Man, the Sonadow fics here are hoppin'! Nice to see! I've been away for longer than planned and seriously missing out…

As always, thank you, PamityDesu01, Tolkam, GuardianDragon98, MadameMirage77 (Sage was Mighty's wife and passed away so long ago that Shadow never met her, and Mighty hardly brings her up, so Shadow would have little to say concerning her…and I hope your headache went away fast!), Captain (I hope you're having good days too, and I appreciate your kind words), and a Guest! I'm grateful for all of your comments!

Chapter word count excluding A/N: 4095

Chapter 13: The Future

There he was.

He bounced slightly on his skis, keeping himself warmed up, so pumped that no one could extract his poles from his hands if they tried.

The team would be due for new ski suits come next season, but he was athletically resplendent in his current one, the dark grey not having faded this whole season. It said much for how well he cared for his suit (though he'd admitted his mother gave him some tips).

The camera zoomed in on his face, to the wariness lurking there, as he exhaled a stream of mist – he had clearly heard about Avalanche. But overriding that wariness was determination. The glint of his goggles somehow failed to outshine his invisible steely gaze; it captured the attention of the audience, which had quieted down since Avalanche's crash. He knew not to take this course lightly.

He was ready.

Shadow was smitten as if for the very first time.

He remembered their last hug before Sonic and the team went up in their gondola lift. The young man's joy was suppressing his nerves, but butterflies still roamed free in his stomach, which was what lengthened their ostensibly friendly hug. The elder hedgehog gave him every assurance he could, then watched as the gondola swept outward and upward on the cable, all but taking Shadow's heart with it.

Now he waited at the start house, motionless before a subdued audience. Scanning the crowd, Shadow saw many leaning forward, some pensively covering their mouths or cupping their chins. Their worry didn't help him, so he focused harder on the screens – which, regardless of their size and image clarity, did his vibrant hedgehog no justice.

Just come back in one piece, Sonic. Please.

"Here we go," muttered Mighty, patting Shadow's shoulder before settling to watch.

The first beep sounded. Sonic hunched down, digging in with his poles.

Second beep. Third beep. He inhaled deep and gave a loud exhale.

Fourth, final beep.

He was off.

Fans began to cheer in support again. Shadow simply watched, not only with his eyes but also his memory of fifteen seasons' worth of Holoska runs. He knew exactly what Sonic was up against. The team had inspected the course beforehand and Sonic was a fountain of questions, but this, his first concrete venture into Holoska downhill ski history, took Shadow back to his own maiden season-capping run.

He watched, and smiled. Today the sun would illuminate everything for Sonic, on the path and off. At the top of the course, he might catch white clouds nestling in the picturesque northwestern ice valley. Shadow himself had enjoyed the glimpses good weather afforded him as he raced his way down.

The initial straightaway was smooth, Sonic cruising adeptly once he'd pumped his skis enough and could hold his tucked form. He once joked to Shadow that he drilled the form into himself the way he'd study for a university entrance exam. That paid off well; he dropped into the position much quicker than he had yesterday, carrying it into the first curve.

Form was important through the first three consecutive curves, because they were closer to each other than for most other courses. These curves could be likened to slalom gates placed no more than two meters apart, and the skier was expected to clear them on long downhill skis. Reflexively Shadow turned his feet so as to stretch his ankles. The ankles and knees had to be strong and responsive to the tight turns.

Sonic wound through those turns as efficiently as a sewing-machine needle through fabric, and the crowd cheered. Shadow let out a breath. This was a smashing start. At this point the younger hedgehog's legs were fresh still. This being a longer course, Shadow knew fatigue could yet put a damper on his spunk. But he enjoyed what he saw now, as did the audience.

"Oh, my goodness! What a statement this is!" grinned the announcer.

Curve three straightened out and, before long, led into the venue's first loop-the-loop. As Shadow expected, Sonic the Tumbler had no trouble with it, treating it like one of his pre-workout mat exercises. He spied that smile of satisfaction even before fully righting himself.

It was the smallest loop, and more lay ahead.

Afterwards came curves five and six. The downhill degree was higher, and gravity tended to drag most skiers into long skids if they weren't careful.

