"I don't know, Jaran! I just don't know!" Vanilla cried despairingly as she sat rigidly in her recliner, shaking profusely, "I've never felt anything like it! It was more than the house going dark or the air getting chilly! I was terrified! More than I should have been over something like that! It was like something was pushing those fears into my mind! I don't know how or why, but I know it was him!"
The sentinel sat quietly on the love seat near her, hunched over with his hands folded contemplatively. His silence did little for the mother doe's anxiety.
"You don't believe me?" She asked excitably, fidgeting with the fabric of her dress.
"No, I believe you," the sentinel nodded, his eyes darting back to Vanilla, "his presence is pretty distinctive. Even non-sensitive individuals can feel him..."
"The way you described him before--he's more of a ghost, yes? He can't physically harm you?"
"Of course he can!" Corrected Jaran, standing and pacing the room as he frequently did while pondering, "He's not a specter. He's... complicated..."
"Leave the long-winded ramble for someone who cares, Jaran!!" The elder rabbit blasted suddenly, slamming her fists down on the arms of her chair, "All I want to know, is my daughter is safe or not!?"
The sage was stunned, gazing back at Vanilla dumbly as he reeled back in his seat. With trembling hands she sighed, lowering her head and rubbing her sore temples.
"I'm sorry..." She apologized hoarsely, "I shouldn't have snapped. I'm just a bit unsettled..."
"You're fine," he assured her calmly, "you're safe now. He's not comming back."
"How can you be sure?" The doe asked in a panic, "He could have broken down the door and had me right there! What stopped him?"
"You did," answered Jaran simply, "he tried to attack you through fear. Your determination walled you off to his manipulation. He doesn't understand that kind of courage. It's a completely alien concept to him. He is repelled by it. That, or he just didn't find you important enough to toy with. I don't really know which."
"Somehow, I'm not reassured," the rabbit spat bitterly. Reaching over to her end table, she lifting her mug of now cold tea to her lips, taking a sip. Vanilla frowned, cringing at the bitterness of the liquid. "So..." She continued, "this is it, then? He's on Mobius now? Physically? It was him personally knocking on my door?"
"He's been manipulating things from a distance for a long time now, Vanilla," murmured Jaran morbidly, "but yes, he's on Mobius."
"What then?" Asked the doe, "What happens now?"
"I can't sit idly anymore," the sentinel spoke, "Now we must be vigilant. I've asked Shadow to keep a closer eye on Tails and Cosmo. If he shows, we'll know about it."
"Do you really think you can fight him, Jaran?" The mother rabbit inquired, "Can you really defeat him?"
"I'm not sure I'll ever be able to truly defeat him," he answered grimly, "but I will continue to drive him back, meter by meter if need be. I'm not giving him any more ground. I'm tired of him taking the people I care for away from me. I won't let him harm Tails and Cosmo."
"At least you aren't fighting him alone," Vanilla consoled him, leaning forward and placing her hand on his shoulder, "you have Sonic, Knuckles and Shadow. I think Xemus will find more opposition than he's prepared for."
"Yes..." The sage sighed, looking back at Vanilla with a half-hearted smile, "I suppose he does."
The rabbit rose gracefully, moving across the room toward the kitchen door. "I'll make us some tea," she said, looking over her shoulder, "and yes, I have peppermint."
Jaran smirked, chuckling lightly. "You know me too well," he said bemused.
Even the longest night must end, and end it did. The morning finally broke for Miles Prower and his fiancé, Cosmo. Both had spent the night clinging to each other in their sleep, with Tails' namesakes wrapped around her protectively. Neither had slept particularly well, thoughts of fear and uncertainty clouding their minds. As soon as the sun peaked over the horizon, Cosmo wiggled her way out from under Tails, making her way downstairs and out onto their front porch. Closing her eyes, she stretched out her arms and bathed in the warm glow of the sun, taking in her required ultra-violet radiation for the day.
