Blue ears perked at a low rumble and suddenly Sonic was alert.
He eyed the window for a moment, then relaxed once he noticed raindrops tap gently at the foggy glass. It was only a storm. The hero ran a hand through blue quills in frustration, annoyed by how jumpy he was today. He closed his eyes and breathed out slowly, trying to calm his mind by focusing on his surroundings.
He felt the cool air circulating through the apartment, wafting the faint, familiar scent of cologne from the bedroom. Incense burned on the shelf nearby, leaving ribbons of thin smoke curling in the air. Somewhere in the kitchen a radio played muffled jazz music, the languid rhythm adding a layer of tranquility to the dimly lit room. It was quiet. Peaceful.
Or rather, it should have been.
Normally Sonic would feel relaxed resting in Shadow's apartment by himself, but today everything felt as if it were on the verge of slipping away from him. He sighed heavily and stretched out on the black couch, anxiety gnawing at his stomach. Shadow had only been gone for an hour or so and the hero still felt like that was far too long. Even then, he knew what would happen once his partner came back home and what they had to do.
Green eyes drifted toward the key resting on Shadow's kitchen counter, thinking back to when they first discovered it. A mix of guilt and anger suddenly washed over him and Sonic rolled over, burying his face into the black couch pillows.
How did this tiny little key become such a huge problem...?
On the last night of their adventure, the hedgehogs found a key hidden inside an envelope Amy had left for them along with a heartfelt letter. At the time, Sonic was excited and curious about what the key unlocked. According to the letter, Miss Vanilla had the answer, but she had been sick with grief since Amy's sudden passing. While the hero was eager to ask her about it, he decided to wait a little longer before approaching her on the matter.
Once they left Little Planet and returned home, Shadow suggested Sonic spend the night at his apartment and he was more than happy to take him up on the offer. In the past, Shadow's home had always been a place the hero would go anytime he needed to escape from the rest of the world. After everything they had been through together Sonic felt closer to his rival than he ever had before, and he knew Shadow felt the same. Now the apartment almost felt like a second home to him.
Which is why that single night stay had 'accidentally' turned into nearly two weeks.
Shadow still had the rest of the month off from work, so he was able to give the blue hedgehog his full, undivided attention. The weeks seemed to go by all too quickly, blending together in a fuzzy haze of stolen kisses, and pure, hot chaos energy. It was probably the longest Sonic had ever stayed in one place, let alone indoors, and he was comfortable there.
However earlier that morning, Shadow was the one to finally address the elephant in the room. Something Sonic himself had been purposely ignoring since they returned home.
"You still have the key Amy gave us, yes?"
The blue hedgehog's first instinct was to feign innocence or even lie, but the foreign chaos energy thrumming in the back of his mind reminded him that neither of those were an option. Having a partner that could sense your emotions made lying in a convincing way rather difficult. Shadow adjusted the coffee maker idly, red eyes eventually trailing over to his partner as he waited for a response.
"We should pay a visit to Miss Vanilla then, before we forget about it."
"Yeah, that makes sense..." Sonic replied leaning on the kitchen counter. He reached out and pulled gently on his partner's tail, a hint of pleading in his voice.
"Maybe we can do it next week...?"
"No...I'm afraid I need to prepare for a mission tomorrow. It will be for at least a week or two." A small grin flashed on his muzzle.
"I don't think I can wait that long to see what Amy left for us."
"Right, right, neither can I...! I've just been a little hesitant because of Vanilla. I wouldn't want to...you know, make her feel bad, or worse."
"Hmn..." The dark hedgehog tapped his foot thoughtfully.
"We could always bring her flowers. The gesture could ease her grief a little, perhaps. I know of a flower shop a few blocks from here, I'll stop by there on my way home."
Sonic rose from the counter as he noticed his partner pick up a set of keys.
"You're going out? Can I come?"
"It would be best that you didn't," Shadow flipped the keyring in his hands until he found the one to the apartment door. Anxiety leaked through their bond and he glanced up at the hero, noticing the change immediately.
"I have to meet with a few of my colleagues for a briefing and prepare for my mission. It won't take too long, Love. I promise." A wave of reassurance followed shortly after and Sonic accepted it gratefully, giving his partner a quick kiss on the lips.
