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Honesty and Listening

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Tails rapidly pressed the button on his communication device to send out a distress call, hoping someone was nearby to pick up on it. He missed what Rouge said, but he half recognized her voice when he dropped the device. “Sonic!” He yelled as his friend was slammed to the ground.

Sonic saw Tails rush to his side and the swelling under the fox’s eye from a blow Metal Sonic got in while Sonic was busy defending himself against the new ally of Eggman’s. He tried to get himself back up to protect the fox from further harm. “Tails…Get outta here.”

“I’m not leaving you, just a bit longer. Help is coming!”

Sonic saw the movement aimed at his friend before Tails did and moved in the way of the jackal's attack. He let out a strained gasp as the wind was knocked out of him, hardly catching sight of Tails as he caught him while Sonic blacked out.

Tails held his friend close and glared at the enemies as he was surrounded, flicking his tails he braced himself to shield Sonic.

Shadow’s kick was enough to knock Tails off. The fox scrambled to reach for his friend again when he was lifted in a hold of water by Chaos and thrown aside. He hit a building and spun his tails to catch himself before falling to the ground.

“Get Sonic and let’s go. We’re done here.” Eggman ordered as he lead the retreat.

Sonic was picked up by Zavok and the enemies followed after Eggman.

“I won’t let you take him!” Tails yelled as he flew after them, his tails moving as fast as they could to propel him forward. “Give Sonic back!”

His eyes widened as red cubes surrounded him, his sights of the city and his friend fading to a blurr. He is body felt heavy as he was pinned to the ground.

“You aren’t strong enough to save him. Now begone.”

 

Knuckles landed on his feet as Silver released him from his telekinesis and looked around the town.

“We were too late. It’s already happening.” Silver frowned, moving some collapsed rubble with his powers to see if there were survivors left behind. He found a device that let out the sound of static and he picked it up. “What’s this?”

“That looks like one of Tails’.” Knuckles said as he looked it over. He turned toward the damage done around the general area. “Tails must have been here when the town was attacked.” He clenched his fists, worrying the worst had happened. He ran down the streets calling out the fox’s name and moving debris from his way.

Silver flew just above Knuckles, looking to see if perhaps Tails found high ground and was safe. He paused when he saw someone watching them from a rooftop and he moved to get closer only for them to flee. “Hey, wait!” He tried to catch up to them and was startled when he recognized them. “Shadow?”

Shadow slowed to a stop, turning to face Silver.

“Silver!” Knuckles’ scream was one that made Silver’s heart drop. He quickly turned to follow the distressed yell when he heard Shadow.

“Make sure he’s okay.”

When Silver turned around Shadow was gone.

Knuckles ran as fast as he could when he saw Tails on the ground at the northernmost entrance of the town, hearing his own racing pulse in his head. “Tails!” he crouched down at the fox’s side and carefully turned him over onto his back and listened to his chest. Still breathing, that was a good sign. “Tails, can you hear me?”

Tails’ eyes fluttered open, gasping when the first thing he saw was red. When his vision cleared and he saw his friend he calmed down. “Knuckles…”

“Knuckles, what happened?” Silver asked, landing on the ground and running over to the echidna’s side. “Tails? Are you alright?”

Tails stared up at the two briefly before he was overwhelmed by the memory of what had just happened. He choked back a sob and curled into himself. “They got him… They took him away and I couldn’t save him!”

Knuckles was briefly in shock at the sight of the fox but pulled him close and let Tails hide his tears in his chest. The fox was always so strong it was hard to remember he was only a child. Knuckles hushed him, arms protectively hugging the weeping boy. “Easy, Tails. Who did they take?”

Tails couldn’t form words, just coughed as he tried to breathe and speak at the same time.

Silver frowned and knelt down, placing a hand on Tails’ shoulder. “It’s okay, Tails. Take your time.”

The fox shuttered and sat himself up, hoping it would make breathing easier. He looked up at Knuckles, the echidna seeing the injuries he sustained from the battle. “It’s Sonic, Knuckles… They got Sonic…”

Silver watched as Knuckles’ expression changed from that of concern to a blank fury. “Knuckles.”

“Silver, take Tails somewhere safe. Clean up his wounds.” Knuckles released Tails and stood up. “Which way did they go, Tails?”

“Knuckles, wait. We don’t even know who they are or how long ago they were here.” Silver argued.

“We know who they are. It’s Eggman. That’s all I need to know. I find Eggman I’ll make him take me to Sonic.”

Tails frowned. “There were others. Zavoc, Metal Sonic, Chaos… even Shadow… Then there was a new guy. He was faster than Sonic and I couldn’t get any readings on him… It made no sense. And his attacks just…”

“Wait, Shadow?” Silver asked. “Why would Shadow attack you and Sonic?” He looked back to where he had run into said hedgehog, recalling what he said and the concern he seemed to express for Tails. “He wouldn’t do something like that.”

“Who cares?!” Knuckles shouted. “When I find him, I’ll take him down too!”

Tails reached up and took Knuckles by the hand. “Don’t! They were so strong together. You’ll get taken too… Please, I can’t lose you both…”

Knuckles stared down at Tails, jaw clenched as his anger threatened to boil over but the look on his friend’s face told him where he was needed right now. So he took a deep breath and scooped Tails up in his arms. “Fine. First thing is getting you help. Then we will come up with a plan. Silver, you still got that device you found earlier?”

Silver held it up with a nod. “Yeah, this yours Tails?”

The fox nodded and took it. “I’ll contact the others for help…” His fingers shook as he tried to use the screen, tears blurring his vision. He sharply inhaled and covered his face with a hand to hide his burning eyes. “Knuckles… what if he’s dead…? He wasn’t moving...”

“Don’t Tails. Don’t go there.” Knuckles said and looked at Silver while motioning to the device with a nod of his head.

“I can do it, Tails. You rest.” Silver gently offered, taking the device and making the calls to their friends.

Knuckles cradled Tails in his arms. “It’s gonna be okay, Tails. We’ll find him and stop Eggman.” He offered a smile. “Don’t we always manage to figure something out?”

Tails nodded and wiped his eyes. “Yeah.” He smiled weakly and let Knuckles carry him to safety while Silver protected them from any left over robots in the town. He felt better with Knuckles there, but he couldn’t help but worry over the sinking feeling in his stomach.

-

“Knuckles, where are you going? The meeting isn’t over with.” Amy scolded as she followed him down the halls of their base towards the entrance.

“I just want some air, it’s stuffy in there with everyone talking.”

“You mean you’re going to look for him, aren’t you?”

Knuckles tightly balled his fists and pushed open the main door. “You heard the others in there. They’re all given up on finding him.”

“They just think we need to focus on this war and put a majority of our resources towards this fight.” Amy followed after him. “Knuckles, I don’t like it either but they have a point. We can’t keep having half our forces out there focusing on finding Sonic. We need to give this war 100% before we lose everything else.”

“So we’re supposed to just give up on Sonic? Say he’s dead and move on?” Knuckles glared. “No way. I’m not just letting him go…”

Amy ran infront of Knuckles and put her hands up to grab his shoulders, keeping him from moving around her. “Stop, Knuckles! You can’t keep going off on your own, we need you here. We need a leader.”

“They have you.”

Amy rolled her eyes. “Knuckles, as great as I am at this I can’t do it alone. I need you to help me lead them. I’m… getting overwhelmed with all this.” She admitted with a frown and let her hands fall to her sides. “We’re losing, Eggman is taking everything and it’s happening so fast.”

Knuckles was surprised by the defeat in Amy’s voice. “Amy… That isn’t your fault. It’s those allies he has and how big his army is this time… And without Sonic so many are giving up on fighting before even trying to resist. They’re not even trying anymore.”

“Yeah. So we need all the allies we can get who are still willing to fight back. And you’re one of the strongest ones we have! We are already working without Tails most of the time. We need you.”

Knuckles sighed. “I told Tails I would help him look for Sonic as soon as I could…”

“Well you can’t yet. Tails knows how bad it is, I’m sure he keeps updated when he isn’t here. He will understand and will find Sonic. We have to protect the world, just like Sonic would.”

“If I got there faster then that’s exactly what he would be doing and we wouldn’t be in this situation.” Knuckles replied bitterly.

Amy shook her head. “We don’t know that. You can’t put that on yourself.”

“I was almost there, Amy. I have to make this right and save him. I think about what he could be going through right now and I…”

“You always did your best to protect him, Knuckles. Both him and Tails.”

“Yet the one time I couldn’t get there in time is when it was too much for even Sonic to at least stall for time.” He sharply exhaled and looked away from the hedgehog. “If he really is dead, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”

“Do you think you’re the only one thinking that? I didn’t even know they were in trouble… I was out shopping in the city at the time!” Amy exclaimed.

Knuckles looked back to Amy and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m not the only one always protecting Sonic.” he paused, thinking about all Amy had said. He couldn’t argue with her logic, they were needed in battle. They needed to protect what little they had, once they did that they could work towards saving what was lost. “He’s gonna have to do a lot of kissing up when we beat Eggman and save his butt.” He smirked.

Amy looked up at Knuckles and grinned. “Yeah, he is!” She stood with her hands on her hips, posture expressing her usual confidence. “I will accept no less than a date.”

“Heh, at least you know what you want.”

“For you too. And no quick bite to eat at a chili dog stand. He owes us real dates.” She sternly addressed her point by pointing a finger at Knuckles. “You will also accept no less after this.”

Knuckles grumbled, feeling his heart doing somersaults in his chest at the sudden change of conversation. “Why would he owe us that?”

“Cuz we do a lot for him and it’s about time he start showing some appreciation to the two who love him so unconditionally.”

“What?!... I don’t need anything from him! Besides, i wouldn’t call what is between us love.”

Amy tilted her head, Knuckles unable to look at the grin on her face without nervously sweating. “I dunno, willing to go out onto war infested grounds to try to find him all alone and not wanting anything in return? That sounds like love.”

“Fine, I’ll go back to the base.” He quickly turned around and started walking back, hoping she would drop the subject if he just did what she wanted.

“Huh, if that’s all it takes to get you to see reason I would have brought it up a while ago.” Amy ran after him and walked at his side with her arms folded behind her back. “I don’t blame you, by the way.”

“Blame me for what?”

“He’s hard to not chase after and protect.”

Knuckles tried to argue with her but her knowing smile saw through any effort he made. He sighed defeatedly. “I’m that obvious?”

“I just know what to look for since I feel the same way.” Amy smiled.

Knuckles opened the door to the base and paused. “... You angry? I won’t get in your way, I wasn’t planning to… say anything to him.”

Amy glared and gave Knuckles’ arm a light slap. “You think I’m selfish enough to want that?” She walked past Knuckles and looked back, giving her skirt a twirl. “Sonic doesn’t belong to anyone. Whoever he chooses is fine with me, as long as he is happy. When you’re ready you should say something to him. Otherwise he might accidentally break your heart and then I’d have to kick his butt and we don’t want that.” She shrugged.

Knuckles managed a small smile. “I’ll think about it. But thanks, Amy…” He turned his stare to the meeting room with more serious expression. “First thing is first…”

Amy nodded and joined him in reuniting with the rest of the resistance.

 

After the meeting, Knuckles lingered back in the room as everyone shuffled out. He made eye contact with Rouge and she motioned him over. Once they were alone he spoke up. “Any word from Shadow?”

“Yes, he managed to sneak in pretending to be one of those fake Shadows he told us about. He’ll give me updates when it’s safe for him to do so.”

“Good… With both him and Tails looking, we’re bound to find him.” Knuckles scowled. “This is a dangerous job, but only he can get in and out of Eggman’s fortresses without issue… And after that meeting, we won’t be able to spend much of our resources on finding Sonic.” He looked back at the bat. “Let him know how much this means to me… and that I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have doubted his alliance.”

Rouge smiled. “That’s right, you shouldn’t have. But I can understand your distrust after your team was taken down. He doesn’t make it easy either. Going off on his own after the attack and not informing us of what he is up to until after he does it. He sometimes leaves you with more questions than answers...” She sighed, shaking her head.

“Sonic can be like that too.” Knuckles said, taking a seat and leaning an elbow on the desk. “Sometimes he’s really good about communication, other times he takes off without telling us what’s on his mind and what he plans to do.”

The bat chuckled. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”

Knuckles quietly agreed before he sat upright again. “We can’t tell the others about Shadow right now. We can’t risk word getting out and putting him in more danger than he already is in by being out there.”

Rouge nodded. “Of course, I know how being a spy works.” She winked.

The echidna blushed and he rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well… Just needed to make sure.” He stood up. “Anything else he report back on?”

“I managed to get G.U.N. to agree on allowing us to run missions and join the battlefield without worry of them seeing us as a threat as well. They might be willing to send us resources, but they’re struggling too.”

Knuckles crossed his arms. “As long as they don’t get in the way or try anything funny.”

“I’ll be sure to keep tabs on both ends. Though I’m sure they’ll wanna talk to you eventually, Commander.” She said with amusement and shrugged. “Can you handle talking to a representative of G.U.N.?”

Knuckles was stiff but grumbled out, “If I have to, I guess…”

“Eh, now that I think about it I’d rather not end up having two sides we are fighting against, so I’ll stay in the middle to keep the peace.”

Knuckles stared at her blankly for a moment, unsure if he was more insulted or relieved, before turning to the door. “I’ll leave you to it then!” He said gruffly.

He paused at the door. “By the way. Thanks for what you’re doing too. And just so you know, I instructed my men to keep an eye out for Omega.”

Rouge’s playful expression fell but she kept up a sad smile. “... thank you... We’ll find our lost teammates.”

“Yeah. We will.”

-

Sonic swallowed down the food he was given, just enough to avoid starvation but with hardly any nutritional gain. “No flavor as usual. I’m starting to wonder if maybe your boss just can’t cook.” He said as he dropped his plate on the ground and sat against the wall, staring challengingly at the robot on the other side of the cell doors.

The robot stared at him and then down at the plate. “You aren’t going anywhere, you are chained to the wall by those cuffs on your ankles.”

“I’m not trying to escape. But I’m not gonna make your job easier. Come get your plate.”

The robot unlocked the cell with an annoyed mutter and picked up the plate. “You should be grateful we feed you at all.”

“I mean, I’d die if you didn’t. And Eggman seems to want me alive for some reason so…” He looked up as the background hum of machines slowed to a stop, lights shutting down one by one until they were in complete darkness. “Well, that’s new.” The thought that new was a good sign crossed his mind.

“The power won’t be off for long, the doctor has back up gen-” The robot was kicked out of the cell and it quickly shut the door. “You thought you could escape that easily?” It said as he felt around on it’s waist.

“Yeah, I did.” Sonic asked, holding up the keys he had stolen off the robot in the dark. Shackles once around his ankles sat on the ground and the ones on his wrists fell to the floor besides them.

“What?! No!”

Sonic kicked the door open, knocking the robot down with it and ran out of the room. “Thanks for the food!” He jogged down the halls of the base, unsure which way each turn took him, but he knew which way not to go due to past attempts of escape. He was able to run past some robots who scrambled to find their way through the dark. “I sure owe whoever is responsible for the lights going out on this show.”

He made it to a large room where halls intersected in a big dome, the walkway twisting around the circular shape of the building. Above was a rounded roof that let you see into the stars. “So, we’re in space, huh?” He peeked over the ledge and to the ground below, scowling when the lights came back on.

