father had not visited the apartment, he must still be paying the electrical bills.

Photo frames lined the walls, glass covered by a fine film of grime. The pictures inside were still distinguishable, though- one of a smiling brown-haired man and a red-haired woman, a red-haired boy with the beginnings of dreadlocks holding onto the woman's hand and a baby in the man's arms. A redheaded boy scowling next to his spiky blue-haired friend, a grin on his face. The same redhead at about Tails' age in the shallow end of a pool, a small girl with swim floats beside him, waving to the blue-haired boy who stood by a fence with his arms crossed.

The memorable of the photos was the one taken about a year before the incident with the Babylon Rogues- the five of them crowded around the table, Knuckles next to Tikal, who had a young Tails in her lap, Silver and Blaze across the way and Sonic at the head on the table, pointing at something written onto a piece of paper and scowling at his best friend. Tikal had been the only one aware that the picture was being taken and was smiling- the others had been in some form of argument and Tails was attached to an orange sippy-cup. It had been barely a few weeks after they had found the boy and a few months before Union was formed officially.

Sonic still remembered that day- it had been one of the best.

Knuckles closing a cabinet a little too hard snapped Sonic out of his nostalgia, and he joined the others in the kitchen. "What's the damage?"

"Everything's expired, but that's as we expected. It doesn't look like anything has gotten in here, so that's good, too. If we do some cleaning and stocking this place up it should be as good as new," Knuckles replied, turning to Sonic.

"We can go get cleaning supplies," Blaze offered. "See if that little place down the street is still open."

"That sounds fine," Knuckles answered. "Later this afternoon, I have to run into the city, so I can pick up food while I'm out." He grinned at Sonic, who knew exactly what Knuckles was going into the city for.

The jeweler he had taken the diamond to was new in town, and so he had no idea who Knuckles was. The stout man had threatened to call the cops on him for having such a valuable gem, believing that the redhead had stolen it. Knuckles had argued with the man for a while before he'd snapped, "Does the name Union mean anything to you?"

At that, the jeweler had paled. His shop was in one of the more rough parts of town, and he had been warned plenty of times about the gang activity, Union being one of the most notorious. Though they hadn't caused any trouble for a long time, they were still recognized as the most dangerous because of the vicious way in which they had driven out the troublemaking Babylon Rouges. They were widely known as vigilantes, but dangerous ones if trifled with. Though they were not currently wanted, everyone knew their names. "Ah, yes, I do. Sir, what did you say your name was again?"

At this, Knuckles rolled his eyes, never having told the man his name, and answered. At that, the man apologized profusely and had offered Knuckles a substantial discount for the trouble he'd caused the teen. Knuckles, being the person that he was, accepted but still acted a little pissed off, just to make the man sweat.

When Knuckles returned to the dorms that evening, he recounted to the others about his experience, the others taking great pleasure in the story. Union was already becoming a popular topic of conversation, rumors having been spread one way or another about the gang being the reason that the murders had stopped. And, as they all knew, when rumors were already flying, a little intimidation went a long way.

Blaze and Silver nodded in reply, grabbing Silver's backpack and emptying it of its contents in order to make carrying the supplies back easier. Sonic and Knuckles stayed behind in favor of exploring the apartment a little more.

They crossed back through the dining room into the adjoined living room, where a couch and two chairs formed a semi-circle around a large television. Legos were still spread over the floor, grouped by size and color, a faded photograph printed out on plain white paper sitting beside a barely-started project that was covered in dust. The sight made Sonic's chest ache, partly for the neglect that the apartment had suffered and partly for everything that was here that they'd left behind- their older possessions, their pasts and their innocence. Everything had started here, and here it had ended.

Sonic left the living room when Knuckles continued down the hallway, turning on the lights as he went and swiping away spiderwebs that lingered in the doorways of the bedrooms. He and Sonic looked into what had been theirs.

It was set up very much like their dorm, with bunk beds on the far left wall and two dressers on either end. A few pairs of jeans were strewn across the floor, probably two or three sizes too small, now. They might even fit Chip, now- he was just about the age they were when they were wearing them, after all.

In the corner, a skateboard lay propped against the wall, a pair of blue and gold rollerblades next to it. A guitar in a cheap fabric case leaned against the dusty windowsill. Hanging from one of the bunk posts was a cluster of gold medals, on the other was a hemp necklace, a large faceted green-glass pendant set in the center, flanked by smaller, colored glass beads. Knuckles made a soft noise of recognition when he saw it, taking a step inside the room, and then another. Sonic wasn't quite sure if he wanted to, yet- it felt almost like he was intruding on the life that used to be here. However, when Knuckles waved him in, he followed.

He spun in place, looking at everything from the light blue paint on the walls to the crack in the molding that he had broken after he kicked it too hard. It was strange to be here again, knowing that this was his home and yet he had not belonged here. Knuckles and his family had taken him in, but his heart was still out on the streets, even now. No matter where his possessions lay, he would always be able to replace them. The places and the people, however, could never be substituted so easily.

He didn't stay in there long. Seeing firsthand how much he had changed was a little too much. Looking at the shirts, still in the dresser that would fit Tails now. The shoes that looked like they belonged to someone ten years younger. Even the medals, dated five years beforehand, when he has first started track and running for sport, instead of just running for his life.

Knuckles was still in that room when he moved on, barely giving a glance to the one that had belonged to Silver and Blaze, who, even at that age had been attached at the hip. A quick look into the bathroom, still covered in tacky and outdated wallpaper. A glance into the room that was recognized as belonging to Knuckles' father, even though the man was rarely there.

And then he came to the last door.