Not Sonic. Shadow felt his pride swell as the younger hedgehog clung to his turns and carved almost pure, drawing near-perfectly clean lines with skis. Had he skidded, clawing his way back onto the course proper would have sapped energy that could cost him later. But no, today there was absolute beauty in his technique. He would "get it one day", as he'd decided, and one day very soon.

He didn't need flawless lines to build up speed for the next loop. The lengthy straightaway out of curve six was the calm beforehand, and he tucked into it, as Shadow himself would have done. The result: he made quick work of a loop half a time larger than the previous one, blasting out of it right off the edge of a cliff-like projection, arms and poles waving for balance.

That smile bloomed into a grin. Shadow, too, grinned – he almost envied Sonic to the point of wishing he could repeat his own first Holoska run from all those years ago. Oh, to be young again!

Sonic could've warped to the finish line at his speed. Somehow, in that instant, Shadow's eyes zeroed in on his face and all the exhilaration it contained. Even in mid-air the young man saw exactly where he was going. If he didn't know better, Shadow would swear he was gaining energy.

He really had nothing to lose, did he?

Oh, everyone present there knew what he could lose. But it seemed to Shadow that fear fell away from Sonic with each meter he advanced – the display showed almost two seconds' lead over the former fastest time at his current stretch on the course. The crowd's anxiety melted as well, turning into joy that was released in the form of louder cheering.

It continued even as Sonic cruised out of curve seven towards Avalanche's bane, the hairpin. And he never broke his stride, sticking close to both flag and fall line as if he were one with them, stubbournness apparent in every contour of his body. Four meters were all that separated the grove of trees at the horseshoe curve from the safety netting that narrowly guarded Avalanche's life. Shadow's breath caught as Sonic sharply turned his skis away from the trees.

In a mere two seconds, he conquered the bane. The dark hedgehog could tell that took the entirety of his resolve.

"He made that look so easy!" raved the announcer, who knew it wasn't.

Shadow let out his breath, tension evaporating, as he watched Sonic move on.

The rookie practically danced through the next two curves – who could blame him, having survived where others fell hard? – on his way to loop-the-loop twelve, as large as a ferris wheel. If Sonic was intimidated, he didn't let it show, aggressively aerodynamic as he chased the path there. He started in and held his arms and poles out behind him, sailing through on momentum alone. Shadow thought any sports photographer worth their salt should capture that moment, that pose, for their next magazine issue. It was just beautiful and so Sonic.

Could he hold on for the finale?

He was nearly there, but Holoska's finale was like none other: It boasted a quadruple corkscrew, the only one of its kind in the Mobius Cup circuit. The corkscrew was a season-end bonus that both intimidated and called to many competitors. It commanded the very best of each skier.

Shadow believed Sonic would not share the fate of poor Sunshine the Iguana on this outing. Scourge's motives for disclosing that to Sonic were not at all good; despite its technical correctness, his "help" was not to be trusted.

You're better than that, Sonic…

He saw the readiness on his face, and so did the announcer, who couldn't sound more on the edge of her seat. "Come on, Sonic, you'll get it," she encouraged.

As if he'd heard them, he launched right in.

It was over in two blinks. But his skill was unmistakable, leaving everyone in raucous jubilation. He displayed the core strength he worked so hard for by bending his knees and bowing low, barrelling through all four loops almost tight as a ball on his skis.

Shadow was to his feet, more thrilled than he'd been in possibly his whole adult life, before Sonic was completely through.

He stood and stared as the young man unfolded himself and pushed on towards the finish line. He heard and saw nothing else, crowd volume be damned...although the shock in Sonic's face told him he'd reached a milestone.

The veteran turned to the clock.

A new Mobius alpine record. Sonic had outpaced the previous record by almost three seconds, a momentous undertaking given the resilience of the previous record.

It wasn't just Shadow's thorough knowledge of alpine ski history that informed him. It was the experience he lived. The old record, which had stood for six years, belonged to him.

Astounded, he turned back to Sonic, who was slightly out of breath but steady on his skis. His goggles pushed up atop his head, he stood there with jaw dropped as the audience congratulated him endlessly.

"Claiming the top spot in a scorching time…ladies and gentlemen, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG!"

Multi-colored confetti shot into the air from back wall cannons. When Sonic's hand drifted to his own chest in disbelief, Shadow felt the beginnings of joy, sheer joy – a sensation he never thought would come with having his record broken! A handful of other skiers have surpassed his records, but none so quickly or in quite this bold a fashion.