Meditating on the previous day's events, the words of Shadow echoed in her mind. A storm was coming. Everyone could feel it. Even those without the preternatural senses of Jaran Kai. Yet, even as darkness closed in around them, it was now that they had the most reason to celebrate. In less than three months time, she would be married to Tails. She would have her man, or boy, as it were. Even now, despite the unwelcome call of Omega the previous day, the memory of Tails' proposal sent charges through her, making her smile unconsciously. Life, as she reasoned it, was a pile of good things and bad things; and while the good things did not always outweigh the bad things, the bad things did not necessarily spoil the good things. Tails most definitely added to her pile of good things. In this she found peace, and suddenly, things did not seem so dark anymore.
Cosmo was suddenly startled by a pair of warm, fuzzy arms wrapping themselves around her waist. Looking back over her shoulder she gazed upon the smiling face of Tails, leaning into his loving embrace. "Good morning, my love," she cooed, closing her arms around his as he gently held her from behind.
"Good morning, baby," he whispered tiredly, but happy nonetheless, "you sleep okay?"
"No," Cosmo admitted, "I couldn't stop thinking about yesterday. Once I get my sunlight I should be fine, though."
"I wish I could get energy from the sun like you," the fox remarked, "I'd probably be more awake."
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," she replied empathetically, reaching over her shoulder to gently stroke his cheek, "Why don't you go lie back down? You can sleep a little longer."
"Nah," he dismissed, closing his arms around her tighter, "then I'd miss being here with you."
The Seedrian maiden giggled, tilting her head up and kissing him lightly on the chin before returning her focus to the sun. "I love you, Tails. You know that, right?"
"For the first time in my whole life, I can honestly say yes to that. I love you too, Cosmo..."
"What do you mean?" She asked worriedly, turning to face him, "Did you think I was lying before?"
"No! 'Course not!" He chuckled lightly, giving her a peck on the shoulder, "It's kind'a hard to explain. I just spent a lot of time seeing myself as worthless. Having you with me just felt too good to be true."
"Well, I do love you, so much," she assured him, "I'm glad you think better of yourself."
"It's all because of you!" He replied, wrapping his fluffy namesakes around her waist, reveling in her affection.
"Do you have any plans for today?" She asked him curiously.
"Nah, I figured you and I could have a day. Just the two of us? Here at home?"
"I'd like that," she sighed with fatigue, "after everything yesterday, I think I just want to stay home with you."
"Sounds like a plan!" He smiled brightly, followed by kissing her gently on the lips.
Cosmo sighed contentedly, leaning into her lover's kiss, brushing her sweet lips tenderly with his own. A jolt of energy passed through the two as they held their loving embrace, drawing it out for quite some time before they finally parted.
"I'm... going to go make us breakfast. We will continue this later, my willy fox..." Said the little Seedrian with a coy smile.
"You bet!" Tails chuckled slyly as the two entered the house side by side.
From there the morning passed slowly. Standing at the stove, Cosmo proceeded to fry a couple of eggs alongside several strips of bacon. Preparing two plates they sat at the dining table, disregarding the dishes to wash at a time when they weren't so tired. Over their meal the two chatted of everything from Tails' next invention, to Cosmo's garden, to their impending wedding. Suddenly, they were interrupted by knock at their door...
Tails sighed, grumbling as he rose from the table. "It's always something..." He whined to himself, pacing from the kitchen to the living room. Reaching the door, he opened it to be greeted by an unexpected face, that being Vanilla the Rabbit standing on his front porch.
"Tails, dear! It's so good to see you!" Said the mother rabbit enthusiastically, looking upon him with a warm smile, "How are you feeling today?"
"Ah... fine, fine," stuttered the fox, making an effort not to appear rude despite the unexpected and not entirely desired company, "just a little tired..."
"I gathered," she said knowingly, "I imagine yesterday was quite stressful for the two of you?"
"Yeah, I guess..." The kitsune nodded, shuffling his feet back and fourth uncomfortably, "We're not upset, just tired. Neither of us slept very good last night."
"I'm sorry, dear," Vanilla replied, "I take it your fiancé's home as well?"
"Hello, Miss Vanilla!" Chimed Cosmo's pleasant voice, appearing in the doorway behind Tails, "It's nice to see you!"
"It's good to see you too, dear," the doe acknowledged warmly, "I hope I'm not intruding, but there was something I was hoping to talk with you both about. May I come in?"