Sonic pushed it open, heart beating rapidly in his chest. He'd never much payed attention to Tikal's room, since she was usually out mingling in the living space. She preferred being near people, aside from her routine of retiring at nine o'clock sharp, Tails with her. If he had ever seen her room, he certainly didn't remember it.

It was simple, he found. Simple and clean, though with a few personal touches scattered throughout.

A single bed, covered by a turquoise bedspread, pushed into the far left corner, a patterned skirt still lain over the metal bar at the base. A crib against the wall closest to him, a mobile of papier mâché planets suspended above it, their orbit having long stopped. A dresser in the back right corner, not covered in makeup like most other girls would have, but by scented oils and old discs of meditative music in a format that Sonic didn't recognize. A wind chime hung from the curtain rod over the window, a multi-faceted clear crystal hanging from it, casting rainbows over the light hardwood floor. A thin, woven mat lay in the center, rectangular and one that Sonic recognized as being used for meditation and yoga.

He took a step inside, and the wind chime made itself heard a few times, though there was no breeze present. He turned, but Knuckles was still in the other room, so there was really no reason for it to be making any noise. Sonic thought that it must have just been his imagination.

A closet, visible only if a few steps in were taken and the person turned around, was filled with vintage-style clothing. Long skirts, loose tops that were both pretty and practical, allowing full range of movement without restriction. Leather sandals in many different styles, only one pair of sneakers, unworn. Sonic knew one pair was absent- the pair that she had been wearing that day, that the police had taken as evidence and never returned. She had been buried in her favorite pair of thong-style flip-flops, as well as a woven skirt that she preferred for warm summers and a halter-top white shirt, as well as her gold-and-turquoise headband. The ring that she usually wore on a thin chain around her neck was found on someone else that day.

Sonic's fists clenched slightly, and the wind chime sang its song again. He frowned, looking to the window where the little thing swayed, crystal spinning and sending its rainbows dancing all over the room.

Knuckles had appeared in the doorway, but how long ago, Sonic was not sure. The two shared a look before turning their eyes back to the wood-and-metal contraption.

"You know," the redhead said after a long moment. "Tikal always told me that the spirits communicated with her through that thing."

"Really?" Sonic asked, brow furrowing. The chiming continued.

"Yeah. She said that they would ring it when they were nearby and wanted to tell her something." Knuckles swallowed after a moment, looking like he wanted to continue but like he didn't quite know what to say.

Sonic sighed, crossing the room and putting a finger against the chime, ceasing its ringing and returning to the doorway. "Maybe she's just happy we're home."

The chime started again.

Both boys smiled at that, and Sonic's eyes burned. Knuckles turned to return to the kitchen.

Sonic lingered a moment, looking over the room for a long moment before he closed the door with a soft, "Goodbye."

The cleaning took several hours, which was to be expected after the neglect that the apartment had suffered. They dusted, swept and mopped the tile and wood floors and vacuumed the carpets. Lightbulbs were replaced, along with batteries in various devices and the clocks were changed tot heir proper times. Anything that was expired, they threw out, taking turns to bring the bags down to the dumpster supplied for the building's trash. It was about the sixth trip up and down four flights of stairs that they realized the dumpster was directly below the kitchen window and that, to their delight, it opened widely and had no screen.

Needless to say, none of them walked back up and down the stairs with the bags, but they did get a strange look from Knuckles upon his arrival with several bags of food. The teenagers grinned, Silver and Blaze moving to stock the kitchen when Knuckles pulled Sonic aside.

A few days after the huge, brilliant-cut diamond was given to him, he told Sonic that though he and Rouge had discussed the prospect of becoming mates, he wanted to be traditional and ask her to marry him first. Becoming mates was a big deal- it only happened once, unlike humans who paired off with a new companion every few years, very few sticking together for more than ten. In the past, some hybrids had insisted on the human tradition of marriage as a pre-trial to being mates, and it had slowly become the trend. Humans were very casual with sexual relationships, but hybrids only had once real chance to have that with someone, so they were very particular about choosing their partner. The fact that Knuckles was going to roll with this and ask Rouge to marry him showed Sonic that he was taking the situation very seriously and fighting off the impulsive decisions that he usually gave into.

"Did you get it?" Sonic asked.

"Yeah. The guy gave me a full-K off because I apparently still looked like I wanted to shoot him." Both boys snickered at that, and the redhead continued. "Yeah, so it only came to fifteen-fifty in the end, which was a lot better than what I expected to pay. I had so much more saved than that, you know? So this was great, and it looks nice, if I say so myself."

Even so, the echidna-hybrid sounded uncertain, removing the small blue-felt box from his pocket, opening it and showing it to Sonic. Inside was a woven round-and-pavé-set engagement setting, the center stone flawless and glittering, even under the dim light.

"Wow," Sonic replied, blinking and closing the box before handing it back over. "What metal is that?"

"Platinum," Knuckles replied. "It's heavier than white gold and costs a lot more, but it's supposed to hold up much better over time." He frowned, replacing the box in his pocket, pants just baggy enough that it wasn't noticeable. "Do you think she'll like it?"

Sonic shot his friend and incredulous glance. "Dude, it nearly blinded me. Of course, she's going to love it. Girls like shiny things, and that, my friend, fucking sparkles."

Knuckles grinned, reassured, and shoved his hands into the pouch of his sweatshirt. "Remind me to do something really nice for those kids, sometime."

Sonic rolled his eyes. "Nothing too nice, at least not until I find out what that thing is that they pawned off onto me at Christmas."

"I doubt you want to know," Knuckles replied. "Just shove it in the back of your dresser somewhere and forget about it. It was probably some practical joke."

