That night, I said I wanted to change. I wanted to be someone different; to be more like myself—a new self, something the world has never known.

Something I've never known, not really.

But as I walk along the sidewalk, studying the lightly cloudy skies and the tips of skyscrapers in the distance, I know that something like that is always easier said than done.

I trot up a familiar set of porch steps and knock on the door they lead to. Seconds later, a hatch clicks above me, and Amy pushes her hand against the porthole window. She swings open the glass, and as she pokes her head out and her quills give in to gravity, she smiles.

That night, something shifted between us. Suddenly, our mosaic had a frame, of sorts. But somehow, everything feels exactly the same yet entirely new, all at once.

It's intimidating. It's… nice.

"Hey. Catch." Amy dangles her keys out the window before letting go, and I catch them with one hand. My finger threads itself through the keyring and twirls it around, the keys singing in the movement. "I'll be down in a couple minutes," she says, then closes the window.

I smile at her retreating figure and walk to the door again. I shuffle through Amy's keychain until I find her house key, thread it into the lock, and twist. I let myself into her little haven and embrace the wave of vanilla and cinnamon that graces my nose. After engaging the deadbolt, I walk into the living room and slump onto Amy's couch, dangling my legs over the armrest.

Above me, strung across the ceiling, run three rows of string lights, touching from wall to wall. Amy asked for my help putting them up a week after we got home, clearly inspired by our time in Orista Gate. Installing them was easy enough, but I've been thinking about the logistics of maintenance ever since. The strings came with all the bulbs pre-screwed, thankfully, but I imagine that keeping all sixty of them in working order is gonna get complicated. I chuckle at the thought of tiny Amy Rose, standing on her tip-toes, precariously perched on a chair, straining to screw and unscrew light bulbs.

I can't say I'm shocked—she's always been a little bit of a city girl—but I can't help but wonder if it's only the aesthetic that appeals to her.

Amy's keychain jingles in my hand as I readjust my body, and I bring them in front of me to inspect. She holds a variety of keys. In addition to the front door, her ring holds a key to the old Restoration HQ near Echo Mine—opening only sentimental doors, now—an override key to the Emeraldville HQ elevator entrance, and an override key to the Restoration's database. In the event of a security breach, thanks to a program Tails coded, anyone can disable access to the mainframe to keep supply routes, clientele information, and mission data private and secure. The mainframe can only be reinstated with a physical key to the centre console—and only Amy and Jewel hold those keys.

In my hand rests so much responsibility—a feeling I'm used to, but an uncanny one, because none of this responsibility is mine.

Rubber soles skip down the wooden stairs before Amy leans her torso over the backrest of the couch. She yanks her keys from my hand with a smirk and a giggle.

I hope she's finding balance, too.

I sit up and swing my legs over from the armrest as Amy rounds the couch. Once in front, she blows out the candle on her coffee table, turns off her lights with a remote control, and pulls me off the couch by the arms. She receives me in a hug, absorbing the momentum with a wide stance. With a sheepish smile, I wrap an arm around her shoulders, shocked momentarily by the presence of her backpack, but she moves us along before I can question it.

Amy holds the door for me as we leave, and I smile at her after she locks it behind us.

When we walk down her porch steps and onto the sidewalk, Amy slips her hand into mine and swings my arm back and forth gently. "You're quiet, today."

"I—Sorry." I purse my lips.

"N-No!" Amy drops my hand to hold both of hers in front of her chest. "It's fine. I just wanted to know if you were okay."

I glance at her before watching my feet carry me along. Breath, Sawn.

"I guess it just kinda feels like a big day," I mutter. "But it's so… nothing, isn't it?"

"Don't be silly," Amy says. "This is everything, in its own way. Music is personal to you. It takes a lot to put yourself out there, especially for the first time. It's normal to be nervous." I turn my head to her, and we study each other as we walk.

"Even if it sucks?" I ask.

"Especially if it sucks."

"Gross," I say, earning a giggle.

"Then enough about that glorious guitar, for now." Amy waves the topic away. "What else have you done, this week?" she asks.

"Run." I nod definitively. "Lots of running. I've been trying to challenge myself."