"Ah, y-yeah... sure," Tails stuttered, disappointed that his plans with Cosmo had been interrupted.
Moving aside, the two children allowed Vanilla entry into their home, shutting the door behind her. Stepping into their living room, the doe took a seat on the sofa, while Tails sat with Cosmo on the love seat adjacent to her. Folding her hands in her lap, Vanilla let out a contemplative sigh, looking at the two seriously.
"I know the two of you are tired, and I sympathize, but it might be a good idea if we got busy with wedding preparations. We're running out of time, and we can't dawdle..."
"We--ah--" the fox hesitated, taken aback by the elder rabbit's forwardness, "Yesterday was pretty intense. Cosmo and I were kind'a hoping to just stay in today--just me and her."
"Again, I sympathize," she said, "and I'm not trying to pressure either of you, but if we put our lives on hold every time something unfortunate happened, especially around here, well... nothing would ever get done."
The couple looked at each other, exchanging curious glances as silent conversation took place between the two. While both were tired, it was undeniable that Vanilla had a valid point. In their eagerness to be married, neither had fully considered how such a tight time table would affect their daily routine. Perhaps if they had set a more distant date, instead of a mere three months, they might have avoided additional stress. If they were to meet their desired timeframe, it would be necessary to stop taking things so cavalierly and start pushing themselves a bit harder.
"I guess you're right..." The bi-tailed fox said reluctantly, "Maybe we have been dragging our feet a bit..."
"It's alright," Vanilla assured, "I understand. It has been a rough week. We could always push it back a month or two, if you'd like?"
Again, the two briefly exchanged glances, both smiling at the other, coming to the same answer, "No," they replied, shaking their heads in unison.
"Whatever's happening might seem bad, but the world keeps spinning," Tails quoted Shadow roughly, "we have to keep going with our lives and put each other first. Cosmo and I, I mean..."
"That's very... impressive," Vanilla responded, raising an eyebrow at the young kitsune, "Very mature of you. How did you come to that conclusion?"
"We just... did?" Tails shrugged his shoulders, smiling sheepishly, prompting a giggle from Cosmo.
"I see..." Vanilla nodded, a grin slowly spreading over her face, "Well then! I've done some thinking, and there is a place I'd like to take both of you here in town. They specialize in wedding decorum. It's managed by a old friend of mine, and I'm certain he'd be happy to help us out!"
"That sounds lovely!" Cosmo exclaimed, looking at Tails with a concerned smile, "I know you're tired, baby, but maybe getting out of the house will be good for you?"
"Yeah, sure! Totally!" The fox agreed wholeheartedly, nodding his head, "Nothing's going to get done if we don't get off our backsides! Besides, it's about time we actually get to enjoy being an engaged couple!"
"Wonderful!" Vanilla smiled, clasping her hands together excitedly, "We'll make a day of it! I'll take the two of you to lunch afterwards."
"That sounds nice," said the young Petaling, smiling brightly as she slid off of the sofa, "but if we're going out I should really bathe first. May I excuse myself?"
"Of course dear, take your time!" Replied the matriarchal doe.
Gracefully, the rosy-haired girl crossed the room, making her way to the staircase leading to the upper floor of their home. Taking the first two steps she halted her ascent, looking over her shoulder at Tails, who tilted his head up to smile back. Spinning around suddenly, the little Seedrian darted down from the stairs, marching up to Tails and placing her gentle hands on either side of his muzzle as she pulled him into a deep kiss. The fox's eyes shot wide open, his cheeks burning as he glanced sideways at Vanilla, who stifled a laugh at Cosmo's very sudden display of affection. Instinct, however, prompted him to return her love, leaning forward and deepening the kiss. Just as he had begun to lose himself, she retracted, leaning her head over his shoulder and whispering into his ear, her light breaths sending chills up his spine.
"I love you," she cooed softly.
With that she quickly darted up the stairs, leaving a stunned Tails and a bemused Vanilla. Recovering, Tails faced the rabbit, rubbing the back of his neck bashfully.
"S-sorry," he needlessly apologized, "I wasn't expecting that..."