By Chaos. This cemented it. Sonic was the future.

The future was greeted by Espio at this moment; the chameleon had left his seat and made his way to Sonic, wrapping him in an enormous hug. Shadow saw in the shakes of the younger hedgehog's head that his accomplishment had not sunk in at all. He was so discombobulated, Espio had to pull on his arm lightly so as to guide him to the front-row audience.

To Shadow and Mighty, specifically. Mighty cheered him on with fists pumping. The closer Sonic got, the more Shadow's joy grew.

He approached Mighty first and hugged him over the railing as the crowd continued to whoop. Then he turned to Shadow. The elder hedgehog spied the sheen of moisture in his beloved's eyes; a second later, Sonic threw his arms around his neck and burst into tears.

Shadow held him tight, a lump rising in his throat as he remembered the last time Sonic wept before him. Somehow, even in a corral filled to brimming with onlookers and cameras trained on them while confetti rained down, he clearly recalled the intimacy in their first confessions of love. Now, they were practically repeating those confessions without words.

It should have made him feel funny doing so in public. Instead, he couldn't be more proud.

Sonic managed an apology in the midst of sobbing. "I'm sorry I broke your record, Shadow!"

Really?! Shadow wanted to huff in jest. But he couldn't, both because he too was emotionally invested in this moment, and because Sonic's apology was genuine. He seemed a tad mortified to have splintered the record right in front of the hedgehog who mentored him, who loved him.

But he had been around long enough to know that records rise and fall. So he responded in a low, kind voice, "It's your record now."

He felt great peace in relishing their hug, and in letting Sonic go to acknowledge the crowd.

What loss was a record, after all, when he'd already won his heart?

"I had to remember how he'd advise me…the work I do in every practice is what I bring to my races." Sonic smiled as if calmed by those words. "I had to keep pushing myself. Not too hard, Shadow's no slave driver-"

Chuckles rippled through the crowd of journalists.

"-but nobody on my team would just give up because things get hard. Unless they really have to." Sonic briefly looked at Shadow again. "So I did the same. I told myself, this is for Shadow."

It was a long day.

Not only was there a ceremony and a press conference for all the medallists immediately following, Sonic and his team had to then whisk back to the locker room so he could wash up for the victor's post-race television interview, which would air at a delayed time. In between those, Sonic ecstatically called his family while Mighty and Knuckles carried his equipment (Shadow had offered to help with Espio's, but the chameleon graciously declined). They all ate light lunches in the lounge as Sonic prepared, and made sure to grab a portable one for Holoska's new champion. When he emerged from the locker room, they rated his appearance highly – "It's just a track suit, guys," laughed Sonic, while Shadow admired his cologne and, more privately, his smile – and walked him to the on-site studio with a view of the now-emptier finish corral.

Throughout, Shadow watched Sonic become himself. Shedding the doubt, owning his achievement, yet never with an air of self-righteousness. He was happy, and generous with it, such that the press conference and the interview were light-hearted affairs for everyone present.

And somehow Shadow felt more loved by him than ever. They withheld displays of affection, which was far from easy, but Sonic spoke highly of him as a mentor and friend, showing that he didn't forget the counsel and support Shadow lent him during the past year. Though he was over the moon about his record, he didn't fail to give respect where it was due: "My whole team is amazing, so I'd say I picked it up from them," he'd gushed at the press conference.

He looked a natural role model all told, perfectly at ease even surrounded by camera flashes and against a bright studio backdrop. However, his teammates knew he deserved rest at the end of everything.

The stroll back to their hotel was filled with delighted conversation, albeit also including mentions of Avalanche, whom Sonic hoped to visit in hospital that week if the wolf's team manager would allow it.

But Shadow was mostly quiet. In fact, his mouth did not form speech again until he and Sonic entered their room, and they closed the door.

He slid his gloves off and watched Sonic shrug out of his jacket, afternoon sunlight spilling onto him through the slats of their window blinds, turning him into an ethereal golden wonder. The younger hedgehog released a sigh that wasn't unhappy; no, he was on top of the world, and still anticipating the team's annual reservation at Ursule's Tavern, their way of winding down over food and drink.

