Categories > Games > Sonic the Hedgehog > A New Life

A New Life

by nintendofreakgcn 0 Reviews

The story of Cream's birth, and the bizarre events surrounding it.

Category: Sonic the Hedgehog - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama, Romance - Characters: Cream, Vector, Other - Warnings: [X] - Published: 2007/05/01 - Updated: 2007/05/02 - 12189 words

A/N: Okay, I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote this. Take it as you will.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in this fanfic who have also appeared in any official Sonic media. I do, however, own any characters that are unique to this fanfic, as well as the fanfic itself.

A New Life

It was a lovely spring day, much like any other. A veritable rainbow of flowers blossomed on the side of the road, and the branches of the trees were covered with full green leaves. The few fluffy white clouds in the sky did nothing to block the sun's rays, which caused the nearby river to sparkle. Fortunately, the sun's rays were not as intense as they would be in a few months time, and after the bitter cold of winter, the slight heat provided a welcome relief.

All of the beauty and comfort of the season was lost on a lone female rabbit who trudged down the dirt path. She was barely an adult, and yet her mind and body were already heavily burdened with the ordeal of childbearing. Her fur was largely cream in colour, with patches of brown at the ends of her ears, around her eyes and over the top of her head, where a tuft had begun to grow. She wore a light purple dress that hugged her expanded form tightly, almost like a second skin. Her left hand unconsciously remained on her stomach, while the right half-carried, half-dragged a carrier bag full of what meagre possessions she had. Her head was hung low, and her eyes were only half-open. She knew she needed rest, but she knew even more that she couldn't stop. She was certain that the time for the baby to be born was near, and she needed to reach a doctor before then.

Unbeknownst to her, a figure stalked her in the shadows of the trees. He moved without a sound, waiting for the right moment to make his move. The rabbit stopped for a moment and let out a gasp as she felt the now-familiar feeling of her baby kicking. The figure leapt out of the shadows.

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Not far down the road, a young crocodile named Vector sat by the river, his back leant against the tree. He appeared to be fishing, but in reality he was paying far too little attention to actually catch anything. His attention was held by the music that blared through his earphones. The music was rock, as it always was for Vector. He nodded his head and swished the fishing rod to the beat.

As the song entered the final guitar riff, Vector pulled the fishing rod towards his body and began to play air guitar with it. Unconsciously, he hummed to the music, but the growl that escaped his mouth bore little relation to the song itself. Finally, as the song ended, Vector stood up and pointed towards his imaginary crowd, the ever-present audience of life.

Vector took the headphones off and stretched. Though he hated to admit it, the time for relaxation was nearing an end, and he knew it was time to go home. Vector looked down at his walkman, and pondered what would be a good traveling song. He knew it wouldn't last the whole trip back to town, but it would get him started, and that was the hardest part in any aspect of life.

Before Vector could make that crucial choice, he heard a faint scream, though it seemed intermingled with a gasp. He turned towards the path, and saw a very young, purple male chameleon running in his general direction. The chameleon was carrying a large carrier bag over his shoulder. An older female rabbit stood a few metres further back, reaching towards the chameleon, but naturally failing to make the distance.

Vector scowled and gritted his teeth. He may not have been knowledgeable about all things, but he knew what was going on. He placed his fishing rod on the ground beside him. As the chameleon ran past, Vector dove at him, grabbing him in a vice-like grip. They rolled around on the path for almost a minute, but Vector ultimately managed to rise up off the ground and pin the chameleon to a tree. The carrier bag had naturally been discarded, but neither combatant seemed to care about it much anymore.

The chameleon struggled, but ultimately failed to break out of Vector's grasp. Although Vector was only in his early teens, his strength had increased incredibly over the last few years. "Okay, wise guy," he growled, "what do you think you were doing there?"

The chameleon tried to shrug, but lacked the room for sufficient movement. "Come on, she was just walking down a deserted road," he replied in a voice that was surprisingly raspy for his age, "and I've got to eat as badly as anyone else. She was fair game."

"Fair game?" Vector sputtered. "You know, there's a little thing that stops everyone from attacking defenseless women, and its called honour. You ever heard of it?"

"Yeah, who was going to teach me that stuff, anyway?"

"Well, you don't see me turning to crime, do you? I'd say you need some serious guidance, and fast." Vector paused for a moment, and he thought he saw the faintest waver in the chameleon's composure. "What's your name, anyway?"

"Give me one good reason why I should tell you."

"I'll give you four: that's the number of your limbs I can break if I want to." The chameleon shuddered. "Catch my drift?"

The chameleon gulped. "The name's Espio," he whispered.

"Well, Espio, you're lucky today. I'm going to let you go just this once, but you owe me big time for it, and if I ever see or hear of you doing such a rotten act again, I'll hunt you down myself." Vector threw Espio to the ground. "Now get out of my sight." Espio ran away, not daring to look back. "And I'll collect that debt someday!"

Vector turned around and found that the female rabbit was standing only a few metres behind him. She was only a little bit taller than he was, but she was clearly older than him by at least a few years. Vector didn't know a lot about mammals, but even he could tell that she was heavily pregnant. He couldn't help but wonder what she was doing out here alone in her state, but he knew better than to intrude. Vector dusted his hands as he walked towards the rabbit. "Well, I don't think that guy will be bothering you again."

The rabbit backed away, her eyes wide with fear, her breaths short and rapid. Vector held his hands up, showing that he had nothing to hide. "It's okay," Vector said in an almost condescending voice, "I'm not gonna hurt you. I'm one of the good guys."

The rabbit relaxed. "I'm sorry," she replied in a soft, gentle voice, "it's become a bit of a reflex. Thank you for your help, Mister..." She waved her right hand around vaguely.

"The name's Vector, ma'am. But you don't need to call me 'Mister' and all that. You're clearly older than me. I mean, you're about to be a mother, aren't you?"

The rabbit frowned, and gazed down at her rounded abdomen. "Yes, I suppose I am," she said with a sigh. "Well, it was very nice to meet you, Vector, and thank you again for your help, but I really must be going."

The rabbit walked towards her carrier bag. She was about to bend over and pick it up, but Vector beat her to it. He hoisted it up with ease, and gently held out a hand to stop the rabbit from going any further. "Whoa, there's no need for you to be doing any lifting when I'm around. Hey, where are you going, anyway?"

"Oh, just into the next town, but -"

Vector interrupted her. "Hey, I'm heading that way too. I can go with you if you'd like. You know, just in case there are any more thugs in the area."

The rabbit shook her head. "Thank you, but I wouldn't want to cause any trouble."

Now it was Vector's turn to shake his head. "No, it would be my pleasure, so I'm not taking no for an answer. Besides, it looks like you could use a hand, whether you want to admit it or not."

The rabbit managed a weak smile. "Well, how can I turn down an offer like that?" With those words, she began to walk down the road. Vector followed her on her right side, with the rabbit's carrier bag slung over his right shoulder.

"By the way," Vector said, "I don't think you ever told me your name."

"Oh didn't I? I'm sorry, Vector, but it seems I'm getting a bit forgetful. My name's Vanilla."

