By Jeanette Hansen (aka Illys)
Email: jeanette @ arcticfuzz.dk (remove spaces to send me an email. die, spam-bots!)
Sonic Site: http://illys.arcticfuzz.dk/jdw
Timing: Pre-doomsday project
Universe: Sonic the Hedgehog Sat AM Series
Summary: Based upon the premise that Tails is a girl in secret, as rumored in the STH internet community that Tails was a female charachter before Sonic 2 was released in America, with her gender changed as a precautionary measure by Sega of America. Humor and intrigue ensues.
Chapter One - Youth in Mobotropolis
Under the pale blue hemisphere of the northern mobian sky, the capital city was a lazy hum of peace. In one of the smaller city parks, a few children were making a rowdy game of ball into their own personal sporting event - a young fox was pacing at the edges of the field.
"Hey, can I play too?"
The voices echoing across the field piped an answer - several belonging to older male boys. One trotted closer to the speaker to answer with a grin, "No way!"
"But why?" The little fox cub at the field side protested with bristling fur.
"You're too little!"
"Yeah, and you're a girl, too!" Chimed in a younger boy, inspiring some giggles.
"No fair! I'm going to tell!" The fox cub's lower lip trembled slightly, jutting out in the way that meant she had no idea who to tell. Her older peers simply moved back into play, sending their ball hurtling farther along the field. She turned her back to the players and kicked up a small cloud of summer dust. "Meanies..."
She found herself a place in the empty swings at the edge of the park and shoved at the ground beneath her feet.
"They're just boring, anyways..."
Sonic teetered out of the grocer's door, a brown paper bag just barely blocking his vision as he wobbled onto the sidewalk. A few choice words were escaping his breath - they seemed to follow the lines of 'responsibilities' and 'chores' and 'blah-blah-blah-helping out'. He was struggling to make his way home under a healthy load of vegetables, and shifting the bag around in his hands to find a way to see better around them.
After a breathy huff, he managed to pitch the weight of the bag up into an elbow and he started the sprint home. He was especially looking forward to a 'Mob-gob' chocolate bar that was his self-appointed shopping treat.
Three blocks down from the grocer's, Tails was trotting her way back home from the park. She had a rather dejected posture. At the moment, she was concentrating very hard upon a rounded rock that she was kicking along the sidewalk - and suddenly she found herself bowled over by a very large paper bag. There was an explosion of onions, celery and tomatoes, and she found herself on her side on the ground with a potato rolling by her nose.
There was a shuffling noise as Sonic pulled himself to his feet - and he groaned at the sight. About half of his groceries were 'gravel mush' (by his calculations), and there was a smallish orange fox cub at his feet.
He pressed a paw to a lump on his forehead and groaned. Apparently he had mowed over the kid due to his lack of vision. But, of course, there was nothing to do but clean up the mess. He had a few curses on the tip of his tongue when he found the kit's nose poking into his business.
Tails' ears were flickering madly, and she started tripping over herself to help the blue older boy pick up his belongings. "I..I.. I'm so.. so sorry mister!" She plopped a muddy tomato back into the half-torn paper sack, meanwhile sniffling about. The older boy slowed down his clean-up, and looked down at her.
Tails squeaked with surprise. "I said I'm.. sorry about making you spill all your stu..."
"S'okay, kid.. There's always more where these come from." Sonic scratched himself behind an ear and laughed lightly. "I'm more worried what my uncle's going to say.."
The fox kit apparently didn't take it quite right - the ears drooped, and it's whiskers lowered. Sonic felt like a heel. "Aww.. look kid, here. You can have this -"
Tails found a half-squished chocolate bar thrust under her nose - she stared a moment, then took it with gratitude. It didn't last five seconds, before she looked up with a slightly chocolaty grin.
The older hedgehog sighed internally with relief when the kid didn't end up blubbering. The last thing he wanted were tears from a younger kid today. He picked up his bag (more carefully than usual), and decided to get along.. "I gotta get going..."
Tails hopped along for a short while, curiosity brimming. "What's your name, mister?"
Sonic paused in his steps when he found the kit tagging along. He turned to look at the orange sugar-rush and said, "Sonic. Sonic T. Hedgehog, at yer service, kid."
Tails self-consciously licked a mob-gob bit from her nose. "You must be that speed demon everyone talks about! Gee! I.. I'm..."
The kid's voice trailed off for a moment. Lingering in the back of her mind were the taunting voices of her playmates back at the park. "I'm Mel.. Miles. Miles 'Tails' Power." She hiked a thumb backwards for emphasis at her unusual appendages.
Sonic's eyes widened at the sight. There were two disproportionately large fox tails waving behind the kid's ears, every now and then a tip flickering around behind him.
He got a wide grin, "Wow.. that's.. I've never seen that before."
Tails perked up at the reply. "Hey.. you wanna play?"
"Naw.. I gotta get home.."
"It's so boring over there - the other guys say I'm too young.."
"Oh, okay. See you after lunch, kid."
Sonic grinned when the fox kit got a satisfied grin on it's cute face. He'd be there at the park all right - just for kicks.
It was in this way that Tails became an almost inseparable sidekick for Sonic. Even though the cub was less than half of Sonic's age, Tails became an almost trademark sight. Where the fox cub was, Sonic was sure to follow. And vice versa, of course - but Tails never really found the courage in the back of her mind to correct Sonic's most blaring misconception - his best 'bud' was really a girl.
Chapter Two - Morning in Knothole
Winters pass quickly for Mobian children - one season of sun melts into snow, and life continues on, much apace. Melissa 'Tails' Prower has become fast friends with a hedgehog named 'Sonic' - though she has made her way about by the name of 'Miles'. Her secret has never slipped by Sonic's nose, and his friends (in likewise manner) took to the idea as well - Tails has always been the youngest of the bunch, a relatively amusing character, and never very predictable except in nagging Sonic about his often poor choices.
In the summer night haze Miles had her window open to the sky. She was observing the starry heavens make their trek across the branch-darkened net of night, and her thoughts were flying in the same, slow patterns of the twinkling lights above. Life had changed that summer. She had graduated into a hut of her own, here in the recesses of Knothole, and she was blatantly proud of that fact. Nothing is quite so satisfactory of using one's own hands to build a home. Things were quieter and less vibrant of course - Sonic was, at times (excepting 6AM wakeup calls) a running commentary of jokes. She missed it in the back of her mind - especially at the time before drifting off to sleep.
In the course of her thoughts Tails reminisced upon the day's reports at the communal fireside of Knothole - the latest mission into the metal city was unsuccessful, and Sonic had had yet another brush of the shoulder with the dark reaper. The thoughts of loosing such a friend as the blue hedgehog was disconcerting to Tails - the sort that haunt dark closets of the soul. She shunted it aside, and she brought to mind a chant which carried her into reassurance - tomorrow is another day.
'Tomorrow is another day' - that tangible thought lingered upon her mind. 'Tomorrow will be my day.'
Up overhead the pines began to sing a breezy lullaby, and Tails said good bye to another sol cycle, her eyelids drooping across her cheeks. Her dreams were hazy and dark, mostly filled with half-heard memories of people long gone by, and of some faces new. Sometimes she remembered her mother, a metallic figure with a gleaming red, unblinking eye. Tails didn't like to linger upon those dreams. Good dreams, though, near always included her older companion, Sonic.
There was another wakeful soul that night - The dowager princess of Mobius was rife with questions about the upcoming day. She had been putting off Miles' complaints for months, but Sonic had pushed the issue too strongly into the forefront of her agenda.
The plea was simple - Tails had skills beyond most of the adult members of the Knothole FF, and they were sorely needed skills. Tails was also pushing the age of thirteen - one year older than the age where Sonic and Sally had made their first forays into the conquered city of Mobotropolis. Tails would not stand well for any more delays.
Sally could not push the concerns from her mind though. Sonic had promised to prevent Tails from coming to any harm - and he was right in his reasoning- but Sally felt an obligation to Tails - for Sally, Tails was still a little boy.
Tails stirred to the sound of an early-morning sparrow in the branches outside her window (who sang not altogether softly). It fluttered away in fright when a pillow struck the nearby window pane in answer to its peeping. Tails did not share the birds philosophy - the only thing you could catch in the Knothole kitchen at this hour in the morning was a stray spider or two.
A few hours later, though, Miles' stomach accomplished what the bird had been unable to. The first objects on the floor (nearly simultaneously) was the top-end of a tattered quilt and a set of white hind paws, the claws making a soft clicking noise. Tails spent a moment to clear sleep from her eyes and then pulled on her gloves and shoes. One could certainly not walk to breakfast naked!
The Knothole mess hall was a fascinating structure, constructed underneath the far-reaching branches of a century pine. At some point in the Great Forest's history, the Knothole basin had been a swampy area that eventually drained off into caverns later - and the eventual remains were the healthy and established trees with cavernous areas underneath the ancient roots.
The kitchen of the establishment was built into the back of the covered area, where several natural smoke-clearers had been put into use, and ovens had been built of mud-brick. The larger area, of course, was well-trodden earth and benches, where the FF gathered night and day for meals, briefings, and sometimes for the brief celebrations which they kept with alarming regularity. War-worn the people might be, but war-torn they were not - the spirit of Mobotropolis was kept alive in the night-hearth of the mess hall.
It was from the left side of the circle of hearth-stones that Sonic's clear ring of a voice called Tails into their familiar table. "Hey Tails! Ready for the big day?"
Tails grinned with a wave, but didn't answer straight off. She picked up her pace to go through the line at the kitchen, and soon set down her bowl and wooden cup with a clatter. "You bet I am! When do we start?"
Sonic chuckled around a mouthful of breakfast sausage. He was innerly amused at the contents of Tails' breakfast-bowl. Oatmeal. He wouldn't touch the mortal slime with a ten-foot pole, but for some odd reason Tails had made it a part of his morning ritual since he had settled down with Sonic in Knothole. A morning with Tails without oatmeal was like a day without the sun.
Sally shook her head at the noises from across the table. Sonic never failed, each morning, to greet Tails with hurling noises. She failed to see the humor in Tails' morning porridge in quite the same way Sonic did.
"We're heading out" Sally looked up as Sonic gave up the tease, "Two hours after breakfast." 'Besides,' she thought, 'It's best to get this over with as soon as possible'.
Sally stirred the gruel in her own bowl. For some odd reason, it appeared to be the same color as her thoughts on the subject of the day - grey.
Chapter Three - Boot of Doom
Sonic had a fierce grin on his face as he raced Tails towards their destination. Sally was dead silent in Sonic's arms, her eyes clamped shut as they often were at such speeds. It seemed to Tails that, indeed, the faster Sonic ran, the less Sally liked to talk. Perhaps she was holding on to something important - her breakfast.
Sonic and Tails were, however, tossing back and forth playful insults that made the minutes fly by.
"Eyeballs for brains!"
Sonic got a slightly thoughtful look for a moment, thinking over his next stinger. "...Girly-cheeks!"
Tails squeaked and slowed down just a little bit behind Sonic. She could hear from ahead Sally's voice, "Now THAT was uncalled for, Sonic T. Hedgehog!"
Sonic grinned widely and laughed in a way that encouraged Tails to take up the racing competition again. Sally just squirmed slightly - the speed was picking up again.
Tails was full of excitement as the great plains stretched out before her like a panorama of earth, waiting to be explored. There was, however, a great darkening in the sky to the south-west - a place where night, it seemed, had taken up permanent residence. It was rapidly growing as the trio made their way forwards.
"Okay li'l bro - this is where we take to the trenches.." Sonic's expression grew more focused, and he folded his ears back. "Follow me close."
Sonic ran straight forward with a burst of speed - then dropped down out of sight. It wasn't until Tails pulled up to that spot that she found a steep bank of pebbles that sunk into a gorge, leading jaggedly in the direction of Robotropolis. The rocky walls soon became a blur, and Tails had a tough job keeping Sonic in sight. Her other senses, however, were soon filled with a dank, lurid and lingering scent - Robotnik's city, the eternal garbage dump.
Sonic scraped to a quick halt, and Tails had to swerve in order to avoid a prickly reception. She took to the air in order to slow down her speed.
"Get down!" Sally hissed when she saw Tails take off. When the fox landed, she took a deep breath and gripped the kit's arm. "Don't ever do that out in the open - especially not here. There are less pleasant things in the skies than Mobians..."