The robots in the hall behind him pointed at him and charged. “Welp, guess my fun is over.” Sonic smirked and ran along the walkway, wincing as his legs started to feel tight and difficult to move. “C’mon, don’t give out on me now. I know it’s been a while but-” He skid to a stop and ducked in time to dodge a large robot’s hammer. “Watch where you’re swinging that, big boy.” He flipped over one of the smaller pawns that ran at him, the hammer wielder swinging it down at him, too slow to hit Sonic but fast enough to shatter the smaller robot before it could move out of the way.

“Oof. That’s strike two. Not looking too good, bud.” He ran between the large robot’s legs and it spun around, swinging in the hammer. “And strike thr-Oh great.” The hammer was aimed low and hit the walkway it self, breaking the support under it and collapsing. Sonic attempted to jump from the falling ground but his strength fell short and he just missed grabbing the stable flooring. “Crap!”

He gasped as he fell with the large robot, bracing himself to hit the floor below but stopped mid drop, arms wrapped around his torso holding him up. He looked up to see Tails and he let out a relieved sigh. “Tails!”

“Hey, Sonic. Long time no see.” The fox winked.

There was a shout below them. “I know that voice anywhere.” Sonic grinned as he looked down to see Knuckles punch through the large robot before it could grab its hammer. Tails lowered them to the ground safely. “Man, am I glad to see you two.”

Knuckles retracted his fist from deep inside the robot, pulling out as many wires as he could grab hold of. “I could say the same about you.” He smiled at Sonic.

“So you guys must be why the power went out for a bit. Thanks for that, it gave me an opening to get out.”

“Actually Rouge’s team did that.” Tails explained.

Sonic smiled. “Geez, so everyone’s helping out, huh?”

“We’ll get to the pleasantries later. We still have to get out of here.” Knuckles bluntly interrupted.

“Heh, all business and no play? Glad to see you haven’t changed.” Sonic smirked.

Knuckles scowled with warm cheeks. “Tails, you got that map of the place yet?” He asked, turning to the fox.

“I have half of it but that should be enough to get us out of here.” He listened to his earpiece. “Espio’s team has the shuttle home ready, let’s go!”

Sonic nodded and the three ran in the direction Tails pointed to. They made it to the next doorway when Sonic winced and his legs gave out, causing him to fall to the ground.

“Sonic?!” Tails looked back to check on his friend when several groups of robots turned the corner to confront them.

“Tails, shoot them down.” Knuckles crouched down by Sonic. “Can you stand?”

With Knuckles’ help Sonic rose to his feet but his legs shook. “I think I’m at my limit, buddy.”

“Alright, hold on then.” Knuckles lifted Sonic into his arms. “Tails cover us.”

“Got it.” Tails pressed a button on his weapon that unleashed a powerful soundwave that threw the enemies back. “Come on!” He lead the way and spoke into his mic. “In corridor 8. We have Sonic but we need back up.”

The robots Tails had shot away were hit with a fast force that burst through their bodies. Coming to a stop in front of the three, Shadow turned to them. “Follow me. I know a faster route.”

Sonic nearly threw himself from Knuckles’ arms. “Shadow?! Aren’t you working with Eggman?” He asked, wanting Shadow’s side of what happened but on the defensive.

“It’s okay, Sonic. I’ll explain everything when we get out of here. All you need to know is Shadow is how we found you. We can trust him.” Knuckles answered, looking at Shadow and giving him an understanding nod.

Shadow returned the nod and lead the way to the shuttle.

Sonic looked down at his legs as he uselessly held onto Knuckles. If things had lead to a fight with Shadow he would have been totally useless and his friends would have had to protect him. “Sorry, guys.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Knuckles answered.

Shadow stopped suddenly and glared down the hall. “I’ll get you an opening then you make a run for the shuttle.”

Before they could question them, Zavok charged down the hall. Shadow met him head on and knocked him to the side. “Go!”

Tails and Knuckles ran past and Sonic looked over Knuckles’ shoulder. “Shadow, what about you?”

“I can handle myself. Get going.”

The team ran for the shuttle as Zavok got up, leaving Shadow behind to fight the powerful clone.

They got into the shuttle, Rouge preparing to launch.

“Wait! Shadow is still fighting.” Tails said, looking back to the hall they ran from.

“We don’t have time, if we don’t go now we will all be trapped here.” Espio answered.

Rouge looked back from her console and frowned before pushing the button to close the shuttle doors. “He wouldn’t want us risking the mission.” She answered. “He’ll catch up.” She looked back to Sonic’s team. “Trust him.”

Sonic nodded and Knuckles sat him down before the shuttle took off. He looked out the windows as the station got further away.

A light shone from the back of the shuttle and Shadow appeared through the Chaos Control.

“Glad to see you made it.” Knuckles smiled, relieved.

Shadow nodded and walked up to the front of the shuttle, holding to the head of Rouge’s seat.

She looked over her shoulder and smiled. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?”

“Just keeping you on your toes.”

Rouge chuckled. “Yeah? And here I was worrying you got rusty during your time here.”

Sonic looked away from the two and towards Knuckles and Tails as they went over how the shuttle was running and calculating how long until they made it back to the planet with Espio. He frowned to himself and held to the bench he sat on.

“Sonic.”

He looked up and was surprised to see Shadow looking back at him. He felt his arms ache and realized how tight his grip on the seat was. He laughed and relaxed himself. “Yeah?”

Shadow was silent but his stare thoughtful before he turned to Rouge. He said something to her but Sonic couldn’t hear him over the others talking. Rouge nodded, glancing back at Sonic briefly before going back to talking quietly with Shadow while she piloted.

Sonic shifted uncomfortably, hit with a wave of embarrassment over his situation and appearance. He tried not to get overwhelmed by it, thankfully the rest of the ride the others seemed to carry on like nothing bad had happened. He appreciated how Tails stuck by his side with a cheerful tone while the others worked.

-

Amy uncrossed her arms and got up off the table she leaned against. “Alright, so Sonic won’t be able to fight for a while. So what? We got him back and that’s all that matters!”

Silver nodded with a smile. “Muscle atrophy is something you can come back from, he just needs time and support. Meanwhile, we need to continue to fight. We’re making a comeback. Getting Sonic back proves we are strong enough to beat Eggman!”

“I agree with you both, but what about Sonic himself? He’s gotta be feel pretty bad about this.” Vector frowned.

“Considering all he has been through, we are lucky this was the extent of his condition.” Espio replied. “Like Silver said, with physical therapy and some help he can make a come back both physically and mentally.”

“Be strong for him. We don’t need him to think we pity him and we don’t want him to rush himself through his recovery to help us. We can do this without burdening him!” Amy encouraged.

“Yeah!” The group agreed.

 

In the other room Sonic gripped his knees tightly, growling in frustration.

“Here.” Knuckles walked over with a plate of food he had made. “You should eat to help regain your strength.”

“Thanks…” Sonic accepted the food and took small spoonfuls.

Knuckles sat next to him, unable to help but to give his friend a look over. Sonic had lost a fair amount of weight and had quite a few scars and burns that had been treated and cleaned since he arrived back at the base with them. It hurt to see him in such a state but just seeing him there in person, alive, eased so much weight he held in his heart for the past few months.

“I must look pretty bad, huh?”

“What?”

“Everyone keeps staring at me like that. I bet I look like the living dead.”

“No, no! That’s not…” Knuckles looked away with an embarrassed cringe. “Sorry, I just…” He sighed. “Having you back doesn’t feel real. I feel like if I don’t keep my eyes on you then you won’t be here anymore.”

Sonic stared at Knuckles and huffed out a half hearted laugh. “Is that all? Guess I’ll have to stick by your side until it feels real then.” He gave Knuckles a nudge with his elbow and took another spoonful. “Tails go off on a mission?”

“Yeah, he’s handling a weapon factory over by Green Hill. Cut their weapon supply down and they’ll be less a threat and easier to neutralize.” Knuckles explained.

“Look at you and your effective plans, Mr. Commander. Sounds like you have a handle on things.”

Knuckles pridefully smirked. “Yeah, well. Turns out I’m not too bad when it comes to battle strategies.”

“You mean when you actually think before charging in?” Sonic laughed when Knuckles glared at him. “Jokes aside, I’m not surprised. You were always really good with attack plans. And your traps? I almost always fell for them back when I was your target. I’m glad to see you getting recognition for it.”

Knuckles’ skin felt like he was standing in direct sunlight, he looked away and buried his face in a hand with nervous laughter. “It’s not that big a deal.” He said, unable to hide the ever growing smile.

Sonic grinned and leaned into Knuckles, his tone enthusiastic as he exclaimed, “They’ll all remember the brave Commander Knuckles for his brilliant tactics and bold leadership skills. The face of the resistance and freedom! Just don’t call him a knucklehead to his face.” He laughed when Knuckles leaned back into him to push him back upright.

“Shut up and eat your food.” Knuckles laughed. “Besides, you’re everyone’s favorite hero. I can’t tell you how many recruits we got saying they were inspired by you to join.”

Sonic’s posture stiffened a bit and he stared down at his food. “Yeah?... They must be pretty shocked seeing me like this now... Some hero.”

Knuckles turned to him with wide eyes. “Woah, what?”

Sonic forced a smile and an uplifting tone. “Nothing! Hey, this food is pretty good. You make it? I didn't know you could cook.”

Knuckles frowned. “Yeah, but… Are you okay?”

“I’m great. Finally got some good tasting food in my system and out of that cell. The medic has a bed and everything for me. Life is looking up, my friend.” Sonic motioned a cheers with a spoonful of food and ate it.

Knuckles eyed the hedgehog but let it go for now. “Yeah…”

The door opened and Silver smiled when he saw Sonic. “Hey, how’re you feeling?”

“Pretty great, buddy!” Sonic cheerfully greeted. “Hey, I owe you, Silver. I heard you helped Knuckles with Tails when this all started and he was hurt.”

Silver chuckled. “You can pay me back by taking care of yourself.” He looked past Sonic to Knuckles. “I want to go check out Mystic Jungle. When you’re free think you can go over the layout and help me get an idea of what to look out for when I go, Knuckles?”

“Sure. I’ll be right in to go over that.”

Silver nodded and waved to Sonic. “I’ll see you later, Sonic! It’s good to see you again.”

Knuckles watched Silver leave and he turned back to Sonic who motioned at him with his empty spoon and spoke with a mouthful. “Hey, you never told me the deal with Shadow.”

“Oh, right. Well, it turns out those guys you fought with are clones the masked guy can make. Shadow arrived on the scene after you were taken… The masked guy was about to finish Tails off when Shadow intervened and gave chase.”

Sonic put his spoon down on his plate. “Really?...” he groaned. “I look like an idiot now. Of course Shadow wouldn’t attack us like that or fight for Eggman. What was I thinking?”

“You were going by what you saw. They are perfect clones, even in power. That’s actually how Shadow found you, by pretending to be one and searching around as our spy.” Knuckles explained.

“Heh, looks like I really owe him.”

Knuckles smiled. “We all do.”

Sonic gave Knuckles’ shoulder a pat. “I won’t hold you up longer. You’re needed elsewhere, Commander.”

Knuckles rolled his eyes. “My title coming out of your mouth doesn’t sound serious at all.” He stared at Sonic a moment. “You sure you’re okay that I go?”

“Me? Hah! Yeah, man. Go do your job. I’m just gonna eat and get to working on some exercises the medic told me to do.”

“Alright.” Knuckles stood up and pointed at Sonic. “Just don’t over do it. You need to rest too.”

Sonic mock saluted Knuckles. “Aye, Aye, Commander.”

Knuckles went to the door and nodded to a pair of crutches that leaned on the wall. “Make use of these too.” He said, worried for Sonic falling again.

Sonic’s smile looked painful to hold. “Yeah…”

Knuckles stared at him a moment. “... I’ll come check on you when I’m done.”

“Yeah…” Sonic tried to ignore the way Knuckles looked at him, it was similar to how Shadow and Rouge had. He glanced to the crutches as his friend silently left, deciding he couldn’t eat anymore food.

-

Knuckles stared at the communicator in shock, collecting himself and bringing the mic close enough to be heard. “Silver? Can you hear me?... Silver?!”

Amy grabbed her hammer and headed for the door. “I’m going out there!”

Knuckles nodded. “Hurry.”

She opened the door to the hall and gasped when she nearly ran into the blue hedgehog. “Sonic!”

“Hey, Amy. What’s the rush?”

“Amy, go!” Knuckles yelled.

She apologized to Sonic and ran past him. Sonic walked into the room, carrying one of the crutches he was given incase he felt weak. He took a seat and rolled it over to the console Knuckles stood at. “What’s going on?”

“Silver ran into that masked guy and now won’t respond.”

Sonic froze in place, staring blankly at Knuckles as the echidna tried reaching Silver again. His chest felt tight as he feared Silver will meet the same fate he had when the masked villain fought him. He covered his quivering lips and gripped the arm of the chair tightly at the thought of Silver being captured and facing the torture Sonic had.

The tension in Knuckles’ face relaxed when he finally heard Silver’s voice. It was weak but he was responding. “Hang in there, Amy’s on the way. Is he still there?”

“No… he left… I couldn’t do anything against him. I got his name but I… I’m sorry, Knuckles…” Silver coughed, voice breathless.

Knuckles glared. “You survived, that’s all I ask of you. Keep talking with me, alright? Can you tell me what you see? Where you are? It’ll help us find you.”

While Knuckles kept Silver responsive, Sonic stared down at his legs. He contemplated running over there himself but he knew he would make it about half way before his legs gave out and would leave him open to attack. Then someone would have to come get him too. He felt completely and utterly useless.

 

It felt like hours before they heard Amy announce her arrival on the scene. “Knuckles, I found him! I’ll get him back soon, have the medic ready.”

“Good job, Amy. Take care of him.” Knuckles sighed with relief and turned to Sonic. “Well, looks like we got there in time… Sonic?” He stared at his friend who’s color had drained from his face and he shook like a leaf. “Sonic? You alright?” Knuckles approached him and knelt in front of him. “Hey, it’s okay now, Sonic...”

“It’s not okay, Knuckles!” Sonic suddenly shouted, the hand previously covering his mouth to keep from being sick threw the crutch to the ground as hard as he could. “I could have done something if it wasn’t for these stupid things! How am I supposed to do anything like this? All I can do is sit back and watch my friends get hurt and hope they don’t get captured or killed!”

Knuckles was in silent shock as Sonic yelled.

“You said it yourself. That I inspire a lot of your recruits to fight. How can I do that now? They’re all out there fighting and getting hurt while I’m here sitting on my butt. What kind of inspiring hero is that?”

“One that has a breaking point like the rest of us.”

Sonic looked dumbfoundedly at his friend when he answered.

“You aren’t some perfect unbreakable robot, Sonic. And we all know that. No one is expecting you to jump right back into the fight after what you went through. There is more to a hero than saving the day. It’s also knowing you have your limits and letting others step up to help you.” He hoped his smile showed more comfort than worry. “You always fought for those who can’t fight back. Now let them fight for themselves while you recover. Let them show you what they learned from you.”

Sonic stared at Knuckles in silence before his posture relaxed. “Heh, no fair. Being cheesy is my thing.”

Knuckles chuckled and grabbed the crutch as he stood up. “I picked up on it from the best. Now, we have some time before Silver and Amy get back. I wanna be with Silver when he gets in for treatment but until then wanna work on some stretches?” He offered a hand, thinking distracting Sonic would help him feel better.

“Yeah, sure. Just don’t fold me into a pretzel.” Sonic accepted the help and was pulled to his feet. He looked down at how his hand fit into Knuckles’, a warmth bloomed in his stomach for a brief moment. He smiled sheepishly and scratched at his cheek. “Uh, can we keep this whole... thing between us? I don’t want the others knowing this bothers me… that much.”