Vector nodded in reply. For a while, he and Vanilla walked down the path in near-silence. The only sounds that could be heard were the faint whistle of the breeze, the accompanying tweet of some unknown songbird and the gentle flowing of the river. Vector racked his mind in an attempt to find a topic of conversation, but few ideas came to him, and those few that did seemed far too immature to hold Vanilla's interest. She was a woman, and he was barely a teenager. Vector knew that she was too old for him, although he didn't quite know what exactly she was supposed to be too old for.

Vector could certainly tell that Vanilla was different from the girls he had known. Apart from the obvious fact that he normally only associated with reptiles, there was something fundamentally different about Vanilla's personality. If Vector had just passed her by in the street, he was sure that he would have thought that the name summed her up - plain, old-fashioned, maybe a little dull. Yet, in spite of all logic, that wasn't what he thought. Vector saw her as an enigma. She was too quiet and polite to give much of herself away, and yet that was what made Vector want to know more. He knew better than to interfere, though, at least any more than he had. Vector had always been inquisitive, but he had never expected to carry that curiosity from mere facts through to personalities.

Vector's train of thought was interrupted by a fresh sound. As he shook his head to clear the cobwebs, he recognised it as panting. Vector turned his head to his left and saw that the sound was coming from Vanilla. Her breaths had grown long and deep. Her head was hung low, her eyes were barely open and sweat had visibly dampened her face. Her steps had become wobbly.

Vector took grabbed onto Vanilla's arm and gave her a gentle shake. "Vanilla?" he asked hurriedly.

In an instant, Vanilla had raised her head and turned to face Vector. "Yes, Vector?" she replied.

"Are you alright?" Vanilla nodded, but in a highly noncommittal manner. Vector raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're not tired? We can stop and take a break if you want."

Vanilla shook her head. "No... I mean yes, I am tired, but I want to keep on going."

Vector shrugged, and let go of Vanilla's arm. "Suit yourself, but here..." Vector held out his left arm. "Take my arm, and lean on me if you feel you need to." Vanilla looked ready to object, but Vector didn't give her the chance. "Don't worry, I'm built tough." Vector grinned.

Vanilla said nothing, but simply linked her arm with Vector's. As they began to walk, he slowly but surely felt her starting to lean on him. Vector struggled for a moment at this new weight, which was more than he had expected, but he soon got used to it. "Vector, why are you doing all of this?" Vanilla asked. "It's more than I deserve."

"I thought it was obvious enough," Vector replied. "You looked like you needed a bit of a hand, and I can't just stand by and let someone suffer when there's something I can do about it. Everyone deserves that much. What's so strange about it, anyway?"

Vanilla made a weak shrug. "Nothing that should be. It's just that I've almost forgotten what it's like for someone to be this nice to me."

Vector would have turned his head to face Vanilla at this point, but he was uncannily aware that his snout would whack her if he tried. "Well, what about your family? Last time I checked, mammals kept fairly close family ties, so why aren't they here to help you? And what about the father of this kid? Where's he?"

Vanilla sighed, and closed her eyes for a moment. It almost looked to Vector as if she'd dropped off to sleep, but he was sure that wasn't the case. As Vanilla opened her eyes, faint tears flowed out of them. "Vector, don't think that I don't trust you, because I do, more than anyone else at the moment, as it stands. It's just that I really don't want to talk about that."

Vector shrugged. "Hey, whatever works for you works for me, okay?" Vanilla nodded in reply. "But if you do want to talk about it, I'm right here to listen." Vector could hardly believe he was saying this. He hadn't even known this woman for an hour, and yet he was volunteering himself to listen to her talk about her deepest issues. He had no idea how he'd gotten himself into this. Yet that was the strange power that Vanilla seemed to hold over him, to turn him from someone willing to occasionally lend a practical hand into someone who appeared to be her only companion in the world.

Vector tried to convince himself that he would do the same if it was any other woman he had passed. It seemed true enough, and yet he knew he was going beyond any call of duty, even that implied by his random code of honour. For a moment, he thought that it might simply have been a desire to know more about Vanilla, but that thought was quickly shot down as well. There were plenty of girls around whom Vector knew nothing about, but he didn't go half-carrying them down a lonely path. Vector shook his head, which he quickly disguised as some sort of involuntary spasm in order to avoid arousing Vanilla's attention. He knew that this problem was far beyond his practical mind's ability to solve.

The next few hours continued without much incidence. Occasionally, Vanilla would stumble, but Vector was always there to catch her. Once, she even felt her baby kicking, a practice that seemed foreign and utterly pointless to Vector. Still, it seemed to catch Vanilla's attention, so he had played along as best as he could. In the end, though, time passed, and the sun drifted across the sky, until it was hanging low in the deepening array of red and orange.

"Um, Vanilla?" Vector asked.

"What is it, Vector?" Vanilla replied. She was still panting, as she had been since Vector had first noticed it, but she seemed to have brought it under control.

"Um, this may sound a little stupid, but you didn't honestly plan on making it to town today, did you? It's just that we're not going to make it at this rate. I'd say we've got well over another half a day at the rate we're going."

Vanilla frowned, and stared off into the distance. "Well, I had planned to keep on walking through the night, but if that bothers you..."

Vector stepped into Vanilla's path, forcing her to halt. "Look Vanilla, I wouldn't mind if it was just me doing that. I can do that any day of the week, and probably in half the time. But frankly, you're in no shape to do that. I mean, look at you!" Vector held out his arms toward her, as if to emphasise his point. "You're running yourself ragged. Look, frankly I'd have preferred it if you'd stopped for a rest ages ago, but I respected your wishes. Now, though, you're just being crazy." Vector felt as if he was possessed. What he was saying was not like him at all. He had never been concerned with what others did to themselves. Yet there he stood, in direct confrontation with Vanilla.

Vanilla turned her downcast face towards the ground. Vector sighed. "Look," he said, "I can only assume that you're looking to make your own way in the world. It's the only possible reason that you'd come out to the middle of nowhere all by yourself. Frankly, your reasons are none of my business. Still, right now I'm making what you do my business, because if I don't, you may wind up doing something you'll regret, and I don't want to that happen."

Vanilla raised her head, and looked Vector directly in the eye. "Do you really mean that?" she asked with a faint whimper in her voice.

Vector nodded. "I told you, I could make it into town without taking a nap easily. You're the one I'm worried about. You're trying to take on all your problems by yourself, and frankly, you can't. I told you that you looked like you needed a bit of a hand, and I think I was right. Come on, if I know anything about mammals, then you're about to have someone relying on you for years to come. I think you're entitled to your last dose of dependence." Vector grabbed Vanilla gently by the shoulders. "Now, what do you say we find a nice spot to sit down and have a rest?"

After a moment's delay, Vanilla nodded. Vector walked her away to a lone tree that stood near the edge of the river. It provided some thick shade, and Vector was sure that the grass beneath its branches would be soft. Vector held Vanilla's hand as she slowly sat down, though her bloated form made it look more like a squat. She leant back against the tree and closed her eyes for a moment. Her breathing slowed to a steady rate, and a content smile spread across her lips. Vector sat down next to her in an abrupt manner, which promptly snapped Vanilla out of her almost trance-like state. Vector grinned sheepishly, but Vanilla just smiled at him.