"Oh?" Amy spins on her heels and walks backwards, meeting my eye.

"Yeah! I went to Mystic Jungle and tried to get from one end to the other as fast as possible by jumping treetop to treetop." I gesture around the air with my hands, miming myself soaring through the night sky. I beam at Amy, which shifts into a suppressed snicker as her face pales.

Amy sports a strained, wobblily smile. "I don't know why I didn't prepare myself for something so mind-bogglingly dangerous."

I cackle. "It's not like it's anything new. And I'm not the only one jumping from high places, here."

"I know! I know," Amy says, shaking the shock from her face, "and that wild spark is one of my favourite things about you, but…" Amy squeezes her hands into fists by her sides, her gait stiffening slightly. "…would you believe me if I told you that, sometimes, I forget?" She rekindles her gaze with mine and offers a sheepish smile, but the slightest hint of strain in her eye shoots me back to what already feels like a lifetime ago.

'You could've gotten yourself killed, Sonic.'

'What if you weren't okay? What if I never woke up?'

A small breath slips between my lips as I understand. My eyes flicker between both of hers before I send her a soft smile. "Hey. I'm always careful. I promise."

Amy sips a slow stream of air and nods with a smile of her own. Then, she poses the most important question: "So… How fast were you?"

"Eighteen seconds."

"Woah!" Amy gasps and jumps into a round of applause. I take a deep bow at her praise, and she laughs a beautiful melody. "I'll admit, that does sound fun."

"It was," I say, "but it took a while to get the technique right, let alone get a decent time. At least a few dozen tries."

"A dozen or a baker's dozen?" Amy asks, smirking.

"What difference does it make?" I laugh.

"Huge—add a chilidog to every twelve chilidogs," she explains, the laughs at the wistful look in my eye. "See? It matters."

"You had me at chilidog," I whisper, nodding lightly with a wide, closed-lipped smile. Amy shatters the beautiful theatre of my mind with a flick to the ear, and when I turn to her, a flutter of giggles erupts from inside me. Amy blinks her eyes wide, mouth agape, before her face melts into a kind smile.

"I like when you sparkle," she muses.

I blink my surprise and throw on a lop-sided grin. "Sparkle? That's a new one," I say, my attention split between her and a fluttering in my stomach.

"And I'm sticking with it. You're a true Chaos Emerald among rings." Amy holds her comfortable backward stride and joins her hands behind her. Gazing down our next turn, she rounds the corner to the street market.

I stop walking and stare at the turn. I bite the inside of my lip, fighting the smile and that flutter growing inside me, evermore. I slip around the corner with her, eyes locked to nothing in the sky.

"I… I'm getting there, for sure." I sneak a deep breath and reconnect with Amy. "How about you?" I grab her arm and guide her gently to the other side of the sidewalk, out of the way of a fruit stand. "How's your week going?"

Amy peeks at the stand as she passes, then closes her eyes and chuckles, rubbing the back of her neck. She spins back around on her heels and falls into stride with me.

"Really good, actually!" Amy beams. "Do you remember the fortune club I joined a while back?"

"I do." Amy's been going to a bookstore in Sunset for the past couple Wednesdays to meet with other tarot card readers. She found them one day while on an impromptu adventure of her own—she just woke up, hopped on a random bus, and rode until the end of its route.

"Well, another new member asked me out for coffee after our meeting. She's a deer named Marilyn and we had such an interesting conversation. She even asked to do a reading on me."

"And you let her?" Surprise writes its story on my face.

"I was hesitant, at first," she admits, "but I'm also trying to try new things."

"Wow. Well, that's big, Ame. Good on you," I say, nodding.

Amy giggles, and then, her smile hardens into a smirk. "I have to be honest… I pulled the Lovers' card again."

I purse my lips and take a breath. "Oh, are you now?" I roll my neck with my eyes, playing up the theatrics of my jest.

"Seriously! That doesn't happen often, y'know, back to back."

"Stop rigging it, then." I smirk, but a sudden weight on my back knocks the smug off my face. Amy slinks her arms over my shoulders and links her hands together.

"Definitely not what's happening," Amy muses. When I'm over the shock, I hook my arms under her knees, lift her higher on my back, and roll my eyes with a chuckle. When she's comfortable, I lunge into a light jog.