"Hey, give him a break, Sal!"
The squirrel turned on her heels, her fur bristling. She had a stream of scolding ready at her tongue, but Sonic's look made her choke on them.
"Uhm... Aunt Sally... Sorry..." Tails' voice made Sally smoothen her rough nerves. The smile on the kit's face was disarming enough to set their minds back on the task at hand. Sally shrugged and managed a small smile.
"Well, anyways.. I like a happy ending too, but I think we're here on business, right?" Sonic made a small cough that made Tails chuckle.
"Almost right, Sonic. We're also here," Sally muttered, pulling out Nicole for map readings, "for training." She studied her holographic unit for several seconds, then motioned with an arm to the east, "we're going after this year's supply of batteries - the production plant is in that direction. You know the drill, Sonic."
A snort escaped Sonic, his lips screwed up as if in some private joke, but he kept it to himself. He started running forward in a cautious zip-zag, tagging shadows wherever he could, but slow enough that Tails could follow. As they rounded a corner, Tails could see a large, sickly-grey dome looming in the dusky air. She could soon hear Sally murmuring to Sonic below a whisper, and they skirted the building until they came along a large old vent-grate.
Sonic set Sally down, and within seconds the grate had been silently torn out of it's rusted moorings. Sally tugged a flashlight out of her seeming unending supply of boot-items and climbed in, beckoning them to follow.
It was a long and dark journey through the ventilation shaft - Tails had several uncomfortable encounters with the business-end of Sonic's quills before she learned to listen for pauses in the route. Tails also had to work to avoid sneezing- five years of unused dust hung in the vent system, and it was almost surreal to see flashes of light from Sally's flashlight, suspended in the stirred-up dust.
At the exit point of the passageway the vent opened up again so that Sonic allowed Tails to lean forward with Sally. The squirrel soon had the grate off of it's base and set to the side, and she pointed up into the building's interior for Tails to see.
The entire dome was a Picasso-esque jumble of machinery, catwalks, old electric lamps and oily squeals from the production lines. Tails could hear the squeals of welding machinery, and at points she could see sparks fly in the air from around bulky machines, like dragons testing the flammability of the air in their nests.
"Okay, Tails - see that belt over there?"
Miles stretched her focus in the direction that Sally pointed - there, in a dim section where a lamp had burned out, was a tiny level of production belt. "Those are the batteries?"
"Yep - you fly up there and bring us back as many as you can carry. And keep quiet!"
Sonic shuffled behind them doing god-knows-what - Tails had the image in the back of her mind that Sonic was mentally reviewing letting his little 'bro' head out into the metal jungle of robots. Tails was, unfortunately, into the air before Sonic could protest. A rush of blood came to Tails' head as she flew up, into the soupy atmosphere. She was elated, flying, her blood pumping with adrenalin and danger, and before it she was hovering before the belt. One, two.. and four batteries were in her arms before she realized what she was doing, and even sooner handing them off to Sally. From the dark of the ventilation shaft, Tails could see Sonic's luminescent green eyes smiling at her from the dark. She realized he had been opening up a sack, and was now loading the batteries into it.
"Good work, 'lil bud. One more load, and we're on the way out."
Tails nodded, her ears flushed with the thrill of the work, and flew off again without complications.
It was, however, much more complicated once Sonic and his compatriots had replaced the old grate on the building's outer side. An array of patrol robots came buzzing around the corner, and before Sonic could effectively silence them, a report had been sent out to the main control center.
Sonic span into action of the like Tails had heard only in stories. He was a blur, turning several machines into scrap heaps with skilled kicks, punches and daring spins. Sally too was not idle, and she had dismembered at least two smaller bots within the time that Sonic was fighting. Tails could not have known it, but the focus of their desperate fight was to protect her.
"Halt and be captured, in the name of-" Tails turned at the unmistakable drone from a SWATbot before her. Gulp. The worst kind. It was bringing about it's laser arm to point at Tails' forehead, but she kicked into her training before the robot had completed its movement. Up three feet in the air, hover, and bring the wrists down at point A and B... and the head of the bot went flying off like a Frisbee in a shopping spree. Tails had to silence an inner shout of celebration - Rotor's training had been right.
Behind her Tails could hear Sonic and Sally panting - and then a gasp from Sally - had she seen Tails' accomplishment? The fox kit began to rotate to look at them, but she was stopped rudely in mid-twist when something reached out and grasped her tails with a jarring, iron strength.
"What do we have here?" A low, gravelly voice was rumbling behind Tails. She turned around to look into the beady eyes of a fleshy, human Jabba-the-hut. "Some new contrivance of the Freedom-Fighter elite squad?" Robotnik grinned, and squeezed the double tails in his robotic arm. "Looks like you've sunk to a new low, Princess, taking children into the fray..."
Sally's voice took on a harsh growl, and Tails squeaked, struggling in the fist of the enemy. "You've done much worse, Julian! You're not worth the dust you're made of..."
"Tut-tut, Miss Acorn. We can't have such behavior from the royal house, now can we?" Robotnik uttered a bellowing laugh, rocking in his newest transport. He was seated upon an olive-green motorbike of sorts, his distended belly and backside cupped by metal braces.
Sonic was calculating, though, his angle of attack - and within seconds, knowing not where Sonic had launched himself from, Tails was looking into the face of a bruised Robotnik. Sonic was buzz-sawing away at the metal sinews which held Tails fast, and soon she was in the grip of Sonic as he sped down and out of trouble.
Not fast enough, though. With a growl of anger, Julian launched a surprisingly agile foot in Sonic's direction and connected satisfyingly. Sonic yelped in surprise and Tails almost tumbled out of his arms, ending, instead, propelled forward in flight against Sonic's stomach, uncomfortably close. Both landed with the wind knocked out of their bodies, and Tails' ears again flushed.
Sonic took no time to stand up, and sprinted over to scoop Sally up in his arms. "Go, now!" he hissed, breathlessly back at Tails.
Tails could hear in the background, as she sped away, blushing, Robotnik's howls of either anger or pain.
The day had progressed into evening, and Sally, Sonic and Tails were contemplating a meal of salad and wild game hen. Sonic was sitting very uncomfortably on the couch, Sally in an armchair, and Tails on the side of the footrest. Sonic shifted from side to side, trying to find the best way to sit - and he shot Tails a wavering smirk. Sally broke into giggles - and Tails blushed. "What happened?"
Sonic got up, setting down his bowl, and pushed down some lumps in the ice-cube cushion that he had been sitting on. He turned around to look at Tails sideways.
"Old 'botnik did make a nice kick, Tails, but he had forgotten something important about me..."
Sally broke un-princessely into a fit of giggles as Sonic turned his back to Tails.
"I have defenses other than speed..." and he bent over.
Miles blushed nearly ten shades of red and closed her eyes - but soon peeped them open to look - she didn't see anything more on Sonic than a small, football-shaped section of broken spines and raw flesh where some of the needles had been ripped out violently.
Robotnik's boots, it appeared, were not spine-proof.
"'Botnik is in a lot more discomfort than I at the moment..." Sonic grinned as he sat down again with a grimace.
Tails grinned, still flushed with thoughts. Sonic was a good fighter, alright - but he had also plucked Tails out of, literally, the arms of death - and had been too close for decent thoughts to ramble around in her mind.
Chapter Four - Sunset Thoughts
Snively shuffled his chair further in under the control desk and rested his hand around a cup of muddy black coffee. The robots never could make a decent cup of java, he reminisced. That was one of the many luxuries he missed from the 'old days'. Decent brews.
He swept his hand over the grimy keys and reclined his chair with a sigh. Some days in Robotropolis were so busy that his coffee went cold - this was not one of those days. Things were so quiet in the robotic capital that even Robotnik on a unicycle couldn't cheer him up.
So he was reviewing the surveillance cams from the morning. It was very rare to see activity of any kind other than droll bots on their daily business, so he skimmed forward in skip mode. It was all a dreary dull grey, until suddenly a flash of color woke Snively from his delirium. He almost spilled his coffee, darting his hand across the control panel to stop the tape. It took him several seconds to pinpoint the spot on the time reel, but when he found it his eyes lit up.
There stood the regular freedom fighters, Sally and Sonic, looking up gawkingly at His Lardiness. Robotnik had apparently caught wind of combat out near the battery factory, and he had gleefully hurried out in his hover chair to harass his visitors. Sonic had a rather concentrated and calculated look on his face, paying absolutely no attention to the diatribe that the camera barely picked up from Robotnik.
Then Robotnik turned slightly to eye the princess - in his robotic right arm there was a small ball of orange fuzz, struggling like a pinned cockroach. It was, to Snively's eye, a small orange fox suspended by the - tails? - from Robotnik's fist. The coffee took a downward turn off the desk corner as Snively zoomed in on the scene with his keys. The fox in question was a freedom fighter never seen before in Robotropolis - it was a well-built youth, who was currently trying its bst to chew through Robotnik's tough metal wrist. It was difficult for Snively to see, but he supposed that the fox might be an underdeveloped female.
Suddenly a blue blur flashed across the enlarged image on Snively's screen, and he had to reduce the image to see clearly - Sonic had taken action on Robotnik's arm and sawed through the arm to free the small fox. Just great - another repair job on old lardass... he thought.
Another motion caught Snively's attention - Robotnik took the opportunity to tó lash out at Sonic in his fury with a booted foot - and connected! Snively's boredom suddenly flew the coop - He saw Sonic end up landing awkwardly on the ground, call out to the fox, then take off running. And, a second later, the two-tailed anomaly took off into the air and made a hasty escape.
Snively's jaw dropped nearly to the desk. Flight?! He quickly rewound the playback, and confirmed the sight. Even this he could not mistake - the impossible had just flown across his screen, and he didn't like the implications. He sat, his eyes somewhat boggled out. Thoughts momentarily flickered across his mind - the possibilities and the dangers which lay ahead for Robotropolis in this individual were far from friendly. Snively shivered slightly - he couldn't let this get so out of hand - he'd have to ask Robotnik for permission to go 'fox hunting'.
But before he went to that extent, he would, of course, enjoy the scene before him on the screen - a very rotund, red-faced and heavily cursing Robotnik on screen...
Underneath the summer canopy of leaves high above them, Sally and Bunnny were slowly decorating the Knothole mess center for the night's festivities. Bunny was elevated high above the communal area atop her robotic telescoping legs, fixing electric paper lanterns in rings in the lower branches of the trees. Sally was just below her, feeding the lines upwards and fighting off a host of admiring flies that had fallen in love with her hair.
"I wish I were up there with you, Bun..."
"Nothin' doin', Sally girl. You should know better than to use that honey-conditioner in the summer..." Bunny glanced downward, to where Sally was batting with her one free hand.
Sally swiped her paw across her face aggravatedly. She growled lowly in an unprincessly fashion and called upward, "Yeah, but it's the only thing that'll keep my hair from flying off in fourteen-odd directions..."
Up above Bunny could feel the line sway as Sally went into a new frontal attack on the flies. She chuckled quietly and hooked up another lamp, then stepped slowly to her next target. Sally was tugged along silently - apparently talking about the flies wasn't helping the predicament. Bunnie decided to try and distract Sally to another subject.
"Betcha Tails is going to be glowing-proud tonight..."
"You might just be right..."
"I can't believe he's already been on his first mission - he's growing up so fast!" Bunny glanced down again, imagining Sally's motherly smile.
"I could hardly believe it myself - speaking of which, he has gained an inch or two, hasn't he?"
"Yeah - an' he's been more independent by the day - at only twelve, would you believe it?"
Sally swatted at a few more flies, then responded, "Yeah, seems kind of early, doesn't it? I mean, Sonic took ages to get where he is now, and he still acts like he's ten..."
Their eyes made a practiced tandem roll, "Boys..."
Outside her window the sunlight was taking a golden-orange tint in the sky, making the floor and walls inside softer and sweeter than they were in reality. Tails was turning to and fro in front of her mirror, an old polished piece of metal. Sally had the only real mirror in the whole village, and even that one was cracked in a corner. Even here, though, Tails could mark the changes occurring in her appearance. More curves, less 'child' in her form. It was only a marginal change, well hidden behind the great ruff of fur below her neck, but Tails didn't like it.