Knuckles gave Sonic’s hand a comforting squeeze. “You don’t even have to ask. Of course.”

Sonic held to Knuckles a few seconds longer before he pulled away and started walking to the door of the room with Knuckles at his side. “Sorry for kinda unloading on you like that. I’m okay now. Outta my system and all that.”

Knuckles side eyed Sonic, doubtful but not wanting to push his friend too much. “It’s okay. If anything it makes me glad.”

Sonic playfully glared at him. “What, you like seeing me in a moment of weakness?” He brought the back of his wrist to his forehead and swayed into Knuckles as he acted out being in distress. “How unbearably cruel.”

“What? No! Cut it out!” Knuckles defensively replied a bit louder than he meant to. He cleared his throat and brought his voice back to a less strained volume. “I mean… I’m glad you were able to talk to me. I can only imagine what you’re feeling, but I want to help and that you can express your feelings to me is good...”

Sonic shrugged. “Eh, it’s no big deal. I’m just a bit tired and it got to me. I’m good.”

Knuckles opened the door. “You can say that all you want. Take however much time you need to. But when you’re ready to talk about how you actually feel again I’m right here for you.”

The hedgehog left the room and thoughtfully crossed his arms. “Honestly... I don’t know how I feel or how to really talk about it right now... But thanks.” He gave the echidna a smile. “You’re actually pretty cool, Knuckles.” He chuckled.

 

Knuckles scoffed, shoving the crutch at Sonic with exaggerated offense. “You’ve known me how long and you just noticed that? Thanks a lot.” he smirked and carefully nudged Sonic with his fist. “Go get started and I’ll catch up. Gotta get the medic ready for Silver.”

“Don’t leave me hanging too long.” Sonic winked as he left Knuckles’ side, in much better spirits.

Knuckles watched him leave and thought about how he owed Rouge his thanks for advice she had given him after they brought Sonic back. He didn’t know the details of where she learned how to support a friend cope with trauma but he was glad to have had someone with some experience since he wasn’t the best at handling these sorts of things. But this was for Sonic, it was time he worked on being better with emotions. Either way he appreciated Rouge’s help and hoped he could be as helpful to Sonic as Rouge had been for her friend.

-

Sonic stood facing a wall, hands pressed against it as he lifted his right leg until it was parallel with the floor. He held it for several seconds before lowering it and switching legs. He glared when he heard Tails and Knuckles whisper. “I already told you both I’m not doing it.”

“Sonic. It might help you recover faster. Aquatic therapy has excellent results and we happen to have a pond not too far from the base where Eggman hasn’t captured.” Tails explained, scrolling down on a tablet he held with information on the type of therapy he was talking about.

“Have you two forgotten that I can’t swim?”

“I’ll go with you.” Knuckles replied. “Amy had offered too. We can take shifts with keeping guard and keeping you from sinking like a rock.”

Sonic scowled at his friend’s joke. “Aren’t you supposed to be here leading your troops?”

“Actually. I’ve been working with Knuckles with leading them and I think I can do it myself now every so often so Knuckles can get breaks.” Tails smiled. “I have a few plans of my own that I want to try out anyway.”

“Tails’ style is a bit different than my own, but it’s smart and efficient. He can take over while I help you out. Besides, it isn’t like it will be all day, everyday. Just a few times a week for a couple hours.” Knuckles grinned. “You wanna get out there again before we finish off Eggman, right?”

“... yeah…” Sonic pouted. “What about Amy then? Isn’t she also needed here?”

“Like I said, it won’t be long. Besides, do you really want to deny her of this? She already has her heart set on this. Plus she could use the time away to recharge. And if anything should happen, having her there with me will make it that much easier for us to fight.” The echidna pointed out. “Or would you rather someone from Team Dark or the Chaotix see you in water?”

Sonic shot Knuckles a glare, getting a laugh out of his friends. “Fine. But no throwing me in.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“You would and you have. How many times have you gotten mad and pulled something that ended up with me falling into water?” Sonic argued with a smirk that flustered his friend more.

“Maybe once, and it was Eggman’s fault! I was just trying to protect the Master Emerald.” Knuckles frowned.

Sonic shrugged smugly. “Can we really blame Eggman for you believing him that I was the bad guy?”

“Wanna make it a second time?” Knuckles threatened, catching Sonic before he could dodge and held him in a headlock. He ruffled the hedgehog’s quills while Sonic struggling in his hold.

Tails laughed at the two and turned to the door when it opened. “Hey, Shadow!” He greeted.

Shadow nodded and looked at the other two. “... Am I interrupting?”

“No!” Both exclaimed.

Knuckles dropped Sonic and cleared his throat. “What’s up?”

“I need Tails.” Shadow answered and looked at the fox. “We found Omega but something is wrong and he is unable to power on. Rouge and I can’t figure out how to help him…”

Tails nodded. “I’ll give you a hand. Did you get him back here?”

“Yes. Rouge is with him right now.”

“Alright, I’ll go have a look at him and run some tests to see what could be wrong.” Tails nodded.

Shadow turned to lead the way out when Sonic called out. “Hey, Shadow. Wait a sec!”

Shadow looked back at Sonic. “What is it?”

“Thanks for what you did for me. And for saving Tails. We really owe you for that.”

Tails and Knuckles nodded in agreement.

Shadow looked at the members of Team Sonic, unsure how to respond to all three of them showing gratitude. “I failed to arrive in time to answer your distress call. I was doing the next best thing given the situation.”

“Well, Tails and I wouldn’t be here if not for you. So thanks, buddy.” Sonic smiled.

Shadow was silent but nodded.

“The least we can do right now is get Omega back up on his feet.” Tails said. “Take me to where you guys have him and I’ll get started.”

Shadow left the room with Tails, leaving Sonic and Knuckles behind.

“I was wondering how to go about thanking him…” Knuckles admitted reluctantly. “Talking to Shadow when it isn’t strictly mission based is kinda awkward. I’m used to Rouge, who is more than okay with starting and holding conversation. I never know how to really approach Shadow.”

“He isn’t as difficult to talk to as he seems, he’s just quiet. And both your people skills just suck.” Sonic teased. “You just gotta say what you gotta say sometimes. Even if it’s obvious.”

“Hey, I’m getting better at it… Sorta.” Knuckles quietly scowled, watching Sonic lay back on a cot and stretching his legs as high as he could one by one. “Am I obvious?”

“Obvious? Dunno if I’d say obvious. I mean, I can pick up a lot from looking at you but we’ve been friends for a while now so… Why?” Sonic asked, looking up at Knuckles. “Something’s on your mind?”

The echidna looked away with a hot face. “Nothing… I’ll go tell Amy you agreed to the aquatic therapy and we’ll work out when to start.” He marched out of the room leaving Sonic sitting on the cot.

Sonic sat up, staring at the door Knuckles hurried through. He tried to think what could be bothering the echidna but he drew a blank. “Huh? Wonder what that was about.”

-

Knuckles looked over the screen that showed the areas they had won control from Eggman’s forces with frustration. Their plans in Metropolis City went south very fast, they lost more than they won.

“Don't think too hard, Knucklehead. You might hurt yourself.”

Knuckles turned to the door as Sonic entered the room, doors closing behind him. “How was the jog?”

Sonic stretched his arms above his head then worked on his legs. “Great! Knocked out a few of Eggman’s rust buckets while I was out too. Felt good.”

Knuckles frowned. “Wait, you went out that far by yourself? You could have gotten hurt.”

Sonic shrugged. “But I didn’t.” He joined his friend’s side and scanned over the maps Knuckles had up. “So “Operation Big Wave” ended up being a big flop?”

The echidna sighed. “They outnumbered us. We were overwhelmed.”

“Yeah, I ran into Tails on the way back while he was getting treated by the medic. He was pretty beat up.”

Knuckles side eyed Sonic, frowning. “He ran into Infinite but managed to get out of there before their fight got bad.” He noticed the hedgehog stiffen as he vacantly stared at the map. Knuckles quietly watched how Sonic stood in silence before he fully turned to his friend. “Sonic?”

“Hm? Sorry. Just thinking.” Sonic turned his gaze from the map to Knuckles. “I want to go with Tails on his next mission after he’s all patched up and up to going out again.”

Knuckles seemed surprised and raised a brow. “You shouldn't take on more than you're doing now. You need to rest.”

“Yeah, yeah. You've been saying that since I got back.” Sonic stood with his hands on his hips, squinting at Knuckles. “You never got this worried about me doing things before. Why is this any different?”

The echidna’s expression was one of someone who had heard a distasteful joke. “Are you kidding me?!” He nearly shouted. He recollected himself, trying to remember what Rouge told him about being patient and to not take things personally. “Sonic… We almost lost you. Any other time you were fine. I never could understand how, but you would manage to hold off the worse conclusion until someone else got there to help… That didn’t happen this time. I didn’t get there in time and you paid a price.”

Sonic dropped his arms at his side. “Wait. Do you blame yourself for what happened to me?” He frowned with a glare. “The only one who’s fault it is is my own. Not yours. Not Tails’. Not Shadow’s. Mine. So can you all quit worrying and treating me like a kid?”

“I’m not-” Knuckles growled and closed his eyes, taking a breather before starting up the conversation again. He was surprised Sonic waited for him with how impatient the hedgehog currently was. “What do you want from me then? To let you go out and get yourself hurt more? Or someone else? Cuz right now, in your condition you are a risk. You need to focus on your therapy and get stronger.”

“So I’m useless.”

“Don’t twist my words. That is not what I said.”

Sonic let out a long drawn out sigh before forcing a smile. “C’mon, Knuckles. I can handle a little patrol around one of the smaller towns closer to us. I can handle small badniks. It’ll be therapeutic in more ways than one. It’ll feel good to get a sweat going and clear my head a bit.”

“Wait until after we get some aquatic therapy in. I want to see for myself how better you’re doing before-hey! Don’t walk away!”

“Whatever, I’ll just go out when you are too busy to put me in time out.” Sonic dismissed as he went to the door.

“Sonic! We aren’t done here, wait!” Knuckles grabbed Sonic by the wrist and the hedgehog froze up and stared down at Knuckles’ hand with shock. “… Sonic?” Knuckles’ anger suddenly evaporated and he quickly retracted his hand from Sonic.

The hedgehog brought his hand to his chest and held the wrist like a brace, wincing as he caught his breath.

“Sonic… I’m sorry. I didn’t…”

“Nevermind, Knuckles. Just leave it.” Sonic left the room, ignoring Amy as she stepped out of his way.

Amy frowned as she watched Sonic go down the hall and turned back to the room. “What did you do?” She asked.

Knuckles looked down at his own hand and clenched his fist. “... I suck at this.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sonic’s hurting and it’s coming out in these moods and I know better than to let it get to me but it is. And then I go and make him hurt more.” He looked up at Amy as she walked over to him and touched his hand. “What do you think we should do? He wants to go out and fight again.”

“It’s way too soon for him to go right into the heat of battle.”

“That’s what I said! But he brought up the idea of maybe a small patrol, maybe fight those little badniks that sneak about. He’s already going out there on his own during runs and knocking some out.” Knuckles bit his lip. “I want to let him do what he wants, but-” He felt Amy give his fist a squeeze.

She smiled up at him. “Sonic has always coped with things by being proactive. By sitting around he’s forced to have to face how he feels and he doesn’t know where to go with that. So it comes out like this. He’s hurting and angry about it then he hides it when anyone else is around.” She looked at Knuckles’ hand. “I only ever see him let himself get out that anger when it’s with you actually. It sometimes slips out here and there but he puts on this mask for the rest of us… Maybe he trusts you with his emotions and that’s why you’re getting the brunt of it.”

Knuckles stared at her with bewilderment. “So… should I let him go out then? He trusts me, so maybe I should trust him.”

“Maybe you two can meet halfway.” Amy winked. “You could use some action too, can’t you? I can tell by the tension you’re holding.” She added emphasis by making him open his fist. “You’re like Sonic. Sitting still when you’re hurting just doesn’t work.”

The echidna nodded thoughtfully. “Alright.” He let out a long strained breath. “I guess I could use a break from things here. Maybe the two of us going out somewhere, helping a town or something, will be enough to burn what we’re both feeling.”

Amy smiled. “Good. Let him cool off for now then go make up. Oh, and we should decide when to go to the pond.”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to him about it and maybe take him out for a bit… If he wants to be around me at all after that.”

“I’m sure he just needs some time.”

 

Sonic made his way for the exit of the base when he passed the computer room. He stopped when he heard Tails’ voice and peeked inside. He saw the fox working on Omega and listened in as his friend talked to the robot.

“You should be able to move about soon. I dunno about fighting yet, I want to run a few tests before we get you out on the field again.” Tails said as he tinkered.

“You are injured.” Omega stated.

Tails flinched a bit and laughed sheepishly. “Yeah. But that’s okay, it’s not as bad as it looks. I can at least work on you before we come up with our next plan of attack.”

“Going onto the battlefield with injuries is asking for trouble.” Shadow’s voice sounded from a corner of the room that Sonic couldn’t see from his angle.

Tails paused and frowned. “But we are running thin on fighters after that last mission. I was the better off of those who were hit with the attacks.”

“A broken weapon is a risk to its wielder should it give out at the most crucial moment of battle.” Omega said, watching as Tails went over to the computer and hooking it up to the robot’s body. “An organic body is no exception.”

The fox sighed lightly. “I know… I just feel useless sitting around here though.”

“Then find other ways to help.” Shadow replied. “You are helping Omega. That isn’t being useless.”

Tails thoughtfully typed a few codes into the computer to get into Omega’s data. He smiled a bit when he got in successfully. “Yeah. You’re right.” He typed a few things in and looked at the robot. “How does that feel? Can you move now?”

Omega shifted and raised an arm, legs bending but not enough to lift him off the ground. “Movement at 50%.”

“Well, that’s progress!” Tails grinned and looked at Shadow. “I’ll keep working-”

“Go rest.” Shadow walked over into Sonic’s view. “The sooner you recover the sooner you can get back to the frontlines.”

Tails nodded up at Shadow. “Okay… Thanks, guys.” He smiled and Sonic quickly moved from the doorway as the fox walked out. “Oh, Sonic!” his smile was nervous. “I’m going to go lay down again, I promise.”

Sonic smiled and gave his friend a thumbs up. “Sounds good, buddy. Rest up.”

The fox nodded and left to go get some sleep.

“Our words weren’t just for the kid, Sonic.”

The hedgehog turned to Shadow who was now in the doorway looking him in the eye. “Huh? I wasn’t listening in. I was just waiting for Tails to come out to see how he was doing.”

Shadow’s face expressed disinterest in Sonic’s excuse.

“Okay, fine. I was listening.”

“Good. Take it to heart.”

Sonic watched Shadow return to his teammate and thought on what the two had told Tails. He took a step into the room. “How did you know?”

Shadow looked up from Omega questioningly.

“Er, what made you think I needed to hear that too, I mean?” Sonic clarified.

“I saw you out there fighting with some of Eggman’s robots on your own.” Shadow answered. “While you seemed to have gotten some of your strength back, I did notice some hesitation in your attacks.”

“Oh that? I was just pacing myself a bit. No biggie.”

“I originally suspected it to be due to your injury but after the fight you looked quite shaken.” Shadow closed the gap between Sonic and himself, speaking lowly so his teammate had a hard time picking up what was said. “When I found you on the Death Egg I also found footage of what the doctor had been doing with you… Before you worry, I erased them.”

Sonic swallowed his nerves, feeling a chilling realization pulse through his veins.

“Those robots were the ones the doctor had tested on you several months ago, weren't they?”