"Yeah," Sonic conceded, heading back into the kitchen to help load things into the cabinets. "Did I ever tell you that Tails and Milo have detention after break?"

"What? Really?" Knuckles asked, frowning.

"Tails did what, now?" Silver asked, turning from his place of filling the freezer.

"I'm not entirely sure, just something about an 'Antigravity Apparatus' that they set off during class and made everything and everyone float around the room." Sonic frowned. "Their troublemaking is getting out of hand."

Knuckles laughed quietly, Silver joining in quickly after. Blaze, too, smiled and replied, "Oh, they're just kids, Sonic. Let them have their fun. No one cares about freshman year, anyway."

"Yeah, I guess so," Sonic conceded, smirking a little. "I can't even imagine the shit they're going to get into for Senior Prank. As long as it's generally un-dangerous stuff, I don't really care too much." He sighed, glancing at the clock and blinking in surprise. "Speaking of the kids, I have to go get them. It's almost five, and catching the five o'clock bus should get me there around five-thirty, and hopefully I can catch the six o'clock back."

"I'll go with you," Knuckles offered. "Silver, Blaze, you guys want to come with?"

The two shook their heads. "Nah, we'll stay here," Blaze replied. "Maybe get something started for dinner."

"Sounds good," Sonic replied, grinning, reaching for his fleece-lined coat. "Be back soon."

The other two nodded, and once Knuckles had slipped a windbreaker on over his sweatshirt, they took the keys and set off for the bus stop.

Seven o'clock found Knuckles and Sonic herding kids into the apartment building and up the stairs, trying to keep track of all of them and keep them to the right side of the stairs so those coming down had a place to go. It was one of few buildings in the city that had residents of both human and hybrid descent- though even the most tolerant of humans gave the boys a strange look as they herded four children up the stairs, carrying another on their hip.

True to their word, Blaze and Silver had already started dinner by the time they arrived, as the running tap and a cooking timer could be heard from the entry way.

"We're back!" Knuckles called, removing his jacket and hanging it on one of several pegs mounted to the wall, kicking his shoes off onto a mud mat. The kids looked around curiously as they took in their surroundings, removing hats and jackets while entering the living room.

As soon as Tails stepped in, he froze.

"I know where we are," he said softly, glancing up at Sonic, who nodded. "We used to live here."

"Live here?" Amy asked in surprise, frowning as she inspected one of the newly-cleaned photo frames on the wall. "Oh, wow- that is you, isn't it, Tails? You were so little!"

The blonde boy took a step in, dazed, crossing the room and kneeling in from of an orange toy chest. He opened it, pulling out a red stuffed fox and clutching it to his chest, looking around like he had never seen the place before. The others gave him space, including Milo, who looked sad.

"Everything is so much smaller," Tails said.

"You just got bigger," Sonic replied, stepping forward and resting his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Everything is still the same."

"Everything?" the blonde asked, standing and walking down the hallway, stopping in front of the only closed door. Sonic followed behind, and when Tails hesitated, opened it for the boy to see the room where he had spent much of his time.

"My bed is still in the same place," Tails whispered. "And my mobile. And the wind chime. Everything's still here."

Pain spread in Sonic's chest as he watched the boy walk the perimeter of the room, slightly dazed and touching things that Sonic himself had not dared to lay a finger on. He carefully sat on the edge of the bed, lay on his back in the middle of the room and went to the dresser, opening the top drawer, removing books- picture books, children's chapter books, even a few classics. Sonic had remembered Tikal remarking on how quickly the boy was learning to read, but he never really realized how much tie she must have put in to help him.

"Sonic," Tails said softly, closing the drawer. "Look."

He didn't want to 'look', but he was compelled to take a few steps forward and take what Tails offered to him- a plain, white envelope with his name written in slightly-crooked letters. He swallowed, chewing on his lower lip for a moment before he folded the envelope in half and tucked it into his back pocket.

"Are you going to read it?" Tails asked.

"Maybe," Sonic replied, frowning. "Not now, though... and not in front of you guys. Tonight is supposed to be fun."

Tails nodded, silent for a moment before he asked, "Why was the door closed? I mean, the room is clean, so you must have come in here, but all the others were open and this one... wasn't."

"It reminds me of things that I don't want to think about."

Tails frowned at him, eyes sad. "She wouldn't want you to lock away your memories of her, Sonic." The teen headed in the direction of the hall. "Keep the door open and honor her memory."

Sonic closed his eyes for a moment before he nodded, leaving the door open as he followed Tails back into the living room and branched off into the kitchen, Blaze pushing vegetables around in a frying pan on the stove, Silver sitting on the counter with a brown-glass bottle in hand and Knuckles digging through the cabinets, the redhead turning when he saw Sonic enter.

"I'm not sure what to give them. I mean, I know they'll pretty much eat anything, but- hey, are you okay?"

Sonic bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, the pain in his mouth distracting his from the vague burning in his eyes. He hoped his voice didn't crack as much as he thought it did when he replied, "Yeah, I'm fine. I was wondering, uh... I mean, I don't know what Shadow and Rouge were doing tonight, but I was thinking that maybe we could invite them over. If you want to, that is."

Knuckles blinked at the sudden turn of conversation, but knowing Sonic's avoidance tactics for what they were, he let it slide. His eyes narrowed slightly as he thought, obviously weighing the pros and cons of having them over before a look crossed his face and he grinned. "Yeah, that sounds cool. We have enough food for everyone."

"And alcohol," Silver added, taking a sip of what Sonic figured was probably beer. "Don't forget the alcohol."

Blaze smiled a little and sighed. "I'll never know how you get that stuff without an ID."