"I'll take your word for it," I say. Amy rests her cheek on my head and a cozy smile finds home on my face. My feet carry us off the main road, down a side street, and onto a back garden path, where an open valley of grass and flowers perimeter our trail. Amy hugs me a little tighter, snuggling deeper into the back of my head.

"Your quills are soft," she whispers.

"Thanks to you." I smile. "I still can't believe there were so many different types of brushes." Amy, true to her word, took me to a department store. I think it may have been my first time in one if I'm entirely honest. Half an aisle was dedicated to quill, fur, shell care—you name it. I've been trying to go back there with Tails—I saw some fur degreasers that I think would be good for him with all that motor oil—but to save my butt, I haven't been able to get him away from his workshop for long enough.

"Well, of course," Amy says. "We need options. I wouldn't use a quill brush on Cream."

"Well, duh—the bristles are different," I say, surprising myself with my knowledge. Amy giggles. "But I was talking about all the designs and styles," I explain. Different colours, patterns, sizes, materials—the variety was endless. I settled on gold for myself, but only after an embarrassingly long and indecisive battle.

"I'll give you that," Amy says. "At what point is it overkill, y'know?"

"Exactly!" Our laughter rings into the open air before we settle into a comfortable silence. On the edge of the horizon, our turn back to the main road and to Tails' workshop inches toward us with every step.

"Are you gonna tell me about the song, yet?" Amy asks. I groan softly and shake my head, careful not to displace hers from mine. "Come on," she counters.

"Wouldn't that ruin the surprise?" I muse. "You love surprises."

"I love you, more, though." Amy gives me a light squeeze.

"Then let me surprise you," I smile, now turning my head to catch her eye. "I want you to experience it with everyone else." We hold each other's gaze for a moment before she serves me an obnoxious eye roll with a loving smile.

"Fine," she whispers, replacing her head on my own. The warmth she brings soothes the low rumble of nerves in my stomach. I've had this sheet music for so long, now. I've just… never been ready for it, I think. But as soon as I read the title, nothing else could possibly compare.

It's challenging. It's scary.

It's perfect.

I bend my knees to let Amy off my back as we trail up Tails' walkway. We enter through the garage so Amy can put her backpack in the Tornado's cargo hold, then walk into the main workshop. Tails' left ear swivels toward us while he's mid-sentence on his keyboard. Then, his chair follows suit as he props an arm on the backrest and smirks.

"You two sure took your time," Tails sneers. Sharp sapphire blues slice through the distance between us, but I'm prepared.

"How's Cream?" I ask, and to my pleasant surprise, Amy joins me. Tails' face sinks, his confidence seeping over to us, instead. With a slow, sharp breath, Tails spins back to his monitor with refined indignance.

"She's not here, yet, if that's what you mean," Tails mutters, barely audible over the angry tapping of his keyboard. Amy smirks at me before she pulls up a chair to Tails' desk and gives him a hug. After a few seconds, Tails stops typing and gives in, resting his head on her shoulder.

"Hi, Amy."

"Hi, Tails."

As peculiar as their strangely-formal greeting ritual is, I stare after them, smiling, as I walk to the staircase.

Once I'm in my room, I close the trapdoor and throw two pillows on top of it, my recent nightly routine and best attempt at creating a sound-proof seal. I grab my guitar from its stand, and from the shelf next to it, my tuner. I switch it on, pluck the guitar's bottom string, and turn its tuning peg until it reads an 'E' on the screen. I tune my way through the other five strings—A, D, G, B, and a higher E—switch off the tuner, and grab a capo from the shelf. I snap the device onto the guitar's first fret, strum the strings again to test the new pitch, and rest the guitar on my bed.

After surveying the right shelf to ensure everything is secure and balanced, I slide the structure away from the wall. From this new crevice, I pluck my sheet music. Amy's not the only one who's been pestering me about my performance, and Tails is much too conniving to not take preventative measures.