As he removed his contacts, Shadow knew he, and possibly the whole team, would be followed more closely from here onward. His accomplishment meant more demands on his time, more intrusions on his space. To be fair, fame didn't catch the former Mr. In-Demand High Schooler off guard; along their walk they were stopped by a number of new, mostly young autograph-seeking fans. Sonic didn't rebuff a single one and never stopped smiling.

Espio and Shadow each signed autographs as well. But this was Sonic's moment. Shadow was content with that, growing more so as he looked upon him now, and his eyes softened that much more.

He approached Sonic while his back was still turned, and lay a gentle hand on his hip. The young man's response was a languid, light-footed turn his way, track-suited form melting as slender arms wound around Shadow's neck and a soft tenor chuckle rolled out of his throat.

Shadow smiled as he nuzzled his beloved's cheek, inhaled deeply of the cologne he'd spritzed on for fun. Oh, you feel amazing. Had they really not touched like this since the early morning? He didn't know what came over him, but Sonic became as wind that filled his sails – except he was solid, and for that Shadow was grateful as he tightened his hold and hoisted the young man off his feet. They both laughed as Sonic's legs swung about, and Shadow almost believed he could carry him the entire way to Earth.

He chuckled as he set his boyfriend down. "You've done awesome," he said.

That now-familiar purr rose from Sonic's chest and soothed his own. "You started the awesome," he smiled. Then he quieted down and gazed thoughtfully at Shadow. "What was winning like for you? The first time, I mean."

The dark hedgehog snorted lightly. "You're handling it better than I did. The fanfare annoyed me. I did what I came to do, that was it. Afterwards I just wanted a long break." After a pause, he admitted, "Maybe I didn't appreciate it as well as I could have."

"Aw. I don't blame you. We barely had time to eat before the interview, and I was starving."

"You do have calories to replenish. Like we've been saying, you'll love Ursule's."

"Is it as good as a team potluck?" grinned Sonic.

"At least, I'd say. She brews her own ale, which tastes incredible. Ursule herself is one of the nicest people here. She even personally serves our table."

"Cool, I can't wait." Sonic leaned closer for another hug. "I still can't believe today."

The veteran laughed low. "Babe, you earned this."

"Maybe you'll earn it back one day."

He loved how Sonic's smile felt against his cheek, which he kissed. "Maybe. We'll see."

"'Maybe'?" A bemused Sonic drew his head back and gazed into Shadow's eyes, their noses touching. "It's not over for you yet. Not by a long shot! We gotta chase each other down the slopes for at least another while."

"That'll help the team stay sharp," agreed Shadow.

"I mean…beyond the team." Sonic's expression held a touch of fondness as he shifted his hold on Shadow. "We can sharpen each other, too. I wouldn't be half the skier I am without you."

"You don't know that," Shadow said softly.

"I do. Because without you, I wouldn't care half as much." The younger hedgehog let out a small, perhaps self-conscious chuckle.

As flattered as he was, Shadow couldn't resist a self-deprecating shake of his head. "How did I get so lucky with you?"

"I'm the lucky one."

"No, I am."

"Not in a million years, it's me-" Catching his own silliness, Sonic broke off with a laugh. "Guess we will keep each other on our toes."

"Who knows how sharp we'll be by next year, yeah?"

"We'll be a pair of knives! You'd fit in with my family…that reminds me, I haven't brought you to a dinner at home yet. The folks've gotta get to know you better."

"Ah. I do owe them gratitude for you being amazing," Shadow winked.

"And I get to show you off to them," laughed Sonic. "My parents love you. If I know them, they might invite you to our summer trip."

Sonic's mom was from Christmas Island, and the whole family vacationed there every year. "I've never been to the tropics before," he smiled. "It'd be an honor to see it with you."

"We'd love to have you! We've gotta hit the beaches, the running loops, everything! Oh yeah, and even before then my dad would want to see your bike in person." The blue hedgehog's excitement blossomed as more family gathering possibilities occurred to him.

Shadow couldn't help but feel touched, and so he seized on a possibility of his own. "Which reminds me…let's get you fitted for a helmet and jacket. On me. Then I can take you for a ride."

"Oh, Chaos." Sonic grew starry-eyed. "Really? You'll let me ride with you?"