The teen snorted. "Honestly, Blaze? We're a gang. Of course, we have alcohol. We wouldn't be a good group if we didn't."

Knuckles rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Anyway, go ahead. I don't know what they're doing other than Rouge was talking about something-or-another that they had to do."

"Cool," Sonic replied, pulling his phone from the side pocket of his jeans. "I'll be right back, then."

Stepping back down the hall and into the room he and Knuckles used to share and flicking on the light, he scrolled down to Shadow's contact, complete with picture of a half-smiling and annoyed Shadow as Sonic poked his cheek, attempting to get him to smile for the picture. He reminded himself that he would have to get another picture soon.

Hitting call, he put the cell to his ear and listened as it rang away, silently saying in his mind, pick up, pick up, pick up. Pick up the phone. He was quite certain that after a few trills of the electronic tone that he would get voicemail, but was surprised when the other answered.


"Hey, Shadow," Sonic started, voice cracking. He cursed internally, clearing his throat a bit.

"Are you okay? What's going on?"

Sonic winced, even though he appreciated the concern that was clear in his boyfriend's voice. "Nothing, just swallowed something wrong. What are you doing tonight?"

The teen on the other side sighed, and Sonic knew that he hadn't believed him. He could picture the look of exasperation on the other boy' face when he replied, "Cut it out, Faker. You don't have to lie. And I'm in the city tonight- I apologize. Rouge and I have to check in with our caretaker."

Oh, the ever-mysterious caretaker. Sonic frowned. "Oh, okay. Well, we're all in the city at Knuckles' apartment, and we were wondering if you and Rouge wanted to come over and spend the night and stuff. We're basically going to hang out, eat, watch the ball drop, the whole deal."

Someone on the other side was speaking in the background- Sonic was pretty sure that it was Rouge, thoughts confirmed when he heard Shadow reply, "Sonic. He wants to know if we can go over- something about an apartment... Huh, maybe. Ask Ivo..."

Ivo? Sonic thought. What an odd name. Knowing that he may-or-may-not have supposed to have heard that, since it sounded like Shadow had covered the mouthpiece of the phone. "Still there?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry, Sonic, I'm just talking to Rouge. Can you hang on a second?"

"Sure," he replied, sighing as he heard the phone on the other side be set down, fuzzy voices indistinguishable through the faint static of the line. He tapped his foot as he glanced around the room, taking in the little things that he had missed in his daze before- the three pairs of running shoes lined up under the bottom bunk. The top drawer of Knuckles' dresser that was still slightly open. A hair brush on top of his dresser- the last one he'd owned before giving up on them completely.

He sighed heavily, taking a step before he ducked his head so he could sit on his former bed, laying back, torso on the mattress and legs hanging off. The bed was much too small, now- he'd grown a good four to six inches since he'd last laid on it. Reaching up and idly tracing the metal mesh holding up the mattress above him, he waited for a response for the other line.

After a few moments, it came. "Sonic? Are you still there?"

"Mmhm," the younger hedgehog replied.

"I'm sorry about that. Anyway, it seems that we can go, after all."

"Really?" Sonic asked, frowning. "If you have to check in or whatever, I mean, I understand."

"No, it seems that we will not be needed as we had believed before. It's no problem, and..." The teen on the other side sighed, his voice lowering to a quiet murmur. "I've missed you. I've not been sleeping well lately, and I think it will be good to relax."

Yeah, relax, Sonic thought wearily, thinking of the note in his pocket, the not-yet-faced skeletons that they both carried and Knuckles' less-than-relaxing plans. "I've missed you, too. I... this place... just..." Sonic trailed off into silence.

Shadow hummed, letting out a soft sigh. "I'll be there soon. What's the address?"

Sonic rattled off the street name and number, as well as the apartment number and the instruction to take the stairs, since the elevator got stuck frequently and all inhabitants of the building knew better by now than to take it. That, at least, got a faint chuckle from the other, along with the promise to be there as soon as he could.

Sonic ended the call after saying his goodbyes, maneuvering off the bed and back to his feet, turning off the light as he returned to the kitchen to report the new of the others' impending arrival.

Mood partially lightened, he couldn't help but smile faintly when he noticed Knuckles toying with the box in his pocket.

All the kids were fascinated by exploring the house, poking their heads in and out of rooms (though Tails kept any shenanigans out of Tikal's former room)- though they were most interested in the living space which had once belonged to their caretakers.

Tails and Milo crawled all over the bunk bed, Cream content to stay on the floor (her mom was scheduled to work that night, and her brothers were staying with a friend) while Amy poked around the closet. Chip closely inspected all things shiny and those he found interesting, taking a particular interest in- of all things- a book of architecture that Amy had found. Sonic was pretty sure that it actually belonged to Tails, who eventually climbed down, followed by his brother, and pointed out certain structures to the violet-haired teen.

Silver and Blaze eventually wandered down the hallway as well, food being kept warm in the oven as they waited for the others to show up. Amy and Cream followed them into their room, which had a single bed on either wall and two matching dressers on either side of the window- the room could easily be divided by the center and would be completely identical, aside from the bedspreads- mossy green for Silver and a bright fire-patterned cover for Blaze.

If the kids thought it was weird that the two shared a room, they certainly didn't express it- they knew as well as Sonic and Knuckles did that Silver and Blaze were always together, attached at the hip and essentially had the same mind, though they still denied any attraction between them. Everyone knew just as well, though, the way that they would look at each other when they thought that no one was watching.