"You don't have to tell me that Shads, I'll be fine." He insisted. Though Sonic knew Shadow had spotted his anxiety clear as day. Thankfully the ultimate lifeform decided not to press the issue further and simply gave a nod in return.
"I'll be back, and we can head straight to Vanilla's house." he said closing the door behind him.
"I won't keep you waiting long."
An hour is almost an eternity in 'Sonic time' but honesty, the blue hedgehog was unsure if he wanted his rival to come home sooner or stay out longer.
It wasn't as if Sonic did not want to know what Amy had left for them. If anything, he was probably more excited about it than Shadow was. But their relationship had blossomed since the start of this adventure, and deep down, he was afraid of what it would be like once it was over. Completing this last task marked the end of their journey, and Sonic was worried that Shadow would pick up his solitary lifestyle once again if left to his own devices. A mission starting so soon would only add to the amount of time they would be separated as well.
"Tch..." The hero scoffed at himself.
"How the hell did I go from being a rolling stone, to being horribly clingy?"
Shadow didn't appear to mind Sonic squatting at his house. On the contrary, he seemed to enjoy it, if the frequent nights of intimacy were anything to go by.
'But still... '
His partner had a habit of disappearing for long periods of time in the past. Sometimes of his own accord like the last four years, and other times, due circumstances beyond his control.
For a moment the events on the Ark flashed through Sonic's mind, but he shoved them away immediately.
Chaos, was he really going that deep into this and its only been an hour?
Jingling keys caught his attention and Sonic whipped toward the door, noticing Shadow with a rather large bouquet of pink and white flowers in hand. They were taller than the dark hedgehog himself and a few stray petals were caught in his quills.
"Wow Shads, I didn't take you to be the type to go all out on some flowers, haha."
"I'm not," he sighed tossing the keys on the living room table.
"The florist assumed the bouquet was for you and wanted to...help. Apparently word of our relationship has spread quicker than I imagined."
Sonic gave his rival a sympathetic smile and took the flowers, allowing Shadow a moment to brush himself off.
"Sorry about that. Are you okay with uh...stuff like this happening? Because it's going to happen a lot, probably."
"It doesn't bother me as long as its a positive response. It's just...unusual. Though Rouge told me I simply need to adjust to being 'liked' by the public. Of course she did warn me there might be a few people who would not approve of us but..." The dark hedgehog smirked knowingly.
"I know how to deal with them."
Sonic snorted and gave him a gentle shove.
"Jeez you say that like you're just waiting to snap some heads." He wrapped his arm over Shadow's shoulder and gave him a light squeeze.
"Ah, for you, I would."
"Quit being so romantic, Babe. You're gonna make me act up. Unless...that's what you want...?"
"Mmm, normally I'd take you up on that offer, but we still have someplace to be today." His rival replied, carefully sliding out of the hug.
"Did you let Vanilla know we were coming over?"
"I uh...forgot to actually. Cream knows though, so she should've told her mom."
Shadow made his way over to the kitchen counter and picked up the key, tucking it into the side of his inhibitor ring. Sonic could feel his stomach clench at the sight but said nothing, secretly hoping his partner didn't feel it through their bond. If Shadow had caught on to the change, he didn't give it away. He reached into black quills and retrieved a green Chaos Emerald, holding out his free hand to the blue hedgehog.
"Let's get going then, shall we?"
"Ah, yeah..." Sonic sighed with a strained smile.
"Let's uh...lets get to it."
"How are they, Dear?"
"They're really good!" Cream exclaimed as she reached for another cookie on the kitchen table.
"Probably your best yet, Mom. Mr. Shadow will definitely like them."
"Oh, Aren't you just a sweetheart?" Vanilla replied, giving her daughter a quick kiss on her forehead. Gingerly the woman stretched her arms before taking a seat at the table as well.
"Sonic seems to like anything I make but I recall Shadow isn't fond of overly sweet things. These snickerdoodles should do the trick..." A yawn escaped her before she could stop it and Vanilla rested her head on the table, exhausted.
"I'm sorry Dearie, I've just been so tired lately..."
"Its okay Momma." Cream said softly.
"You've been in bed a lot after all. I'm just glad you're feeling well enough to bake with me!"