I slide the shelf back to the wall, pick up my guitar, and spread the music in its place. I play through the song quietly and whisper the words, then I turn away from the music and do it again. When I'm ready, I slide my new hard-shell guitar case from under my bed, tuck my instrument in, and close up shop with three satisfying snaps from the brass closures. I slide the music back into its hiding place, feeding the sheets to the slot like mail, and take the pillows off the floor. When I lift the door open, three laughing voices grace my ears.

As I descend the stairs, guitar case in hand, the laughter of Amy, Tails, and Cream crystalize in their individual forms, and when I walk into the room, I receive a face-full of chao when Cheese nuzzles into me.

"Hello, Mr. Sonic." Cream waves from her seat next to Tails. "Mama sent some snacks and juice with me!"

I turn my head away from Cheese's barrage of love to look at the group. "Hi, Creamy. Sorry I missed her. Thank your mom for me, will ya?"

"I will." She closes her eyes and nods.

Tails leans back in his chair and grins at me, tails flicking about below him. "Are you ready to go, Sonic?"

My eyes drift between Tails and Cream, who gleam at me, giddy and gleeful as ever, before my eyes rest on Amy, whose soft smile grounds me.

I shrug. "As ready as I'll ever be."

As the Tornado ascends through the final layer of clouds, Angel Island comes into view, and what I'm here to do finally feels real in my mind. Tall mountains, surrounded by snow, trees of all seasons, and desert plains, crown the centre of the land, and a waterfall cascades off the edge of the island, dissipating into mist with the wind. The Altar of the Emeralds faces us from the island's open face, and Knuckles sits on the shrine's top landing, arms crossed, eyes closed, and mouth twisted into his signature scowl.

"There's Knuckles, grouchy as ever," Amy shouts from her wing of the plane.

"Do you think that's our fault or Rouge's?" I ask, as the bat in question lounges a few steps below him, her arm lazily waving in front of her as she speaks. When she spots us, she waves that same arm swift and wide through the air.

By the time Tails lands the plane, Rouge and Knuckles have descended the shrine and walk toward us.

"Welcome to your venue, Blue." Rouge spreads her arms to her sides, opening the doors to the mystical land around us.

"Ha! Thanks, Rouge." I jump off my wing and jog to the cargo hold, opening the hatch and grabbing my guitar.

"Watch it, bat. This is not your island to just parade around to people," Knuckles growls. I narrow my eyes slightly, considering asking why he didn't shoot the idea down, then, but Cream steals the show.

Cream hops out of the plane, armed with her picnic basket and Cheese by her side, and guns immediately for the fire. "Hello, Mr. Knuckles! I brought you grapes!"

Knuckles stares at the approaching rabbit with a peculiar mix of shock, fear, and excitement. He takes a step back as Cream skids right up to him and holds out her basket. "Hi, kid. You did?" He asks, a note less grouchy.

Cream nods and opens the lid. "Mm-hm! I wanted to make sure we thanked you for having us on your island. Take your pick—I wasn't sure which ones you would like best, so Mama and I packed a few kinds."

Knuckles blinks into the basket, blinks at Cream's smile, then blinks back at the box. Reaching his hand inside, he mutters a "no problem" before pulling out a bundle of purple grapes. Rouge barely lets Knuckles step away from the small child before yanking him back by the shoulder and taking his place.

"Hi, girlie," she mutters to Cream as she looks in the basket. She snatches two juice boxes and a bundle of green grapes, then whips around to Knuckles, her face crumpled with mocked—actually, no, visceral—disgust. "Knuckles. She had green grapes in there for you, and you grabbed purple? What's wrong with you?"

"Absolutely nothing," Knuckles snaps immediately, and Rouge throws one of her juice boxes at his head. The rest of us laugh as Knuckles defiantly stabs the straw into the juice box and walks back the steps. As Rouge stalks after him, Amy slides off her wing and taps Cream's shoulder.

"Remember, honey: we love Rouge, but she's not a role model." Amy winks, and Cream offers a sheepish smile with a quick nod.

As Tails and Cream gather with Knuckles and Rouge near the upper steps, I jump all the way to the landing. I squat next to a pillar and pull my guitar from its case, giving it a once-over before standing. As I turn around, Amy steps onto the top landing, backpack reclaimed, and scurries over to me with a shy smile.