Sonic and Knuckles decided to relocate to the kitchen in favor of grabbing something to snack on. They hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, and all the cleaning earlier had worn them out. Sonic grabbed a handful of raw baby carrots out of the fridge, chowing down with enthusiasm that he had never been able to pass on to the kids for the orange vegetables. Knuckles simply opened the oven and grabbed a french fry, hissing as it burnt his fingers and closing the appliance, both relocating to the dining room and sitting in their respective chairs.

"So, you're going to do it tonight, right?" Sonic asked. "I saw the that look earlier. Do you have any plans that I should keep in mind so I can keep the others away?"

Knuckles smiles a little, raising and dropping one shoulder. "I dunno. I was thinking of taking her out to the balcony."

"Which?" Sonic asked.

"The one outside my dad's old room. It's bigger and has a better view of the city."

Sonic nodded. "Yeah, the one outside out room was pretty small- it could barely hold two people. Not to mention, climbing out a window isn't very romantic."

"True," Knuckles replied. "You don't have any shenanigans planned, do you?" He redhead shot his friend an amused glance, carefully eating his french fry once it was cool enough.

"Nah," Sonic answered. "Wouldn't want to steal your fire. And, even if I did, I wouldn't do it here... no offense."

"None taken," the echidna-hybrid said. "I normally wouldn't do it here, but I think Tikal would have liked Rouge a lot. And I feel like if I ask her here, then maybe Tikal will see, y'know? I'd want her to be proud of me."

"She is. Wherever she is, she's definitely proud," the younger assured his friend, finishing the last of his snack. "You've grown up well, and you're a good guy. You're good to the kids, and you're fair. There's no way that she wouldn't be proud."

Knuckles' smile grew a little and he reached over to pat the younger's shoulder. "She'd be proud of you too, you know. She'd be really happy with all the things you've done, both for the city and for the kids." The redhead sighed softly. "She'd like Shadow, too."

Sonic frowned. "How do you know that?"

"Well, she would want you to be happy, no matter what. And, for some reason, I just feel like she would get along with Shadow. She wasn't an aggressive kid- very non-threatening and easy to talk to. Shadow, while being an ass sometimes, really is a good person. And he cares about you a lot. She would respect that."

Sonic's sigh echoed his friend's, resting his chin on his hand, gaze flickering to the empty chair beside the elder hybrid where the redheaded girl would have been sitting, had she been alive. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, leaning forward onto his elbows, swallowing back the pain that flared in his chest.

"Hey, man," Knuckles said softly, squeezing his shoulder. "Take it easy. It wasn't your fault."

"I'll always feel like it was my fault, Knuckles," Sonic replied, voice cracking much the way it had earlier. "It was. I sent her to her death. We should have just left her home."

"Sonic, sometimes it's just someone's time," the redhead replied. "Who's to say that if we left her home, the apartment would have burnt down? I mean, there's no way of knowing what would have happened. All I know is that my sister died with her friends surrounding her. She was happy with that. It wasn't your fault."

"You don't understand," Sonic choked. "It was my fault. She-"

Knuckles cursed as he heard the knocking, standing and motioning for Sonic to move, knowing that the other wouldn't want to be seen in that state. He hated being seen at any moment of weakness, no matter if he was around complete strangers or his closest friends.

Sonic stood, sniffling as he retreated down the hallway, slipping past the others and into Tikal's room. He didn't bother turning the light on, though it was already dark- if he did, the others would know that he was here and would disturb him. Besides, he didn't really need the light- the moon was nearly full and cast enough light into the room that he could see as he sat cross-legged on the mat on the floor, pressing the heels of his hands back to his eyes and attempting to press back the tears that he knew would have to come sometime.

It didn't take Shadow as much time as he expected to find him- about five minutes, at the most. Knuckles must have sold out his location after Sonic had failed to return, though he didn't really blame his best friend.

Sonic heard the door creak open behind him, though his hands over his eyes prevented him from seeing the light from the hall. He tried to quell his sniffling as best as he could, but found himself failing miserably. The door closed, and Sonic almost thought that the other had left before he head soft footsteps the movement of fabric and the other's soft exhale as Shadow sat beside him.

"Sonic," the teen sighed after a few silent moments, and Sonic felt a tug on his sleeve as Shadow pulled him closer. "Come here."

Sonic let himself be pulled in, allowing Shadow to reposition him between his legs in order to be able to wrap his arms around him more easily. His back pressed to Shadow's chest and the other's arms wrapped around him, Sonic wasn't sure whether he was supposed to enjoy the comfort of the gesture or feel guilty. He felt the other exhale behind him, brushing blue hair aside so he could press a gentle kiss to the junction of Sonic's neck and shoulder.

"What's wrong?" Shadow sighed. "And don't even try to tell me that it's nothing, Faker. It's obviously not nothing if it makes you cry. You didn't even cry when you were laying on the floor in that god-awful place, shot twice in the chest and bleeding to death."

Sonic laughed bitterly, though it was more of a hitching of his breath than anything that actually resembled laughter. "This is her room."

Shadow tensed for a moment, not having quite expected that, especially since he wasn't entirely sure who she was, other than that she was gone and had meant a great deal to the crying male in his arms- as was made obvious by the fact that he was crying in the first place.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Shadow asked, resting his forehead on Sonic's shoulder and his arms tightening.

Another one of those sounds from the younger made Shadow's chest clench, knowing the pain that the other must have to be going through. "I've never told anyone that didn't already know the story," he replied. "It might be good to do. It might help."

Shadow didn't reply for a while after that, but the slight jingle of a wind chime, reflecting silver in the moonlight, finally made the younger break.