Sonic’s eyes fell to the floor, narrowly focusing on Shadow’s feet. “Yes.” He quietly replied. “I recognized their updated models from ones he had me fight repeatedly while captured. I guess he figured they were ready since they beat me up pretty easily while I was there.” He forced a crooked grin and lifted his gaze back to Shadow’s face. “Guess I really am getting stronger since I beat them this time.”

Shadow nodded. “You are. And the fighting while there, while not enough to keep muscle tone at its peak, was enough to keep from your condition being in a worse state.”

Sonic’s smile dropped. “How long were you there?”

“Only a week. Once I made sure it was really you, the others had to plan a way to get in. Meanwhile, I kept watch over you.”

“Heh, guess that's why my last week there was more laid back.” Sonic’s laugh only briefly curled his lips, falling short of reaching his eyes.

Shadow was quiet for a moment, his stare thoughtful. “I am sorry I could not get you out sooner. I had to hold my action until we had a sure escape. Moving too soon would have resulted in both our deaths.”

Sonic shook his head. “No need to apologize. I figured as much. Just…” He paused, the words taking a second to be able to sound out in Sonic’s head before being able to say them aloud. “Just don't tell the others what you saw… Please. They don't need to know what kinda state I was in.”

“I will not speak of what I saw while there. That information isn't mine to give, but rather your own if you wish to share your experience.”

“Does it help?... To talk about it?”

Shadow silently nodded and glanced over his shoulder to Omega, who had seemed to go into an idle state to save his power. “It does take the edge off when talking to someone you trust who won't be judgmental. But at the end of the day, it is you who has to face your own demons and you who must be strong enough to overcome them. It’s you who has to decide to not let what happened to you define who you are.” He turned back to Sonic. “Healing is more than just the body. It is also the mind. Remember to allow both time before expecting yourself to be at 100% again.”

“Yeah, I'll try to remember that. I'll let you get back to Omega. Thanks for the talk.” He said and turned around to leave the room.

“Just because it is you who has to deal with these feelings does not mean you can't benefit from leaning on your friends.” When Sonic looked back Shadow gave him a smirk. “I learned that from both my team... and you.”

With a true smile, Sonic waved goodbye and thanked the other hedgehog again. He never expected Shadow to openly offer him comfort, but it seemed to be just what he needed to get his head level again. He left the base to get fresh air and think more on what Shadow had to say.

-

Sonic grimaced at the pond as Amy adjusted her swimsuit. “You sure it’s okay to do this right after a big mission failure? Shouldn’t you guys be planning a counter attack or something?”

“We are. Tails is working with the Chaotix on how to go about infiltrating the Chemical Plant to see if we can get into Eggman’s data about that Phantom Ruby. Knuckles is finishing up plans with Team Dark with their plan to distract Eggman so Tails’ plan can go without a hitch.” Amy explained.

“Ah, so that’s where he is.” Sonic said, disappointed but relieved at the same time since he hadn’t gotten around to talking to Knuckles since their fight a few days before.

Amy, however, caught the tone Sonic used and glared at him. “Are you two still not talking?”

Sonic looked at her and laughed nervously. “Well, you know. He’s so busy and all and I’ve been focusing on getting better we just haven’t had the time.”

“That’s a load of nonsense.” Amy bluntly stated, arms crossed over her chest as she scowled. “You had no problem with barging in on our planning before.”

“Ah, well um…” Sonic tried to find an excuse but came up empty. He sighed with defeat and came clean. “I figured he was still mad and I didn’t wanna push it. I did a lot of thinking and I was being unfair to him. I was just stressed out with everything and took it out on him.”

Amy’s expression softened to a more understanding one, her arms lowering. “I think he understands that, Sonic.” She smiled. “He’ll be joining us when he’s done so you should talk. I’m sure he has somethings on his mind too.”

Sonic anxiously ran a hand through his quills. “Haha, yeah…” He hesitated a moment. “Hey, Amy?”

“Yeah?” She asked as she waded her way into the water.

“You’ve been captured by Eggman before… Did you get nightmares about it?” Sonic asked, avoiding looking directly at her.

She glanced to him then down at the ripples in the water her legs made. “Yes. I still sometimes do. Being locked up and used against my friends was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced.” She looked back up at Sonic. “Second only to losing you.”

Sonic smiled a bit at her and walked over to the edge of the pond. “How did you get past it?”

Amy thought quietly about her answer while looking up at the clear skies above them. “I decided I wouldn’t let myself be a victim again. That I would fight back.” She smiled confidently at Sonic. “I don’t want to be a burden or feel that helpless ever again. I refuse to.”

He took a few steps into the water, ignoring the discomfort it caused. “You’re really strong, Amy.”

Her face lit up and she brushed a few of her pink quills to the side. “So are you, Sonic.”

“Hey!”

The two looked up to see Knuckles jogging over. The echidna took a few seconds to catch his breath before composing himself. “Sorry I’m late. We ran into a few snags in the plan so we had to reroute a few things. But it’s all good now.” He looked between the two of them. “I miss anything?”

Amy clapped her hands together. “Nothing at all! In fact, Sonic hasn’t even gotten that far into the water yet. Your timing is actually perfect. You’re a stronger swimming than I am, so you should go in with Sonic first.” She looked at Sonic, almost smirking. “I’m sure that’ll help you feel better.”

Sonic knew she meant more than just feeling better about swimming, but he nodded. “Yeah, sure.”

“Alright, I’ll leave you to it. I’ll keep an eye out and get some sun while I’m at it!” She left the water and went to her bag to get her sunglasses.

An awkward silence fell between the two as their eyes followed after Amy as she left to keep watch. Sonic cleared his throat and sheepishly chuckled. “You’d think she were on vacation.”

“She certainly deserves one, so let her have this.” Knuckles said and turned to Sonic. “Well, you got your feet wet at least.” He pointed out.

“Heh, yeah.” Sonic debated when was a good time to bring up their fight, before or after they were deep enough for Knuckles to dunk him under.

Knuckles walked into the water, leading the way further in. “Well, we won’t get anywhere in this shallow of water.”

Sonic followed hesitantly until he got to his waste. “Okay, this deep enough?” He asked, his skin crawling.

The echidna nodded and thoughtfully crossed his arms as he studied the water. “Yeah, I think so..Alright.. So the things Tails looked up said to do some stretches, but I also think you kicking your feet while floating will help too. Swimming gets the whole body working but you feel less of the strain since the water carries a lot of your weight. You can hold onto me and-”

“Wait!” Sonic blurted out.

“What? Don’t tell me you’re chickening out.”

“No. I wanted to say something.”

Knuckles’ arms lowered and he waited for Sonic to continue.

“I wanted to apologize…” Sonic said, rubbing his arm and his eyes falling somewhere off to Knuckles’ left. “For the other day. I kinda took my frustrations with myself out on you. I know you were just protecting me, I’m grateful of that…”

“Sonic.” Knuckles interrupted. “I’m as much to blame, I’m sorry too.” Knuckles looked down at their reflections in the water with shame. “I may have been a bit overprotective to the point of smothering you. And right after the mission failure I was already really agitated, I didn’t handle it well. You didn’t deserve that, sorry.”

Sonic looked at Knuckles with surprise and smiled. “Heh, guess we’re both a bit overwhelmed huh?”

“I’ll say.” Knuckles agreed. “I can’t wait for this to finally be over.”

Sonic chuckled. “Yeah, I’m sure bossing people around isn’t that easy when you’re used to being on your own.”

“Yeah, it’s… weird. I’m glad I can help but honestly if it weren’t for Amy I wouldn’t be able to totally communicate with everyone. She’s much better dealing with people than I am.”

Sonic gave him a thumbs up. “You’re doing great, buddy.” He winked. “Even with me being a pain in your butt.”

Knuckles’ smile was grateful and embarrassed. “You being a pain isn’t new, but thanks… Speaking of Amy, she got me thinking.”

“Uh oh.”

“Very funny. Anyway, maybe we can meet halfway with getting you out there again.”

Sonic let his hands drop down to feel the water. “You have my attention.”

“You said something about a small patrol, well I can find you one but I’ll go with you just in case. We can go out a few times a week between our big missions. It’ll get you out and also keep the towns we already saved clean of those badniks.” Knuckles shared.

Sonic smiled. “Yeah, that’s fine by me. It gives you a bit of action too since you’re usually stuck at the base giving orders instead of fighting.”

Knuckles sighed. “Yeah. I’m itching to get into battle myself. I understand I need to be in a position where I can see over the whole battle and be able to give orders, but I took this job thinking I will be leading from the front.” He looked at his own clenched fist.

“It’ll be a good exercise for both of us. Keep us from getting too rusty..” Sonic grinned.

The echidna nodded and stared at Sonic’s hand as the hedgehog offered a fist for a bump. “How’s you’re uh… wrist doing…?” He asked, looking at Sonic’s hand.

Sonic pushed the cuff of his glove down, showing the healing scars around his wrist. “They’re doing alright. All closed up and healing nicely.”

Knuckles frowned. “I’m sorry about… grabbing you like I did. I didn’t think about your injuries.”

“I’m fine, Knuckles. Really.” Sonic looked at the wrist his friend had recklessly grabbed a few days before. “They are all closed up now. It just stung a bit but you didn’t do any damage so no big deal.” He smiled and looked up from his wrist to his friend, seeing the suppressed distressed expression on Knuckles’ face. “What?”

“I just...” Knuckles looked at the scars with a pit of guilt causing an aching throb in the center of his chest.

Sonic covered his wounds, feeling slightly self conscious. “I keep forgetting that the scars might make others uncomfortable. Sorry ‘bout that.”

“No!” Knuckles corrected urgently and was momentarily embarrassed at the sudden outburst. “That isn’t it… Your scars don’t make me uncomfortable. They’re there and I’m aware they are, but I don’t see every single one of them and I worry I may reopen something you don’t want me to see by being careless.”

Sonic smiled. “I’ll just show you where you gotta be gentle still. Problem solved.”

“I don’t just mean that… I mean…” He rubbed the back of his neck as he motioned vaguely with his hand, trying to grasp at a way to put it.

“What?” Sonic asked with a chuckle.

“I mean…” Knuckles groaned and decided just to say it. “I don’t want to hurt you by crossing any boundaries you might have now.”

Sonic scoffed. “Is that it? Just do things how you always did. Honestly being handled like glass is more annoying than anything else.”

Knuckles frowned. “Really? Cuz when I grabbed you… You looked scared of me…”

“Knuckles, I know you wouldn’t hurt me. It was just a reflex. I’ll let you know if anything gets to be too much. So don’t stress yourself out trying to tiptoe around me like everyone else is.” Sonic swatted his hand through the air dismissively and looked back to where Amy stood watch, catching her looking over. “But we should get to this water thing before Amy comes over here to make sure we’re okay.” He chuckled lightly.

Knuckles nodded. “Oh. Right.” He offered his hands. “Are you alright with me helping hold you up in the water? Any injury on your stomach and hands?”

“None you don’t already know about.” Sonic took Knuckles’ hands and took a deep breath. “My problem isn’t you, it’s that whole floating thing.” He chuckled.

The echidna smiled. “Don’t struggle, your body will naturally float. Plus I will be helping you out until you’re able to do it on your own.”

“Don’t you let go of me then.” Sonic joked nervously as he lowered himself in the water as he held to Knuckles’ hands.

“Wouldn’t dream of it. First we’ll see what you can do just holding onto me...” Knuckles smiled and instructed Sonic to kick his legs to slowly push himself forward in the water. Sonic wasn’t able to quite get a hold of the motion without lowering his hips to put his legs on the ground by reflex and Knuckles thoughtfully released one hand. “Hold on to my left arm.” He said as he came to Sonic’s side.

“Sure thing.” Sonic gasped a bit as Knuckles held him up with a hand under his torso.

“There, try kicking now.”

Sonic held his breath as he kicked his legs, his grip on Knuckles’ strengthening.

Knuckles moved along Sonic’s side as his kicking pushed him forward, keeping up with the hedgehog’s pace. “Is this okay?” He asked, not sure if Sonic’s stiffness was his fear of water or something related to his trauma.

“Yeah, it’s fine. Just embarrassing.” Sonic laughed half heartedly.

“It’s okay, it’s just us.” Knuckles’ left hand closed around Sonic’s.

Sonic’s heart felt like it was doing flips at how intimate learning to swim was. He felt so vulnerable and he wasn’t sure if he was more nervous about being in the water or being in Knuckles’ hold without a way to dismiss it with a joke so he could ignore how narrow his focus got when it came to physical contact with his best friend.

“You’re doing well.” Knuckles reassured when he noticed the troubled look on Sonic’s face.

“You’re doing most of the work.” Sonic chuckled and cringed at how unmistakably anxious it sounded.

Knuckles laughed lightly. “And I meant with your rocky relationship with water.”

“Oh. Well glad this is considered doing well. I’ll have this mastered in no time then.” He looked up at Knuckles and smirked. “Look out, buddy. I’m gonna be faster than you on more than just dry land.”

Knuckles grinned. “Uh oh, I’m creating a monster.”

The two kept this up for a while until Knuckles decided to switched Sonic to working on stretches before taking a break. Sonic leaned on Knuckles’ right shoulder while he stretched his legs, lifting one at a time and stretching his hamstrings.

The echidna watched him with a hand on his back just under his relaxed spines. “Hey, Sonic?”

“Yeah?”

“You know you can talk to me, right?”

Sonic looked at him and half smiled. “Well, yeah. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

“You know what I mean…”

Sonic looked back to the water as he lifted his left leg to the surface. “Yeah. I know.”

“Okay, good.” He reached over with his left and held Sonic’s leg up at the calf. “Hold it a bit longer.”

Sonic groaned and leaned backwards, making Knuckles have to hold him up by his back. “Is this what everyone else feels like who don’t do what we do daily? You’re killing me, Knuckles.”

“You’re ruining the stretch! This won’t get easier unless you take it seriously.” Knuckles scolded, trying to get Sonic to stand upright again.

“I think I need a break. And a snack. We got those, right?”

Amy watched as the two left the water, Sonic somehow convincing Knuckles to carry him out of the water and over to the bags Amy brought where the hedgehog was literally dropped on the ground. She sighed lightly, hugging her knees to her chest. She was glad they seemed to have made up and were getting along, but she wondered how the two were handling all their feelings under their playful banter.

She knew more than the two realized. She knew how the patched up holes in the walls of their base would come to be. She knew in the middle of the night the lights would be on in the training room. She knew Sonic’s appetite wasn’t nearly like it used to be. She knew Knuckles was more homesick than ever by the way he would stare at the map of Angel Island when he did his nightly check on its status.

Amy didn’t want to push either of them, but she didn’t want them to suffer either. She adjusted her sunglasses and started to walk over to switch with Knuckles. Seeing them smile as they joked with each other comforted some of her worries, at least for now.

-

“He isn’t any weaker, Knuckles!” Shadow said as he grabbed Tails and dodged an attack from Infinite, the jackal's moves were far more direct and targeted than his previous battles.

Omega was able to stall Infinite as he shot at the jackal, getting Shadow time to catching his footing.

“Tails, get out of here.” Shadow said, standing between the fox and their enemy.

“No way! I’m not leaving you here to fight by yourselves.” Tails charged up the weapon equipped to his arm. “It’s my fault for not knowing they had a back up to the power source in the Death Egg.” He aimed at Infinite. “If we target the Ruby we might be able to shatter it.”

“As if I would let you get a good enough shot.” Infinite turned from Omega and flew higher to get aim at Tails. “I should have killed you the last time we met. I won’t underestimate you again, child.”