Vector unconsciously reached for the fishing rod that had always been beside him when he was by the river, only to find himself grabbing at air. He slapped his hand against his face and groaned. "What's wrong?" Vanilla asked concernedly.

"Oh, it's nothing." Vanilla continued to look at him. Vector caved in at once. "Okay, it's just that I left my fishing rod back where we met. I was hoping to catch myself a bite to eat. The fish in this area are way faster than me, so I can't even swim to get them."

"Well, if you're hungry, you can help yourself to some of the food in my bag."

Vector shook his head. "No, that's yours, Vanilla. I couldn't take it."

Vanilla placed a hand on Vector's shoulder. "Please, take some, just as my own meagre way of showing my gratitude for all that you've done today." That soft touch, when combined with her soothing voice, melted away any trace of winter that was still inside Vector's soul, and with it went any resistance he had to her pleas.

Vector reached towards the carrier bag and dragged it towards him. As he opened it up, he casually observed that it was filled to the brim with the various things that it would appear no woman could do without. Vector rummaged below the changes of clothes and the toiletries to find what he was really searching for: a large, promising tin. Vector pulled it out, which created a mess as items spilled out of the bag, but Vanilla raised no objections.

Vector pulled the lid off the tin, which he found to be filled almost to bursting with various cakes. "I know it's hardly a balanced meal," Vanilla said, "but they're all I can get to keep for any decent length of time."

Vector licked his lips with his long reptilian tongue. "They suit me just fine," he replied. "It's been ages since I've had something sweet." Vector was about to scarf the whole lot down when he realised that Vanilla probably had some notion of table manners. He held the tin in front of her, but she simply shook her head. Vector pressed it closer to her. "Come on, you need the energy more than I do." Reluctantly, Vanilla took one of the smaller pieces of cake. Vector pulled the tin back towards himself and helped himself to the largest piece of chocolate cake he could find.

"They're not much," Vanilla said as she finished her first bite, "but hopefully they'll do."

Vector took a large bite out of his piece of cake. The instant it hit his tongue, he felt like he'd died and gone to heaven, or at least swallowed a small sample of it. "Vanilla, this is easily the most delicious thing I've ever tasted."

Vanilla blushed slightly. "You're just saying that."

"I think you need to gain a bit of confidence, because I'm swearing on my honour that this I've never tasted anything as good as this." As if to display his point, Vector swallowed the rest of his piece of cake in a single mouthful, and proceeded to pull a second piece out of the tin.

"Oh, I'm sure your mother makes better cakes than these."

Vector was silent, and simply stared out at the glistening river. "I don't want to offend you, Vanilla, but you don't know much about reptiles, do you?"

"Well, I guess not, judging by the way you asked that. What did I get wrong?"

Vector sighed. "Well, we reptiles aren't raised by our parents. They simply lay the eggs and leave us to hatch and fend for ourselves. Well, most species anyway, myself included. Even for the rest, there are way too many in any one batch for the parents to pay much attention to a single one."

Vanilla looked away awkwardly. "I'm sorry, Vector, not just that you didn't know your parents, but that I was foolish enough to bring it up."

"Nah, it's not your fault. Besides, you get used to it when it's all you ever know." Vector picked up a rock and idly tossed it into the river. "I guess that's why we're such reclusive creatures. The worst bit is that I doubt anyone would care if I died tomorrow."

"I would," Vanilla whispered. Vector slowly turned his head to face her. "That's right, just like you wouldn't want to see any ill befall me, I wouldn't want to see anything bad happen to you." Vanilla frowned. "I do have some idea how you feel, though."

"I find that hard to believe," Vector muttered without thinking. He immediately regretted saying something so rash, but he tried not to let it show.

Vanilla sighed, and turned her gaze out to the river. "Do you still want to know why none of my family is here to help me?"

Vector struggled to suppress his barely audible gulp. "Well, if you want to tell me, I'd be glad to hear it." He knew he was going into dangerous territory, but his curiosity had long since taken hold of him. Once again, he didn't know why he couldn't control it around Vanilla.

Vanilla closed her eyes. "It all began around nine months ago, on my eighteenth birthday. My friends, who had all reached that age months ago, offered to take me out for a night on the town. Just a few drinks together as friends; it sounded like a great idea at the time." Vanilla laughed quietly, but it was a mere mockery of joy. "Anyway, we went out to a few clubs and had a bit of fun, before we came to this one place near the outskirts of the city."

Vanilla opened her eyes, but they had become glazed over. To Vector, it looked as if she was no longer in the present, but back then and there, reliving whatever events took place. "Anyway," Vanilla continued, "my friends drifted off to talk to other people they knew, and I found myself sitting alone at a table in the corner. Then this guy comes up and sits next to me. He seemed like a nice enough guy. We had a little conversation, and he offered to buy me a drink. Since he seemed so nice, I couldn't just turn him down. When I took the first sip of that drink, I could tell that there was something different about it. He told me that he'd just ordered something with 'a little added zip', so I thought nothing of it."

Vanilla's right hand began to massage her right temple. She took deep breaths for a few seconds before she continued. "I was a fool, and nothing more. I don't know how much time passed, but the next thing I clearly remember was lying in an alley, and he was on top of me. It was only then that I realised what he really wanted." Tears were forming in Vanilla's eyes, and her words were barely audible in between her sobs. Finally, she managed to find the strength to say, "I told him to stop, but he wouldn't listen. He... he..." Vanilla's face sank into her hands as she dissolved into a fit of sobbing.

Vector's jaw dropped. As he closed it again, he gently put his left hand on Vanilla's shoulder. "It's okay, Vanilla," he said, though he wasn't convinced of it. "You don't need to tell me any more than that. Just let it all out." However, even as his left side tried to comfort Vanilla, Vector could feel his right fist clenching tighter than he had ever thought possible. He was sure he would tear through the glove, if not his own scales. For the first time in his life, Vector knew hatred. He thought he had known it before, in the loathing he held towards the petty criminals he made a habit of stopping, but the word hate had just gained a new meaning for him. This man, this monster, had done the unthinkable to Vanilla. He didn't need to see it with his own eyes to see its effect on her. Nearly nine months from the event, that monster's heinous crime could still turn Vanilla from a calm, gentle, beautiful woman into the mess that now sat next to Vector. "It wasn't your fault."

"No, it was," Vanilla whimpered in between sobs. "I should have known better. I was so utterly stupid that night. I thought I didn't need to listen to any advice. I thought I was free. But all that I'd done was made myself a slave to that one night, that one stupid mistake."

Vector stretched his arm as far it could go, and began to gently stroke Vanilla's right ear. Slowly but surely, her breathing slowed, and the sobs began to die down. "We all make mistakes, Vanilla. I've lost track of how many I made. You can't go blaming yourself."

Vanilla lowered her hands, but Vector could see that the tears were still flowing. "I only wish everyone else had been as understanding as you. Up until that point, I'd never seen my parents as angry as they were when I walked in the early hours of the morning. They said horrible things to me. They'd always been a little strict, but it hadn't prepared me for how hard they were on me that day. But that was nothing compared to what they would be like later." It was well over a minute before Vanilla spoke again, but Vector raised no objections. "A few weeks later, I found out that I was pregnant, with that man's child. I hadn't seen him since that night, and I still haven't to this day."