He tried his hardest to recount everything he remembered- before, how it happened, her last words, everything- while fighting his way though tears, eventually pulling his hands away from his eyes in favor of turning in Shadow's arms to embrace the other back. When Shadow finally realized that the story was over and the other was rambling, he shushed his lover with a kiss, gently stoking his hair as he felt foreign tears dampen his cheeks.

Sonic pulled away to press his face into Shadow's neck, hands winding in the other's shirt as he tried his hardest to stop crying. Shadow rubbed his hands over Sonic's back, offering comfort as he hummed a nameless tune and carefully rocked the other in his arms. After a while, Sonic's tears slowed to a stop, the only thing left was the younger's sniffling as he attempted to recover from the episode that was long overdue.

"Are you okay?" Shadow asked, resting his chin atop his lover's head.

"Yeah," Sonic replied. "I mean... Knuckles refuses to blame me for it, but it was my fault. I got her to go, and then she took the bullets for me. She sacrificed herself to save my life. How could I possibly not have that on my conscience?"

"I don't know," the dark-haired boy replied. "But I do know that you will get through this, Sonic. The pain will always be there, but it gets manageable. You don't forget about it, but you learn how to live around it and make the best of the present, rather than dwelling on the past."

The wind chime jingled again, sending Sonic into peals of slightly-waterlogged laughter.

"What is it?" Shadow asked.

"She said that the wind chime was how the spirits announced their presence," Sonic replied after a moment. "And that's how she knew that they had something to say to her."

"It's no coincidence," the dark-haired boy replied. "Perhaps she's here. I doubt that she would want you to be sad, correct?"

"That's true," Sonic replied. "I guess I just wasn't ready yet."

Shadow kissed Sonic's temple, stroking his hair and allowing the other to move away once he was ready, sitting back on his heels and scrubbing at his eyes with the backs of his hands. "So, what now?"

"It's almost nine," Shadow answered. "The others were eating when I arrived."

"Wow, it's getting late," Sonic sighed, swallowing and clearing his voice when it cracked. "I should probably get something to eat."

"Alright." Shadow stood, offering a hand to Sonic, who took it gratefully and pulled himself to his feet. Before he could completely catch his balance, though, Shadow grabbed him- one arm sliding around his waist and another threading into his hair as he was very thoroughly kissed.

Shadow pulled back after a few long moments, a combination smirk-smile on his face.

Sonic scowled. "Why did you kiss me? My eyes are all puffy and I sound gross and I'm a mess."

The elder rolled his eyes, kissing Sonic on the cheek. "To me, you're always stunning. Now, come on, let's go."

When they left the room, the door was kept open, the wind chime trilling happily in the moonlight.

Sonic recovered quickly once he had food in his stomach, which Shadow found endlessly amusing. He commented that perhaps Sonic was more like Chip than he thought and, "At least if I ever anger you, I know how to fix it."

Sonic was not pleased, but everyone else seemed to find it hilarious.

After dinner was done, alcohol came next, though sparingly. They decided that the majority of the drinking would be left until after midnight, not to celebrate the end of 2110, but the beginning of 2111. How Blaze and Silver had caught onto Knuckles' mindset, Sonic wasn't quite sure, but he figured that since they had been in the group for so long, instant understanding just had to come around at some point.

It worked out well, though, since Rouge was more entertained by the kids and Shadow drank extremely sparingly, at best. The teens each had one beverage apiece, other than Silver, who had two- but he was the oldest, anyway, and held his alcohol the best- and spent most of the time leading up to midnight goofing off and watching late-night television.

At eleven-forty-five, Knuckles and Sonic shared a look. The twins noticed, of course, but kept it to themselves, grinning at each other before they turned back to the television. Shadow, also, picked up on the look and shot one of his own at Sonic, who tried and failed to smother a grin when Knuckles stood, taking a surprised Rouge by the hand and leading her down the hall.

Shadow looked alarmed, moving closer to Sonic on the couch and hissed, "What's going on?"

Sonic full-out grinned and shook his head, Tails and Milo turning in their seats and shooting the blue-haired hybrid a quadruple thumbs-up. Silver snorted and rolled his eyes, heading to the kitchen and returning with two beers, one for himself and one for Blaze. They popped off the caps and clinked bottles, matching smirks on their faces as they sipped their beverages.

Shadow glared at Sonic who rolled his eyes, finally realizing that his ever-silent boyfriend was really concerned, and stood himself to pull the other aside into the bedroom he and Knuckles used to share, flicking on the light.

"What's going on?" Shadow growled, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Well, hopefully Knuckles is going to make Rouge and exceedingly happy woman," Sonic replied with a grin.

Shadow's eyes narrowed- Sonic suddenly realized how it sounded and laughed.

"With something shiny," Sonic added. "Very shiny."

Shadow's eyes narrowed more in confusion before they widened comically, Sonic snorting at the look on the surprised teen's face. "Are you serious?"

"Why would I joke about that?" Sonic retorted. "I know he loves her and I'm pretty damn sure that she loves him."

"She does," Shadow conceded, still looking uncertain. "Sonic, are you absolutely sure that Knuckles is serious? It's just-"

"Yes, I'm sure. I've known Knuckles for more than half my life. And don't worry- for now, it's only marriage. They'll talk about other things later. There's no need to defend the girl's honor yet, and I'm quite positive that she could do it herself, even so." Sonic laughed. "Seriously, don't worry."

Shadow fidgeted slightly before he sighed, glancing around the room. "Whose was this?"

"You can't tell?" Sonic asked with a grin. "Mine and Knuckles', of course. We bunked together here way before we did at school."

Shadow blinked, tilting his head and viewing the room in a new light. "How long has it been since you stayed here?"