Tails tried to shoot the crimson cube projectiles that flew rapidly towards him, only for his shots to go right through them. He gasped as he readied himself for impact but they froze in place.

Shadow grabbed Tails by the arm and teleported them behind Omega, Chaos Control wearing off and the cubes missing entirely.

Infinite growled and looked at Shadow. “That power of yours… You took everything away from me with it, my squad, my pride. But you made the mistake of letting me live, one that cost you and your friends greatly.”

Tails looked up at Shadow. “What is he talking about?”

Shadow glared at Infinite. “You mentioned this before when we last met, yet I still haven’t a clue what you are talking about.”

“Perhaps this will-” Infinite’s form vanished, appearing between Tails and Shadow, “jog your memory.”

Shadow turned with wide eyes as he was consumed by the red cubes at close range.

“Shadow!” Tails fired his weapon at the jackel, striking his head. Omega followed up Tails’ attack by bashing an arm on the opposite side of the blow the fox got on their enemy.

Infinite was caught off guard, too focused on harming Shadow to dodge them. Omega was able to knock him away from them, interrupting the attack on Shadow. The robot quickly grabbed his teammate, who seemed to have been momentarily in shock. “Initiating retreat.” He said as he grabbed Tails as well and used his jets to quicken himself to get away from their enemy.

“Shadow, you alright?” Tails asked over Omega’s shoulder.

The dark hedgehog stared back at Infinite and his expression changed to one of dawning realization as Infinite got back up and faced them. Piece by piece, the mask fell from his face, revealing the enraged jackal. “I… remember now.”

Infinite flew at them as fast as he could, reaching towards Shadow. “Good! You will die with the knowledge that it was by your hand that the first shot of this war was taken!” His hand stopped just short of Shadow’s face when he jerked away, hand covering his chest.

Tails’ weapon steamed from a shot. “I hit him… I hit the Ruby!”

“Good job, kid.” Shadow replied. “Let’s not take any chances though.” he gave Omega a pat and used Chaos Control to teleport the three to safety.

Infinite watched them leave, panting heavily as he clutched the cracked Phantom Ruby attached to his chest.

“Infinite, if you are finished fighting off those pests get back here and get ready for our next move!”

The jackal glared at the tone the Doctor used towards him over the communicator in the broken mask. “Yes, Doctor.” He took one more look towards where the group had just been and down at his broken mask. His arms shook as he picked up the half of surviving mask, placing it back over his face. He let out a frustrated yell as it crumbled under his touch.

 

“Do you know if you damaged the Phantom Ruby at all?” Knuckles asked as Tails reported in with Shadow and Omega.

“He covered it up but I at least cracked it, I saw it done with my own eyes. So maybe it won’t be as reliable now!” Tails hopefully grinned. He laughed when Sonic ruffled his head.

“Good job, buddy!” Sonic cheered. “Look at you, kicking serious butt out there.”

Tails beamed at Sonic’s complement. “Well, I learned from the best.”

“The reading from the Phantom Ruby isn’t as stable now, so I’d say we managed to make an impact, even if the Ruby wasn’t totally shut down.” Rouge said as she finished the scans. She looked away from the cheering resistance and walked over to her teammates who took to lingering around the edges of the room. “We don’t look too excited over here.”

“We haven’t won yet.” Shadow reminded her. “But more so… Rouge, we need to talk.”

Her smile fell and she nodded, following Shadow and Omega out of the room.

Once they were out of earshot, Shadow looked toward Omega when the door shut behind him. “Omega was able to cancel that strange illusion attack Infinite does, but it only interrupted what was already happening. I still briefly saw a reality he wanted me to see.”

Rouge knew the tense way Shadow crossed his arms over his chest, how he avoided eye contact longer than a few seconds. “And what did you see?” She asked, stepping closer to him but waiting before initiating contact until she was sure he would be alright with it.

“Do you recall that mission G.U.N. sent us on in the Mystic Jungle a month before Sonic was taken?” he asked.

Rouge had to think about it but nodded. “I vaguely recall it. It was a really simple task that we took care of rather fast. Kinda boring.”

“Eggman had a group of mercenaries helping guard his base there who I fought… I didn’t realize it with the mask on, but Infinite was their leader. At the time I was able to handle him without any problem. I almost forgot what the group looked like until he showed me that gruesome illusion… He thinks I killed his men. Slaughtered mercilessly.” Shadow raised a hand and put it over his face, the images Infinite showed him still fresh in his mind. “I’m... doubting my own memories of that day now… I was sure I didn’t do any lethal damage to any of the mercenaries I fought with. But…”

“No buts.” Rouge frowned. “You didn’t, Shadow. You aren’t like that. It was part of the illusion he showed you.”

“Death toll during that mission was zero. All members of the mercenary group had been taken in alive by G.U.N. and are currently serving time behind bars.” Omega added.

“Except Infinite.” Shadow clarified as he lowered his hand and stared at it. “G.U.N. must have taken them away before he could find them so he thinks I killed them…”

“But you didn’t kill anyone, Shadow. You did your job as clean as you could. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Rouge cupped Shadow’s hand with her own. “You aren’t a murderer.”

Shadow looked up to Rouge’s eyes. “When I faced him again after that mission when I went looking for Omega he said I was why he became how he is now. I may not have killed his crew, but I did play a role in starting this war, Eggman getting so much control, and Sonic’s capture. It may not have gotten as bad as it did if I had just done something different.”

“”You can not change the past, only learn from it to change the future.” That is a quote I have saved that you had once said.” Omega’s robotic voice, while not holding emotion, still held sentiment.

Shadow smiled a bit to himself at Omega’s attempt to provide comfort. “… You’re right.” He gave Rouge’s hand a squeeze to let her know he was okay before he pulled away. “What is the status of the G.U.N. bases?”

“Bases remain in lockdown and under heavy protection.” Omega answered.

“Do we know which one they have kept the jackal mercenaries at?”

Rouge caught on and smirked. “I say it’s time we pay them a visit and find out. Surely they miss seeing our faces.”

“I’m sure. We should inform Knuckles of our temporary leave, let him know we will catch up later.” Shadow noted.

“I agree… You alright then?” Rouge asked.

Shadow nodded. “I was a bit taken aback by the illusions I was shown. The slaughter he imagined reminded me of something I thought I left behind me.” He looked up at Omega. “But you reminded me of something important. I’m okay now.”

Rouge smiled. “Good. Alright, boys. Let’s get ready to pay work a visit.”

“Right.”

“Affirmative.”

-

Sonic grunted as he pulled his foot out from the body of a badnik, jumping from it before it collapsed. The mother and child he saved called out to thank him and he waved as he ran when he heard more screaming.

“It looks like they’re coming from the west of the town.” Tails said over the headset Sonic wore.

Sonic went to answer Tails but dodged a badnik that flew at him from down the street, it crashed into a toy shop. Sonic winced at the damage done and turned to where the robot was flung from. “Hey, Knuckles. We still trying to keep the town destruction down to a minimum right?”

Knuckles ripped a robot in half and looked up at Sonic. “Sorry. Got a little carried away. You holding up alright?”

Sonic smirked. “Yeah, feeling pretty good. The last few months of working out really has been paying off.” He jogged to Knuckles’ side. “Tails says they’re coming from the west.”

“So I’ve heard.” Knuckles answered and lead the way towards the next group of enemies that terrorized the townsfolk.

Other members of the resistance held back the robots when Sonic sped up ahead of the echidna and ran around the group of robots fast enough to kick up a gust that threw them off their feet. “Heads up!”

Knuckles leapt into the air and caught one of the robots, spiking it down at another, destroying both. As he came down he tunneled through a badnik just below him. He leapt out of the way as the robot sparked and burst.

Members of the resistance cheered them on as they provided back up.

“I’m worried this is a distraction. Tails, we can handle things here, check for any sort of movement at Eggman’s fortress!” Knuckles said into his mic as he watched how the other members seemed to welcome Sonic back onto the battlefield.

“I’m on it!” Tails replied over the radio.

Sonic turned away from the members and rejoined his friend. He smirked at Knuckles. “Alright, how should we handle this? I’m thinking we split up. I can K.O. the robots that got into town that are giving the resistance troubles here and meet up with you at the west entrance to cut them off.”

Knuckles frowned. “This is your first mission back in action, it was supposed to just be a patrol but it’s getting pretty busy. It might be best we stay together as best as we can.”

“We’ll cover more ground separate. Besides, it’s just the little guys here so far and it isn’t like we are the only two fighting. I’ll leave the big boys to you.” Sonic winked.

The echidna growled as he considered the plan Sonic had. “True… But what if you get hurt?”

“If it gets bad I’ll send you a message and get back up from the resistance.” Sonic said, pointing at his headset then at Knuckles’. “I won’t go after anything I can’t handle. I promise.”

Knuckles thought about how distressed Sonic had been about being allowed out here to begin with a little over a week earlier. He pointed scoldingly at Sonic. “You better be careful. Mind your limitations. Tell me right away if anything goes wrong or you get in over your head.”

“You got it, Commander.” Sonic saluted and took off before Knuckles could complain about his teasing.

Knuckles sighed and ran off to the west end of the town. He hated how his nerves got so quickly agitated when it came to Sonic since his capture. He had always kept an eye out for the hedgehog since Sonic often put his own self preservation aside when it came to helping others, but things felt different now after seeing just how bad it could get.

He took out robots as he made his way down the road to join the members fighting at the west exit, wondering if Sonic’s other friends felt the way he did. He tried to ignore the nagging urge to turn back around and go after his friend. He tried to focus on his mission. Tried to stop thinking about not getting there in time.

 

Sonic dashed around the town, leaping about and destroying badniks he ran into. It helped clear his head and gain a confidence with each robot he defeated that he was starting to worry would never come back. It felt like he could breathe again.

With a wink, he grinned as he took out badniks that cornered townsfolk and resistance alike. Their moods seemed to brighten at the sight of the hedgehog fighting alongside them again.

He reached the center of town and recognized some of the damage done. He walked over to a crack in the ground, remembering his fight with Infinite and Eggman here. He always thought being back here would be hard on him, but it had mostly been cleaned up and had very little proof of their fight. He looked around, It seemed the resistance had cleared the area out and moved on to the next area. “Knuckles, I think we cleared up the town. I’ll head over to give you a hand.”

As he turned to make his way to where Knuckles was fighting he heard scraping from behind him. When he turned he saw a manhole pushed out of place. He squinted and listened closely, hearing a wet sound. “I know you’re there. Why don’t you come out to play?” He taunted.

With a gasp he narrowly dodged the stream of water that shot out at him. “Woah!” It solidified and moved after him, trying to grab at him. He lept over it and saw the creature rise up from the sewer. “Heh, I was wondering when a clone of you was gonna appear, Chaos.”

One of the being’s arms quickly reached out after him, missing and hitting a building.

“Hey, watch where you’re swinging those things will ya? People live there.”

Chaos turned to him and pulled itself together, becoming a ball of liquid as it grew larger.

Sonic watched in shock as it started to change form, though it seemed to struggle. A few parts of it broke off in cube shapes and reformed until it built up to Chaos’ form when it got ahold of six chaos emeralds. “Struggling huh? But you can change... Don’t tell me your creator is nearby.” Sonic winced as the clone deeply inhaled, having a vacuum effect. He held to a signpost to keep from being sucked up and looked around to try to see if Infinite was in view.

He looked back at his enemy in time to jump out of the way of several tentacles shooting out at him. He ran as they kept coming and pulled the mic of his headset close enough to be heard. “Knuckles! I think I’m in a pickle!”

“Where are you?”

“I’m at the center of-” He fell forward as his leg was enveloped by one of the water tentacles. He yelled as he was thrown through the air and slammed into a building’s archway where he was let go of and tumbled to the ground.

“Sonic… on… m... way…” His headset crackles in his ear, cutting off Knuckles’ voice. There was a dull ringing in his ears as his vision blurred from the blow he took but he saw what looked like a scorpion tail rise into the air and pushed himself to get up. He had to move. That’s all he knew. He had to get out of the way. The tail slammed down where he once laid and was dragged along the ground after him.

Move. He had to move. He could hear the tail ripping up the road as it barreled after him. He tried to think, tried to remember how he defeated Chaos the first time. But all he could remember was that he needed to move. Get out of the way. Run. His movements were on autopilot, his breathing felt too loud, and in the back of his mind he kept thinking about how Infinite must be close and waiting for his moment to strike.

 

The town felt larger than when they originally ran through as Knuckles sprinted as fast as he could towards the center. Ordering two men to follow him while the rest kept the exits guarded. His emotions were doing somersaults and it had been a while since he felt so slow. Anger, panic, fear, frustration, it all crashed down on him in waves. He shook his head and pushed himself to run even faster. Anger, he can use that right now. Anger pushes him to action, that was what he needed. He can feel everything else later.

When he reached the square he saw Sonic being sucked into the large Chaos clone, the hedgehog clawed at the ground to try to find some sort of hold.

Knuckles ran over to Sonic as the two resistance members shot at the clone. “Sonic! You alright?!”

When the attack had stopped, the clone turning to the two who shot at it, Sonic’s panic settled enough to be able to form cognitive thoughts. He turned to Knuckles when his friend reached his side and gave a strained smile. “Hey, bud. About time you came. You were really missing out.” He chuckled, his voice shaky. He hoped Knuckles either didn’t notice or would pretend to not.

“I’m just glad I made it.” Knuckles looked back at the two who fought with Chaos. “We gotta hit those organs inside it, right?”

“Yeah, makes sense. Gotta plan?”

Knuckles looked up as the clone formed the scorpion tail again. “Keep it targeting us for now. Maybe we can get an opening for the others to get in a hit.”

Sonic nodded. “Keep it off them then, got it.” He ran towards the Chaos clone and zipped past, getting a punch in. While ineffective against the liquid body, the attack got the creature’s focus. He ran out of the way of the tail that came crashing down, slamming down the side of the building. “So much for avoiding damage to the town.”

“They evacuated everyone so don’t worry about that right now.” Knuckles said as he caught up with Sonic. He slid when the clone started to inhale again. Sonic grabbed him by the wrist, the hedgehog holding to a sign again as they endured the attack.

They continued on the defensive until it curled into a ball, unleashing several tentacles while it’s scorpion tail took aim. The two resistance members were caught and slammed to the ground, binded and unable to attack or escape.

Knuckles dodged as he ran to help his men when he saw Sonic get pinned on either side. He yelled to Sonic to jump out of there but the hedgehog didn’t seem to react to his calls, just stared up as the tail came down.

Sonic felt his lungs ache with each breath and how heavy his legs felt. He knew what he had to do, but he couldn’t get the message to his legs to run. It felt like ice ran through his veins and slowed all his movement to a stop.

Knuckles punched through the tentacles in the way and grunted as he caught the hardened tail with his hands, it’s sharp edges stung and the tip was just inches away from his face but he held as tightly as he could. It pressed down at him, the searing energy built up on the blade burning his cheek, getting him to hiss at the pain.

Sonic stared in shock as it pushed back against Knuckles. He clenched his fists and leapt up, catching his footing on Knuckles’ shoulder and jumping over the bladed tail. He spun his body rapidly and cut down on the tail with his spikes, cutting the tip off from the rest.

The end Knuckles held instantly collapsed into a puddle of water at his feet. “Sonic, the tip is solid. If we can get it to hit itself…”

Sonic gave him a thumbs up. “Got it.” He braced himself as the clone tried to suck them up again. He felt Knuckles grab his hand, the echidna’s fist punched into the ground for a better hold.

Knuckles’ glanced up at the being and yelled out, “It’s making another tail, heads up!”

“Knuckles, let me go!” Sonic yelled, watching the tail charge up and aiming down at him.