"So, uh, what did your parents say?"

"Well, I didn't know how to break it to them, so for a while, I kept it a secret. For a few months, I just hid away a bit. I didn't see my friends much, because I knew they'd see through me faster than my parents. Of course, eventually they noticed that I wasn't exactly looking the same as I had a few months ago. I think the morning sickness may have tipped them off, too."

Vector raised an eyebrow. "Is that something I want to know about?" he questioned, as much to himself as to Vanilla.

Vanilla shook her head. "I think you're being disturbed enough as it is." For a moment, Vector thought he saw a flicker of a smile on her face, but it was gone in an instant. "Anyway, one night a few months into the pregnancy, my parents cornered me and asked if there was something I wanted to tell them. I didn't want to lie to them, and even if I did I don't think I could have under that sort of pressure. So I told them the truth. I thought I'd seen them angry before, but nothing compared to this. They told me that I'd brought shame to the family. They told me that they wanted nothing more to do with me." Tears had formed again in Vanilla's eyes, but by what appeared to be sheer strength of will, she kept them from flowing.

Once again, Vector found himself split in two. His fist clenched again, this time out of his new-found hatred for Vanilla's parents. He'd thought mammalian parents took care of their children, but the fact that Vanilla's parents had been willing to abandon her when she needed them the most proved to Vector that that was not always the case. The other part of him knew that he couldn't let his hatred spill out. The fact that Vanilla was so hurt by her parents' betrayal stood as proof to Vector that she still cared about them. Any slander towards them would only hurt Vanilla more. Vector knew that he had to say something, or else his head would probably explode from the heated argument that it was engaged in. Finally, he blurted out the only thing he could think of. "So did they kick you out?" Vector immediately regretted his phrasing, but it was too late for second thoughts.

"No," Vanilla said flatly. "If there's one thing that would shatter their image more than a pregnant teenage daughter, it would be kicking that same daughter out. They let me stay, as much as it pained them to do so. They never accepted me again, though. They avoided me as much as they could, and when they needed to communicate with me, they did it trough written notes. I tried to find comfort in my friends, but although they tried to treat me as if nothing had changed, but I could tell it had. If nothing else, I couldn't keep up with them anymore. Word got around the neighbourhood about my situation, and it wasn't long until every pair of eyes seemed to be on me as I passed, judging me. I felt like a criminal, a stranger in my own home." Vanilla closed her eyes again. "For months I bore the situation, but eventually it just grew to be too much. Yesterday, I left in the early hours of the morning. I didn't tell anyone about what I had done, but I don't think it would have made any difference if I had. Over the past nine months, everyone had made it clear that they wanted me out of their lives."

"Yikes," was all Vector could say. He had never heard of anything like this. "So how are you coping with all that?"

Vanilla shrugged. "I suppose I'll get used to it eventually, but there's something that's plaguing my mind far more at the moment."

The silence that was left in the wake of that statement seemed to drag on for eternity. The air went still, and the bird stopped chirping. Even the river seemed to quiet down. Vector shuffled around awkwardly until he could take it no more. "Um, what is it?"

Vanilla gazed down at her rounded abdomen. For the first time, her eyes displayed fear. "I'm afraid, Vector. I'm afraid that when the baby's born, I won't see my child. I'm afraid that I'll only see the father's child. I'm afraid that I'll see the man who ruined my life. I'm afraid..." Vanilla trailed off as she began to weep again. "...that I'll hate my own baby."

In what seemed to be becoming a surprisingly frequent occurrence, Vector was rendered speechless. That had been the last thing he had expected Vanilla to say. Hate simply didn't fit in with the image he had developed of her. She seemed above such a lowly reaction. Then, in that very thought, he found the words to say.

Vector gently lifted Vanilla's chin and turned her head so that their eyes met. "Vanilla," he said, in a voice that he barely recognised as his own, "I know that won't happen. It's not in your nature to hate. You've been treated like dirt by a lot of people, and yet you don't blame your problems on them. You place the burdens of all their crimes on yourself. Now I'm not saying that's right, but it shows that you're beyond hate." Vector could not believe he had just said that. It seemed to be far too meaningful to have come out of his mouth.

The tears in Vanilla's eyes had dried up while Vector had been talking. "Do you really think that?" she asked.

Vector nodded. "If nothing else, there's no way anyone could hate your kid. If they get anything from you, then they'll be a real looker."

Vanilla blushed so deeply that even her white fur turned a deep red. "You certainly know how to flatter a woman." Vector simply grinned and shrugged. Vanilla reached under her chin, and gently moved Vector's hand away. As Vector felt that gentle touch once again, his mind suddenly felt lighter. Vector couldn't tell why, but he felt drawn to Vanilla, in more ways than one. Slowly, he edged closer. Gradually, he leant his snout towards her lips. His mind told him to stop, but something far deeper than that that he knew little of wanted to proceed.

Suddenly, Vanilla gasped, almost in pain, and clutched her stomach. Any pain soon appeared to be gone, but Vanilla's shocked expression remained. "What's wrong?" Vector asked concernedly.

Vanilla appeared to be staring at nothing. "I'm not sure," she replied in a whisper. "It wasn't like anything I'd experienced before, but from what I've heard, I think it was a contraction."

Vector stared blankly. "A what-now?"

Vanilla's gaze turned to meet Vector's. "I think I'm going into labour." Vector's blank stare remained. "I'm about to give birth!" Vanilla cried out.

"Oh croc," Vector groaned as he used a euphemism of his own devising. "Why do I get the feeling that this is a situation where you'd be better off in a hospital?"

"Probably because it is," Vanilla gasped.

Vector nodded vaguely. Although he was doing all in his power to give off a calm aura, truthfully he was scared out of his wits, and he was sure that his body was shaking. He knew that he had to remain calm, though, because Vanilla probably wasn't going to. He took a deep breath, and his body stopped shaking. "Okay," he said calmly, "let's think about this logically. We obviously can't get you to a hospital when you're in this state." All of a sudden, Vector's eyes lit up, and he snapped his fingers. "Fortunately, I think I've got an idea." He reached under his glove and pulled out an unusually large mobile phone. Vector rapidly flipped out the mobile through several stages, until it stretched right from his ear to the tip of his jaw.

Vanilla giggled uncontrollably. Vector half-glared at her, but truthfully, he was glad to have done something to have ease her troubled mind. "I'm sorry," Vanilla chuckled, "it's just that I've never seen a phone that size before."

"Yeah, well you try talking into a phone when the end you're supposed to talk into doesn't wind up anywhere near your mouth." Vanilla stifled her fits of giggling. "Anyway," Vector said in a long, drawn-out manner, "you just focus on what you're doing, so that I can focus on what I'm doing." Vector punched in the emergency number for the hospital in town.

It was only a few seconds until someone picked up the phone on the other end, but even that seemed too long for Vector. Finally, a bored female voice on the other end said, "Hospital emergency department."