"Wow, it really is pretty," Amy says, gesturing to the guitar. "It's rewarding, finally getting to see it in action."

I cock an eyebrow at her and chuckle. "Well, let's hope it's worth something, then," I say, taking a step toward centre shrine.

"Wait!" Amy grabs my shoulder, then looks over her own at the gang, still engrossed in their own conversations. With a deep breath, she swings her backpack off one shoulder, opens the zipper, and pulls out a rolled strip of fabric. I raise my eyebrows as Amy unrolls the black guitar strap and shakes it a little to straighten it out. "Surprise!" she whispers, her free hand closing the zipper and looping the loose strap back over her arm.

Mouth agape, I race to trade my guitar with Amy to study the strap closer. The black woven fabric sports speckled accents of gold thread around the edges, and the strap ends, embossed with my signature, taper into rounded tips. On one face of the strap, cursive gold spells 'Sonic' across its length. I flip the strap over to discover that the other face spells 'Sawn.'

"A-Amy…" I whisper, breathless as a smile wobbles onto my face.

"Put it on!" she says, holding my guitar out with both hands. I flip the strap so that 'Sonic' faces out and snap the ends onto the strap buttons. Once it's secure, I lift the strap and weave my head through the hole, and Amy carefully rests the guitar against my stomach. I grab the slide adjuster near the guitar's neck, loosen the affair by an inch, and position my hands as if to play.

"I-I hope it's okay," she says. "It's, of course, the first guitar strap I've ever made, but I took it to a music shop for advice. They're the ones who suggested making the strap adjustable to accommodate your spines as you grow, but I don't know if—"

"It's perfect. Really." I look up at her, and the blush on her face makes mine melt. "Thank you."

Amy nods, giggling softly with gleaming eyes.

"You ready?"

"…Yeah, I am." Despite all the build-up and anticipation and anxiety, I feel strangely… calm. Excited, even. Like this is just another adventure, a true adventure.

"Well…" I walk to centre stage, in front of the Master Emerald. "I guess we get this going, right?" I say, looking back at Amy over my shoulder.

"Blow me away," she whispers.

Amy walks to a neighbouring pillar and props herself up against it. I open my mouth to speak but close it just as quick as I tune into the discussion at hand. Rouge and Knuckles speak in hushed whispers—weird—and I can't make out more than "purples are obviously better than greens." I snicker at Tails, Cream, and Cheese, whom, engrossed in the debate, themselves, purse their lips around the straws of their juice boxes. I cock an eyebrow at Amy, who just shrugs and shakes her head. With a smirk, I widen my stance, take a deep breath, and blow a loud, two-fingered whistle. Five heads snap to attention.

"Yo!" I laugh.

Knuckles, Rouge, Tails, and Cream offer a second's worth of blank stares before breaking into loud cheers and applause. Amy tilts her head back and cackles, clapping along. When the crowd quiets down, I get started.

"Uh, hello, everyone!" I wave. "My name is Sonic, though some of you know me as 'Sawn,' 'Blue,' or, 'Pincushion,'" I say, earning laughter from the audience.

"That's right, you pointy—" Knuckles starts, but sneaks a quick glance at Cream. "—person," he finishes. Rouge and Amy chuckle as I nod approvingly.

"You're right, Knux—I'm quite the pointy person. Dare I say your favourite pointy person!" I sneer.

"Watch it." Knuckles glares, and I raise my hands to concede.

"Tell us about yourself, superstar!" Rouge shouts, and I roll my eyes.

"Uh…" I glance down at my six-string and run laps around the obvious answers in my head. World saviour. A spiky pain in Eggman's side. The fastest thing alive. But then, as I skim the crowd, the greenery, and the clouds beyond, more phrases flood over me. Brother. Beloved nuisance and rival. Loyal friend. Protector of nature. Someone special to… someone even more special.

I position my fingers on the guitar neck, strum a 'C' chord, and nod at my audience. "I like to play guitar."

I close my eyes and strum the opening chords, the relief and confidence they bring, immediate. I let each bar slip away as I focus on the words.

In a while now, I will feel better.

I'll face the weather before me.

Eyes slowly widen as I sing. Knuckles shifts in his seat, leaning forward on the step above him. I nod to the beat.