"Me too...spending time with you is always a treasure; I just wish I was able to do more..."
The young rabbit put a hand on her mother's shoulder for a moment, brown eyes wide and sympathetic. Vanilla opened her mouth to continue but Cream immediately shook her head.
"Don't say that. You just need time; we all do. Please don't blame yourself. I'm just happy we could do this today."
For a moment, her mother seemed as if she was thinking of a reason to object. Her tired eyes were deep and focused, looking past the young girl in front of her. Eventually, Vanilla relaxed and nodded. Cream could tell she was dwelling on her old thoughts again. Things her mother wished she had done back then, and things she wished she was capable of doing now.
"Do you want to go rest again, Momma?" Cream asked as she gently rubbed her back in support.
"No...I'm okay, Sweetheart. Besides, Sonic said he needed to speak with me today-"
Suddenly a bright light flashed in front of them, filling the room with pure, blinding white. Vanilla gripped her daughter instinctively, pulling her close away from the source of the flash. Cream squinted as she tried to adjust her eyes in the light, straining to get a glimpse of what had caused it.
The light disappeared as soon as it came, and in its place were two familiar looking hedgehogs who looked just as surprised as they did. Sonic blinked and let out an amused huff before nudging his partner in the ribs.
"Shads I told you we should've teleported outside of the house!"
"I've only been to this house a few times; the only place I could think of was the kitchen." Shadow replied evenly. He turned to Cream and her mother before quickly handing off the flowers to Vanilla.
"I apologize for scaring you; I didn't know you would be in here when we arrived."
"That's why we knock first, babe. It's polite." The hero snorted.
"I-its quite alright," Vanilla stuttered and set the bouquet of flowers on the table.
"And thank you, these are so lovely...oh, but you didn't have to go to so much trouble for me. Help yourselves to some cookies in return; we just finished making them."
"Oh sweet, cookies!" Sonic cheered as he rushed over to the kitchen table. Shadow followed behind him and pulled up a chair across from Vanilla, waiting politely for her to continue.
"Ah...Cream, could you give us a little time alone, Dear?" She asked petting her daughter's head.
"Of course, Momma. I have to call Tails anyway. He said he wanted to meet up later today." with a short wave, the young rabbit excused herself and quickly left the kitchen. Vanilla waited for a few heartbeats until she heard the soft thud of Cream's bedroom door before addressing the two hedgehogs. She laced her fingers together on the table and sighed, trying her best to give a confident, friendly smile.
"Now then...I was told that you two wanted to talk to me about something?"
"Oh! Yeah um..." The hero swallowed a mouthful of cookies and wiped stray crumbs off his chest. Shadow glared in his direction but Sonic paid him no attention, able to feel his partner's scolding clearly through their bond. Peach hands fumbled around in his jacket pockets before pulling out a neatly folded piece of paper.
"Amy left us a letter...and we were hoping you could help us out."
"She told us that we needed to ask you about finding her 'heart', " Shadow chimed in, pulling out the silver key from his inhibitor ring.
"and she left us this."
Immediately the woman paled once her gaze landed on the key in his hands. Shadow noticed but said nothing, allowing her a few moments to gather her thoughts.
"She said...I knew where this heart was?" Vanilla asked softly, her delicate hands unfolding the letter on the table. Brown eyes roamed the paper before settling for a long time on the last line at the bottom. Her strained, cheerful smile had all but vanished and Sonic was able to see how truly exhausted the poor woman was. Desperate to comfort her, he reached out across the table and gently placed his hand over hers.
"We really didn't want to bother you if you weren't feeling well so we waited a while. If you're not sure about what she's talking about its fine-"
"I know what she's referring to." Vanilla replied evenly. She slipped her hand out from under his to fold the paper up again.
"I'm sorry. I just...didn't expect her to give it away." A genuine, sad smile graced her lips.
"Well I suppose it's for a good reason."
"Give...what away?" The blue hedgehog asked leaning back into his chair.
"Hm, well, you already have a part of- ah...I should just show you."
Without another word Vanilla pushed away from the kitchen table and went into the living room, heading upstairs. The two hedgehogs exchanged curious glances before leaving the table and heading up after her. The woman stopped on the top of the stairs and looked over her shoulder to make sure they were following before she continued up the staircase.