Vector took a deep breath. "Okay, this is going to sound really weird, but I've got a woman here who's about to give birth."

The voice on the other end immediately picked up in seriousness at this news. "Okay, how far along is the labour?"

Vector had to sort through his memory for a moment to remember what the word 'labour' meant in that context. "Um, well she says she just had her first contraction, whatever those are."

There was an awkward silence on the other end. "You don't know what a contraction is?" the woman finally said.

Vector shrugged, not realizing that the motion would be unknown to the woman on the other end. "Should I?"

"Well, aren't you the father of the baby?"

Vector's eyes bulged until it appeared that they would slip out of their sockets. "Nooo..." he whispered with a shake of his head, more to convince himself than anyone else.

"Then who are you?"

"Look, that's not important!" Vector snapped. "Just tell me what I'm supposed to do!"

"Well, apart from remaining calm, which you're clearly not doing at the moment, you could tell me where you are right now."

Vector barely resisted the urge to snarl. "Well, we're over half a day's walk east of town - well, half a day's walk for her, anyway. It would be less for someone in better condition."

"Do you have a landmark you could give us, so we can actually find you?"

"Look," Vector growled, "how often do you think you're going to find a crocodile together with a pregnant rabbit right by the river?"

"When you put it like that, not often," the voice replied. "But you didn't tell us that." Vector rolled his eyes. "Okay, just stay on the line, and I'll send out a doctor and some other staff to find you. They'll stay in contact with you at all times."

Vector sighed in relief. "Thank you," he said, but there was no response. Vector turned to face Vanilla, who was breathing heavily. "The hospital's sending out a doctor to meet up with us. He'll come to us, so you don't have to get up or anything." Vanilla simply nodded in reply. "How are you feeling?"

Vanilla managed a weak smile. "It's weird," she replied. "It's really like nothing I've ever experienced before. It's a bit scary, I suppose, given what I'm going to have to do soon."

"Is that another thing I don't want to know about?"

Vanilla nodded. "It's not as if you'll need to do anything more than you've already done."

Vector wiped his brow. "Small mercies for both of us, then."

"Hello?" said a male voice from the phone.

"Yeah?" Vector replied.

"Ah, you must be the crocodile. The name's Dr. Brown, and the hospital's assigned me to deal with this."

"Yeah, well when can we expect you?"

"Well, ordinarily we'd be about half a day away, since we still need to get all our equipment together. Fortunately, we got one of these new-fangled ambulances, courtesy of that fine chap, Dr. Eggman. I tell you, his work over the last few years has advanced technology for all of us by centuries."

Vector rolled his eyes. "Look, I'd love to hear this story some other time, but right now, I just want to know when you're going to be here."

"Ah, right. Well, these things are still in the early stages of optimisation, so they're not as fast as we'd like. We should be there in three to four hours."

"Um, will that be quick enough? I don't want to have to do any of that fancy medical stuff."

"Well, has the mother given birth before?"

"Not by the sound of it."

"Then you're safe. First-time births usually take at least half a day. Not that you'd want to try walking her, before you think of that."

"Relax, Doc, even I know better than that."

"Good to hear that you at least have common sense, because that's all you should need. Now look, the important thing right now is to make sure the mother stays relaxed. Nothing much is going to happen for a while, but she's going to need all her strength for later."

"And how exactly am I supposed to keep her relaxed enough for that?"

"Well, that's not really my field, but I've heard that a massage can be quite effective."

Vector's eyes bulged again. "That crosses the line of awkward," he whispered.

"Well, I'm sure you'll think of something. Heck, if you just stay relaxed, that's bound to help. She should know you're there for her. Look, what are your names, anyway?"

"I'm Vector, and the rabbit's called Vanilla."

"Right. Well Vector, I won't be talking for a bit, but I'll be on the line if you need me."

"Gotcha." Vector placed the open phone on the ground next to him. He looked at Vanilla, who was breathing deeply but steadily. She was gazing out at the river. "Look, the doctor said you should relax, and try and get some rest if you can."

Vanilla nodded. "Vector, could you please promise me something?"

"What is it?"

Vanilla took hold of Vector's hands, and looked into his eyes. "Please, if I don't make it, promise you'll get the baby into a good home."

Vector frowned. He had no idea how he got into these situations. "Vanilla, you're talking about stuff that's not going to happen. You're going to be fine."

"Please, Vector. I can't bear the thought that no good would come out of this ordeal."

Vector wanted to tell her that some good had already come out of it, but he knew how selfish it would sound. Besides, whether he liked it or not, he had gone past the point of no return a long time ago. He nodded. "I promise. Now come on, get some rest, okay?"

Vanilla nodded, and leant back against the tree. Unconsciously, she snuggled up against Vector. The crocodile blushed. He glanced down at Vanilla, hoping that she hadn't noticed. She was still gazing out the water. A frown had spread across her face. Her eyes were wide open. Vector could feel that her hands were tense, and assumed that the rest of her body was, as well.

Vector sighed. He let go of Vanilla's hands, letting them fall into his lap. Slowly, he moved his own hands up to the rabbit's shoulders. As his hands made contact, he gently began rubbing. He could feel the tenseness in Vanilla's body fading gradually. Her eyes closed, and a content smile spread across her lips.

Vector hated to admit it, but he was enjoying it, too.

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The next few hours went by with surprising speed. Vanilla dozed when she could. Contractions occurred occasionally, and Vector couldn't help but notice that they were growing longer and more frequent, and that they also seemed to be more painful for Vanilla.

One time, when Vanilla was dozing, she began to shiver. "Please," she pleaded, "don't do it. I don't want to go through that. I'm still a virgin." Her breathing grew out of control. "Stop, stop. Stop!"

Vector gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. The extent of that monster's crimes became clearer with every passing moment. Vector wanted nothing more than to hunt him down and tear him limb from limb. Unfortunately, that wouldn't help Vanilla now.

Vector relaxed his muscles. Violence wasn't the answer right now. He stroked Vanilla's ear, and whispered into it, "It's okay, Vanilla," he said, "I'm right here. No one's going to hurt you, I promise."

Vector had no idea how Vanilla could have heard those words, but somehow she did. Her breathing returned to normal, and her body relaxed once more. The next time she awoke, she said nothing about the event, and Vector was grateful for that small mercy.

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About half an hour later, Vector's phone rang. He cursed himself for forgetting to switch it to silent, and promptly answered it. Fortunately, the noise didn't seem to have woken Vanilla. "Yeah, what is it, Doc?" he asked.

"Hello again, Vector," Doctor Brown said. "Look, this is probably a stupid question, but you said you were west of town, right?"

Vector's body went rigid. He would have sweated if it was physically possible for him to do so. "No, I said east."

"Ah, well that would explain why we haven't been able to find you. You see, we headed west."

Vector struggled to keep his whole body from shaking. "Okay." It was a lie. "So, um, what do I do now?"

"Just relax."

"That's not exactly easy," Vector growled.

"Look, we should still be there in time. We'll probably have to deliver the baby there, but it will be fine. Just keep up the good work. Call me back if anything changes." The line went dead. Vector snapped the phone shut. For a moment, he stared at nothing. How did he get into these situations, and how did they always wind up getting worse?