In a while now, I'll race the irony, and buy back each word of my eulogy.

All the uninvited tragedies, step outside!

I feel the inquisitiveness of the words slip onto my face. I allow myself to ask those questions.

Ask yourself now where would you be without…

Days like this…

When you finally collide with the moment you can't forget?

I stare up at the clouds as I play. I stop fighting my smile to sing into the sky.

So, do I remind you of someone you never met, a lonely silhouette?

And do I remind you of somewhere you wanna be, so far out of reach?

Oh, I wish you'd open up for me, 'cause I wanna know you,

Amaryllis.

Bloom.

I peek at Tails as I strum through the interlude. His tails flick up and down to the beat, his shining eyes locked on me. A chuckle slips out of me before I start the next verse.

Stay a while, now.

Undress your colours, 'cause they're like no others I've ever seen.

I could get used to your company. Step inside.

I walk to the beat, covering the length of the shine and back, staring tentatively into nothing.

Ask yourself now where would you be without…

Days like this…

When you finally collide with emotions you can't resist?

So, do I remind you of someone you never met, a lonely silhouette?

And do I remind you of somewhere you wanna be, so far out of reach?

Oh, I wish you'd open up for me, 'cause I wanna know you,

Amaryllis!

I belt out the high note and flow into the guitar solo. The vibrations of the strings shoot through me as pluck every note with my soul, and somehow, it feels new, like playing through me, now—not the guitar.

As I approach the bridge, my eyes swim to Amy's. Her head rests against the pillar she's leaned on, and a sweet, lazy smile plays on her face. I float in her gaze with a growing sheepish smile, and her glistening eyes blink a little wider as I share the words I want her to hear the most.

"In a while now, I will feel better. I will be better." I send her a couple small nods and swing my head into the final chorus.

So, do I remind you of someone you never met, a lonely silhouette?

And do I remind you of somewhere you wanna be, so far out of reach?

Oh, I wish you'd open up for me, 'cause I wanna know you.

Amaryllis.

Bloom.

I stare into the Master Emerald behind me and radiate in the gem's glow. A boy, encased in a glossy, green glass, stares back. His eyes—those of true emerald—study mine, and suddenly, I see and hear myself.

Amaryllis.

Bloom.

Amaryllis.

I let the final chord ring into the world for some time before I cut it short and face the group, who engulfs me with a wave of unreadable faces. Rouge, for once, looks neutral, watching me with wide eyes. Cream and Tails are identical, but I can't make out anything between the two of them other than 'wonder.' Knuckles furrows his brows as he watches me, but with a solid smirk. I can't read Amy's face as, by the time I turn to her, she's already in front of me. She swiftly swings my guitar over my shoulder and hugs me tight, snuggling into my neck.

Finally, Rouge skims the crowd and breaks the silence. "Sonic."

And it's with the government name. Aw, jeez.

I angle my head against Amy's to look at her, swallowing the eerie atmosphere. "W-What?"

Cream cuts the tension with a delayed barrage of applause, and everyone jumps in their seats before joining in. Besides Cream's glowing smile, everyone claps with the same level of shock as before. Amy giggles into me but fails to stifle a sniffle. I pull back to look at her and meet a pair of bleary jades. I gape at her, stunned, and she smiles and hugs me again.

I face Rouge more definitively. "What?" I repeat.

Rouge stops clapping and reclaims her drink from the step above her. "Why aren't you taking this more seriously?" she scolds.

"What do you mean?" I laugh.

"She means you're good, Sonic," Knuckles says with a solitary nod. He turns his back to me, propping his elbows on a higher step and reclining into them. "Knowing you, with a talent like that, I would have thought you'd be a famous musician on the side of everything else you do."

I roll my eyes and scoff, fighting the urge to punch him. "Oh, whatever! It's nothing more than a hobby. I play for myself."

"And it shows, y'know." Amy pulls back and grabs my hand, slowly absorbing the heat and boil from Knuckles' comment. She wipes her eyes with her free hand. "You don't need to be famous to do good. You know that."

Tails treads up the stairs and holds his hand out. I squeeze Amy's hand lightly before letting go, shift my weight onto one leg, and clasp Tails' hand in mine.