A distorted image of femininity dwelt somewhere in the deep dark recesses of Tails' mind - something pink, frilly, frivolous and covered with cooties. She could feel its insidious fingers taking a grasp on the corners of her individuality - uck! Tails could not process in her mind the changes that would take place once her nature was public - she would change entirely, perhaps - into some well-mannered pretty girl in a dress, asking people to lay their jackets in mud puddles to keep her high heels from getting sullied in the dirt.
Tails shuddered and her fur ruffled out in the direction of the four winds. She'd never succumb to that depth - even if she was genetically female. She grabbed a brush from an old dark dresser and began the tedious task of smoothing down her fur (not too much for the chest, of course). Life was getting more confusing by the day as her identity was eaten away at the edges. Tails had always been the adorable fox kit at Sonic's heels, caught impossibly between an infinite childhood and a genius for mechanics. Where did the inner Tails fit in?
If not a boy, and not a girl, then who was she? An enigma? The last few hairs fell into place and she grabbed a set of beads from the dresser to hang around her neck. It was time to place the questions on the shelf and go out for the evening, at last. A summer solstice was a good time to hang cares on the shelf and have a good old time.
Chapter Five - Confusing Dance
A sweet chorus of high-pitched whistles greeted the full moon as it rose above the setting sun, just visible over the forest canopy. The inhabitants of Knothole were greeting the new moon and calling in the summer solstice, using long grass blades as whistles. Tails was having a hard time with hers, her ears flushed red with the effort of blowing through her blade. The sound came out as a raspy whisper. At her side, Sonic took a break from whistling and grinned at her as she caught her breath.
At a makeshift podium (a rattly old wooden box, just large enough to raise a person a head above the crowd) Sally was drawing in a deep breath to address the grouped Freedom Fighters.
"All right everyone, that's enough whistling! I'm sure old man moon is awake by now!" She called out, as the whistling died down. A few people chuckled at her fairy-tale reference. "We're here tonight to celebrate yet another year of successful fighting to free our planet from Robotnik's reign --" A few boos echoed from the crowd, and she waited for these to subside, too. "And to celebrate the beginning of summer!"
And a cheer rose up, loud enough to fill the clearing. At least two hundred people had gathered to the mess hall to add their voices to the crowd.
Sally grinned before continuing, "This year I have one more thing to add to the festivities - We have a new freedom fighter in our midst! Tails, come here!"
Tails blushed anew and her ears perked up. Sonic slapped her on the shoulder with a 'way to go man!' wink and pushed her forward. Tails found the crowd heavy enough that she had to take to the air to approach the soapbox, which was just fine for most of the crowd. A few murmurs rose as people recognized her face, and a few people cheered - not to mention a few kids.
"Here he is, folks! This brave kit fetched our batteries for this year and even popped the head off his first Swat-bot, single-handedly! He was amazing!" Another round of cheers went up, and Tails blushed anew as she landed beside Sally. Sally gripped her paw and lifted it up over Tails' head, and started to tell the story of Tails' first encounter with Robotnik. Not a few gasps were heard - and laughter, when they heard the end of the story. In the end, Sally shouted, "Welcome to the Freedom Fighters, Miles Prower!" And the cheers went up once again with a few new whistles.
Tails winced slightly as they cheered her in the wrong name. She was more comfortable being called Tails as the nick-name didn't necessarily call her male. She did, however, hover again briefly and waved before Sally drew her down again to set a small wreath of leaves on her head.
"And now let's begin the feast, everyone! Happy Solstice!"
Sally and Tails waited for the crowd to shuffle out of their way before leaving the soapbox, retreating to their normal table as the rest of Knothole fought for a place in line to the food at the kitchen buffet. Sonic had already beat the whole throng, and he was walking towards Tails and Sally with a beaming smile and an arm full of the freshest food. Today they had better fare than normal - new potatoes, greens, fresh bread (with butter!) and a small roasted game hen for each of them.
His grin widened as he laid the food on the table, and he winked at Tails. "Way to go, big guy! The girls are gonna be all over you tonight!"
Sally shushed Sonic as Tails broke out into a huge blush. "Th- that's not true..."
"Ha! No need to be modest, lil' bro. Everyone knows you're the second handsomest guy in Knothole!"
Tails felt like plunging her face into the potatoes. Her cheeks were burning rather brightly, and she couldn't figure out what to say to Sonic. Fortunately, though, Bunnie and Antoine had just joined the table.
Bunnie set her plate down and sat beside Sally, smiling as she greeted the princess. Antoine, however, set down not a plate, but a heavy-looking barrel with a small spigot at one end. It made a sloshy 'thunk' as it hit the table, and all eyes turned (including several from nearby tables) to Antoine and his odd container.
"My princezz," He began, with a proud flair of a hand, "It ez my proudness to prezent you with this fine gift..."
Sonic's eyebrows fluttered oddly and he gave Antoine an odd look. "What on Mobius is that?"
"Eet is, to be precize, only ze finest vine in Mobiuz, for my sweet princezz!"
"Wine, Ant? You gotta be kiddin' us. There hasn't been wine here since..." Bunny gave the barrel a suspicious sniff, then looked up at Antoine expectantly.
Antoine smiled widely, "Inzeed, zat is correct. But I have found ze ansvar in ze old library! Zere ez a book to ze 'Fine art of ze Vine'."
Sally spoke up with a slight look of skepticism herself. "Why, thank you, Antoine. I really appreciate the gesture - I haven't had wine since I last ate at the palace - "
Tails issued a squeak and looked incredulously at Sally. She chuckled at the expression and explained quickly, " - Since I last had dinner with my father. Diluted with water of course, Tails."
Sonic also had a doubtful look on his face. Anything that came out of Antoine's hut was to be put in doubt, period.
"Will you be doing me ze great honor my princez, to be ze first tasting?"
Antoine sprinted off to the kitchens to fetch a few glasses. Sally glanced across at Sonic meaningfully, and Sonic went through several silent motions that Tails could easily read. She was giggling when Antoine returned and began to prepare a few glasses.
Soon he had handed small small amounts out to Bunny, Sally and Sonic, and he was brandishing his own cup as if it were a fine flagon. Sally took the cup to her lips, smelled - and then took a cautious sip - and paused with a totally indiscernible look upon her face. Tails' eyes flickered between her and Sonic - and Sonic took a sip too.
Sally swallowed, the same expression masking her face. "Why, it tastes..."
Sonic exploded, watering the ground and wiping his face, "Ugh! Like turpentine with petrol mixed in!"
"Well, those weren't the words I was going to use..." Sally took a bit of water from her previous glass. Bunny, watching Sally gulp down the water, put her glass down cautiously.
Antoine's face went several shades of red. "Why, obviouzly, Zonic, you do not know ze differenze between fine foodes and ze common chili dogez..." And he hefted his own glass to take a good drink. Four pairs of eyes were affixed upon him, as he stood very still, the glass frozen in place - and then he took a very pained swallow. After a long moment, he set the glass down.
"-- fine vine.." and he teared up. "My princez, I have failed you.. "
Overhead the lanterns had lit up, dotting the blue-black canopy like stars peering down on the Knothole menagerie. Antoine had gained his royal pardon, but he had resigned himself to finish the sour wine alone. The sounds of conversation across the camp were picking up as people returned their dishes to the hall, and a few individuals had picked up the duty of playing instruments at a corner of the clearing. In all, the atmosphere was warm and dark, and a contented gladness hung in the air. Tails joined the rest of her comrades to circle the fire and begin the traditional dances.
She reached her hand forward to the girl across from her and stepped in the practiced patterns that Sonic had shown her several years ago. It had just been fun to her then, but Tails began to recognize, as she passed between one partner to another and bowed, that she was dancing on the wrong ring - that she was dancing in steps that didn't belong to her. She wondered what it would feel like, to step in a different dance.
At long last, the dance ended, and someone set an old tape player up on the other side of the camp. A few individuals lingered to dance in couples, and Tails watched Sonic and Sally walk into a place among them. She felt warm watching them, glad innerly that Sonic had a side to him that wasn't all rough edges and big talk.
A hand clamped down on the edge of one of her tails, and she yipped in surprise. Looking over her shoulder, she found the young Amy Rose teasing her fur with a chuckling grin. Amy let go and Tails turned around, holding her rear away from Amy. There was, once again, the image surfacing to Tails' mind of the frivolous feminine figure, embodied in Amy.
"I was really impressed with that story, Tails. You're almost a hero now!" She twittered off into giggles.
Tails grinned somewhat awkwardly, peeping a small thanks and battling off the urge to scamper away. Amy looked like she was in another of her 'moods'...
"Can you give Sonic a message for me?"
Tails blinked out of her thoughts. "Uh.. yeah, what is it?"
Amy rocked for a moment on her heels and then planted a daring little kiss on Tails' lips. The sensation was awkward and silly, and Tails didn't move. Amy pulled away after the briefest of moments, an even brighter pink then before, then broke into a fit of giggles and ran off.
Tails was frozen in place until she heard Bunny's voice in a low chuckle - and suddenly she was spitting and sputtering like crazy. Tails felt as if she had had a swig of Antoine's wine.
It was a bit later in the evening, when the crowd had begun to thin out, that Tails again found herself sitting to the side of the fire, watching it glow lazily. Sonic and Sally had departed towards the ring pool, holding hands like they were more inclined to do in these lazy summer evenings. Antoine, however, was acting odder than ever. He had bumped into Tails earlier in the evening with a 'S'chuze me, mish.. ' and then tottered off.
Tails blew a stray wisp of hair out of her face. What a confusing day.
Chapter Six - A Weakness For Family
Snively inhaled the watery coffee like it was a lifeline. He was on his third cup, at 2:23 in the morning Mobian central time. Four more hours to go before the shift ended, and his off period began. The night was flowing by like molasses at the command center, and in the back of his head Snively had developed a headache from the glare of the screens. A maintenance bot was humming along in the background, increasing his annoyance factor by at least two points. Today was not a Snively day. It very rarely ever was.
Time had steadily gone by since his fit of laughter at the surveillance logs, and he had re-wound the tape dry of humor. Robotnik had given him a few prickly, angry stares for days afterward, when the lacky's grins bubbled over into dangerous territories. Snively was, however, busy in secret with a project of his own for two weeks afterward. He had a secret fire burning within, to see more of this young fox...
Who was, at the moment, yawning as she ran in line behind Sonic and Bunny, trying to distinguish obstacles at the edges of her blurry vision. Sally's idea of a 'safe' surveillance mission was after midnight, into the heart of darkness in Robotropolis when activity was at a minimum. Tails was to supply arial footage of the production sector of the city, and Bunny to act as a secondary in the routine mission. This mission was, for Sonic, another well-timed plea to have Tails along, and he'd won out, knowing all of Sally's weak spots.
If following Sonic's trail in daylight was difficult, nighttime travel in the hedgehog's tracks was a nightmare. Tails hovered between sleep and jarringly close encounters with rocks and debris that she would normally skim around with ease.
It was, of course, when they entered the perimeter of Robotropolis that Tails discovered the true difficulty of the mission. Sonic dashed around one corner after another, impatiently making his way to their destination, perhaps also careless of Tails in his late-night fog. It was at one turn that Tails yawned again as Sonic made a left at an upcoming wall, and she continued straight.
When Sonic heard the yelp, he skidded to a stop and zipped back, suddenly much more alert. Tails was in a crumpled heap at the wall, tearily rubbing a bruised cheek and nursing a knee. "Owwww...." She groaned, and gave Sonic a weary, withered whimper.
Bunny stirred from Sonic's arms and responded with a motherly tone. "Y'all right, suga'? Y'don't look all that good..."
"...I think I did something in..." Tails stood up slowly, wincing.
Sonic offered a partially-occupied paw, and steadied the fox, letting Bunny down. "Yeah, the wall, probably," He smirked, but straightened up when Bunny gave him a glare in the dim city lights. "Sorry lil' bud. It's my fault for makin' you stay up so late for this..."
Tails didn't reply, testing a tender foot in the dusty road.
"Mebbe y'all should get on back, Tailsy..." Bunny nickered, shaking her head.
Sonic twitched, with a disapproving look. "Gotta do the mission, Bunny."
"Um..." Two heads swiveled to Tails' direction. "Um.. it's not really that far. I think I can remember the way back, and I'm not going to be much help here..."
Sonic scowled, but Bunny interrupted his thoughts. "It'll be alright, sugahog. We're not even a half-kilometah in the bordahs."
Sonic received such a begging look from Tails that he caved in. "Aw.. geez... Just - look Tails, take it slow and avoid all the lights. Stay low."