Vanilla stirred, snapping back to reality. She looked up at him through half-closed eyes. "What was that about?" she whispered. Any cheer that had ever been in her voice was gone.

"Uh, nothing," Vector said. He put a hand on Vanilla's shoulder. "Just get some rest, okay?" Vanilla nodded, and closed her eyes. Within minutes, she had managed to doze off again.

Vector rubbed his temples. He shook his head in a vain attempt to eliminate the thought of what he'd just done. He hardly ever lied, and he'd never lied to someone he cared about. Part of him wondered if he'd ever cared about anyone, but he couldn't bear to think about that. Regardless, he'd lied twice in a matter of minutes, and one of those times had been to Vanilla.

Vector tried to convince himself that the lie had been for Vanilla's own good, but it failed. Why did the lie bother him so much? What was she to him, anyway? He hadn't even known her for a day. They had no connection. They were nothing alike. Even if there had been any obligation to help her, he'd done all he could. There was no reason for him to be sitting there with her, waiting for that ambulance.

Vector considered getting up and running. He snarled, and punched himself in the head. Whatever part of his mind had decided to do that had done the right thing. He needed that little bit of pain, to remind himself of what Vanilla must have been feeling, inside and out. If Vector left her now, he knew that he'd be no better than that thieving chameleon, no better than Vanilla's parents, no better than the fiend who had done this to her. Vector knew he'd be no better than everything he despised.

Vector frowned, but the frown showed a grim determination. He'd lied to Vanilla. He didn't know if anything could make up for that, but he had to try. He had to stay with her, to the bitter end, no matter what lay ahead.

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Hours passed, but they passed slowly. Vanilla's contractions had grown so frequent and intense that it became impossible for her to sleep between them. Her fur had become dampened by sweat. With each contraction, she let out a cry of agony that fluctuated like a raging storm. Her body would go tense for over a minute, and then suddenly go limp as the contraction passed. She barely had time to catch her breath before the next one started. With each contraction, her cries grew weaker.

All Vector could do was watch. Any support he'd once been able to provide was useless now. Vanilla was in her own personal hell. Vector couldn't get there, no matter how much he wanted to.

Once, Vanilla had reached out of her agony. "I don't want to do this," she whispered as she gasped for breath, though Vector wasn't sure if she was talking to anyone other than herself. "I just want out."

Vector tried to say something, to do something. He tried to think up some comforting words. He tried to put his hand on her shoulder. He tried to merely look into her eyes, just so she'd know that he still cared. He failed, as another contraction tore through Vanilla's body, and he lost her once again.

Vector wondered whether it was all worth it. What could possibly come out of the situation that would be worth the torture Vanilla was under? How could female mammals go through with such suffering, time after time? How could the males put them through it? Mammals were a mystery, and Vector didn't have a single clue.

Eventually, Vanilla let out a gasp. "Something's different," she said clearly. "I think it's coming. The baby's coming!"

Vector flinched. "You mean coming... out?" he asked. Vanilla nodded. "Oh, croc." Vector took a deep breath. He had to remain calm, but it certainly wasn't easy. He was sure that she wouldn't be able to hold something like that in, but the doctor wasn't even close to arriving. "I'll give the doc a call."

Vector picked up his phone, and pressed the redial button. The phone rang for a moment. "What is it, Vector?" said Doctor Brown's voice.

"Yeah, apparently the baby's coming, as in really coming."

There was silence for a long and awkward moment. "Hmm, that's a slight problem."

Vector resisted the urge to scream. "Yeah, just a bit. So, what are we supposed to do?"

Doctor Brown sighed. "We don't really have much of a choice. I'm sorry to make you do this, Vector, but you're going to have to deliver the baby."

"Which involves what, exactly?" Doctor Brown spoke a few sentences on the other end. Vector's eyes bulged. A chill ran down his spine. He looked at Vanilla, and made a quivering smile. He covered the receiver with his hand. "Um, could you excuse me for a moment?" Vanilla nodded. Vector leapt to his feet. "Um, do whatever you need to do to get ready. I'll be back in a minute." Vector spun on the spot, and ran half a dozen metres, taking cover behind another tree.

Vector took his hand off the receiver, and pressed his snout against it. "Are you nuts?"

"Well, that is how actually you do it, so no."

Vector waved his left arm around in exasperation. "But... but... it's sick!"

"Well, that's how the body works."

Vector's waving turned to mere quivering. "But... I don't want to... put my hands... down there!"

"Well, in a few years you probably won't mind so much."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Vector snarled.

Doctor Brown laughed. "Oh, just a wild hunch."

"Well, I don't care about your wild hunches - I'm not doing it!"

"Vector," Doctor Brown said sternly, "I know you don't want to do it. It's still awkward for me, and I've been doing it since before you were born. Look, this isn't about you or me. It's about Vanilla."

"Can't she just do it herself?"

"Well, she could just push, but it would be putting her and the baby at a lot more risk."

"But I'm no doctor! I'll screw up!"

"Perhaps, but in my experience, screwy help is better than no help at all. If you mess up, you'll know that you did everything you could. If you do nothing, and something goes wrong, you'll be left wondering. Trust me, I've lost enough patients in my time to know which option's better."

Vector closed his eyes. No one spoke. Vanilla's anguished cries split the air. Vector racked his mind for any alternative to delivering that baby, and found none. He couldn't run away, and he couldn't just sit there and do nothing. Not only would he never forgive himself if he did, but he knew he'd struggle to keep on living. He was in over his head. The only way out would be to turn back time, and even Vector knew that was impossible.

Vector opened his eyes. His expression was grim, and his body was tense, but the panic was gone. "I'll do it," he whispered.

"I thought you would," Doctor Brown replied. "Keep in contact with me at all times." Vector stood up. "Be gentle. Let her judge when she's ready to push." Vector walked over to Vanilla. "And wash your hands."

"I hear ya, Doc." Vector put the phone on the grass, and dipped his hands into the river. The cool water eased Vector's nerves as it soaked through his gloves, causing them to cling to his hands. He took his hands out of the water. He shook them to let off the excess moisture.

Vector stood up, and turned to face Vanilla. She gazed at him through half-closed eyes. She let out another cry of agony, before looking up again. "Right, let's do this," Vector said. He knelt in front of Vanilla, and held up his hands. "You... do know where these are gonna go, right?" Vanilla nodded and gasped through clenched teeth. Vector nodded. "Okay, it's just that the last guy I saw do anything like this got slapped pretty hard."

Vanilla gave no reply. Vector picked up the phone, and wedged it between his head and shoulder. "Okay, I'm going in," he said. He took a deep breath. He suppressed a shudder as he slid his hands under Vanilla's dress. He moved his hands up slowly, using her legs to guide him. Her fur was thin but soft. Vector hated to admit it, but some part of him actually liked the feeling. He swiftly repressed it.

Finally, Vector let out a shudder as his hands came to what must have been the top of Vanilla's legs. He jerked his hands back, before letting them settle in a more suitable position. At least, he assumed it was a more suitable position. He lacked the courage to check.