"It's up here, follow me."
Sonic had to admit, as many times as he had visited their home, he'd never actually been in Amy's room. He stood in the doorway, or hung in the window, but had never set foot inside.
Even Shadow had entered in her room in the few times he'd been here, but the hero never really mustered the courage himself. Amy never invited him to go beyond the doorway either.
It was a line Sonic personally was not comfortable crossing; it felt highly inappropriate to him, despite the girl's romantic feelings dying off ages ago. However it had gone on for so long and for so many years, that neither of them decided to mention it. Being in her room now without her, somehow felt as if the blue hedgehog had broken an unspoken rule.
Its hot pink walls and white lacy curtains seemed so much more vivid up close to the point it made the hero's eyes hurt a little. The plush red carpet looked freshly vacuumed, and tidy white shelves lined up on the wall above the window. In the far corner was a pink loft bed with floral sheets, the desk underneath littered with paper balls and pens in front of an open laptop. The only spot in her room Amy would ever allow a mess.
Sonic's chest ached; it felt as if she was still there and would be back any minute.
"Here..." Vanilla called, catching the hero's attention. Beside Amy's desk was her classic Piko-Piko hammer, sitting upside down and significantly less intimidating without its owner.
Shadow ran his finger over the hammer's handle, feeling its worn out metal grip. It appeared it had been touched up several times with leather, but the material hardly stood a chance against Amy's heavy handed nature in battle.
"I had wondered where this had gone." He said thumbing the cracked fabric.
"This was Amy's most prized possession. Well, her second." Vanilla sighed as she leaned against the desk.
"The President had asked me several times for it so he could honor her memory, but I declined. It belongs with the people who loved her. Besides...she always told me she would like to pass it on to Cream someday."
"It's kinda heavy for her isn't it?" Sonic asked nudging the hammer slightly.
"Really now? I figured you would know better than anyone to never underestimate a girl's fighting spirit, Sonic."
"Heh...good point." He chuckled, feeling more at ease after hearing Vanilla's cheeky reply.
"Speaking of the hammer, why did you want to show this to us?"
Shadow tapped a gloved finger to the head of the weapon, before turning back to his partner.
"I believe I found the reason why. Come look."
Sonic kneeled down to get a better look at where the dark hedgehog was pointing. The Piko-Piko hammer had several raised rectangle sections in the middle that went around all its sides. The topmost section had a small shallow heart engraved on top, with a keyhole chiseled into its center.
Sonic tilted his head, surprised.
"Wow, the entire time I've seen her with this thing, I never noticed that..."
"Possibly because you were usually on the receiving end." Shadow replied dryly. He glanced over towards Vanilla as she quickly stood up away from them, and made her way over to the door.
"Is everything alright, Miss Vanilla?" He asked, catching her off guard. She halted and her body visibly stiffened, but she did not turn to face them. Slowly, Vanilla lifted a hand to the door frame to steady herself. Although he couldn't see her face, it was obvious she was struggling to form a reply.
"It's fine." The woman said tightly, though her voice cracked slightly under the strain. Sonic could tell that despite the harsh tone, there was no real anger in her voice.
"...If you really don't want us to take what's inside, we won't." The hero said as he got to his feet. Shadow looked at his partner, an eye ridge raised as if he wanted to object, but remained silent.
"It's totally up to you. No matter what's inside, I'm fine not knowing if it means you and Cream will be okay."
A breathless chuckle left Vanilla as she turned around, beautiful brown eyes glossy and her white muzzle flushed with pink.
"Oh Sonic...you're such a good boy. You've always been." She sighed and wiped her eyes.
"No...if...if her wish is to give it to you, I have no place to say where it goes. I have so much of her items already, and her hammer, it shouldn't matter, should it?"
Sonic walked over to her and gently held her hand.
"I know that Cream and I were not the only ones who loved Amy, I shouldn't try to horde everything she owned...especially from her dearest friends. It's selfish of me, isn't it...?"
"No," He replied immediately.
Unable to help herself, Vanilla looked into Sonic's eyes, at a loss of what to say. She was met with the same reassuring gaze she had seen time and time again from the heroic blue hedgehog. A pure, honest expression that held so much yet simply said 'I am here for you.'