"Don't be! It's good to see the two of you aren't embarrassed to express your affection for each other." She then smiled, looking to the stairs thoughtfully, "She's beautiful, isn't she?"
"Yeah..." The young, love-struck fox said in a daze, suddenly turning to face Vanilla with a worried expression, "I mean, yeah! She is, but not just her looks! Her kindness, the way she cares about people unconditionally, the--"
"Dear, you don't have to justify yourself!" Vanilla said with a laugh, "It's okay to think your fiancé's attractive!"
"Well, yeah... I guess,"he murmured, kicking his feet back and fourth on the sofa nervously, "I just didn't want you thinking that was the only reason."
"I don't," reassured the rabbit, "it's very clear to me that what you and Cosmo have is more than just infatuation, despite your unusual circumstances."
"Unusual?" Thought the kitsune to himself, as his overactive mind began to break Vanilla's statement into parts, taking it in a way not at all intended by the Rabbit. No doubt her statement was in reference to their age, as it was the most obvious stipulation present in their engagement. Did Vanilla truly believe in the love that he and Cosmo shared, or was she merely going along with what she considered a children's game? Was everything that was happening real, or were they merely being led on in an effort to humor what the others might consider a flight of fancy? These questions began to flood the fox's mind and were out his mouth before he could stop himself.
"Do you really believe than?" Asked Tails suspiciously, "Really? Or are you just saying that?"
"Of course I believe that," the rabbit chuckled, tilting her head to the side upon noticing Tails' expression, "whatever do you mean, dear?"
"I mean, do you really want us to get married, or are we just two goofy kids who don't really know anything?"
Vanilla found herself momentarily disarmed by Tails' remark, surprised that the fox would speak to her in such a manner. Her expression quickly shifted from surprise to a stern glare. "I'm not sure I like what you're implying, Miles Prower," she said tersely, "you should know better than that!"
Tails' confident front faltered, his ears curving back as he lowered his head. "S-sorry..." He apologized meekly, "I shouldn't have said that. It was rude."
"I think you've been spending too much time around Jaran," the rabbit smirked lightly, "we don't need two paranoid men. If I really didn't believe in what you and Cosmo have, I would have never allowed the marriage in the first place."
"Yeah..." The fox droned absentmindedly, his paranoia subsiding. Vanilla's final statement, however, roused his curiosity once again. "Wait, what do you mean? I thought Cosmo and I could marry if we wanted. That's what Jaran said. We don't need permission from anybody, do we?"
"That's... not entirely true," Vanilla hesitated, "I'm afraid he gave you the 'watered down' explanation..."
"Wh-what do you mean?" Asked the kitsune, becoming nervous, "Are you saying we can't--"
"Relax, dear! Of course you can!" Reassured Vanilla once again, "There's nothing stopping you now!"
"What do you mean 'now'? What am I missing here?"
Again, the mother rabbit huffed a sigh. Reaching into the pocket of her dress she fished around, taking hold of something and removing it from within. Holding out her hand she presented what appeared to be a series of papers, urging Tails to take them. Relieving her of the pages he took a moment to scan them, finding what appeared to be a massive amount of legal jargon typed in clear font upon the face of the pages. The final page read "witness our hands", followed by a number of signatures unknown to the fox boy, save the last, which was the neat pen of Vanilla herself. Confused, Tails looked back up at the doe, tilting his head to the side. "What's this?" He asked, confused.
"Those," Vanilla began slowly, "are Cosmo's emancipation papers."
"Emancipation? But--the abandonment clause--I'm so confused. Jaran didn't mention any of this!"
"I wasn't supposed to say anything," admitted the rabbit in a hushed tone, "but you were going to have to find out sooner or later. Yes, you fall under that particular law, Tails. Your family vanished quite some time ago, and you lived on your own for a period of more than four years with no true guardian. By common law, you were automatically emancipated at the conclusion of your fourth year after your parents were declared missing--the popularized "Abandonment Clause" Jaran was so keen on using to his advantage..."
"So what's the problem, then?" Asked the fox, "Cosmo's family died and--"
"Yes, but Cosmo is not a Mobian citizen," pointed out Vanilla, "she's not in the census. She crashed here and became a resident after she was resurrected. That gives her refugee status. As a result of that, and the fact that she is a minor, when I took her into my home, her guardianship defaulted to me."