Tails nodded, taking a hovering position, and making a hesitant foray into the shadows back the way they had come. Behind her Sonic shook his head and muttered to Bunny, "You'd better be right, rabbit."
The slow realization sank into Tails' subconscious, bringing into reality the fact that she was alone at half-past two in Robotropolis. Alone, injured, and tired. And scared. Adrenalin took her a little higher into the air, a little faster through the streets, a little more erratically through the air, fearing perhaps she's meet a robot in the next corner. The hair at the back of her neck was rising, and she began to realize how chill and eerie the silence was, the damp night brushing past her cheeks. Where's the next turn? Ah, here...
A soft sound began breathing life into the space behind Tails. It was a low humming, a soft, and stealthy sound that Tails didn't catch quite fast enough as panic soaked up her attention. And then Tails heard it, and screamed. She put on a burst of speed in her flight - but too late. A film of netting fell over her, and Snively's secret patrol bot caught its intended prey.
Sonic was, unfortunately, out of hearing as Tails watched herself, horrified, dragged into the bowels of the city.
A flashing message brought Snively out of his post-coffee haze, and he brushed the empty mug aside, pulling his chair up against the counter edge. A flash of his suddenly-attentive fingers across the keyboard brought several screens to life, showing scenes of activity in the city - three of them occupied by an unfolding drama. Snively watched with glee where his modified stealth-bot was towing a struggling adolescent fox toward the level three detainment cells, where it would patiently wait for him like a well-trained hunting dog.
Snively shoved his chair out from the command desk, leaving it spinning. His feet nearly flew out of the room, betraying a hungry speed. Snively was happy. Snively was hunting. What Robotnik doesn't know won't hurt him.
By the time the human grunt had mastered the numerous staircases and halls separating him and detainment center three, the fox had settled down to a nervous pacing in her cell. Snively was caught slightly off-guard by her greeting expecting a much less candid response.
"Who are you?" The fox stuck her nose cockily through the bars.
Snively walked up close, finding the youth to be at eye-level with him. "I should be asking you that question, shouldn't I?"
His captive blinked. "I thought robo-butt robotisized everything he came in contact with."
A snort escaped Snively. He enjoyed the remarks. "Well.. he seems to have a weakness for family. The name's Snively."
"Tails. My sympathies." Snively bit off a chortle.
He turned thoughtfully to the stealth bot and dismissed it with a wave of the hand. He trotted over to a keypad at the doorway and tapped in a request for a swat-bot and a portable holding cage, listening to the fox watch him.
"Hey..." Tails called over the distance. Snively ignored her, playing a mind game.
"Excuse me, I'm talking to you..."
He simply continued tapping at the keys, waiting for her annoyance to build up. Instead she just asked her questions, unconcerned.
"Where the heck is Robotnik, anyways?"
At last Snively turned around, as the Swat finally entered the room. "Sleeping, like any other mortal being on this planet."
That shut her up for a moment. "... Yeah but..."
"In case you were wondering, I already have my own plans for you."
And it hit home for Tails, at last, that she was the one behind the bars.
Snively sat back in the one comfortable, ragged piece of furniture in his quarters, a thoughtful finger drifting over his upper lip. The dusty clock over his bed hit four, but his eyes were resting on the cage near the doorway, resting on the silent creature in its hold. The fox had gone quiet during the long trip between locations, silent through the minutes inside the dusty old room.
Snively was perplexed, silent, and thoughtful. The fox was a quandary, an unquantified item, an anomaly. It had spoken with him. Not a taunt, not a cringe. Not even the condescending tone he had grown so used to. Tails seemed in some odd fashion, almost human.
Chapter Seven - Waking in the Dark
Sonic's heart dropped to his shoes, his eyes blank. "What.. do you mean... not back yet?!"
"He hasn't come back yet... Why isn't he with you?" Sally swallowed on a dry palette.
Bunny grimaced, guilt in the back of her mind. "He ran into a wall, so to speak.. so ah sent him back here..."
Sonic quivered visibly. "I'm going, now-!"
He almost made it, too, if not for Sally's hand grasping his wrist before he could make it.
"I'll be damned if I let you go now, Sonic. Your thoughtlessness got him into this, I'm going to get him out." Sally pulled Nicole out of a drawer in her desk and sat down, feeling as if the day had grown long, even as the morning rays were falling into her window. "Nicole, open a channel to Sir Charles..."
Noon had rolled lazily by when Tails stirred at the floor of her cage in the dingy, windowless room. She felt a pang of longing to see the sun in the Knothole forest leaves, and to touch her soft blankets, but all that met her fingers in the dark room were the bars and floor of her cage. A soft snore filtered through the air, reminding her of her location and dilemma - how to escape the confines of a crackpot lackey.
When Snively stirred, he slapped the light switch groggily and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of his bed. He cracked a few joints and cleared his eyes, expecting the bare gloom of his quarters - but his eyes found instead a lump of vibrant color in a dark metal cage, its back towards him. Ah, yes... Tails. A creature he had, on a whim, captured and coveted away for a reason he had yet to fathom.
It ... no, she turned over and gave him a hollow, sideways stare. He could imagine she was staring at the wall behind him as he slipped on his work shirt and boots - but when he reached the door, a voice stopped him.
"Can I have some water?"
A small, self-contained, simple voice. Someone other than Robotnik. He went to a small alcove across from the cage and ran the tap into a slightly-less-than-clean bowl, then shoved it through the bars, spilling it a little.
He heard the sound again as he slipped out the door.
Sonic's pacing had worn a familiar worry-groove into the dirt floor of the meeting room. He inquired again and again, in the impatient tone:
"Any word from Uncle Chuck?"
Sally sighed and rubbed her forehead in a paw. "No Sonic, nothing."
"Damn, there's got to be something!"
"At least we'd hear if he was in the roboticizer or captured... There's always logs."
Sonic cringed at the word roboticizer.
And Tails' mind had tripped over the same stumbling block. Why had this Snively fellow taken her here? Where was Robotnik and the roboticizer she had heard so much about? She poked at the water bowl, daring the metallic-tinged water to give up its secrets.
A creak at the door stirred her from the lull of boredom, and she sat up, watching a behind emerge from the door, apparently in the effort of dragging something heavy along. A minute passed until the door closed and Snively straightened his back, rubbing his sides with a groan. At his feet was a large, tattered and dusty chest, which had at one time been well decorated. Tails simply watched with interest, and she glanced up at Snively. He half-grinned, taking a plate of cold food from the top of the chest to shove it between the bars towards her. Tails looked at it doubtfully, and glanced up, before eating as fast as she could.
Snively sat down atop the chest and watched, almost sympathizing. The unappetizing meal felt much better going down quickly - though, he surmised, perhaps much better when spiced with hunger. When the fox finished he meal, she rocked back on her haunches, leaning her back into the bars of the cage and gave him an expectant look.
Snively was taken aback. He had considered for most of the morning what to do with his captive, but the answer still hadn't surfaced. One would expect interrogation or dominance to come naturally, but Snively didn't find it in his hands in this instance. He simply perched on the dusty chest, giving Tails an enigmatic stare.
Tails rubbed her muzzle free with the back of a gloved paw, and heaved a sigh. Sitting in the metallic cell with a blithering idiot for a jailer was boring. "What the heck am I here for?" She muttered, not directly asking.
Snively found himself caught off-guard once again by the fox's candor.
"That's not a very prisoner-like question."
"Well, you're not very much of a prison guard either."
Snively snorted again at the vixen's wit. He stared into the wall, halfway put-off.
The minutes started to tick by and Tails wiggled against her walls. "... I mean, aren't you supposed to be interrogating me or something?"
"Hah." Tails tilted her head to the side at Snively's reaction. He looked at her with a grumble. "So long as Knothole is around, I have a job here. Think about it - when Robobutt weeds out the threats on the outside, he'll take care of the inner ones too. "
The fox made an uncomfortable wriggle as he drew his finger across his neck. She waited until he started staring off into space again before speaking. "... So what does this have to do with me?"
"Oh, I don't know..." Tails scowled. Even her captor was apathetic? "It's not like you can have a conversation with a robot."
Snively's eyes fell of the wall as the words fell from him. So that was it. The whole reason the fox was in his room. Something different, just a novelty. A pleasant diversion.
"What about...?" Halfway through the question, Tails stopped. Snively was nearly bristling, and the answer was clear enough.
"He's about as interesting as a large red rock."
Tails leaned forward and made a face through the bars. "That's all I'm here for?"
"I guess so."
Tails bubbled over into full-blown raspberry, aimed at Snively. He snorted again and kicked the bars, sending her scrambling into the back of the cage, but inwards he laughed. How long had it been?
Sonic pleaded once again, his eyes full of frustration. "Sal, please-?!"
"No! Just give it a rest, will you? Tails is ok, I just know it."
"What are you saying?? He's stuck in the middle of God-freaking-Robotropolis, for heaven's sake!"
Sally sighed and covered her eyes ,leaning back exasperated in the chair. "Sonic, you can't rescue Tails until we know where he is."
Sonic fumed, bursting over. "I'll tear the whole f'ing place apart if I have to!!" He scampered out of the door, sending papers flying. Sally didn't even have the chance to call after him - she leaned her head forward onto the desk and covered her ears with her hands. She couldn't stay self-sure all the time. "Tails..."
Soft sounds of a frustrated, weary-worn squirrel greeted the desk.
Robotnik simmered over his mug, growling in sheer boredom. No raids, no events, no nothing. Boring, boring, boring. His evening was wearing in the same rut as every afternoon for two weeks straight had, and his foot still was worse for the wear.
A sound from his personal screen made his whiskers bristle like a muskrat's over his coffee. There was a freedom fighter raid in progress - a quick ripple of his fingers over the keypad revealed Sonic, blazing into Robotropolis in a very bold fashion. The rotund doctor cradled his mug in both hands and purred to himself.
"Oooohhh yesss... Just what I needed." He set the half-empty mug down on a stand and played havoc on his command board. He deployed a quick set of traps and attack bots in Sonic's path, then sat back to watch with bright eyes as the hedgehog maneuvered about them.
Behind his glee, though, was an itching curiosity. Sonic was apparently alone, which was a rare occurrence indeed. The hedgehog tore through the swat bots like so much trash, then proceeded to the prisoner detainment centers - one at a time.
Robotnik sent more guards out to meet the blue blaze, anticipating the hedgehog's visit to his last few prisons. He turned on his intercom, and paged Snively up to the command center, out of his lunch break.
It was two minutes later that Snively stumbled up the stairs in the entryway and made a panting salute. "You called, Sir?"
Robotnik gestured to the screen with a grunt. He was fascinated by Sonic's actions on the screen as he made his usual damage with a less-than-common fury.
"Just look at that Snively. What the heck is that crazy animal doing?"
The hair on the back of Snively's neck rose. He trotted over to his desk, leaning forward so his nose almost smudged the screen.
"It appears he's.. looking for something, Sir."
"A captured comrade, perhaps? " Robotnick shifted position in his chair, a finger twisting his mustache.
"It can't be, Sir," Snively lied through his very practiced teeth. "We haven't had a capture in weeks..."
Chapter Eight - In the Cage
Sonic's fist met the ground, sending a swirl of dust into the air to mix with the wind. He was on his knees in the dirt before Sally's hut, his head hanging. The sun had migrated below the horizon on his return, and Sally's head also hung.
"I can't believe it - Sal, I looked everywhere - even in the dammed command room, and he's not anywhere..."
Snively fell onto his bed, face first, the memory of Sonic's fury still in his eyes. There was a pent-up laugh in his throat, strangling him into chuckles. Behind him, Tails stared at the small human figure, wondering if Snively's sanity had hit the fan. The muffled, choked laughter continued for a long minute, until Snively sat up with his legs over the side of his bed, and wiped the corner of an eye with his sleeve.
A rustle of fur against metal caught his attention, and Snively turned his head to stare sideways at the female fox. She was pressed up against the front of the cage again, her voluminous tails rustling behind her. He cast his gaze then upon the chest near his doorway, a smile treading across his features.
"Well, fox, if you're to stay here you'll have to earn your keep."
Tails' ears shifted forwards, and she simply rested against the bars, waiting for further explanation.
"After all, room and board doesn't come cheap."
The fox gave him a blank, bored look. "And...?"