“You’ll be sucked up!”

Sonic smirked back at Knuckles. “That’s the point.”

Knuckles put one and two together and grinned. “You got one shot, make it count!” He pulled Sonic close, took aim, and shoved as hard as he could to throw him into the clone. The hedgehog curled up and spun into the monster’s mouth as the tail swung down following after him.

Sonic used the momentum to spin through the watery body. Once inside the body he floated with split seconds to move, he thought about Knuckles’ swim lessons during his aquatic therapy and swam as fast as he could out of the way. The scorpion tail just missing him and piercing itself.

The Chaos clone erupted into several cubes shapes, moving in a strange jolting way as it tried to piece itself back together until it collapsed to the ground in a pool of water, fading away like the other clones had. Leaving the hedgehog to fall to the wet road and the two resistance members freed from the clone’s grasp.

Sonic coughed out the water he had managed to get in his mouth. “Ugh, that thing came outta the sewer and I got it in my mouth.”

Knuckles walked over and offered a hand. “Yeah, and you stink.” He laughed.

Sonic accepted the help to his feet. “Thanks, you too.” He chuckled before falling silent when he saw the burn Knuckles sported.

The echidna tested out his headset. “Tails, can you hear me? We beat a Chaos clone. Any movement at the base?”

“Nothing on my end. Are you both okay?”

“Yeah, nothing major.” Knuckles smiled through the remaining adrenaline from battle. “Right, Sonic?” He looked at his friend and saw the way the hedgehog stared at his face. “Sonic?”

“Uh, yep! We’re good, buddy. We should stay a bit longer just to make sure nothing else shows it’s ugly butt.” Sonic said into his mic.

Knuckles went over to check on the resistance members briefly while Sonic and Tails talked.

“Okay, sounds like a good idea.” Tails agreed. “I don’t see anymore readings from your end now, but better safe than sorry.”

Sonic opened his mouth but was hesitant and unsure how to word it without making the others worry. Eventually he got out, “So uh… no readings? From anything right? No Phantom Ruby or anything?”

“Nope, nothing.”

“That’s good…”

Knuckles frowned thoughtfully, listening from his headset after confirming the two weren’t injured. “It seemed like when we beat it, it acted up before it went away.”

Sonic nodded. “Yeah, when it changed shapes before you got here it was as if it was having a hard time pulling itself together.”

“Do you think that’s because of the damage done to the Phantom Ruby?” Tails wondered. “The other clones didn’t have that sort of issue. I’ll look into it, but I think it’s safe to say that’s a good sign.”

“Yeah… We’ll check and make sure the people here are okay. Let us know if you get any readings, Tails.”

“Alright!”

Knuckles followed Sonic as they patrolled around the town. The two members complementing Sonic on how well he fought. Sonic laughed it off but Knuckles kept seeing him glance back over at him.

As time passed, some of the town’s folk started to come out of hiding. Some thanked the two for saving them, others got to work on trying to clean up the mess. Sonic was hardly communicative but managed to put on a smile and at least nod. Knuckles frowned as he watched when he wasn’t talking to the townsfolk.

They eventually they parted ways with the resistance stationed in the town and checked the roads outside it. The setting sun was blocked out by grey fluffy clouds. Sonic yawned. “Looks like rain. I think it’s time to call it and head back, what do you think?”

Knuckles nodding in agreement but didn’t move from where he stood.

Sonic stopped when he realized Knuckles wasn’t following him. “Hey, you coming?”

“Sonic. What happened back there?”

“Huh? Back where?”

Knuckles frowned. “Back when we were fighting that clone.”

“Uh, we kicked its butt. That’s what happened.” Sonic chuckled.

“That isn’t what I’m talking about and you know it!”

Sonic tensed a bit, his eyes glancing to the scar under Knuckles’ eye. “What are you talking about then?”

Knuckles sighed exasperatedly. “You just stood there. Its attack was coming right at you and if I didn’t stop it who knows how badly you could have been hurt.”

“... And you just grabbed the blade. You easily could have missed and gotten hurt worse than you already did.” Sonic countered.

The echidna glared. “Don’t turn this around on me. Quit being dismissive.”

“I’m not dismissing anything. It was just a mistake, I was caught off guard. Won’t happen again.”

“In our line of work, hesitation will get you killed. Normally I would say that you aren’t fit to fight and leave it at that. But you were fine until that clone attacked you.” Knuckles walked over to Sonic. “Tell me the truth. What’s going on? And no cracking a joke so I’ll drop it. I’ve let it go for too long.”

Sonic shrugged but forced a smile. “Eh, I was just overwhelmed for a sec. Having spent nearly a year off the battlefield will leave a guy rusty.”

Knuckles glared. “Stop that!”

“Stop what?”

“That fake smile you do for the townsfolk. For the other resistance members. For our friends. Don’t you do it to me too.”

Sonic’s smile fell to a frown as he sighed, a hand on his hip. “What do you want me to do then?”

“What you need to do for yourself.”

Sonic bitterly laughed. “You want me to help myself? Let me fight then. You of all people should understand how that helps. It’s what you do too.”

“And I’m still angry!” Knuckles yelled, startling Sonic. “I got to finally fight today. I finally was able to do something with my own two hands to help others and I’m angrier than ever!” Knuckles clenched his jaw as he looked away, rubbing at his eyes to wipe away frustrated tears.

“Knuckles…”

“I’m not an idiot, Sonic… I know some people… maybe even our friends... think I am. But I had hoped that you didn’t really see me like that.” He sharply inhaled to try to recollect himself.

Sonic opened his mouth to say something but Knuckles continued.

“We are helping your physical wounds. You’re doing so much better, that’s clear in how you were able to fight today… but… you need to talk to someone about things too. We always get close to facing it, then you’ll just brush it off. Say how it’s cuz you’re tired and that it’s a one time thing. The way you looked at that clone was the same way you looked at me when we had that fight... Whatever is going on, what we’re doing right now isn’t working. Maybe it is for your body, but what about what else is going on?”

“And what about you?!” Sonic glared. “You want me to talk about feelings? What about yours? Do you talk about the feelings you have eating at you? Why are you so focused on me when you have so much going on that is clearly bothering you?”

“I’m scared!”

Sonic fell silent.

“What has been bothering me is… I’m scared… that I can’t lead us to victory. That they made a mistake putting me in charge. Any of my plans could be the one that gets our friends killed. I’m scared that everyone is going to look to me for directions and I’m going to fail them… That I’m going to fail you.” Knuckles fought against the burning in his eyes. “I just want to scream, but I can’t because I have to be their leader. If I can’t keep it together what kinda Commander am I?!… It’s just... a lot… And I want to help you too, but I can’t do anything unless you talk to me...”

Sonic chewed at his lip and walked over to an old tree just to the side of the path they stood on. He took a seat under it and he patted the ground next to himself for Knuckles to join him.

Once the echidna was by his side Sonic let out a long breath. “You’re not an idiot. I am. I’m just so frustrated… There’s so much, I don’t know where to start. And it isn’t all new either. Some of it is feelings I’ve had for a while but they somehow got amplified.” Sonic looked at his hands, fingers fidgeting with the cuffs of his gloves. “I’m scared too. Of failing. Of who will be hurt if I fail. And it happened. I failed. And now we have this huge mess to clean up and everyone is affected by it. And I haven’t been able to do anything about it other than work on getting stronger again.”

He didn’t dare look at Knuckles, but he assumed his silence meant he was listening so he continued. “Did you recognize the town we were in? It was where I fought those clones originally. At first I was fine, but then the clone got a hit on me and I started to doubt myself. I started to feel like I was right back to where I was and it was just going to happen again.”

Sonic played with his own fingers, getting out anxious energy as he talked. “You being there helped, but as soon as I was pinned I just lost any focus. There were too many thoughts, I couldn’t even begin to narrow down on one that would apply to the situation. I was just so scared of failing again. And cuz I didn’t act, you got hurt. I was so scared of failure that it almost happened.”

“I got hurt cuz I couldn’t hold that thing back.” Knuckles finally spoke up. “It was my choice to jump in and my strength that couldn’t prevent a clean escape. It isn’t on you.”

Sonic bundled up his courage to glance over to his friend, seeing that Knuckles was leaning against the tree as well, watching as rain started to fall while he listened with an unchanging calmness. “I don’t want to push what happened to me onto others. They weren’t there to go through it and it should stay that way. They don’t need that weight. You don’t need that weight. That’s why I didn’t talk about it.”

“We’re messes.” Knuckles replied.

Sonic’s chuckle lacked any sort of enthusiasm. “Yeah, guess we are.”

“Things were so much easier when it was just me, my island, and the Master Emerald. I had my main focus and that was it. It was simple. It was all I knew and all I wanted to know... at the time.”

“Heh, then Tails and I crashed your party.”

Knuckled held his fist up and shook it with a dramatic flair. “And I still can’t get rid of you two.” He laughed lightheartedly.

Sonic grinned. “You’re stuck with us, buddy.” He paused and reached a hand out to feel the rain dampen his gloves, too tired to hold up his smile for long. “I mean, you don’t have to be. Just say the word and I’ll beat it... I don’t wanna be more of a burden than I already am to you.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Sonic quickly looked back to his friend to find him staring back.

“Even if you were a burden I’d still want all of you. The good. The bad. I don’t care, cuz it’s all you. I’d much rather a life with you than a simple one. You showed me that my simple life was also very lonely. Life with you and all you bring to the table isn’t a burden. Life with you is fulfilling.” Knuckles smiled despite it causing the burn on his cheek to ache. “You share the burdens someone else carries when you love them, right?”

Sonic stared in awe, his heart feeling like it was swelling to burst. He started to giggle and his giggles became laughter, tears slowly rolling down his cheeks.

Knuckles wondered if perhaps he was laying it on a little too thick and it sounded silly. His surprise was temporary when Sonic’s hysteria became sobs. He debating on turning away to give Sonic privacy but the hedgehog leaned into his arm, hands covering his face as he wept.

When he felt Knuckles’ arms wrap around him Sonic felt like his friend had opened the floodgates he had tried so hard to keep shut to hold back the overflowing waters. It all came rushing out and yet it felt like Knuckles stood there tall and unwavering while accepting all of it as it drenched him.

 

The two were soaked from the rain and, in Sonic’s case, tears when Sonic’s cries silenced and his breathing evened to a steady pace. All was silent save for the pitter patter of the rain against the tree above them.

Sonic sat in a numb silence, feeling like he had let out every emotion he had and was left with nothing but shame. He looked up at Knuckles to see if perhaps he was bothered by having to hold Sonic for so long. But the echidna peacefully stared towards the gray rainy clouds.

Sonic gave his face a rub down and he shook out his quills. “Well, I dunno about you. But I think I’ve done my share of crying for now.”

Knuckles sat back, withdrawing his arms from Sonic and shrugged. “I could go for a nap when we get back.”

“I second that.” Sonic stretched out his legs in front of him and stared down at his feet. “So since we are being honest about how we feel and all… I actually sat down cuz my legs, or rather my whole body, hurts like all heck.” He chuckled sheepishly.

“Do you need me to carry you?” Knuckles asked as he got up, brushing the leaves off his fur.

“I mean, you have such strong arms and they were really comfy.” Sonic said, smirking up at his friend.

Knuckles sputtered in embarrassment before giving in and crouching down, offering out his hands. “Come on, then.”

“Such a gentleman.” Sonic wrapped his arms around the echidna’s neck and was lifted off the ground.

As Knuckles started to walk them back to the base, Sonic contemplated their conversation. He smiled to himself and peeked up at Knuckles’ face. He was afraid to prod at it, but he was tired of dancing around it for so long. They were being honest with each other, right? He played it off as teasing, not wanting to be too serious incase he was reading too much into it. “So. That whole sharing the burdens of someone you love bit. Was that a confession or you being cheesy again? Cuz that was pretty smooth coming from you.”

Knuckles’ expression was firm and unwavering from the trail he walked. Sonic had wondered if maybe he didn’t hear him or didn’t want to answer such a question until Knuckles finally said, “I thought I was pretty obvious… Can’t it be both?”

Sonic stared in shock, his flushed face growing warm. He scoffed but spoke with a bashful smirk. “Well, geez. How am I supposed to top that? Cuz saying I feel the same just doesn’t measure up to that.”

Knuckles’ serious expression cracked to that of restraint bliss. “You’re ridiculous.”

“It comes with the whole Sonic package. Don’t wanna rethink that statement?”

“It’s part of what makes the package worth it.”

Sonic groaned loudly. “Stop being so… romantic? How are you beating me at this?” He felt Knuckles’ laugh as he leaned into the echidna’s chest and giggled himself.

“So what do you want to do now?” Knuckles asked when their jubilant snickering calmed.

Sonic was silent as he considered how he felt under the current euphoria. “I don’t know…”

“You don’t need an answer now.”

Sonic tittered with less enthusiasm. “We’re still in a war. Who knows what could happen between now and then.”

Knuckles glanced down at Sonic. “True. But we know how we feel about each other now. We don’t need to go anywhere with it now. We have time to figure it out after we win.” He smirked confidently.

The hedgehog shrugged. “Alright, that’s fair. But who knows how long that’ll take.”

“I like to think I’m more patient than people give me credit for.”

Sonic held in a laugh. “Well, your job is to babysit an oversized gem. I’m sure you have the capability to be patient.”

Knuckles glared. “Hey, show my job some respect. Besides, I’ve been friends with you for how long now? I think I’ve proven my patience.”

“And impatience.” Sonic countered.

 

“I will drop you.”

“There it is!” He held tighter to the echidna as Knuckles stopped and his arms started to lower. “I’m kidding! You have the patience of a saint!” He chortled.

Knuckles got a better hold of Sonic and continued walking. “What I’m saying is I can wait until you are ready. You wanna wait until after this war or until after you sort things out for yourself, that’s fine by me.”

Sonic nodded and closed his eyes that ached after finally letting himself cry. “Thanks, Knuckles. For everything.”

“No problem.” He looked down at Sonic. “I’m always here when you need someone. But you have to let me.”

Sonic recalled a conversation he had with Shadow a while back and what the other hedgehog had to say about leaning on friends while recovering. He grinned. “Yeah. Likewise to you. Take a break from being Commander for a bit once in a while and we’ll just... talk. You don’t have to be the unshakable leader in front of me.”

“Heh, alright. I can agree to that.”

 

They continued on in content silence, Sonic relieved when the rain had slowed to a stop. At least until Knuckles also stopped.

“Sonic…”

The hedgehog looked up at the quiet urgency in the echidna’s voice. Sonic saw the shocked stare on Knuckles’ face and turned to look at what had him so distraught. His eyes widened as he saw ahead of them a large break in the clouds revealed the sun inching closer and closer to the surface of the land they had won back from Eggman. “What…? The sun?!”

Knuckles glared. “It’s too small to be our sun… And it isn’t hot enough to already have us burning up so…”

“Think it’s an illusion?” Sonic reached up to his headset. “Tails? Hey Tails, are you guys seeing this?” He felt his chest tighten when he got nothing but static. “Something’s wrong, put me down, I’ll get us there.”

“You can take a bit more running?” Knuckles asked as he set Sonic down on his feet.

“I’m gonna have to be. Besides, I got some rest. I’m good to go now.” He offered a hand to the echidna.

They held to each other tightly as Sonic sped off toward the base, both hoping their friends were safe.

 

“Sonic!” Tails greeted as the duo ran down the halls of the base and into the main room.

Sonic released Knuckles and scooped up the fox, holding him close. “You’re okay!”