"You mean, I have the privilege of riding with you." Shadow could already imagine jetting into the sunset on his favorite two-lane roads, just him and Sonic atop his custom motorcycle. A summer goal, for sure.

He was greatly pleased when his boyfriend bounced on his feet. "Let's do it," he beamed. "Anywhere you want to go. I look so forward to it."


Yes, always forward. But, as Shadow sighed in deep contentment, his mind's eye couldn't help a look back that, for once, wasn't tinged with sadness at all.

He'd lost his whole family…his roots, he thought, and the nurturing ground beneath his feet. He'd been ripped away from that and tossed into a life of violence. By all rights he should have sprouted more proverbial thorns than he already had, maybe bore poisonous fruit.

But, he was plucked out of that malnourishing environment. Why Chaos had pity on him, he was sure he'd never know. But thanks to Rouge and the whole team, he was rescued and replanted. He'd healed and was growing.

Now, more than his wildest dreams could encompass, Sonic was drawn to him. And he to Sonic, right from the very beginning, to that emanating pleasantness Shadow had longed for before he recognized it.

It was his. All here in his arms now, gazing at him in such earnest hope and, unbelievably, happy to stay.

Please always stay.

He lightly clutched Sonic's hip, feeling warm breath on his face. He looked into eyes possessing the depth of forests and soft as their leaves, and murmured with conviction, "I'd love to go forward with you."

Smoothly he leaned in, and the blue hedgehog's breath hitched.

The meeting of their lips was…well, calling it a unique sensation was an understatement. All in all it was a simple, feather-light pressing. But even as gingerly as Shadow held his mouth against Sonic's lush one, fireworks were igniting in his lips, in his head, the sensation reverberating to his spine, his belly, his toes. He could swear his quill tips felt it.

Sonic's tightened grip on his shoulder didn't hurt the experience one bit. When Shadow pulled away ever so slowly and looked into Sonic's slack face, green eyes wide and stunned, cheeks a deep shade of pink, he knew the effect on him was just as seismic.

It made him more beautiful than he'd ever been – that was really saying something. The elder hedgehog would've pinched himself if his hands were free. Instead, and even better, he tightened his hold on his boyfriend.

Who returned his love by shyly leaning forward, closing his eyes, and planting those wonderful lips on his own.

Oh, Sonic, he thought, drawn into a world exclusively theirs by slender arms about his neck and a heart beating equally strong, why was I scared of this? What was frightening about kisses so gentle and warm and slow, that they could pass the entire day sharing if nothing else were scheduled? The ebony hedgehog was cognitively aware they were light, tentative kisses, really…but he would remember them forever, because against the backdrop of his life up to that point, they were as brilliant stars in a midnight sky.

He felt just about that high off the ground. Sonic deserved all credit for making his first kiss more of an event than every Mobius Cup he'd ever won.

I could do this all summer, too…

When they separated and Sonic breathlessly held his face in his palms, he felt a swell of emotion unlike any other before – the young man's face declared a universe's worth of bliss, looking at him as if he, he, were a clutch of precious jewels.

"That was my first kiss," whispered Sonic after a few seconds, "and it came from the Ultimate Racer." Then, with a shake of his head and a stroke of his thumb against Shadow's cheek, "Chaos, not even that…the Ultimate Lifeform."

He was so happy he could cry, cheeseball joke or not. Instead he hugged him, pleased to have given the young man's very first kiss, to be much more in his gorgeous hedgehog's eyes than some champion race skier.

Yet, as they passed the afternoon speaking in soft tones, running fingers through each other's quills, purring until it was time to get ready for dinner, Shadow absently thought, I think the Ultimate Lifeform might be YOU, Sonic.

He couldn't wait to see what that entailed.

{ The End }

…I considered extending this story by another chapter or two. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was only ever meant to be a simple story, and at this point I've pretty much told what I have set out to tell for Shadow and Sonic. So I want to just leave them in a generally positive, hopeful place.

And I also want to say thank you, everyone. For feedback, favorites, and follows. Thank you for hanging with Mountaintop over the past year and a half. I started it needing a reason to be happy. It's been fun, and readers caring about it has pushed me to make it the best I know how. Which may not be much on the grand Sonadow fic scale, but I'm satisfied anyway.

May life, love, and good health smile upon you, wherever you may be. :)