Vector looked at Vanilla's contorted face. He'd hoped that seeing that things were worse for her would make him feel better, but it only made him feel hopelessly inadequate. "Okay," Vector whimpered, "I'm ready, so you can push when you're ready."

Vanilla nodded, but gave no reply. Her body tensed. She leant over as much as she could. She groaned for nearly a minute, before collapsing back against the tree. She gasped for breath. Vector simply wondered why nothing had come out.

"Um, how many pushes does it take?" Vector whispered into the phone.

"Too many for my tastes," Doctor Brown replied. "As for a number, it varies a lot, so I'm not even going to try and make an estimate. Let's just say you're in there for the long haul."

"Oh great," Vector muttered. On his mental list of places he wanted his hands to spend a long time in, under Vanilla's dress was not one of them.

Unfortunately, Doctor Brown's predictions were right. Each time Vanilla gathered the strength, she'd collapse back against the tree, more exhausted than ever. For every effort she made, Vector could feel no result at the other end. He lost all track of time. Part of him was grateful for that, but a bigger part of him was worried. Surely the baby should have started to come out. He feared he may have his hands in completely the wrong place.

At that moment, Vanilla gave another push, and Vector felt something on his fingertips. It was soft, sticky, and, most noticeably, hairless. He really hoped he'd gotten the right end. "Um, is the baby supposed to have no hair?" Vector whispered into the phone.

"Well, it's a rabbit," Doctor Brown replied, "so... yes."

Vector breathed a sigh of relief. "Then I think it's just started to come out."

"Good. Now, every time Vanilla pushes, give a very gentle pull. It should help get the shoulders out. Once that's happened, you're comparatively on easy street."

Vector nodded, though he knew the gesture was pointless. He looked at Vanilla. "Vanilla, the baby's starting to come out, so just keep up the good work."

Vanilla gave no reply, for she was already pushing again. Vector gave the lightest of tugs. The baby came out a little bit more. The process dragged on. Each push made a little bit of progress, but it visibly drained Vanilla's energy. Vector was sure that she was only hanging on through sheer strength of will. She had a lot of that, but even it had to have a limit. He just hoped it would be enough.

Vector now held the baby's entire head in his hands. The ears that were draped over his hands confirmed that much. "Vanilla," he said, "make this next push a big one, and we should be able to get the shoulders out. From then on, it's apparently easy."

Vanilla's only response was a loud groan as she pushed. Vector gave a gentle pull, but the combined effort made massive ground, as he felt what must have been the baby's shoulders. Unfortunately, the shoulders brought with them a stream of sticky fluids, and the effort had taken its toll on Vanilla. She collapsed back against the tree. Her eyes were shut, and were it not for her unnaturally heavy breathing, Vector would have thought he'd lost her.

For a while, things stayed like that. Vector knew that it wasn't his place to rush things. When the pushing did start again, however, it was much weaker. Progress slowed to an absolute crawl. Vector nearly had the baby's whole body in his grip, but there was still too much left for him to do the rest alone.

"Vanilla?" Vector asked. She gave no response. Her breaths were faint and shallow, but Vector was sure he saw some movement beneath those eyelids. "Come on Vanilla, you're almost there. Just one more push will do it."

"I can't," Vanilla whimpered. "I can't..."

For a moment, Vector thought that Vanilla was right. How could anyone have the energy to go through all that she had, let alone make that final effort? He shut those thoughts out with a quiet growl. He didn't like it, but he had to take control. Two lives depended on it, and do did his sanity. "That's a lie, and you know it. You're tough. You've gone through harder stuff than anyone I've ever met. Now come on. One last push and you'll be out of it. Do it for yourself, and for the baby."

Tears flowed from Vanilla's eyes. "I can't..."

"Then just do it to get me out of this awkward situation!" Vector shouted. It was the most selfish thing he could possibly have said, but it worked. Vanilla groaned, and pushed. Her groan turned into a cry of agony. She fell back against the tree, and there was silence.

The silence was pierced by a faint cry. The cry led into another, and another, until the noise was almost continuous. Vector pulled his hands out from under Vanilla's dress. His gloves were drenched in fluids that he didn't want to know about. It wasn't out of awkwardness; it was simply because he didn't care, for in his hands he held Vanilla's baby.

By all accounts, the baby was a feeble mess. Blood and various other fluids were streamed all over its bald form. Its limbs look like they'd break in a strong breeze. Its thin ears drooped bellows its head. The baby slowly rocked its body from side to side. Its arms wriggled, as if trying to grasp something, but always failing to make it. The only thing it seemed to be able to do was cry, and it did that very well. The baby was puny, but something about it entranced Vector.

"Vector?" Doctor Brown asked on the other end of the phone. Vector snapped out of his trance. "Is everything okay?"

"Well, not everything," Vector said. "The baby's been born, but it's crying like crazy. What did I do wrong?"

Doctor Brown breathed a sigh of relief. "Nothing, they just do that. We'll have to get it checked up later, but can you see any physical problems now?"

Vector frowned. "Only that it's the puniest, slimiest, stickiest..." His frown unwittingly turned into a broad smile. "...cutest thing I've ever seen." Vanilla reached for the baby with open arms. Vector slowly moved it towards her, being very careful not to drop it.

"Yeah, they tend to be like that. Just for the record, is it a boy or a girl?"

"Um, I have no idea." Vector gently placed the baby in Vanilla's arms. She cradled it, and pulled it close to her chest.

Vanilla opened her eyes halfway, and she gazed upon the baby. "It's a girl," she whispered as he stroked the baby's forehead. Vector was sure she couldn't have heard the doctor's question. Perhaps she was just confirming to herself that the ordeal was over.

"It's a girl, apparently," Vector said as he sat down next to Vanilla.

"Very good," Doctor Brown replied. "Well, you did it, Vector. Congratulations. Sorry you had to do it, though."

"Forget about it. What matters is it all worked out alright. Now, if you'll excuse me, I don't want to deal with your voice until you bring us a way to get into town." Vector snapped his phone shut, and sighed. It was finally over. "Good work, Vanilla." The baby's cries were the only sounds that could be heard. "Vanilla?"

Vector turned his head to face Vanilla. Her eyes were closed, and her breaths were long and deep. For the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, she was smiling. She clutched her baby to her chest, and in that scene, Vector found the answers to his questions. He knew why mammals went through the pain and sorrow that Vanilla had just gone through. It was all for that bond he saw now. He could never understand how it worked, since he'd never experienced. He could see the results, however, and was grateful for them. Anything that made Vanilla happy was good for him.

Vector gazed out at the rising sun. He still couldn't figure out why he cared so much about Vanilla. He liked to think that he was just a caring guy, but he knew that wasn't true. He could be selfish. He could hurt people. He could even be apathetic sometimes. The situation made no sense.

Vector sighed, but smiled. He doubted that he would ever have all the answers, but maybe things were better that way.

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Vector dipped his hands into the bowl's soothing water. It did little to wash off the fluids that had become nearly encrusted into his scales and gloves, but he was grateful for any relief. He leant back in the chair. He was sitting in a hospital corridor, right outside Vanilla's room. Doctor Brown had claimed that they were just doing routine checks on her and the baby, but he was still worried, and he still found himself wondering why.