"Thank you, Sonic," Tails whispers, all smiles.

I wink at him. "You better not let me slack off like that again, 'kay?"

"M-mm," Tails hums, shaking his head as Cream and Cheese pop theirs out from behind him. Slowly, Cream risks a step closer and stares at me, entranced. When I smile at her, she flashes a small one of her own before her mouth falls back into a soft gape. She takes Cheese in her arms and holds him close, staring at his emote ball as she talks.

"I feel like… you told a story, Mr. Sonic." Cream says, her face showing a level of cogs I've never seen before turning inside her head, "and not just with the words. Your voice and your movements and your face all said something. It was all so… pretty." Content with her words, Cream nods to herself, then looks at me and smiles.

My breath stalls, and my ears tingle as I smile at her admission. "…Thanks, Creamy," I say, resting a hand on her head before nuzzling Cheese's cheek with my finger.

"Encore! Encore!" Rouge sits up straight and throws her arms in the air, tilting her head to the side with a big grin.

"No way!" I thrust my hands in front of my face and laugh. "Not happening."

As if to back me up, the centre console of the Tornado erupts in a series of high-pitched beeps at the base of the shrine.

Tails flies over to the plane, hangs off the side of the cockpit, silences the alarm, and reads the alert. "I got a siren distress signal from East-side Sunset. Full-frontal Eggman attack—the defense squad is requesting reinforcements."

I lift the guitar strap over my head and grab the neck. "Then we got places to be," I shout, running to my guitar case. Amy glances after me and smiles, then turns to Knuckles and Rouge.

"Care to join us? Or would you two like some alone time?" she quips.

"Shut up," they respond together, then steal mismatched glances at each other.

"I haven't seen Eggman in a while. Might be good to say hi," Knuckles says, cracking his namesakes as he walks down the stairs.

"You know, for once, the echidna's right." Rouge smirks his way and extends her wings to flight length.

"Then we better get moving," Tails says, vaulting himself into the plane and starting the ignition. "We got bots to beat—"

"—and people to save!" Cream cheers, running to the plane. Cheese coos enthusiastically on her trail.

"You're going home, Cream," Amy shouts down the steps, pointing at her with a sympathetic smile. "Floral Forest is on the way."

"Awh," Cream cries. "Okay. Mama and I can check on everyone later, then."

"Lovely idea, girlie!" Amy spins around and meets me as I stand, guitar case in hand. "Unfortunate timing, eh?" Amy whispers, taking the case from me and resting a hand on my shoulder. She offers a sheepish smile I can't help but return.

"Eh, it's what we do, right?" I wink and take her hand from my shoulder. I pull her along as I run down the stairs to meet the others. At the base of the shine, I lean back, spin us around, and send Amy running toward the Tornado. "Besides, after this adventure, we'll have all the time in the world to be extraordinary."

Amy skids to a stop beside the plane, laughing all the way, and opens the cargo compartment. "Atta boy!" she cheers, sliding my guitar and her backpack into the hold and slamming the door.

"Are you coming, Sonic?" Tails calls from the cockpit. I smirk at him before running for the edge.

"Are you kidding? I have the entire sky to discover!"

I leap backwards off Angel Island and let the air claim me.

Hands behind my head, I smirk as hints of my friends' laughter fade from earshot. Before long, Knuckles and Rouge soar off after me from my right, and the Tornado, from my left. Tails and Cream peek their heads over the edge of the plane, wicked grins on their faces. Amy perches on the wing, her legs dangling off the edge of the blade, one crossed over the other. When we lock eyes, her face softens into a beautiful, sweet gaze and a heart-stopping smile.

I can only hope that my smile was half as perfect.

My arms eject to either side of me, and I swing them to flip myself around. I spread my limbs out wide to increase my drag, and as I break through the final layer of clouds, this beautiful world and everyone and everything within it greets me with open arms. I grin, thrust my arms to my sides, bring my legs together, and slice through the sky.

I don't quite know what's ahead of me. I don't think anyone ever truly does. But no matter what, whenever I hit the ground, I'll be running.

Because I'm ready to bloom.


Amaryllis - Shinedown

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