"Three years, give-or-take," Sonic answered. "We came in this morning and spent all day cleaning. Other than that, everything is untouched. It was all exactly where we left it."

Shadow 'hm'ed thoughtfully, inspecting the group of gold medals, ribbons tied together and looped around one of the posts. "Are these all for running?"

"Mmhm. Those are from the first year I starting running sport. There are others, but I don't remember where they are."

Shadow snorted. "You would have so many medals that you lose them."

Sonic shrugged, grinning, and crossed his arms, stepping aside to let Shadow have his fun. The dark-haired boy explored the room much as the kids had earlier, but when his eyes set on the guitar case leaning against the window, the rest was history.

Shadow crossed the room, touching the case lightly and turning to Sonic. "Do you play?"

The blue-haired boy shook his head. "No. Knuckles did a little, but he never really got into it. The guitar belonged to his mother- Tikal played it a lot, but it was relocated into here when we took Tails in. He crawled everywhere, and she didn't want it to get knocked over."

Shadow tilted his head slightly to the side. "Can I look at it?"

"Yeah, sure," Sonic replied, sitting himself on the window ledge. "No one has touched it for years, though, so it'll probably be out of tune. Especially since it was near the window."

Shadow shrugged, unzipping the case and removing the instrument inside. The edges were a deep red, fading into orange, an engraved turtleshell-pattern plating lain on the body.

"Wow, this is old," Shadow said in surprise, fingers tracing the plate, swirls, flowers and a tiny bird engraved on.

"Antique?" Sonic asked.

"It's an Epiphone Hummingbird- not an expensive guitar, but a decent one, and an old model, at that." His fingers skimmed the neck of the guitar, strumming it once before laying his fingers over the strings. "It's held it's tune pretty well."

Sonic smiled, watching as Shadow adjusted the pegs to the proper pitch, sitting on the legde himself before he glanced out the window behind them. "There's a balcony?"

"It's more like a ledge," Sonic corrected with a laugh. "It's really small." Seeing the contemplative look on the other's face, he asked, "Want to go out?"

Shadow blinked, frowning. "Isn't it cold?"

Sonic shrugged. "It's about forty- nothing we can't handle, at least for a few minutes. I'm sure the guitar can hold up, too."

The elder frowned, glancing down at the instrument before he looked hack at his boyfriend. "I don't know, Sonic..."

"Oh, come on," the younger teased, pulling the window open. "Live a little. It's only for a few minutes, anyway- and there are supposed to be fireworks around midnight, which, may I remind you, is coming up fast. Now, come on!"

Shadow rolled his eyes, swinging around with the guitar in hand, ducking under the window and sock-clad feet touching down on a small concrete ledge, about three feet wide and six feet long- barely big enough to hold two boys and a guitar, but they managed as they sat cross-legged, looking out at what could be seen of the city. Cars passing, layers of lights and sounds all crushed on top of each other.

Shadow's eyes were wide as he took it all in, Sonic grinning at his stunned expression. "It's Unified Chaos," Sonic said. "This city. There are so many contradictions, but they all piece together in a way that makes this place unique."

"Unified Chaos," Shadow repeated, frowning. "Like us."

Sonic grinned, suddenly realizing that he had made the right choice- Shadow understood it in a way that no one else ever would. Shadow understood him like no one ever would. "Yeah. Like us."

Shadow smiled a little, looking over at Sonic and looking out at the city before it started to fade.

"What's wrong?" Sonic asked. "'And don't say it's nothing, Faker'."

Shadow laughed a little. "I haven't been sleeping well."

"Yeah, you said that earlier," the blue-haired boy replied, shifting to get comfortable. "What's up?"

The dark-haired teen frowned, fingers moving over the frets without strumming, focusing on the movement of his fingers on the guitar. "I've been having nightmares."

Sonic's voice softened. "About?"

Shadow sighed heavily, rolling his neck and wiggling his fingers before he turned to Sonic with a sad smile. "You. Mephiles. Everything that happened." He paused, eyes closing and opening again. "It's like... every time I close my eyes, I see it all over again- you being shot, me killing him. The things he said, they just... I feel like I'll never completely understand."

"I dob't think anyone will ever entirely understand what was happening in that man's mind, Shadow," the younger hybrid replied. "He was... I don't know how to explain it. Crazy, I guess, but that's not really it, either. What it comes down to is that he was not a healthy man, Shadow." He shot his boyfriend a sympathetic glance. "Or a good influence in your life. But he was still your brother, and that's bound to have some effect on you."

"I know." Shadow took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "I just... feel... like I made the wrong choice, somehow."

Sonic reached out to brush his fingers along Shadow's arm, hearing the tension in his voice. Though Sonic had overcome his issues today, Shadow wasn't yet ready- and maybe never would be entirely ready- to let go. Even so, Sonic knew that he wasn't going anywhere- not now, not ever. "You did what you had to do, Shad. No one blames you for that- and I thank you for that. You did what had to be done for this city and for yourself, even in the face of doubt. That's what a hero does- the right thing."

Shadow frowned, nodding- "I guess you're right."

They were silent for a few minutes, the wind whistling past them and stealing body heat, Sonic beginning to shiver.

"I've spent almost every night awake since that day," Shadow said suddenly. "And I've been working on a piece- it's not entirely finished yet, and I haven't written all the parts, and it does require two voices at the end, but..." He glanced at Sonic uncertainly. "Do you want to hear it?"

A slow smile spread over Sonic's face- he hadn't heard Shadow play since that night a few months ago, and never anything that he'd written himself. He would be an idiot to turn Shadow down, even if he wanted to.

He nodded. "Yeah."