Snively sniffed and leapt off his bed, and walked over towards the chest, playing at the latches. After a minute of wrestling with the dusty buckles, he pushed the cover open and sneezed in the rain of dust. Tails' wagging settled for a while, betraying her interest.
After a furious rubbing of his irritated proboscis, Snively leaned forward, and pulled a faded garment from the chest, shaking mothballs out of it.
"See here, fox. You'll show me a bit of what life was like before Robotnik."
And he unraveled the garment to show a faded maroon dress, of the sort that one would find in the royal wardrobe. Tails' eyes widened, and she stared up at the gown.
"You want - ?"
"Exactly. Put this on." Snively bent over, offering the clothing to the caged vixen.
Tails refused it with a shake of her head. "No way! I'm a guy!"
Snively straightened up, surprise written across his features. "Yeah, and I'm a blue hedgehog! Just what is that on your chest, fur?"
"Yes!" Tails blushed brightly through her ears, flustered.
"Hah! What a nutcase! Those are mammary glands if I ever saw them." He shoved the dress through the bars with a huff. "Look, do you want to eat or not?"
Tails growled and grabbed the dress out of Snively's hand, her other arm across her chest, for the first time abashed. She held the pungent-smelling cloth to her stomach, giving Snively a glare.
He stared back, with an incredulous look. "Put it on. You look ridiculous naked."
Tails' mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water. Naked?! She turned a flustered back on Snively and put on the dress, almost turning somersaults in the cage to put it on properly. It took her five minutes to put on the first full-body garment she had ever worn in her life - and that was by sheer luck.
When she turned around, Snively cupped his chin in a speculative hand, then nodded. "Much better."
Tails felt as if her face was as red as the dress. She refused to reply, and instead settled into a seated position in the middle of the cage, nibbling on the wrist of a glove.
Snively shook his head, then went to a keypad at the side of his door. He arranged a SWATbot escort to take Tails to the restroom and to bring a taller cage.
As a grateful Tails followed the robot to the restroom, she noted the walls and signs she passed, etching them into her mind. Behind the business of planning an escape, she wondered if Sonic had come for her yet. And, if he had, what happened? She was in the heart of Robotropolis, within the well-guarded quarters. Had he tried already to save her from this place?
Sally stirred in her sleep, a weary eye falling on Nicole on her desk. She stumbled from her covers and across the floor, and sat down on her chair, flipping open the small computer. It was a communique from Sir Charles, waiting for her acknowledgment. She hit the enter button and at back in her chair, one paw rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"Good morning, Princess. I've had some interesting results from monitoring the network here..."
Sally yawned, shifting in her seat. "Can you rightly say 'morning', Charles? It's nearly four."
The weak camera only picked up Charles' rocking, and not his soft laughter. "Of course, Sally. It's never night here in the big city."
"Anyways, let's hear it." She leaned forward, looking intently at her screen.
"You'll be surprised to hear this. Snively has ordered an over-sized cage delivered to his room, and he's been spending more time there than usual-"
"A cage. I'm going to investigate it as soon as my shift is over tomorrow."
"Excellent. I'll wait until you report back, Sir Charles, before I tell Sonic anything. He'll just blow up again..."
"That might be wise, princess. Hopefully this is the break we've been waiting for."
Tails stretched out on the floor of the new cage, groaning as she flexed her strained legs. Snively was once again snoring on his bed, filling the room with an oddly comforting sound. It was far from the same sound Sonic made in his sleep, but Tails was relieved when there was sound - any sound in the dreary room. She stood and stretched again, and slipped out of the dress, crumpling it up. Any pillow was better than no pillow.
Snively's rhythmic snoring became Sonic's pattern of breathing in her mind as Tails lay out on the floor for her second night, drifting off to a fitful sleep.
Sonic, however, was far from sleeping peacefully. His bed was a crumpled mess of blanket, sheets and pillow, all rotated to uncommon positions as he lay there, staring up at his dark ceiling. His failed rescue mission had Sonic in worse condition than when he had lost Aree the vagrant ram to Robotnik's void.
Tails meant the world to Sonic, like a younger brother. Tails the vibrant, smiling, bright fox child, who always knew how to cheer Sonic up. Who always lent a helping hand, when the world was inside out. Who had been by Sonic's side since childhood.
Sonic was a mess.
Tails found herself alone when she woke, the clock over Snively's bed beating a slow path to one in the afternoon. She had grossly overslept her normal routine, but she found little else to do with the time in her cage. A small plate of slimy eggs and gray meat was just outside the bars of her cage, and she sat up to ingest the tasteless material.
The minutes ticked by, and Tails found herself in the same dilemma as in the day that had already trudged by. She had nearly cleaned the plate out of hunger, and it sat outside her cage, waiting for dust to settle on it like every other surface in the room. She stared at it in her boredom, then at the walls.
Tails found that squinting her eyes just so would make the clock drip off of the wall, like a dollop of honey. It would first grow into a hazy blur, then, between her eyelashes, ooze it's way along the pallid wall. After this grew old, she tried to make the chest melt. It simply sat there in a dumb, dusty, inanimate lull. After a while, though, she found she could see print on a placard at its side, with a few words carved in the metal. The letters were nearly too dusted over to make out, but Tails imagined she read 'Sally' somewhere on it.
The creak of the door rousted her, and she looked up, unsurprised to find Snively entering the room, tossing his across the room to his bed. He sat down on the chest, a leg obscuring the placard from view.
"Enjoyed the lunch?"
Tails made a face. "First class cuisine you have here." Her voice dripped sarcasm.
Snively laughed hollowly, leaning back. "Don't remind me." He heaved a sigh and kicked the chest, making it reverberate with a thud.
The fox wriggled her whiskers, sniffing the air. Snively was rank with coffee and slightly unwashed odors, and she could smell oil in his clothing. The minutes started to tick away again.
She got bored. "I've got a question for you."
"Ask away." Snively was staring at the wall clock again, his eyes distant.
"Why do you hang out here? With Robotnik and all, I mean?"
Another sigh. "Why not stay here?"
"Well, it's so.. nasty."
Snively snorted briefly. "I won't deny that. But .. I have no other place to go, really."
"Ah, sure there is. There's umm.. Knothole, for one - " A stare from Snively silenced her.
"Yeah, right, like I'd ever go there. I'd loose my head in five seconds."
"Well, you don't know that for sure -"
"Uh-huh. This is the finger," Snively held up his right index finger for Tails to see. "That started the coup of Mobotropolis. I'm a wanted traitor."
"Oh." Tails almost sighed in her speech, slumping back against the bars.
Snively's eyes took on the far-off look again. "This is where I belong. I have nowhere else to go because, " He sighed long, and looked on the clock. "Because I'm the last of my species. If you don't count lard-factory, the line of humans ends with me in the here and now."
"Are you serious?" Tails looked up, genuinely surprised at the news.
"Dead serious." Snively's eyes were empty.
"But what about everyone else..."
"They left Mobius a decade ago, on the last remaining spaceship on the planet."
Tails listened, quietly, inwardly reflective.
"I'm very, very singular. There's no one left."
She was still quiet, somewhere struck by those words.
"I'm alone -"
Tails bristled at the neck. "What do you know about alone?"
Snively was snapped out of his reverie by the fox's outburst. "What-?"
"I said, you don't know jack about being alone."
"What the heck do you mean? You've got at least twenty-odd critters back in that base of yours, last I counted."
"Not quite." Tails swept her hand around and grabbed her tails in a choke-hold. "What do you call this? Normal? To the best of my knowledge, I'm the only fox in the world with a mutation like this. I am the only one of my kind in the world. You at least have family around."
Snively blinked, sitting now straight on the chest.
Tails released her appendages and grasped the bars in both hands. "I know what you are."
"Oh? What am I, then?"
"You're the one behind bars. You're stuck where you are, with no way out."
Chapter Nine - A White Escape
Tails looked up as the door swung towards her, hitting the bars of the cage with a small clang. Her hungry nose scented something delicious wafting into the room, and her tongue swam in a wash of saliva. Snively stepped into the room, his legs dancing slightly around the chest which crowded his walking space. He was carrying a substantial platter of food, which was steaming ever-so slightly and giving him balance difficulties as he made his way to the door.
Snively grinned as the fox hugged the bars of the cage, following him at the perimeter as he set the tray down on his bedside table. He grabbed a plate from the tray and made his way back to the chest with the slightly warm dish, sitting down on the dusty box.
Tails watched Snively waft the plate just out of her reach, showing her the food. It was the same fare she had received in days past, but this time it was warm, making her stomach growl. Temperature could make that much difference on Robotropolis sludge? It didn't matter. Tails felt her stomach churn on itself, making loud growls that Snively chuckled at.
“So you're hungry, are you?”
“Yes!” Her eyes pleaded from behind the bars, a long, groping arm reaching towards the taunting plate.
Tails' hand wilted towards the ground as Snively set the plate down. “Very good.” He smiled at the trail of her eyes, as she dared the plate to telekinetically slide to her. “You remembered what we talked about, right?”
The fox gave him a heartbreaking look and nodded palely.
“Excellent. Today I have something special in mind, and if you comply, you'll get the whole tray.”
Tails' eyes bulged with eagerness. She nodded furiously, impatient to gorge on the food Snively had escorted in. Snively laughed out loud, and stood from the chest, opening it carefully. This time there was hardly any dust falling from the cover, as most of the loose material had fallen from the top of the chest, or had been brushed of by Snively's pants.
Tails watched as Snively dove his hands into the wooden chest, searching deep for something. She did her best to swallow her hunger, knowing that her reward was just within reach.
“Aha!” Tails' ears twitched to attention in Snively's direction, and the food slipped her mind for the moment. The human pulled a delicate package from the chest, which had been wrapped in a brown, aged paper and tied together with twine. Snively tucked the package under his arm and shut the chest, sitting atop it again with the package on his lap. He untied the disintegrating twine with his deceptively nimble fingers, and unwrapped the paper with relish.
And with his hands on the contents, he stood up, allowing the paper to fall to the ground with a crinkle, and something glowingly white unraveled towards the floor. Tails gasped at the sheer light that seemed to bounce off of it, catching her first true sight of color in days. Snively's petite hands held the shoulders of a long white gown, with embroidered sleeves and a lace-work bodice, complete with a satin skirt. The material was fresh and unstained, as if it had been made the day before, with the creases of the folding still showing in the skirt.
It was a lovingly crafted wedding gown, with the looks of royalty in it. Tails backed away from the bars of her cage until she could move back no further, feeling dirty in the reflected light of the glorified dress. Snively let his arms fall just enough so he could watch the fox back away, with the most curious expression on her face.
“What's wrong? Fox got your tongue?” A smirk folded the corner of his mouth. Tails shook her head, mute for the moment, her eyes locked on the gown.
“You don't like it?”
“N...no, that's not it.” Tails curled her paws around her tails, crumpling the fur nervously. “Th – that's the -”
Snively draped the dress halfway over his left arm, holding it off of the ground. “It's the dress used by the Acorns on their wedding days, is what you mean to say.”
Tails nodded dumbly, sitting down with a thump on the floor of the cage. “How did you...?”
Snively stepped up to the cage, looking down at Tails. “Easy. Just guess where we are now?”
“In the palace?” She muttered, her eyes resting on the dress again as if it had a life of its own.
“What's left of it, at least.” Snively pushed the dress through the bars of the cage, towards Tails. “Here, take it.”
Tails shrunk further back as if the material could bite. “No way!”
“What do you mean, 'No way'?!” He held his ground, shaking the dress slightly. “Take it!”
“I couldn't!” She barked, flushing red.
“You will,” Snively fumed, his eyes taking on a cross stare as he motioned at the food across the room, “Because your food is getting cold.”
A pang struck Tails in the stomach, and she swallowed again. She really didn't have a choice. Take the dress on or starve.
A wobbly, dingy-gloved hand reached out and grasped the dress from Snively, drawing the smooth, glowing material. Tails hugged it in a bundle to her stomach for a minute, looking down on it in a small reverie. Was she defiling centuries of tradition by doing this? Would she cast a shadow on the line of pride and rightful queens by putting herself in their clothing? What would Sally say?
Sally. Tails clenched her fist around the dress and tried not to shed a tear on the unstained cloth. Sally should be the one holding this dress.