Tails nodded as his brother-figure let him go, smiling briefly at the display of affection. “Yeah, our communications have been interrupted. We’ve been trying to reach you both for a while now.”

Knuckles frowned. “So what’s our status? We saw the whole sun situation on our way back.”

Espio pulled up feed on the sun that steadily made its way closer. “It would seem they pulled off a wide scale attack that is affecting the area we have most of our troops stationed. These are the areas we predict will be affected by this.” A map popped up and highlighted a large area.

“But there are innocent towns. If this is an attack on us then they’ll get caught up in it.” Knuckles growled.

“Major cities are out of range, so his thought process is likely to sacrifice as few as he has to. Eggman still needs civilians in order to have his status as a ruler mean anything.” Amy explained.

“Still, to sacrifice this many is harsher than his past actions.” Silver pointed out. “It must be because we are backing him into a corner. We have to do something quickly.”

“It’s an illusion, right? What effect will it have on the planet if it hits?” Vector asked, looking at Tails.

The fox thoughtfully stared at the feed of the sun. “It’s hard to tell because we aren’t sure if this is an illusion or an augmented reality, like the clones.”

Knuckles touched his cheek where his burn stung. “Yeah. Those clones can do physical damage, while those illusions make us think we are being harmed and feel pain but our bodies are actually fine.”

Tails frowned. “Regardless of what it is, it still is capable of killing us if it is mimicking the power of a small star. We will still feel like we are burning up as it gets closer, the shock alone will be enough to kill us.”

Sonic smirked. “Then we will have to just finish the job of smashing that ruby and take out Infinite and Eggman.”

“You say that like it will be easy. Our systems are down, we can’t search for signals of the Phantom Ruby.” Amy said doubtfully. “Getting video feed of this illusion is all we got up and working.”

“Then we try to get back online!” Silver encouraged, adding to Sonic’s optimism. “Tails, think you got a trick up your sleeve for getting our radios working again?”

“Yeah, I have a plan but I don’t know how long it’ll take me to get it working.”

“We should be prepared in case we fail to get the radios backup in time to stop Infinite and Eggman.” Knuckles said bluntly. “Communications may be down, but I’m sure our men and G.U.N. members already on the field will be following evacuation protocol. It’ll be our job to help them get people to safety while Tails gets the signal going. Then when we find out where Infinite is, we sent those who can get there fastest to take him out.” He turned to Amy. “What is Team Dark’s status?”

“I had heard from Rouge about an hour before this sun appeared and cut out our radio. They weren’t far, they should have gotten here by now.” Amy answered.

“Maybe they are helping civilians escape?” Charmy asked hopefully.

“Or they ran into trouble…” Espio frowned and stood up. “We’ll head out to get a grasp of our situation and start getting people to safety.”

Vector following his friend, tugging Charmy along. “That good with you, Commander?”

Knuckles nodded. “Yeah.”

Amy pointed at Knuckles and Sonic. “You two stay with Tails. I’m sure you both aren’t at your best after just getting back from a mission, so rest while Tails works. Then you can help us stop Infinite and Eggman. I’ll go with Silver to help cover more ground. Maybe we can find Team Dark while we are at it.”

“Alright. I’ll let you all know when things are working again. I’ll try to come up with a plan on how to fight Infinite.” Knuckles went over to a desk and started to pull up some of his past battle strategies while Amy and Silver nodded to each other and ran out the door.

Sonic sat down and instantly felt the relief and ache. He watched as his friends got to work and scooted his chair closer. “Anything I can do?”

Tails picked up a bag he had hidden under a desk and handed it to Sonic then opened the front panel of the radio system they had. “I’m going to try to see if I can use those to power up our signal, but I need to quickly make a way for the machine to take in that energy. Hand me one when I’m ready to test it out.”

Sonic opened the bag and stared down at the two Chaos Emeralds that were neatly tucked inside. He smirked over at the fox. “When did you get your hands on these?”

“While I was looking for you actually…” Tails voiced disappointedly. “I wasn’t able to find you myself, but while I was searching I managed to find a few Chaos Emeralds. I only found three though.”

Sonic placed a hand on Tails’ shoulder. “Hey, just cuz you weren’t the one who found me doesn’t mean you didn’t do a good job.” He smiled. “You found a bunch of the Emeralds on your own. You fixed up Omega and Knuckles told me a bunch of the missions you thought up were big successes! I’m so proud of you, Tails.”

The fox looked up at Sonic with awe struck eyes. “Really?”

“Of course! I always have been. Maybe you thought you were just tagging along all these years, but I could never have done any of the things I have if you weren’t there. You’re way more than just my pilot.” Sonic winked. “You’re a hero.”

Tails smiled bashfully before jumping up. “That’s it!”

Sonic flinched back when the fox suddenly yelled. “Woah, what’s it?”

“Pilot. I can use the device I have in the Tornado 2 that uses Chaos Emeralds for power. I’ll be right back!” He ran out of the room with his tools to where his plane had been stored.

Sonic leaned back in his seat and smiled. “Where would we be without him?”

“Completely lost.” Knuckles answered from where he tried to come up with a plan. “He designed the weapons the members of the resistance who didn’t have their own means to fight used. And this whole base? It wouldn’t be functionable if Tails hadn’t rewired the place. It used to be an old abandoned Eggman base that we took out a long time ago, but with Tails’ direction we got the place up and running.”

Sonic whistled. “Impressive.”

Knuckles let out a sigh. “It was actually Tails’ idea for me to lead tactics as a sort of Commander for the resistance.”

“Well, besides myself, he has known you the longest outta our friends. Plus he was there when it came to facing you on your homebase when we first met and you didn’t hold your punches against us. He knows what you’re capable of.”

The echidna smiled wearily. “Honestly, I thought he would be better for the job as our leader. He has been working with you for so long, if anyone knew how to beat Eggman besides you it would be Tails.”

“That why you got him to come up with some plans for missions?”

“Nope. That was all him. When we finally found you, half of his job was done since he spent most of his time searching for you. He was ready to do more and I was glad to have the help.”

Sonic grinned proudly. “I outta start following his lead more often.”

Knuckles smirked. “That would solve a lot of problems, actually.”

“Hey!” Sonic shot back feigning insult.

The doors opened and Tails ran in holding the parts from the Tornado 2. “Got it!” He brought them over to the open radio and started hooking them up. “Sonic, can you hand me one of the Emeralds?”

Sonic brought over a Chaos Emerald and watched as Tails set it up. There were a few sparks and a glow from the powerful gem as the fox powered on the device. He turned on the sound and they were greeted with frantic yelling that ranged from fearful screams to stern orders.

Knuckles quickly grabbed the mic. “What’s going on? Can you guys hear me?”

“Knuckles!” Amy’s voice sounded. “It’s bad. The towns are being attacked by an overwhelming amount of badniks, we can’t get anyone out!”

Tails worked on narrowing down the energies. “I found Infinite! He’s cutting through the Mystic Jungle!”

“We’ll head right over.” Rouge replied.

“Rouge! You guys got what you needed from G.U.N.?” Knuckles asked.

“Who do you think you’re talking to? We always get the job done. Now, we might need back up so one of you sweethearts wanna come join in?”

Sonic leapt to his feet. “On my way.” He made his way to the door when Knuckles grabbed his hand. He looked back and could tell by the look on the echidna’s face what he wanted to say. “I’ll be back. I promise.”

Knuckles nodded, giving Sonic’s hand a squeeze before releasing him and smirking. “You better.”

Tails tossed Sonic the other Chaos Emerald from his bag. “Incase you need it!”

Sonic caught it and smiled. “See you two in a bit.”

 

“Finally, we have them right where we want them. Keep this up, Infinite. I am just about finished on my end.”

Infinite looked up though the overhang of the forest towards the illusion he created. He strained as parts of it flickered and broke off. “I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up, Doctor. We should have taken the time to repair my Phantom Ruby.”

“Just stay hidden and focus. Whatever you don’t manage to take care of I’ll finish off myself.”

The jackal touched the ruby attached to his chest, thumb brushing over the cracks and chips left in it from being shot by Tails. They didn’t have the time to repair his ruby, what with Eggman’s focus on his own and the worry that Infinite’s body wouldn’t make it through another surgery on its own. Infinite brought his hand up to his maskless face and frowned. “Very well, Doctor.”

He heard the rustling and flew himself amongst the underbrush, quiet as he saw Sonic run past. When he felt he was out of earshot he whispered. “Doctor, the blue hedgehog is here.”

Eggman growled. “Annoying little brat. Normally I’d tell you to kill him, but do not engage unless he finds you.”

“Yes, sir…” He hated having to hide from a fight he felt he could easily win, but with his struggles with the illusion he was already having he wasn’t sure how well a fight would go while trying to keep up the Phantom Ruby’s focus.

Sonic came to a stop, looking around. “Tails, I’m here. I don’t see him anywhere.”

“It says he’s right on top of you.”

Sonic took a deep breath and tried to ignore his racing heartbeat. He put his hands on his hips and grinned. “Hey, Infinite. Remember me? I wanted to have a word with you about this whole sun thing? See, usually I’m all for a bright sunny day, but this is kinda overkill.”

Infinite remained silent as he heard the hedgehog’s taunts, it wasn’t until he heard more movement and another voice that he tensed and tightly gripped at the Phantom Ruby.

“Sonic. Have you seen any sign of Infinite?” Shadow asked as he slowed to a walk, joining Sonic’s side.

“He’s around here somewhere, but he won’t show himself. Where’s your team?”

“They’re on their way. I went ahead in case you got here before us.”

Sonic cast a half hearted smile. “Don’t trust me to not get my butt handed to me on my own?”

“My reasoning was far less condescending.” Shadow assured, scanning over the area himself. “He has a grudge against me. One that leaves him open and clouds his judgements.”

Sonic chuckled. “So you wanna use that against him.” His raised his voice a bit more. “Who knew he was such a hot head. I wonder why he’s hiding.”

Shadow caught on to what Sonic was doing. “Last time we faced him, we nearly broke that precious Phantom Ruby. Perhaps he was reminded of just how weak he actually is without that gem and is unwilling to face us.”

Infinite stared at Shadow, hands trembling with rage as he brought them up to his face. Cubes engulfed his head and broke away, his mask hiding his glare.

Shadow narrowly leapt out of the way of an energy beam, the blast strong enough to take down a tree.

“You alright, Shadow?” Sonic called out. He looked up at Infinite appeared before him and he hoped his face didn’t give away how his stomach twisted into anxious knots.

“You dare come before me after your humiliating defeat months ago? It is my understanding that you are not any stronger than when we last met.” He raised a hand. “You are just in my way, pest. You should have remained hidden behind your Resistance friends, cowering away as they do all the fighting for you.” Energy charged in his palm. “Now regret your futile attempts at being their hero as you tremble before me!”

Sonic felt his legs tense up again, his mind racing over which direction he should run in and the worried of making a wrong move and Infinite being right about his strength.

His attack was cut off when his wrist was grabbed by the teleporting Shadow. The hedgehog managed to throw off Infinite’s balance, his attack firing away from Sonic as he struggled against Shadow.

Infinite kneed Shadow in the side as the hedgehog reached for the Ruby at his chest, grabbing his neck when Shadow’s hold on his wrist loosened. He threw Shadow towards the ground and with his other hand shot out another energy beam with a yell.

“I decided I wouldn’t let myself be a victim again. That I would fight back.” Amy’s words resounded in Sonic’s memory. “I don’t want to be a burden or feel that helpless ever again. I refuse to.”

Sonic moved and caught Shadow, dashing out of the way of Infinite’s attack. He set Shadow down when the beam needed to be charged again. “Got a plan?” He asked.

Shadow saw the strained but persistent confident smile the other hedgehog gave him and nodded. “Yes. We stall him until Rouge and Omega get here.” Shadow answered as he rubbed his throat.

“Overwhelming him with numbers, huh?”

Shadow took a breath, hand glowing with a Chaos Spear. “No. Overwhelming him with the truth!” He shot out at Infinite and the two hedgehog’s split up.

Sonic noticed Infinite seemed to primarily focus his attacks on Shadow. Being underestimated got under his skin, but he used it to his advantage. He leapt at Infinite as he attacked Shadow and got a punch in. He was shocked when his fist went through the mask and the jackal grabbed hold of his wrist.

The mask faded, the enraged jackal’s face revealed. “You really are tenacious.” He said as he jabbed a fist into Sonic’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. He quickly withdrew the hand that held Sonic’s wrist and covered his ruby, a Chaos Spear striking his hand and burning the skin. He winced, surprised by the pain. “Your attacks are stronger than before. How?!”

Shadow held a Chaos Emerald in his hand. “A gift from a friend.”

Sonic managed to roll to break his fall, coughing as he clutched his stomach.

“You alright?” Shadow asked.

Sonic gave him a thumbs up and coughed out, “I see Tails hooked you up. Was wondering where the third one he found was.”

“Sonic! Shadow!” Rouge called out as she joined behind Sonic. “Looks like we made it in time.”

“Delivery successful.” Omega said, nudging someone forward from behind him.

Infinite looked over and without his mask they could all see the shock on his face.

“Boss! Please stop this!” The jackal at Omega’s side called out, stepping forward.

Clutching the Phantom Ruby tightly, Infinite stared down at his teammate in disbelief. “No. That’s impossible. You were all killed!”

“We were captured! They’re holding us in the G.U.N. prisons, which will be hit by the sun too if you don’t stop!” The jackal squad member pleaded, taking off his bandana. “Please stop this madness. Eggman, this Phantom Ruby, destroying the world. You don’t need it! We’re all still alive! We can still fix this!”

“Lies!” Infinite roared, behind him beyond the trees’ canopy, the sun shuttered to a halt, the edges fraying away in blocks.

“Look out!” Shadow snapped as a black orb was shot from Infinite’s hands.

Omega grabbed Rouge and the Jackal, shielding them as the orb flew at them.

Sonic quickly moved before he could think it over and grabbed at the orb in attempts to stop it before it got to the three. It expanded around him and started to suck him in.

Omega dug his claws into the ground, keeping the two that held to him from being sucked up as well.

Shadow yelled out to Sonic, reaching for his hand after teleporting in range. As he was being pulled in as well, his arm was caught by Rouge. He looked back at her and knew by the look she gave him that she wasn’t about to let him go. When he looked back Sonic was swallowed up and the null space vanished with him.

 

Knuckles stared at the maps with a clenched jaw, feeling useless as his orders did little against the swarms of robots that attacked. Going out there to fight will only help one little section and would leave him unable to get a scope of the whole area and make coming up with tactics difficult if he were fighting at the same time.

Tails kept an eye on the computers and radio to make sure the Chaos Emerald kept them up and running. “Team Dark, what is the status with bringing the Jackal Squad member to Infinite?”

“He refuses to believe we aren’t tricking him.” Rouge’s answer was muffled by the sound of what could only be described as strong wind. She gasped audibly.

Both Tails and Knuckles froze as they heard Shadow yell out Sonic’s name. The fox grabbed the mic from Knuckles. “What happened? Is Sonic okay?”

“He’s… gone.” Rouge answered solemnly. “He was sucked up by some sort of… black hole and it and he are both just gone…”

Knuckles saw red as he made for the doors. “I’m on my way!”

“Knuckles, wait!” Tails called out as alarms went off. He looked at the map and felt his heart leapt into his throat. “Something is coming right for us. Knuckles-”

He was tackled to the ground as a large blast shot through the base, the echidna shielding him.

“Tails! Knuckles! What happened?! Can you hear me?” Rouge’s voice was distorted.