A sob wracked the woman's body and she raised her free hand up to her mouth, trying to hold back another that threatened to come to the surface. Sonic squeezed her hand tighter and pulled her in close, feeling his heart collapse the moment Vanilla leaned against him as if she could no longer stand on her own.
"It's never selfish to love someone that much, you know?"
She nodded her head and buried her face in his shoulder, unable to form the words to answer.
They stayed that way for several moments and Shadow kept his distance, using his chaos energy to gauge how his partner was feeling and if he needed any support himself. A confident, calm wave pushed back and wound its way around the dark hedgehog's energy in reply, assuring him that he was alright.
It was hard to comfort someone when you were hurting just as much, but the hero was more than willing to do so for those he cherished most.
And he knew that if it ever became too much, Shadow was there for him.
Vanilla was the first to break the hug and placed a kiss on the hero's forehead.
"N-no problem." Sonic stammered, rubbing the spot sheepishly.
"...If you guys ever need anything, don't hesitate to let me know, okay?"
"Oh, Dear...we ask so much of you already, what more could you possibly do?" She replied wiping her eyes again.
"The only thing everyone really needs right now is...time I suppose. I'm...I'm going to go take a little nap for now but...please... take care of yourselves for me, okay?"
"No problem, you just get some rest." Sonic said before giving Vanilla another quick hug. The woman still seemed incredibly tired, but her eyes were filled with a familiar warmth he was happy to see again. Without another word she slipped away, leaving the heroes alone to open their last gift from Amy.
The hero watched her go, suddenly more aware than ever before of how close they were to the end of their journey. A creeping dread rose in his chest but he tucked it away before Shadow could sense it himself through their connection.
Sonic sighed and turned to his partner making sure to flash his classic heroic smile.
"So, I guess now we should uh...check and see what's inside the hammer?"
"Of course." Shadow agreed. He tilted the weapon upright and quickly slid the key inside, turning it until a loud metallic click sounded from the head of the hammer.
The room was horribly quiet as he slipped the red section backwards and reached into a small carved indent underneath. From what Sonic could tell it was not particularly deep, which meant their gift had to be quite small. The dark hedgehog pulled out a little rosewood box with yet another heart-shaped lock carved into the seam. Undaunted, Shadow set the hammer back down and cradled the box in his palm, ready to try the silver key into the second lock. Sonic held his breath.
"Wait..!" He said quickly.
"I...I don't really like doing this here."
"I-In her room." The hero stuttered.
" 'Feels weird doing this without her, in her room."
While he was being completely honest about feeling weird without her, Sonic realized he was desperately trying to prolong their time together as long as he could. A vicious cycle of excitement and anxiety rolled around in his chest, torn between wanting to know what was inside and fear of their adventure ending much too soon. Shadow seemed rather calm about the situation from what the hero could tell, which only concerned him even more; he was normally the more possessive one between them. If he wasn't concerned about their relationship after this, Sonic assumed his partner was unaware of his tendency to drift away if left on his own.
"I suppose you're right." Shadow replied, breaking the hero out of his thoughts. He stood up and held his hand out to the blue hedgehog as he reached for his Chaos emerald with the other.
"Come with me."
"Uh, sure...where we goin?"
A knowing smirk spread across Shadow's muzzle.
The storm outside had calmed overhead, and sunlight began peeking its way though the cloudy sky. Autumn trees swayed in the breeze as their harmonious rustling muffled the sounds of the city a few miles away. Raindrops covered the grass in thousands of tiny sparkles and gave the land a fresh, earthy scent.
Sonic seemed undeterred by the dampness as he sat down in front of Amy's headstone, running his fingers over the solid, etched letters once again.
"Hey Ames," the hero said softly.
"I'm sorry we've been gone a while. Longer than I thought we would be, but that's kinda my fault. Heh..."
Shadow sat near the grave beside him, grimacing at the feel of wet grass seeping through his fur. Sonic snickered as a thin veil of irritation fluttered through their bond; it was just water. He would survive.
"Thanks for bringing us here, Shads. I can't believe we almost did this without the lady who made it possible."