Snively felt a triumphant smile sail across his face as the vixen stood up in the cage, gripping the wedding gown. He sat down on the chest, leaning back on his arms and crossing his legs. Robotnik would have burned the garment, saying that such sentimental objects held no value. How wrong the metal maverick was! Snively would be the first person to see the dress on a living creature in ages, and the pleasure was all his.
Tails let the dress unfold in her hands, seeking out the base of the skirt with her fingers, able to feel the fine embroidery's grooves through her gloves. When she had turned the dress with the back towards her, she flipped the skirt over her head and writhed into the voluminous space underneath, for a moment isolated in a silky tent worlds away from her prison cell.
Then gravity called her back, and her hands found the armholes of the gown, slipping into them. Tails was soon pushing her hands through the sleeves, bunching the cloth over her forearms (as it was a tad too long) and settling the brassiere of the dress over her front. It was horribly loose over her shoulders, ending up in a very strange crevasse between the front of the garment and her chest.
Snively snickered, catching her attention. He motioned her to come forward to the front of the cage with a finger. Tails blushed slightly, and shuffled forward in the floor-hugging folds of the skirt, feeling like a tiny fish in a vast ocean of satin and lace.
“Turn around.” Snively stepped up from the chest, his hands next to the cage bars.
Tails hung her head slightly and did so, turning her back to Snively. She settled her eyes on her feet, staring at the overflow of material that covered her shoes. And squealed. Snively's hands dove down the open back of the dress, brushing against her spine and grasping the base of her tails in no gentle fashion. He tugged the great bushy appendages toward him, dragging them out of the dress until they spilled out and over the bustle of the gown where he let them fall.
Tails' eyes were wide open, blood rushing to her face in a huge blush. She covered her face with her gloved hands, standing frozen in place. Now the hands gripped the dress at either side of her tails and tugged the sides of it together, forming a neat loop over her tailbases as Snively did up the dresses' first button. He did this button by button, in a tedious fashion until the entire brassiere fit snugly around Tails' form, as it should. The last button was fashioned with a flourish, and he clapped his hands together, admiring a job well-done. Over fourty buttons made up the back of the wedding dress, and not a single one was out of line or misplaced.
“You can turn around now, I'm finished.” He sat down again, letting his arms take his weight as he slouched back.
Tails waited over half a minute before turning around, trying to swallow the red flush that adorned her cheeks and ears. When she rotated on her feet, the gown swiveled around her, forming a cloth twist around her thighs. When she dropped her hands, Snively smiled and simply looked.
The dress hung slightly, loose in several places and tight in others at Tails' body. The vixen's pre-adolescent form let the dress droop at her hips, looking like a defeated but valiant attempt at playing dress-up. The stomach of the dress formed nicely over the fox's waist, and the bust puffed out, almost like a balloon where the typical vulpine neck-ruff pushed the bustier forward. There was just a hint of her developing attributes showing behind the bulge of her ruff, the whole effect making Snively shake his head and grin.
Tails balled up her fists, feeling her embarrassment turn to indignant rage as Snively showed his amusement.
“You shouldn't grab a girl there!” she barked, her tails flaring out bushily behind her.
Snively halted his review of her dress and form at her outburst. She was an endearingly humorous sight in an over-sized white dress, with balled up fists and fluffy tails behind her. He had to swallow laughter, doing his best to respond. “Ah ... where?”
She glared at him harder, boiling over, the insides of her ears flushed red.
“Um.. Oh. Well, I had to put the dress on properly, didn't I?”
He coughed when she didn't respond, then picked up the forgotten plate of food and proffered it to her. She grasped the edge of it through the bars, tugged it out of his grasp, then swirled around in the dress and sat down to eat. She was so miffed that she failed to think about the dress she was wearing. Luckily, she did not spill.
True to his word, Snively allowed Tails to finish off every plate on his tray. A neat stack of saucers and bowls had formed outside Tails' cage, each meticulously emptied of its contents by a vulpine tongue. A less scrupulous Snively could have mistaken them for clean. He had summoned a SWATbot to escort her, dress and all, down the hall to the restroom. Now he was moving the dishes to his makeshift sink, where they would be retrieved at the end of the week by a maintenance bot and recycled through the vast kitchens downstairs. He grinned, his weary eyes granted a day' new life by the sight of the fox in a wedding dress. His lungs had seen more exercise than he had in weeks, laughing until tears came out his eyes after she had left. Yes, the dresses were the best idea he had ever had. Snively looked forward to more, much more.
Tails huffed along the dirty hallway, the skirt of the dress bunched up in her arms like a great inner-tube as she scampered behind the SWATbot. She was eager to visit the restroom, her bladder complaining with every footfall. The large meal has been nearly cold by the time she had it in her paws, but sustenance was all she cared for at that moment. Now was the time to get rid of the last meal and rinse her face and hands in the only running water she had access to.
As she scampered along, she failed to see the SWATbot halt in its tracks, staring at a ventilation hatch in the wall at its left. She almost bumped into it, but instead took to flight, halting just in time. It was intently inspecting the grilled hatch, for a moment distracted from its charge. And a moment of brilliance struck Tails. She clenched her hands and rotated her palms facing up, and swung them hard like two hammers onto the joint of the SWAT's head where it attached to its body. The chances of popping the head off from the back were slim, but Tails took her chances – and sent it flying, hearing the empty head hit the floor with a satisfying metallic clang.
Tails felt a rush of pleasure swim to her head, and she let herself hover to the floor. She almost shouted with glee, but thought better of it as the seconds went by.
So what now? She stood, dumbly, for a short minute over the robot, until a scraping sound caught her attention. The sound was emanating from the vent, and bit by bit, the grill slid out of its place until it was teetered over it's edge onto the floor with a second clang. A mottled-grey head poked out of the hole, looking up at her with glowing red eyes in a mockery of Sonic's face. Just beneath the metal-back nose, an absurd grey mustache decorated the face. And it spoke.
“Good gracious boy, what are you wearing?!”
“Uncle Chuck!” Tails squeaked with a flood of relief. She let the dress fall to the floor and she dove forward onto her knees, just aching to hug the cockamamie robot that was Sonic's revived uncle.
“Well, no use chatting here. Get in, boy, and we'll get out of this hell-hole.” The head ducked back into the vent, making room for Tails to enter. She didn't even bother to remove the dress, simply plowing forward in the gown, eager to escape.
Half a kilometer's worth of crawlspaces and dusty vent shafts later, Tails tumbled head over foot out of the central command building after Charles. She ran hot on his heels down alleyways and long-unused paths until her head was spinning. Chuck stopped at an inconspicuous heap of metal debris between two buildings. Tails took the pause to lean against a wall, a paw on her forehead and breathing raggedly.
“Well, here we are now. Home sweet garbage hole.” Charles pointed at the pile, grinning with the facial muscles he still possessed in his imagination.
Tails nodded and closed her mouth, swallowing and just getting over the need for oxygen. She straightened herself, patting dust out of the now mostly-grey dress and looking up.
“Ready to enter?”
Tails smiled halfway and almost nodded – before a pang brought her back to the present. She crossed her legs. “Do you have a toilet?”
Uncle Chuck rocked back on his robotic feet, momentarily surprised. “Well, not in the standard manner of speaking, no. Just use the wall there.”
Tails' expression could not have been more awkward. “Umm... I suppose so.” She padded a few feet away from the garbage dump and thought through the logistics of it. She noticed Charles just standing there, waiting.
“Hey, do you mind?”
“Uh – no, of course not.” He teetered a moment, then pressed a button and entered the hatchback-.entrance of his hideaway.
Chapter Ten - Return to Knothole
Charles was at the side of the stairs when Tails descended them, the dress bunched up again in her arms awkwardly. As soon as she was down, he pressed a recessed button in the wall and closed the hatchway, effectively sealing them off from outer Robotopolis with a clever wall of debris. He simulated a smile and walked over to his makeshift desk, leaving Tails to take in her first impressions.
Charles' room was a surprisingly eclectic mix of materials and objects, with scraps of faded cloth here, shelves there, metal walls on one side and a laughably artistic wall on the other side made of (what else) scrap SWATbot parts. The room was littered with electronic parts and devices, giving Tails a surprisingly poignant longing to be in Rotor's workshop again.
“There's a couch over there.” Charles spoke to the wall, not looking up from his work. Tails gratefully accepted, finding the aged furniture at the far wall. It was a lucky find, both for Chuck, and at the present moment, for Tails. She sat down on it, feeling awkward in the dress – but soon found herself slumping into a reclining position on the relief of the cushions.
Chuck finished up setting his communication computer in place, and sat back with a satisfied sigh. “There now... that's finished. We can get down to talking -” The robotic hedgehog turned halfway in his seat, only to find Tails fast asleep on his couch. He tried again to smile and shook his head. “Can't blame you, little fellow. Now, ” his voice dropped down into a curious tone, “I just wonder where you got that dress?”
A beeping from her boot gave Sally pause as she made her way to the mess hall for lunch. She stopped in her tracks, fetched Nicole from its holder and flipped it open to find a communication request from Charles. “Acknowledge, Nicole.”
“Connecting, Sally.” Nicole hummed softly, and soon Chuck appeared in front of Sally, his metal face taking up much of the small computer's screen.
“Hello, Sir Charles. How did it go?” Sally inquired, eagerly skipping her usual formalities.
Charles beamed, as much as his roboticized face could. “I've got excellent news, Sally. Your little kit is napping here on my sofa.”
Sally's voice rose an octave and she could barely conceal her relief. “Oh, thank goodness! You're an angel, Charles!”
“High praise, your highness. It was hardly my doing.”
“What do you mean?” She batted her eyes, a little confused.
“Well, I was on my way through the vents to Snively's quarters when a SWATbot heard me. Nearly gave me a heart attack.” He paused for a hearty laugh. “That is, if I could ever have one. Well, before you know it, the thing's head is rolling on the floor, and I hear a footstep on the walkway out there. So I opened the grate, and what do you know? It was Tails, gloating over his kill. All I had to do was lead him back here. The poor fellow was so worn out that he fell asleep right away.”
A smile spread across the squirrel's face, and she brushed a stray hair out of her face. “That's wonderful. Tails is braver than I give him credit for.”
“Indeed, Princess. You should be proud. But – you should see what he is wearing.”
“We have to talk, Sally. But I'll let you have the surprise unspoiled.”
Sally blinked, confused, and then shook her head. “You can be so cryptic sometimes. I'll get Sonic there right away.” With that she bade Charles farewell, then closed the connection and replaced Nicole at her boot.
Bunny was meditating over a soggy roll in her chicken soup when she saw Sally dash into the mess area, making a beeline for Sonic. The downtrodden hedgehog had a large pile of chilidogs on his tray, and he was making his way to Bunny's table when Sally intercepted him. Bunny saw Sally mouth one sentence, and in the next instant Sonic was gone, his tray of chilidogs sitting suspended in space. It exploded a second later on the ground, causing Sally to jump back in alarm from the flying sauce.
Bunny hopped literally up from her bench, leaving her roll bobbling in the soup as she trotted over to Sally, skirting the mess on the floor. Sally looked up to the curious rabbit, answering curious eyes with her own gaze.
“What the hoo-haw was all that about, Sally-girl?”
One word was all Sally needed to answer. “Tails!”
Not five minutes later Charles opened his trap door for Sonic to enter, greeting his nephew cordially and motioning towards the couch. Tails had just begun to stir, rubbing her eyes and sitting up slowly. Sonic rushed over to the edge of the sofa and swept the fox up into a hug, bubbling over with an uncharacteristic repertoire of 'thank god!' and other fitting phrases. Tails' first response was a sleepy 'glub!' when she was scooped up, but soon realized that it was Sonic and broke into a rib-crushing hug that could have put a lesser creature out of commission.
Charles stood at the doorway, watching the display with a great feeling of satisfaction, seeing his nephew pour out emotion. He let it continue until the atmosphere became stuffy, and a funny thought emerged in his mind.
“You know sonny, all we need is a tuxedo and you two would make the perfect pair!”
Sonic broke his hug and stood up straight, giving his uncle a strange look. “Huh?” He scratched the side of his head, and then gave Tails a rightful once-over. The scene was strange as Tails returned Sonic's gaze in her over-sized wedding gown, her gloves overcast in its sleeves.
“Oh my god!” Sonic's face metamorphosed through several understated shades of red, jumping back as his uncle's joke hit home. Tails flushed a furious red too, unable to do much more than stare at Sonic.