A smile quirked Shadow's lips. He sighed, bending his fingers a few times to get the blood moving before he put his fingers to the frets and started to play.

"You wanted everything for me

Even the things I couldn't see

I held on for so long, but now

I can't do that anymore


I'm moving on and I am free

From all the things you said to me

I'm going to make my own way

It's what I'm fighting for


And all the promises you made are broken

And all the doors you'd hoped to close are open

And all the things you tore apart, I'm starting to mend

But it will take time until they're mine


And you are out of sight

And out of mind


For so long I was so blind

To whether I was yours or mine

I bent until you broke me

Now I'm standing up again


You treated me like I was young

And hoped to move me for so long

But to be truly selfless

Is a parent's sacrifice


And all the promises you made are broken

And all the doors you hoped to close are open

And all the things you tore apart, I'm starting to mend

But it will take time until they're mine


And you are out of sight

And out of mind


And I don't know what I should say anymore

The child you held on to has run out the door

I was your Sun, you were my Moon

You controlled all the tides of my life


I won't let you hold on

And now you're finally gone


And all the promises you made are broken

(And all the promises you made)

And all the doors you hoped to close are open

(All the doors unlocked and I am free)

And all the things you tore apart, I'm starting to mend

But it will take time until they're mine


And you are out of sight

And out of mind


And all the promises you made are broken

(All of your fake promises)

And all the doors you hoped to close are open

(I won't take it anymore)

And all the things you tore apart, I'm starting to mend

(I was your Sun, you were my Moon, controlling the tides of my life)

But it will take time until they're mine

(I'm taking back my life from you)


And you are out of sight

And out of mind


(Out of mind, out of your mind, out of my mind

And it's over now, tonight)."

The smile on Sonic's face was huge but sad, and he leaned over when Shadow was done to kiss him, his scarred hand linking in one of Shadow's, who leaned into him as well. They exchanged a few long, slow presses of lips before a sudden boom overhead startled them apart- the fireworks had started.

It was the start of another year.

Sonic grinned at Shadow, who smiled back, leaning back against the wall to watch the sky when Sonic remembered what Tails had passed to him earlier. Shifting enough to he could fish the letter out of his back pocket, he pulled it out of the envelope, reading the note by the flashes of colored light in the sky.


If you're reading this, then I'm dead. I had a dream last night about what happened in the clearing, and I'm still determined to go- especially because I saw what happens if I don't go, and I can't allow myself to put that kind of future on the city you love, even if its happiness is at the cost of my life. Station Square is home, no matter where we come from.

Keep your head up- you're going to find someone wonderful, Sonic, and they will be perfect for you. There are so many things that are waiting for you in the future, so I hope you take advantage of them all. Don't miss out on a thing- and if you don't want to try something, then try it for me.

You mean so very much to me, Sonic. Don't be sad for what I've done. Just look to the future in anticipation of the things that are waiting for you there.

Don't let Union fall apart- your friends and family will be the most important people you can ever know.

And, Sonic, embrace Chaos. It may be hard at times, and you may not always agree, but do not let it go. It's a treasure the likes of which, if you give up, you will never see again.

All my love,


Sonic smiled, folding the letter and replacing it in its envelope and into his pocket, where it would stay safe. Tikal had been right already about so many things- he planned to wait and see what else she was right about. He didn't understand all that she'd written, but he'd understood enough, and that was all that mattered.

"Let's go inside," Sonic suggested, smiling at his boyfriend. "You're shivering."

"Yeah," Shadow replied, handing the guitar to Sonic so he could crawl in the window, taking it back once he was safely on the other side and zipping it back in its case. Sonic crawled back into the room, closing the window behind them. When he turned, Shadow abruptly kiss-attacked him for the second time that night, though that kiss as well was interrupted by a very excited teenager's voice.

Sonic and Shadow separated, smiling, hands linked.

"What was that for?" Sonic asked softly.

"New Year's kiss," Shadow replied with a mischievous grin. "It's tradition, or so I'm told."

"Then, I like that tradition," Sonic replied, leaning in for another quick kiss before they pulled apart.

Hands still linked, they left the room to find an excited crowd of kids around a beaming Rouge, proudly showing off the ring on her finger, Knuckles grinning like an idiot with his arm around her waist. When she finally stopped chattering enough to herd everyone into the kitchen, they popped open a bottle of champagne (that exploded everywhere, in true New Year's style), pouring the alcohol into every kind of cup they could scavenge- coffee mugs, shot glasses, wine glasses and plastic cups, passing it out among the older teens and including Chip and Amy, just for the heck of it. The other kids were perfectly content with sparkling grape juice, the sugar keeping them up for a while before they crashed, one by one.

It was a good thing that school didn't start back up for another few days, because Sonic was pretty damn sure that they all were going to need a few days to recover.

Even so, when the kids were all asleep and covered up on the floor, Blaze and Silver retreated to their old room (though in the morning, they would find themselves crammed into one bed, thankfully clothed), Knuckles and Rouge stretching out on the almost-comfortable pull-out couch.

As for Sonic and Shadow, they ended up on the old leather sofa, curled together to the point where neither could quite figure out how they got like that in the first place. Shadow, for all his complaining, fell asleep surprisingly fast and slept through the night (though whether or not the alcohol had anything to do with that, he wasn't quite sure). Sonic, however, lay with his head on his someday-mate's chest for quite some time, listening to the slow and steady thump of Shadow's heartbeat and the distant song of a wind chime.

As he faded to sleep some time later, he wasn't entirely aware of the process. However, the last thought that he was aware of was one of happiness and content, just before his eyes closed for the first time of the new year.

I'll give everything I have to protect this.