"I figured it would be best," his rival started, retrieving the small box and key from his quills.
"...to end this journey where it began, don't you think?"
Expectant red eyes met green as he handed the items off to the hero and placed them in his lap. Somehow, the idea that Sonic had to end this with his own hands made the situation even more stressful. At the same time he knew Shadow was trying to be polite; Sonic had been the closest to her and it was only fair that the blue hedgehog would be the one to open it.
Slowly he exhaled, taking a moment to glance around the cemetery and get his bearings before taking the box into his hands.
"Here we go."
Shadow eyed him intensely, his Chaos energy thrumming low but skipping a beat as Sonic slipped the key into the lock. He turned it slowly until he heard an audible tiny click somewhere inside. Gingerly the key was set aside on his thigh and he opened the pink box, eyes blowing wide once he realized what was hidden away inside.
A large golden eye stared back at him, and Sonic knew immediately he had seen it somewhere before. The eye was painted onto a small card with matching gold around the edges and set into a deep purple background. Carefully he tilted the object out of the box into his palm. Several more cards fell out into a stack, bound to a tiny instruction book with a yellow ribbon.
"Its the rest of her Tarot deck." Shadow finished, a hint of surprise evident in his tone.
"The cards in her book...they were from her personal deck."
The blue hedgehog reached out and spread his fingers over the cards, a sad smile making its way onto his muzzle. Peach cheeks began to take on a rosey pink shade and Sonic blinked rapidly, feeling tears welling up in the corner of his vision and threatening to fall any moment.
"Yeah...it is." He said, hoarsely.
"I can't believe she wanted us to have...to have this."
Shadow nodded, gently pulling the deck out of his rival's hands to inspect it himself. A warm, soft emotion curled from his wavelength and Sonic could feel it clear as day; he seemed to be having trouble conveying it, but the ultimate life form was genuinely touched.
"Amy once told me, that Tarot cards were very special to those who have faith in the universe," Shadow said wistfully.
"and that, to be gifted one that was owned previously is quite significant."
The hero shook his head, trying to keep his sad smile from morphing into a bitter one. These cards were Amy's most prized possession; she had just as much faith in them as she did in Sonic himself. He couldn't believe a part of him didn't want to know what was inside the box, when it was something as irreplaceable as this. These were the most precious things she had ever owned, and a far more generous gift than he could have ever imagined.
"Are you alright?" Shadow asked. He picked up on the hero's distress immediately and reached out to hold his hand.
"I'm alright," Sonic replied.
"I just...wish I knew...how to thank her."
"Well, perhaps we can use them now while she's here?" The ultimate life form suggested untying the delicate yellow ribbon from the deck.
"Amy left us a little instruction booklet after all. She intended for us to use them."
"Okay...well...what do you think should we ask?"
"What would you like to know?"
"Oh. Hm...I wanna know..." His gaze trailed up from the deck to Shadow's eyes for a moment and he clenched his jaw, knowing instantly what he wanted to ask.
"I wanna know, where do we go from here. What do we do now?"
To the hero's surprise his partner didn't ask for any details. Shadow merely shrugged and began to shuffle the cards, his hands moving incredibly fast in short, accurate motions without breaking eye contact. He then placed the deck neatly on his thigh and gestured for Sonic to pick one from the pile.
"Focus your mind on what you want to know, then pick."
"Wow Shads, that was some fancy shufflin'. Have you been gambling behind my back or is that some 'ultimate lifeform' skill?"
"You learn a few things when you're a secret agent and every single mission starts with a cliché meet up at a casino. Now, go on."
The hero snorted at his rival's answer before directing his attention back to the Tarot cards. He tried to clear his mind and focus on the question as he pulled a single card from the middle of the deck, lifting it face up. Immediately, Sonic's nose scrunched up in confusion.
"What is it?"
He flipped it around for Shadow to see.
"It says...The World."
The image on the card depicted a beautiful nude woman in purple cloth holding batons in each hand. Her face held a carefree expression as she danced inside a laurel leaf circle in the sky. Around her were four winged, bodiless creatures in each corner of the card; a cherub, a lion, an eagle and a bull.
"This is probably the wackiest card we've gotten so far. I wonder what it means."