“What in the world happened to you?!”
“Uh...” Tails' voice lept high and she choked.
Sonic stepped forward, and took ahold of the edge of the skirt, gathering it up. “Let's get this thing off you, lil' bud.”
“No!” Tails threw her hands down on the skirt, startling both Sonic and his uncle. Sonic let go, and she blushed brightly again, looking down at the dress. “I'm not taking this off until I can give it to Sally. It's hers.”
Sonic's mouth formed a silent 'O' and he looked at Charles, his eyes still expressing a load of confusion. Charles shrugged and shook his head, spreading his arms.
Tails looked up, “Can we please go home?”
Sonic turned back to Tails' familiar face and smiled. “Of course, lil' bud. We'll be there in a Sonic second.”
Charles nodded and obligingly pressed the button for the trap door. Sonic took Tails' hand and led her to the door as she toddled over the skirt.
Charles smiled in that robotic manner and placed his hand on Sonic's shoulder.
“I don't know how to thank you enough, uncle Chuck.”
“Don't worry about it, Sonny. Just fill me in on the story later.” He threw his arm around Sonic in a brief hug, then stood back.
The blue hedgehog was about to take off when he felt Tails' hand tug at his wrist. He looked down at his oddly-clad friend. “Yes-?”
“Umm... it's really hard to run in this dress.”
Sonic just stood there for a minute, looking down at Tails as her appendages flickered behind her. He looked left and right, then bent over and swept Tails into his arms in the same manner as he often carried Sally. Then he took off, leaving Charles to close the door with a chuckle.
On the run back to Knothole, Tails kept her eyes trained on Sonic's face. The blush did not fade, and Sonic never looked down.
Sally was in a flustered state, trying to calm down a babbling Antoine in the front room of her hut. The badly-accented fox was complaining about Sonic's disrespect of 'ze royal persón and pozishion' and getting nowhere. Sally was only paying him half attention, her mind with Sonic as he retrieved Tails.
It was that moment that Sally found her relief from Antoine as the door of her hut was kicked open, and a windblown Sonic set down Tails and her dress an the wooden floor, taking a moment to lean against the frame. Sally rotated ninety degrees from Antone's snooty comments and her eyes fell on Tails, with a gasp.
Tails, who just got her footing, heard the gasp and found Sally with her dizzy eyes. She ran straight forward, the skirt of the dress again in her hands. Sally snatched Tails up in a bear hug, showering the kit with kisses and nuzzles, and soon breaking down into an incomprehensible babble of tears and praise. Tails was no less enthusiastic, swept up in the emotion of re-joining her family group, and ended up blubbering as well. She was soon sobbing into Sally's shoulder, letting the stress of Robotropolis roll of her in waves.
Antoine found himself outdated like a fifth wheel, and he forgot his complaints, seeing his princess in such an emotion. His shoulders drooped, for an admirable moment feeling like a heel.
At last Sally set Tails down, giving the kit her own feet. She stepped back, giving Tails a good look, smiling in a motherly fashion as she did so. Sonic had quietly stepped up behind Tails during the emotional outpouring, a smile on his own face in appreciation.
It was then that Sally's face took on a different expression, crossing the borders of several very foreign emotions all at once. Her eyes trailed down Tails' form at the dusted wedding dress, noticing just how incongruent it was with Tails' young body.
“What on Mobius....?”
Tails grinned sheepishly, rubbing her cheek clear of moisture. “Heh... I seem to be hearing that a lot today.”
Antoine was quicker to the chase than his cohorts. “So, ve see ze true nature of ze hedgehog come to ze zurface at last.”
Sonic blushed again, this time finding himself short of any explanation. He stared helplessly at Sally.
The princess narrowed her eyes, at this point already having had her fill of Antoine. She placed a well-aimed kick at his shin, giving him just enough pain to shut him up and convey her message. The fox gasped and grasped his shin, hopping backward awkwardly until he found a chair and sat down to nurse his injury.
Sally felt a secret surge of satisfaction, but avoided letting it surface. She turned a gentle eye on the subject at hand. “Tails?”
“Aunt Sally...” Tails blushed lightly, and patted what dirt she could from the garment. “This is yours.”
“Mine?” The squirrel tilted her head to the side, giving the dress a speculative eye.
Tails nodded, squirming. “It's from a wooden chest, in the ...palace. It had your name on it.”
Sally's eyes widened, her hands splaying as understanding dawned on her. “That's – my mother's wedding dress!”
Sonic almost jumped out of his shoes, breaking out of his uncomfortable silence. “The queen's dress?! How the heck did you get ahold of it, lil' bro?”
Tails wrung her fingers together, turning halfway to look up at Sonic. “Snively ... he .. made me dress up.”
Sonic's expression darkened. “What?”
“Keep going, Tails.” Sally encouraged, stepping forward to put a hand on Tails' shoulder.
“Well – he said that if I wanted to eat, I'd have to dress up.”
An indignant snort escaped Sonic as he listened.
“... And so I did... But this dress, Sally... I had to get it to you...”
Sonic blew up. “What a freakin' pervert!”
Tails blushed furiously.
“Dressin' up a little guy in women's clothing for god-knows-what reason?! That's just sick!”
Sally was silent for several minutes as Sonic continued, working himself up.
“Just sick!” Sonic finally topped it over, and his eyes fell on Tails. “I mean.. what did he have plan-” He stopped abruptly, adapting a green-in-the-gills color. “I think I'm gonna be sick.”
Sonic turned and walked to the door, stepping into the grass and out of Sally's view.
Sally shook her head as Tails turned back to face her, a questioning look on the kit's face.
“Nothing Tails, it's nothing. Let's get that thing off you, shall we?”
Tails nodded vigorously, turning her back to Sally to expose the dresses' buttons. Sally's hands began unfastening them, one by one down Tails' back in a relaxed fashion.
“I'm sorry I ruined your dress.”
Sally paused in her actions, smiling gently. “Don't say that, Tails. One wash and this thing will be as good as new. ”
Tails was quiet until Sally shuffled the skirt up and over her head, before she stepped forward and, with a deep breath of the fresh forest air, had a lovely shake. Dust flew from her like water from a wet dog – it formed a thick cloud around her, causing Sally to cough and draw the dress against her chest. Tails shook until all of her fur was clear, then waited for the dust to settle, and stretched.
Tails felt like a new fox. She raced out of the hut, reveling in her freedom, greeting the forest with exuberant shouts.
Back in the hut, Sally grasped the wedding dress to her breast, taking a long breath and closing her eyes. She had gained Tails back – and a little something extra.
Sonic re-entered the hut, looking none worse-for-the-ear. He saw Sally clutching her regained heritage, and for a moment, envisioned the dress on it's rightful owner. He blushed, and Sally's eyes opened to a red-cheeked Sonic.
“I know what you're thinking about, Sonic.”
“Uhm...” He scuffled a shoe on the floor.
She just smiled.
Snively glowered over the worker bots as they hauled the last of the giant cage out of his room, leaving only the chest and dishes as trails of his one-time prisoner. Her escape came as a shock, and he had found the SWATbot's remains not five meters from his door. Cursing rang through the halls – and he ran back to his room to quickly clean up.
Not soon enough. Robotnik had seen the report of an offline SWATbot, and trailed it to Snively's dingy quarters.
Snively was engrossed in the chest of clothing, mourning what he could have seen the fox wear, when Robotnik's form swept into his open doorway.
“What in the world is going on down here, Snively?!” The gruff voice woke Snively from his melancholy, and he jerked his head upwards.
Robotnik's keen eye fell on the materials in Snively's hands, which at the moment was a frilly negligee. He glowered at his nephew, developing a strange look.
“It looks like we need to have a serious talk, boy.”
Snively's pale face grew sickly, as if a shadow had crossed his path. He looked up, out of grey-white eye-sockets and he began to whimper, in the lack of words.
Chapter Eleven - Rising Suspicions
Sally sat back in her desk chair, the wood-and-weave furniture creaking under her familiar weight. She heaved a long sigh, closing her eyes for a relinquished moment – her hands, and no others, had seen the cleaning of her mother's dress. The pads of her fingertips were sore and a bit raw in areas where laundry detergent and hardy lace had rubbed them raw, but the princess saw to it that every corner and ruffle was washed free of Robotropolis grime. Each long minute she had spent that morning washing the age-old garment had been a ceremony.
Each clean, air-dried inch of the old wedding dress was a square inch of reclaimed territory. Each thread was part of her heritage, a victory of reclamation that threw Robotnik that much further off of the throne. The folded white dress that Sally's hand rested upon was the rewards of the day's battle...
A smile circled the right half of her tawny cheek. Sally won back not just Tails, but a bit of her past as well. She opened her eyes, letting them fall on the desk – and on her small handheld, Nicole.
A week had passed since she had last sat here, frantically questioning Sir Charles on the whereabouts of Tails. She flipped open the screen, sitting forward as the display lit up.
“Greetings, Sally. How can I be of service?” Nicole hummed a small greeting, her inner workings twittering softly as it ran diagnostics and awaited orders.
“Make a video call to Sir Charles, please.”
The squirrel sat back once again, wiggling against the back support to scratch a small itch on her shoulder. Her eyes rested, tiredly, on the screen, as it seemed to take an unusually long time to reach Charles.
And finally, he accepted the call.
“Good evening, Princess!” The robotic hedgehog practically hummed, showing an unusually bright humor. “What brings you to my screen front, this fine day?”
“Just an overdue round of thanks, Sir Charles, and – I seem to remember that you wished to discuss something with me?”
“Oh, yes...” Charles leaned back in his own chair, a metal hand stroking what, in the past, surely must have been a part of his mustache.
Sally had to suppress a chuckle, covering her grin with a hand. “Though I must ask, what has you in such a mood today?”
“Oh... I've been accessing the video logs, to catch up on the past few weeks' events, and I finally caught up in recent occurrences.” He seemed to grin again, drawing out his explanation for theatrical effect.
“Yes?” Princess Sally felt the day fading away, drawn into Charles' humor.
“And... I caught the aftermath of Robotnik's encounter with Sonic's spines-”
The squirrel chattered a small laugh, briefly interrupting Charles, “Oh, yes, that one – we've made it local folklore here... ”
Charles gave her a small pause, then coughed and continued, “And I also caught a robot's logs of the latest events in the command center.”
Princess Sally straightened up, her face coming closer to the screen.
“It seems that Snively was caught red-handed in his quarters with a wealth of women's clothing. He received a rather harsh talking-to by Robotnik, and is now on half of his usual rations for a month as punishment. However, and I do emphasize the however -” he drew a long, dramatic breath for effect, “- In Robotnik's personal log, he notes that his nephew is beginning to worry him, as Snively is beginning to show effeminate symptoms, and Robotnik fears that his relation is beginning to loose his sanity.”
Charles allowed the words to sink in, and, sure enough, Sally began to sink in her chair, until she fell into a fit of giggles. She surfaced over the desk top a minute later, grinning.
And Charles was waiting for her. “Which brings us to our second topic...”
Sally shuffled back into place on her chair, trying to regain her dignity.
“I honestly don't believe for an instant that Snively has lost his edge. In fact, I have reason to believe quite the contrary. He arranged and executed Tails' capture alone, in secret.”
Sally lost her grin, leaning forward again. “You're serious?”
“Yes – he obviously took a special interest in Miles. Perhaps it was a tactical move at first, but, as we've all seen, it's been something else entirely at the end.”
“Uh – yes. It's a bit disturbing even to think about the implications-”
“Well, perhaps it is not as complicated as you may believe, Princess.”
She gave Charles a strange look through her screen. “What, then?”
“Well, you'll have to forgive me princess, but I think Tails has more to hide than Snively does.”
Sally almost toppled her chair, sitting stock-straight and giving Charles a bristling look. “Do you mean to insinuate that Miles Prower, my very own Tails, is a cross-dresser – or.. ” she stammered the word, finding it hard to conceive of, “is g-gay?”
Charles waved his robotic hands frantically. “Now, now I never said anything like that!”
She snarled, sitting down again and hunching over the screen. “Then what, Charles?”
Not too long away Antoine relaxed again a tree, shuffling the weight of his scruffy guard uniform. The proud shoulder pads of an age past had a tendency to migrate down his back, and the self-appointed royal armed force had stopped to set it back in place. To Antoine, the very worst fault in a royal guard was to allow his uniform to slip out-of-place in the middle of the evening rounds. To show slack in one area was to become lax in more important ones later on in service.