Vector turned his head as the door creaked open. A nurse walked out, followed by Doctor Brown. He was a fox, and had to look up to make eye contact with Vector. "They're both fine," Doctor Brown said.

Vector breathed a sigh of relief. "Can I see her?" he asked.

"Go ahead; she's been wanting to see you since she woke up." Doctor Brown glanced down at Vector's hands. "You know, that never quite washes out."

"Tell me about it."

Doctor Brown smiled about it. "Vector, I was right about you." He and the nurse walked away.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Vector shouted.

Doctor Brown laughed, but kept walking. "You'll figure it out someday."

Vector frowned as he placed the bowl on the seat beside him. He stood up, and walked to the door. He flinched as he looked through the door's window. Vanilla was sitting up in the bed, breastfeeding the baby. Doctor Brown had warned Vector about that, and told him of all the benefits it gave, but it didn't make it any less awkward to watch. Fortunately, the cloths wrapped around the baby, when combined with the far more convenient hospital gown Vanilla wore, prevented Vector from seeing too much. As she looked up and smiled at him, the awkwardness nearly vanished. Once again, Vector found himself defying any common sense he had ever learnt as he opened the door. He took a deep breath, and walked into the room.

"Hi," Vector said as he closed the door behind him. His eyes darted around the room in a vain attempt to avoid looking at Vanilla. "So, how are you feeling?"

Vanilla shrugged. "Thanks to you," she replied, "a lot better than I would be otherwise."

Vector waved his left arm and shook his head. "Oh come on, I didn't really help that much."

Vanilla gazed at Vector for a moment, forcing him to look her in the eye. "You saved my life, Vector."

Vector stepped back, and he hit the door with a light thud. He pointed at Vanilla with a straight, rigid arm. "Now that's not true. You could have given birth on your own and lived to tell about it."

"That's not what I'm talking about." Vector's arm went slack. Vanilla frowned. "For nine months, I'd been as good as dead." She smiled again. "That all changed when I met you."

Vector's mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. What could he possibly say to that? "I don't know what you think I did, but it was nothing special. There are millions of guys who would do the same thing."

Vanilla shook her head. "Let me put it this way: for nine months, my family and friends refused to help me. Then you come along and help a complete stranger. I've never met anyone else who would do that."

Vector blushed ever so slightly. He managed to make a sheepish smile. "You really think I'm that great?" Vanilla nodded. Vector shrugged his shoulders. "I still think you're crazy, but I'll live with it." The room went silent. Vector was sure that he didn't belong there. Vanilla's actions were private. Still, he couldn't just leave, not yet. "So, have you decided on a name yet?" He was dodging the issue, and he knew it.

Vanilla looked down at her baby. "Well, it's a bit of a silly name, really, but I was thinking of calling her Cream. Like I said, it's silly."

"I think it suits her," Vector said. "I certainly couldn't think of a better name."

Vanilla stroked Cream's ears. "Well, I guess I'll use that name."

Vector frowned. The issue couldn't be dodged for any longer. "Vanilla, I've got to tell you something." Vanilla looked up with a concerned look on her face. Vector sighed. "I lied to you."

Vanilla frowned. "What? When?"

Vector hung his head in shame. "When you were still having your contractions, the doc called, and you asked what it was about. I said it was about nothing. I lied. The ambulance had suffered a massive delay from going the wrong way. That's why I wound up having to do... the doc's job. I'm sorry, I should have told you when it came up. You would have been prepared."

Vanilla smiled, and suppressed a laugh. "Vector, I was hardly in a state to be prepared for anything. If you'd told me that, it would simply have made me panic. You did the right thing."

"No I didn't!" Vector shouted. Vanilla flinched. Cream wailed. Vanilla took a moment to calm Cream down. The baby rabbit returned to her suckling. Vector rubbed his temples for a moment. "Sorry, but it's just that lying is wrong. No ifs and no buts."

Vanilla gave Vector a look that seemed to bore through his skull. "Even if you're right, you more than made up for it. Now stop being so hard on yourself."

Vector laughed. "This coming from you?"

"This is coming from someone who now knows that being hard on yourself solves nothing. I guess the teacher just has trouble learning his own lessons."

"Well, that's what you're for, so thanks." Vector coughed. "Look, I'd better get going."

"Vector, if I didn't know better, I'd say that you were finding this situation a bit awkward."

"No!" Vector shouted, almost jumping into the air. He took a deep breath. "Well, yeah. It's nothing personal, but I think I've had my fair share of awkwardness for one day."

"That's quite alright." Vanilla's smile disappeared. She looked down at Cream. Vector thought he saw a tear in Vanilla's eye, but he couldn't be sure. "Well, I guess this is goodbye, then. Thank you again, for everything."

"Look, if you ever need anything, just get in touch with me."

"No, I couldn't-"

"Vanilla." That put a stop to Vanilla's objections. She looked up at Vector. "Right, we got that sorted." Vector turned away, and walked to the door. He opened it, and turned back. "Look, I mean anything, and I mean ever." He smiled, not his normal grin, but a sincere, heartwarming smile. "You got that?"

Vanilla smiled and nodded. In that moment, Vector didn't see a scared girl out of her depth. He didn't see the mess she'd become during her labour. He didn't see someone who had made the last day the most stressful of his life. Instead, he saw the beautiful, mature, sophisticated young woman who'd gotten a bad break in life. He saw the qualities that had held him to her throughout the experience.

As Vector left the room, he knew there had to be more to it than that. What could possibly have made him do something so crazy? He knew it was pointless to think about it, since it wouldn't lead to anything. That didn't stop him.

Sighing, Vector walked down the hospital corridor. After a few steps, he stopped. He laughed to himself. He had just had the craziest idea as to what had made him do every crazy thing he'd done over the last day.

He had thought that maybe, just maybe, it was love.

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Vanilla gazed out the window into the empty corridor. Vector was gone, and a hint of fear filled her heart. Though it couldn't have been much more than a day since she met him, it seemed like a lifetime. He'd helped her through the toughest experience of her life. How could she go on without him? She knew he'd be more than willing to help her with the toughest situations. It was thought of having to fend for herself every day that scared her.

Vanilla frowned. She had terrible memories of what had happened the last time she'd tried to head away from those who supported her. She tried to stop the flow of images, but she couldn't. Her mind flashed back to that night nine months ago, when she'd been drugged and raped. The mere thought of that event caused her to shudder.

As if sensing her mother's distress, Cream broke away and cried. Her wails brought Vanilla out of the darkness of the past, back to the present. She looked down, and stroked Cream's ears. Vanilla remembered the fear that she would hate Cream, but it seemed ridiculous now. "It's okay, Cream," Vanilla whispered in a soothing voice, "I'm right here. No one's going to hurt you, I promise." Cream's wails died down, and she resumed suckling.

Vanilla smiled. She had needed that moment. She had needed to be reminded that some good had come out of the situation. She knew that she would need to carry that thought with her, all the time. She would need to draw strength from it, in order to keep on going. She had a new life now, and she needed to live it. She owed Vector that much. She owed Cream that much.

Somehow, Vanilla would make her life work.
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