"Yes...luckily we were given instructions on how to figure that out." Shadow replied handing his partner the small booklet. Sonic took it and turned the book around a few times in his hands. On closer inspection, it appeared to be handmade, its red leather binding held together with cross stitches and hot glue.
Carefully he opened the book, looking through the pages until he found 'The World' title. He smiled noticing that Amy had filled the pages with her own writing, though her penmanship was much neater here then it was in their quest notebook.
Inside was written the meaning of various symbols and their relation to the card that Sonic didn't quite understand, along with a few runes he didn't bother trying to read. They seemed to be detailed notes that Amy made for herself when she read fortunes for others. Eventually at the bottom of the page he found the definition he was looking for.
"It says...'Congratulations! The World card means you've made it to the finish line! Or at the very least, you're insanely close.
The World (Upright) means that you have completed your journey, your trials, and you have come out on top stronger than before. That the universe is telling you; 'you made it and you are complete!' Your goal has been met and you can enjoy the fruits of your labor and let go of everything. It can also mean the start of something new. Maybe travel, a new adventure, or something exciting coming your way now that you have everything falling into place at the right time. Be careful, be safe, and enjoy your life!' "
Sonic couldn't help himself and cracked an amused grin; Amy's sweet, cheerful tone practically echoed in his ears as he read the meaning of the card out loud. He then noticed that his rival was suspiciously quiet and spared a glance in Shadow's direction. The dark hedgehog was reaching into his quills again, looking for something and seeming distracted.
"...What cha doin', babe?"
"That card reminded me...I have something for you."
"Oh?" he smirked.
"Is it a wedding ring?"
"Not quite." Shadow replied tossing a manila folder into the hero's lap. Curious, Sonic placed the card safely back into the deck and leafed through the folder. Inside were various documents and ID cards that he didn't recognize, along with a few mugshots of shady looking strangers.
"Shads...what am I looking at here, man."
"I would assume you know what GUN mission specs look like."
"Uh. Yeah. But why?"
"...I would like you to have some idea of our task before we head off tomorrow so you don't wing it like you usually do."
Blue ears perked up as he snapped the folder shut.
"You want me to come with you?"
"I discussed it with the Commander. He will pay you accordingly for every mission you decide to participate in. I informed him that you don't have a bank account, so it will go into the Fox's savings account for now."
"Hold on, drop the formality for a sec...you planned for me to come with you?"
"Of course. I was the one who invited you back in Sand Ruins. It wasn't an empty gesture."
"Why didn't you tell me...?"
"Do you not want to come?"
"Of course I do! I just...!" Sonic scratched his head in frustration, suddenly feeling self conscious.
"I was...I didn't know you wanted me to come with you still. I'd told you I needed to stay here for everyone, but that was before I really took time to...to deal with losing Amy. Later on I realized that I wanted to come with you, but I had already rejected your offer so..."
"You know what?"
Shadow rolled his eyes and gave his partner a dull look.
"Do you really think you were hiding your emotions from me that well? Tucking away your feelings doesn't mean I can't feel them when they initially appear. Vague thoughts and visions came into my mind anytime you stayed on the topic too long. I eventually understood what was bothering you shortly after we returned home; about a week or two ago."
Sonic scoffed and tossed the file back at him.
"What? Why didn't you say something?"
"At first, I assumed you would be smart enough to figure out that what you were doing wasn't going to work. But then, I remembered exactly who it is that I'm in love with,"
Shadow flashed cocky grin, causing the hero to narrow his eyes.
"And discovered that idea was a lost cause. So I decided to surprise you the day before the mission. However I had completely forgotten about the key until this morning, and could tell you were becoming anxious throughout the day after I mentioned it."
He thumbed 'The World' card as it sat slanted on the deck before picking it up and twirling it idly in his hands. Red eyes trailed up from the card momentarily, only to soften as they met Amy's headstone.
"This card slightly spoiled the surprise by mentioning a trip, which is something I didn't expect. Though I suppose we both have a habit of keeping things to ourselves until someone intervenes. Touché, Miss Rose."
Sonic let out a shaky sigh, chuckling nervously to himself. All the tension he had been holding in rushed out of his body at once and left the blue hedgehog at a loss for words.