As he struggled against the trappings of an era long past, a word of the present drifted through the air to his sensitive ears. It was princess Sally, her voice unusually agitated and high-pitched; but it was the word which caught Antoine's attention.
Red lights flashed in the effeminate foxes' head. If anything, Antoine was most aware of the taunts and teases that Sonic constantly flashed in his direction, challenging his masculinity. Antoine dealt with the double-edged sword of low confidence and pride, and the fact that the females of Knothole shied away from him. The greatest blow would be the loss of Sally's respect.
This, indeed, could bear investigation. Antoine loosened the collar of his jacket and swallowed, creeping in the direction of the nearby open window. He clutched his sword to silence it's rattle, and blushed as he sat down under the ledge. He tried to stifle the rising qualms in his stomach at the forbidden, almost exotic thought that he would stoop to spying on the princess.
“I was not going to suggest homosexuality at all, Princess. It's just that.. well, if you'll excuse me from polite society, I happen to know that Snively has the last cache of pornography in the whole of Robo-”
He paused, spotting Sally's confounded look, and changed the track of conversation quickly. “I can simply tell you, Princess, that Snively most likely did not have any ideas of the same-gender sort.”
Sally took a long, long moment to stare at the screen, curiosity winning her over. “...Then what, would you suggest?”
Charles pushed his chair back slightly from his desk, a long sigh telling his cautious approach. “Well, Princess, I have reason to believe that Tails is growing into an adult -”
“As if that wasn't obvious.” Sally interrupted impatiently, acting out of her normal, patient self.
Charles simply shook his head. He coughed slightly, waiting for the princess to relax a little more before he continued. When she slumped back in her chair, rethinking her irritation, the robotic narration went on. “As I was saying, Sally, my observations lead me to believe that Tails is growing into a fine young vixen.”
Sally shook her head, rolling her eyes. “Is that all you wanted to tell me? Tails, our little kit, is becoming an adult?”
“No, of course that isn't all, Sally. Think about it. What is a vixen?”
She scowled at the screen, sighing out the answer. “A female few-”
The word caught in Sally's throat, as if the entire world had halted its orbit. Her eyes sparkled in wonder and the light of Nicole's screen, as the evening was dropping around her now. Pieces of small puzzles seemed to fit themselves together – Tails' recent blushing and awkward moments around Sonic. Snively's unusual actions, Tails' decision to move into his own hut.
“See now?” Charles smiled slightly, watching Sally's transparent expression speak volumes about her thoughts.
And the change was almost instant. Slam, and the window on her thoughts was closed, the curtains drawn in her eyes as she took on the skeptical, calculated and careful expression of a leader.
For a moment, just a glimmering moment, Sally almost believed that all of her preconceptions had been wrong. But now, she paused. “I can't deny it's a possibility, but I have to investigate for myself, Sir Charles.”
Charles nodded, his hands moving off her screen as he prepared to end his connection. “Feel free to call me any time, Princess. I can see you have a lot to think about.”
Her eyes were wandering again as she made her response. “Yes, I do. Nicole, close connection.”
A world away from the evening lull of the deep forest, Charles folded his communicator and slipped it onto a shelf, taking a mental sigh. Somewhere, many years ago, he could recall the buried unease of turning into an adult himself, and all the questions he had conquered so long ago. Whatever circumstances had put the little fox kit into such a dilemma, he could not fathom – only that Knothole, populated by a majority of youths, would face interesting times.
Under the window, Antoine held his breath, listening to the sounds of Sally's breath as she set Nicole back in place and began a long contemplation. He sighed his own internal relief, his shoulders relaxing. His fears were allayed, for the moment affording him a moment of peace. In the back of his mind, however, Charles' words were taking form. And, if indeed the infallible Sir Charles believed it, it had to be true.
It was said in Knothole that few could trace the patterns which DeCoolette's mind traveled, and, for the moment, the words held true. Antoine opened his eyes to a mere crack, gazing out into the nighttime stillness of the village. Perhaps, just perhaps, he was not doomed to a life of bachelorhood after all.
Chapter Twelve - Worse and Worse
A harsh ringing broke the dawn peace, echoing off the walls of a small bedroom deep in the Great Forest. Under the bed covers, a vulpine form groaned and pulled the blankets higher over her head, trying to block out the sound. Instead of fading, it persisted and seemed to intensify, requiring attention.
A fumbling, orange-furred hand shot out from the covers, fingers tripping over the edge of the bedside table and a pair of gloves in the process. But, in due course, it reached the alarm clock and killed the alarm switch with a predatorial ferocity.
Miles Prower made a heavy sigh and turned over onto her back. The 5'O'clock ceiling of her hut was as black as tar, but a small patch was turning blue near her window. If Tails was going to get a private bath, it was going to be now or never.
Slipping on shoes and gloves took less than five minutes, but waking up took much longer. When both shoes were on securely, Tails wobbled sleepily up onto her feet and shuffled over to her shelf. She grabbed a basket and turned towards the door, exiting her room in a morning haze.
A second later she huffed back in, her eyes slightly wider open. She put the basket back on the shelf and grabbed an identical basket from one shelf below. This time, the basket held shampoo, a brush, and a towel, as opposed to a hammer, screwdriver, and assorted nails.
At the edge of the narrow river that flowed just outside the border of Knothole, Tails set her basket down upon a large bolder. The river here was a lazy, gentle snake, making a wide turn to the west that made an excellent, pebbly beach for bathers. Tails had visited the small cove countless times in the past, but nearly always with company, and, in the past year, never with Sally or Bunny. For obvious reasons.
The chill of the dawn, mixed with the chill of the water lapping over her toes, gave Tails reason enough to pause and shiver before going further in. It was a refreshing way to wake up – indeed, it was working wonders on Tails' central nervous system, but it was also an uncomfortable shock. The fur of her feet was a few millimeters thick, barely enough to protect her skin, which was a shocking contrast with the three-centimeter-long guard hairs of her fall coat.
Of course, Tails gave no thought to the length of her fur. She grasped the bottle of shampoo harder in her left hand, and ran forward, plowing a small shower of droplets ahead of her. At the end of her small and daring bolt into the water, Tails was a soggy, slightly shivering mass of wet fur, immersed up to her armpits in the stream. She immediately began using the shampoo on her arms and shoulders, beginning the age-old ritual of cleansing, rinsing, and removing any small fox-loving insects that may have hitched a ride with her over the past week. The shampoo she used was a heavy soap that reeked of herbs and anti-buggy agents, all of which ran down the water once she rinsed off by immersing in the stream once more.
By this time Tails was enjoying the fresh water, sitting in the gentle current up to her waist and watching small fish make tentative nibbles at her tail tips. The sun had grown stronger over her time in the river, causing dappled greens and yellows to fall on the gravelly bank. It was like swimming in a daydream of the most idyllic forest, where, at any moment, Tails might encounter a snowy white unicorn.
Cough. Tails startled back to reality, and she looked up at the bank, where the sound had originated. The person at the bank was no legendary beast, but rather, a wide-eyed Bunny with a towel draped over her robotic arm.
A blush spread across Tails' features, from one reddened ear to the other. She jerked her arms out of the water, covering her chest in embarrassment. She felt suddenly very naked. “B-Bunny!” She squeaked, her eyes nailed on the rabbit's face, “Wha – wha...?”
Bunny's expression took a slightly humorous turn. “Ah'm here for my bath, sillah Tails.”
“Uhm.. yeah.. Sorry...” Tails looked down, her mind racing.
Bunny shook her head and stepped forward, to set her towel down on the bathing rock. “Nuthin' tah be sorry 'bout - ” she paused, staring as Tails quickly backpedaled into the water as she approached. “Goodness, lil' fellah – what's wrong?”
Tails nearly blew bubbles, still hiding her sodden form underneath the water where she had hidden herself. “N-nothing, aunt Bunnie... I – I think I'll go now...”
Bunnie gave Tails a sideways glance, puzzling over Miles' strange reaction. “So - ? Yah can go, Tails-hon. 'Aint like ya'll got nutin' tah hide.”
The little fox almost swallowed riverwater at this. She coughed and sputtered for a moment, then looked up at Bunny. “Could you – please turn around, Bunnie?”
The rabbit looked for a moment, as if she was going to make a question, then just put aside the doubt, marking off Tails' behavior to male hormones. She obliged, turning towards the trees and waiting. She was close to chuckling as water droplets fell on her from Tails, who was shaking water from his fur – then there was the sound of bottles clattering into his bathing-basket, and a whoosh as he sped away.
Bunny watched leaves flutter in the backwind where Tails had fled back to the village. She shook her head, unable to make sense of the foxes' behavior. A year ago Tails had been unabashed, walking about with wet fur, but now... Bunny huffed and sat down at the riverbank, absentmindedly disengaging her robotic limbs in preparation for her bath. If anything, Tails only had one thing to cover in shame, and even that was unlikely.
A pause in her activity foreshadowed Bunny's next thought. She had seen Tails sitting in the stream, relaxing before Bunny had disturbed him – and – in the spotty sunlight, it looked a lot like Tails had... nicely perky breasts?
Bunny blushed and shook the thought out of her mind. What a horrible idea!
The breakfast hour found Tails seated at the far end of the table, silently spooning her oatmeal and dropping it again into her bowl. It made sense that she was seated as far away from Bunny as possible, avoiding all glances down the table where the majority of her friends normally sat. Sonic had joined her here, setting himself down across from her with the standard eggs-and-bacon. He had a mixed look of concern and consternation on his face, because his normal greetings had failed to elicit a response from the dour-faced fox.
Tails had spent an hour in front of her makeshift mirror, armed with a brush and a towel. It had taken ages for her to clear her fur of moisture, and double that long to try and hide her frustrations behind fluffed fur. It embarrassed her to show any sign of feminine maturity, and today was worse than ever. She had realized that her 'attributes' now changed her profile from 'fluffy fox' to 'slightly womanly fox', and her teased fur could hardly hide her any more.
And so Tails had two dilemmas on her mind as she played with her oatmeal. She could feel Bunny's eyes boring a hole in her head down the table – and, less obviously, Sally as well. Sonic's voice had become a well-meaning mumble of inquiries and flattery as he tried to evoke a conversation.
It was Antoine's voice that broke the clumsy atmosphere.
“So-nic! Do be shutting up! Youz are diz-rupting ze petite ladie!”
There was a clatter as Tails' spoon struck the wooden tabletop, sending a splatter of lukewarm oatmeal on Sonic's arm. He failed to notice, his ears suddenly perked as he faced Antoine. “Say what?!”
Tails burned with imprisoned chaos. She wanted to shout, scream, and run away all at once. She was, instead, rooted to the spot, her hands frozen in the air, her ears straining to hear if her secret was blown.
Antoine shushed Sonic haughtily. “You iz calling Tails like she iz a petit garçon,” Sonic began to steam as the french fox continued. “Et she iz a gir-”
Antone was stopped in mid sentence when another clatter erupted from Tails' place at the table. She had covered her head with her hands, and, in the process, accidentally dipped her muzzle in the oatmeal. This time she scrambled like eggs, sputtering as she excused herself. “Sorrygottago,needtocleanup,BYE!”
She nearly tumbled over the bench as she stood up straight, jumped away from the table, and took a hasty retreat on her toe-tips to her hut.
Several pairs of eyes watched dust settle on the ground, where Tails had been a few seconds ago. Sonic blushed a furious red as soon as he recovered equilibrium, and he leaned sideways, giving Antoine a serious thwack at the back of his head. “You idiot! Tails doesn't need any more of that!”
Antoine sqeaked angrily at the blow and began rubbing his head, returning the glare. “Vouz are ze idiote! You have hurted her feelingz!”
Sally's voice brought Sonic to a halt as he raised his hand again, ready to deal Antoine another Blow. “Stop! Sonic, there's no reason to hit Antoine.”
The hedgehog's expression turned to utter disbelief as he glanced up at the princess, who now stood at her seat. “But Sal -”
“Leave him alone, Sonic.”
Bunny felt her appetite leave as she watched the small drama unfold. The morning's events had her on tiptoes as well, and she caught Sally's elbow as the squirrel stared Sonic down.
“Sal, is there somethin' Ah should know...?”
Story to be continued - see https://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=1188546 for the most up-to-date version and submit a review.