"So... you're her adoptive mom?" Asked Tails, scratching his head, "I don't understand all this legal stuff. I had no idea!"
"Neither did I until I did some digging," the doe shrugged, "I'm not exactly a lawyer either, Tails."
"So... can we get married or not?" Urged Tails, seeking a more definitive answer.
"Even if I condoned it, the answer would be no--"
"BUT THAT'S NOT FAIR!" Exploded Tails, his temper swelling, "We worked so hard--"
"Let me finish, dear!" Halted Vanilla, "The answer would be no, unless I were to relinquish my guardianship and emancipate Cosmo..."
The fox was quiet, looking back down at the papers in his hands. Flipping to the back he read the signatures, over and over again, specifically the one reading "Vanilla E. Usagi". The silence seemed to last forever, until finally it clicked for the fox boy. "Wait, you mean you freed Cosmo? But why?"
"Is that not obvious, dear?" The rabbit asked, a gentle smile crossing her face, "It's because I DO believe in you and Cosmo. Whether that's right or wrong is really a moot point now. You take care of her, provide for her and look after her! My work as her guardian is done! That falls to you now. Just take care of her for me, yes?"
The fox found himself dumbfounded, in awe of the amount of faith Vanilla held in him. He quickly began to feel bad for having doubted her. Here stood a woman who had become the closest thing Tails had to a mother, having just given up one of her own children so that the two of them could fulfill their desire to be wed. From no one had he felt this much love, save his fiancé. Without a thought the documents fell from the fox's hands, lunging at Vanilla and leaping into her arms. Surprised, the doe reflexively lifted him from his feet, cradling the boy in her arms as she would a small child.
"What's the matter, Tails?" The rabbit asked, "I never meant to upset you!"
"N-no, it's--thank you!" The fox sputtered, on the verge of tears, "I never thought--I spent so much time being grateful to Jaran for bringing her back, but you've done just as much! Maybe more! I'm sorry I didn't trust you!"
"Sweetheart, I understand!" Vanilla laughed lightly, "It's okay to want others to accept your and Cosmo's relationship, especially your friends and family! In the end, though, just remember, she's going to be your wife--not Sonic's, or Knuckles', or mine. You have to be the one to decide weather or not you're confident in that relationship."
The rabbit gently lowered the little fox to his feet, leaning down and kissing the top of his head. The fox blushed, ruffling his bangs as he picked the papers up off of the floor. "Here," he held them out to her, "you probably need these back, huh?"
"Oh, no," she refused, "those belong to you! I suggest you put them in a safe somewhere, and make copies..."
"Right," the fox agreed, stashing the papers on his person, "Should I tell Cosmo about this?"
"Unless she asks, I wouldn't bother," advised Vanilla, "the only thing it would do is make her paranoid, which is why Jaran didn't want me saying anything to begin with..."
"Yeah, good point..." Admitted Tails, knowing full well his fiancé's tendency to take things out of context and assume the worst, "You're probably right about that."
"Right about what?" Chimed the voice of Tails' fiancé as she romped down the stairs, garbed in her traditional Seedrian gown, minus the leggings, which she rarely wore anymore. A sign of her increased confidence. "What did I miss--mmf!!"
Her question was interrupted as Tails swept her off of her feet, tilting her back and pushing his lips firmly agains hers. While unexpected, she was never opposed to Tails' touch as she wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing in return. All the while, Vanilla stood observing, struggling to contain her laughter at Tails' boyish enthusiasm. As suddenly as he advanced, the fox broke their kiss, setting a dazed Cosmo on her feet.
"M-my goodness, honey..." Said the Seedrian maiden with a heavy blush, "What's got you so excited?"
"Nothin', just ready to go! Come on!" Said the fox, suddenly filled with energy, taking Cosmo's hand and tugging her out the door.
"O-okay?" The confused little girl stumbled, struggling to keep up with Tails as he pulled her out the door.
"Wait a minute!" Called Vanilla, laughing as she pursued them, "You don't know where we're going!"