"I swear, even when she's gone, she's still doing us too many favors."
Part of him felt ridiculous, even embarrassed for worrying so much about their relationship before; especially now that he knew Shadow had felt every single moment of it. Though there was some comfort in the fact that his rival was well aware of the situation and had his back, even when Sonic felt as if things were slipping out of his control.
"...it looks like it's getting ready to rain again, we should probably get going." The ultimate life form commented as he gestured above them. Dark clouds were gathering overhead and the gentle breeze had picked up significantly into a harsh, cold wind. The sun that peeked though the clouds only moments ago was now hidden behind a thick sheet of grey, nowhere to be seen.
"Are...you ready to go?"
"Ah, not yet. Can I have a second?"
"Of course. I'll be by the gate waiting." Shadow replied before standing up and dusting himself off.
"I'll leave you two alone."
Sonic watched his partner leave before standing up as well, pulling his varsity collar up around his neck as another gust of wind buffeted blue quills.
"Chaos, I just came back for a visit and now I'm leaving you again. Guess I'll never change huh?" he laughed and sheepishly kicked the grass.
"But...seriously. I just wanna say that I don't...know what I would have done without you in my life all these years. I dunno what I'm gonna do now frankly...but I'm glad I don't have to figure that out on my own, especially since you can't be here to kick me in the right direction."
The hero held up the small leather booklet in his hand and admired the cover as he spoke.
"I've always had your back through thick and thin, and well...now I guess its my turn for you to have mine. I don't think words can express how grateful I am. And don't worry, Ames. I'll take real good care of the gift you gave me."
He turned to spare a quick glance at his partner a few yards away, and snickered.
"Oh, and I'll take care of the tarot cards too."
A low rumble sounded above him and Sonic could see light droplets beginning to appear on the headstone. His heart twisted at the idea of having to leave so soon, but he made a mental note to come back immediately after their mission was over. To tell her all about the places they went, the things they saw not only from the her trip, but also every new adventure they would have again and again. To let her know that no matter where she went, or what happened, that Amy would always be his most cherished friend that he would do anything in the world for.
And this time, he promised he wouldn't forget.
"I'll- I'll miss you, so much, Ames. And from the bottom of my heart...Thank You. For everything."
The rain started to come down even harder but the hero was reluctant to move, wanting to linger just a bit longer. Eventually, a familiar warmth at the back of his mind began to pull at him, gently trying to coax him away. Sonic was about to follow but stopped short as if he had forgotten something. He took off his jacket and placed it over the gravestone before finally joining his partner by the gates.
"Were you worried about leaving her out in the rain?" Shadow asked once he realized the blue hedgehog was no longer wearing his varsity jacket.
"Its to make sure I come back and tell her everything about our adventure as soon as we're done. I know you bought it for me buuutttt...she'll be hanging on to it for a bit."
"Heh, I see."
"Hey Shads, I'm sorry about...you know, being such a panicky clingy weirdo these past few weeks."
Shadow shook his head before leaning in, and planting a gentle kiss on his rival's cheek.
"People change when they lose someone. You are no different. But remember what I told you, Sonic. I am always here for you. And I will never break that promise."
"I know, and I believe you. I just...forget sometimes I guess? This is new to me, trusting someone like this. So I might make a lot of mistakes."
"Oh you don't need to clarify; I anticipated that. Though I believe you're the one who said it best. We're both 'newbies'. But not to worry. I've got you."
"Heh yeah. And I have you too."
"You always did." Shadow said as he pulled his partner in close in an effort to shield him from some of the rain.
"So...are you...ready to go, Love?"
The question was a simple one, but Sonic had been with his rival long enough to know it was more than just about leaving the cemetery. Vibrant, chaotic energy pulsed through their bond as the hero tried to convey how he felt. To tell the ultimate life form that he would be okay and was doing better than he ever had since their journey began. Shadow chuckled and planted another kiss on his muzzle, letting Sonic know he got the message loud and clear.
The world suddenly seemed a little brighter than it had ever been in a long, long time. Sonic knew that he was prepared to take on anything the future held as long as he had Shadow by his side, and Amy's guidance in his hands.
"Yeah, Shadow. I'm totally ready now." he replied, breathless and eager for their next adventure.