Tails slowly opened his eyes, his body aching. He looked around, seeing the rubble around the base then looked up at the red figure above him. “Knuckles…?” When his vision cleared he saw his friend holding up part of the roof that had fallen on them with his trembling body. “Knuckles!”

“Move…” Knuckles grunted out through labored breaths.

Tails crawled out from under the echidna and watched as he threw the rubble he held up to the side. “Knuckles… you’re head’s bleeding.”

“It’s fine… I’m… I’m good…” Knuckles was able to take two shaky steps before collapsing to the ground.

Tails yelled out his name and ran over to his friend.

“...ails… Tails! Knuckles!?”

The fox heard Amy’s voice come in with static but audible. “Amy! Can you hear me?”

“I hear you! Are you both okay?”

Tails looked down at Knuckles, pulling him into his lap and looking over his injuries. “Knuckles was hurt protecting me. I think he blacked out.” He felt around for anything broken then looked at his bloody hands.

“We’re on the way, hang in there!”

Tails looked up through the holes left in the walls of the base from the beam that hit them and he shuttered in horror. In the distance he could see the source of the attack, the alarms of the base distortedly sounding. On the cracked screen that the map was on there was a large energy source approaching the base. “Amy… Please hurry.”

 

Sonic floated in cold darkness, unable to tell which way was up or down. He tried to move himself as if he were in water but it did nothing other than spin him more in the gravityless void. It felt so wide of a place yet so tight, the closest feeling he ever experienced to this was being in space. But even then he was never simply without any sort of surface to hold on to or for a sense of direction.

“Hello?” He called out, his voice unable to make a sound.

Panic started to set in and his worry that there might be limited air made it worse. How long had he been there? Was there a way to get out? Through his anxiety he heard far off yelling and looked around. His headset floated just out of reach and he stretched out as much as he could, fingertips touching it.

“Tails! Knuckles! What happened? Can you hear me?” He heard Rouge but no reply. He tried to call out for Tails and Knuckles himself but once again his voice was silent.

“I think they were attacked at the base!” Amy answered the bat. “Tails? Knuckles can you hear us?”

“We’ll head over!” Vector announced.

“No, we still need to fight! Silver and I are closer, we’ll go help them.” Amy took charge though her voice grew frantic as she continued to try to reach their friends at the base.

Sonic felt a slight weight lift off his chest when he heard Tails’ voice only for it to return when he heard the fox say “Knuckles was hurt.”

“We’re on the way, Hang in there!”

Sonic finally got hold of the headset and held it close, his breath catching in his chest as Tails’ winded “Amy… Please hurry.” He clenched his jaw and desperately tried to think of a way out. A way to his friends.

He remembered the Chaos Emerald he had, grabbing at it and panting as he tried a Chaos Control. When nothing happened he held it tighter. “Please. Please!” He tried again, getting nowhere.

“Knuckles, wake up. Please. Wake up!” Tails’ begging was heard through the headset, growing more and more distraught.

Sonic’s vision blurred with frustrated tears as he punched aimlessly until he finally hit something. He gasped and punched again, seeing a small crack in the nothingness and feeling the warmth of the Chaos Emerald.

Tails screamed out at the same time as Sonic, the hedgehog’s fist breaking through.

Infinite heard the shattering behind him, turning to see what had happened. He was shocked when the fist of the blue hedgehog reached for him and he brought up a hand to counter.

Shadow reacted too fast for the jackal to protect himself, the hedgehog grabbing his arms and locking them behind him. “Now, Sonic!”

Sonic yelled as he grabbed the Phantom Ruby, ripping it from Infinite’s chest. The cracks in the gem spread when it no longer had Infinite keeping it in place. It crumbled in Sonic’s hand, the illusions all dissipating with it.

Sonic landed on his feet, looking at the dust of the gem on his hand before brushing it off. He looked over to where Shadow had pinned Infinite to the ground. “You ready to give in yet?” Sonic asked.

“Wait! Please don’t hurt him!” The Jackal Squad member called out, rushing over. He knelt besides Infinite. “Boss, you’re hurt.” He reached down, using his bandana to cover the wound on his chest and applied pressure.

Infinite looked up at him with surprise, realization slowly bringing tears to his eyes. “It’s you… You’re alive…”

The Jackal chuckled lightly. “I told you so, idiot. When will you listen to me?”

Infinite looked around at Team Dark, Sonic, his teammate, and for the first time in over a year he saw things with a clear mind. “I… I thought you all died.” He looked at Shadow. “I thought you killed all of them.”

Sonic suddenly laughed. “Who, Shadow? Nah, that’s not his style.” He gave Shadow a smile that was briefly reciprocated.

“Sonic, Tails and Knuckles were attacked at the base.” Shadow said. “We can handle Infinite from here. You should go.”

“On it.”

“Wait.” infinite said as he sat up, keeping his hands behind his back to show he wasn’t going to resist. “The robot that Dr. Eggman is using is powered by the original Phantom Ruby. You’re going to have to remove it from inside to make it stop. He had it in the centermost part of the robot.” He paused briefly. “I was wrong about you, hedgehog… You are far stronger than you once were. Perhaps you can win after all…”

Sonic stared down at the enemy who had caused so much destruction, all his anger and pain for the moment was replaced with only pity. “Yeah. I plan on it.” He gave a thumbs up and looked at Team Dark. “I leave this to you guys.” He held out the Chaos Emerald he had. “Chaos Control!”

 

Eggman smirked as he stared down the base, using the arms of his Death Egg Robot to rip the roof off the rest of the way. “There you are, Tails. Oh, and I see you have Knuckles here too. Perfect. Thank you for helping me find you. Those signals from the Chaos Emerald really did the trick!”

Tails stared up at the giant robot, giving Knuckles a shake. “Knuckles, wake up. Please. Wake up!” He reached for his weapon, aiming it up at Eggman with trembling hands. “Stay away!” He warned, leaning over his unconscious friend.

“Ohoho, and what are you going to do about it?” Eggman then frowned. “I don’t have time to play with you, boy. You’re already halfway out the door. You just need a little nudge.” He slammed down his hand and Tails screamed out, covering Knuckles as best as he could while he shot up at the towering robot.

Just before it hit it froze in place. “Huh? What happened?” Eggman pressed the button again to attack and it wouldn’t move. “What is this?!”

“Looks like we got here in time.” Silver said, hands up as he used his powers to hold back the attack.

Amy raced inside and found Tails and Knuckles. “Thank goodness. Are you two okay?”

Tears finally rolled down Tails’ cheeks as he felt such relief seeing his friends. He looked down at Knuckles and held him close. “We are now.”

“Silver, we gotta get Knuckles out of here. How long can you hold him?” Amy asked.

Silver spread the range of his telekinetic hold of the robot as Eggman tried to swing the other arm. “Not long, he’s got a lot to hold. Hurry up.”

Amy nodded and knelt down, placing a hand on Tails’ shoulder. The fox helped her lift Knuckles and they dragged him away from the base as Silver fought against Eggman’s efforts to get past.

They all looked up as the falling sun vanished from the sky. Eggman growled and slammed on a button that used an energy burst to knock everyone back. “That useless mercenary! He had one job!” He slammed several buttons, the fingers of the multiple hands shooting out missiles.

Silver was able to get a hold of several missiles and crashed them into the others, blowing them up before they hit their targets. “Get out of here, guys!”

“Silver!” Amy yelled.

Silver looked up and was struck as one of the arms smashed down on him. He was able to keep the blow from crushing him into the ground but he was pinned and fought against its strength.

Amy ran over, reaching under the arm to try to pull Silver out so he could concentrate on holding the arm up. “Give me your hand!”

Silver winced as he reached for Amy, the arm shifting. He could feel his head throb as his powers reached a limit. He felt Amy grab hold of his hand and he cried out.

A light shone behind Tails while the fox tried to shoot at Eggman while still protecting Knuckles. The color blue bolted past him and grabbed Amy, pulling her and Silver from under the robot’s arm just as Silver’s hold gave out and it came crashing down.

“Sonic!” Amy breathlessly smiled.

He gave her a wink and ran them back to Tails, he looked at Silver. “You alright, buddy?”

Silver staggered to his feet and gave Sonic a lopsided grin. “Yeah.”

Sonic nodded and looked to his friends, seeing Tails and Knuckles. “How about you two?” He stared at Knuckles’ unconscious body and clenched his fists.

“Knuckles hit his head and blacked out, but otherwise we’re okay.” Tails said. “Glad to see you are too.”

Amy drew her hammer and smashed away an attack from the robot, Silver following her up by pushing the robot off balance.

“Yeah. So I got a juicy tip from a guy I know. Eggman’s using the original Phantom Ruby to power this hunk of junk. We gotta get it out from the inside to shut it down.” Sonic announced as he got ready to run in.

Silver nodded. “So how will we do that?”

“I have some tools that I could use to try to open up an entrance inside the robot but it’ll be hard to do with him moving around and attacking. I gotta get in close.” Tails said as he adjusted his toolbelt.

Sonic smirked. “Leave that to us. We’ll keep him busy while you get inside.”

Tails looked down at the pockets that held his tools. “I might not be able to get to the Phantom Ruby quickly with the limited tools I have. We don’t have time to dig up my stronger ones from in the base.”

“I got it…”

They looked back as Knuckles sat up, holding his head.

Amy frowned. “Knuckles! You should be resting, we don’t know the extent of your injury.”

Knuckles got up to his feet, fumbling a bit but managed with Tails’ help. “I’m a bit dizzy but I can still fight.” He looked down at Tails. “I can help you dig through that robot’s insides. It’ll be by brute force, but it’s something.”

Tails bobbed his head in agreement. “Alright.”

Sonic stared back at Knuckles. “You sure?”

“Don’t have any other choice. Just get us an opening.” Knuckles answered sharply. “I’m not sitting out of this fight.”

Sonic smirked. “Good to hear. Just don’t hit your head on your way in.” He took off to get Eggman’s attention, Amy joining in.

Silver followed Tails and Knuckles. “I can keep things off you two as you get up there but once you’re inside you’re on your own.”

“Okay!” Tails readied his grappling hook and offered a hand to Knuckles. “Ready?”

Knuckles took the fox’s hand. “Let’s do this.”

Tails got a shot in under the lowest arm, Silver’s power holding the arm still while the two were pulled by the grapple. The fox used his two tails to better control where they were propelled through the air, then holding them steady. While Tails dug through his tools with one hand, Knuckles punched a dent into the robot. “Ah! I thought I was gonna open it!” Tails gasped.

“You don’t have enough arms right now.” Knuckles grabbed an edge of the metal that stuck up and pulled. Once they got it open enough to fit they climbed inside.

Eggman thrashed about as the two worked their way inside. “What do you think you’re doing?! Get off me!”

Sonic clicked his tongue scoldenly. “Looks like you gotta pest problem, Eggman.” he ran up one of the arms after dodging it’s punch. “Lemme see if I can do something about that.” He spun into the glass that Eggman himself sat behind.

“Ha! You’re not gonna get through there so easily.” Eggman laughed, pausing as he felt a shake when he felt Amy’s hammer bash against it. “How’d you get up here too?!”

“Got a lift.” She said, winking back at Silver.

Sonic and Amy jumped down as Silver redirected missiles back at Eggman.

Knuckles and Tails could hear the fighting outside, the robot shaking and rocking every so often as they worked their way through the inner machinery. Knuckles ripped away at the larger wiring and mechanics that got in their way, Tails taking apart the more sensitive parts to keep them from being blown out or crushed.

“Knuckles, how’s your head doing?” Tails asked as they got further.

“Trying to ignore it right now.” Knuckles answered honestly.

Tails frowned. “I’m so sorry. It was my fault he found us. He followed the signals the Chaos Emerald made when we used it to power our communications. I should have thought of that…”

“Quit blaming yourself for everything! Him coming here was his mistake. Saved us the trouble of having to look for him. Besides, we needed communications up so we could find Infinite. The lack of falling sun outside tells me we stopped him. That’s half our job done.” Knuckles reassured.

Tails smiled. “Yeah.” He still worried when Knuckles seemed to struggle every so often, but he kept moving.

They both flinched at a pulsing power that came from ahead of them. Knuckles pushed away a few wires and they saw the mechanism that held the Phantom Ruby. “There!” Knuckled went over to punch it open when Tails stopped him.

“Wait! We don’t want it to react if we hit it. We gotta be gentle.” He started to unscrew the container around it.

Knuckles grunted impatiently but let Tails handle this. Instead he made sure the movement of the robot didn’t knock Tails over or throw them back down. He held his head as he really felt the sharp pain when the ruby reacted to Eggman’s commands. “Hopefully these attacks aren’t getting the best of them.”

“They only gotta endure just a bit longer.” Tails said, licking his lips as he worked.

Silver panted as he kept another punch from hitting Sonic and Amy while they set up for Amy to use her hammer to strike Sonic at the robot. “Guys, I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.”

Sonic bounced off Eggman’s robot, dodging an energy beam shot at him. He grimaced as he felt his legs shake when he landed. “Hey, Tails. We almost there?”

“Almost, Sonic!”

“Think I don’t have a way to keep you from grabbing my Phantom Ruby?!” Eggman moved the robot to twist its torso once he got an opening from the hedgehogs’ attacks.

Tails tried to keep his balance and gasped as the space got tighter and tighter.

Knuckles tried to push back on the closing in walls but it did little to nothing. “What the heck?! Is he planning on crushing us with the Ruby?!”

Tails gasped when another layer was added to the containment protecting the powerful gem. “Knuckles, I don’t think I can get them open in time!”

“Look out.” Knuckled said as he got in close. “Tails, whatever happens, if I can’t grab the ruby myself you gotta do it. Don’t worry about me!”

Tails bit back an argument, there wasn’t time. “Okay!”

Knuckles punched at the container several times, getting it to crack.

The walls stopped moving and they heard Eggman yelling above. “What happened?” Tails asked aloud.

“Hurry!” Silver shouted from outside, his whole body straining as he held the entire robot in place. A trickle of blood ran down the side of his face from his ear.

Sonic looked up at the robot, a hand on Silver’s arm, waiting to move them both as soon as Silver’s hold gave out. “You can do it…” he said quietly, directed to all his friends as they fought.

Knuckles’ vision blurred as he pounded on the second barrier, his body feeling heavy with exhaustion as the room seemed to spin around him. Giving his all into a final punch, he broke through. He yelled for Tails as he tightly shut his eyes against the bright glow of the gem.

Tails rushed over and reached in, fighting against the sparks that stung against his arm. He cried out as he grabbed at the Ruby, the energy around it tearing apart his glove. When he got ahold of the gem he was shown a vision of a world where life prospered, where his friends didn’t have to be hurt to protect him, where they could all be happy and safe. Pulling the Phantom Ruby from the machine, he decided that would be their world. That he would make that vision a reality together with his loved ones.

Silver gasped as he lost grip of the robot, collapsing to his knees. He shook as the robot collapsed to the ground, Eggman’s screams muffled by his collapsing invention. “I can’t move. Tails and Knuckles, they’re still inside!”

Sonic nodded and left his side. “Amy, we gotta get them outta there!” He froze as the robot exploded.

Amy screamed out Knuckles and Tails’ names as Sonic held her back until they knew it was safe to approach.

They started to dig through the wreckage, Amy fighting back tears as she feared the worst.

Sonic heard banging from under him and took a step back, Knuckles breaking through.

Amy and Sonic helped him pull Tails out, the fox weakly holding the Phantom Ruby in his hands.

“It made a shield around us in response to Tails.” Knuckles said before he stumbled backwards.

Sonic smiled down at Tails. “You did it, Tails.”

Tails tittered before his eyes shut, passing out in Sonic’s arms.

Sonic picked up the fox and looked over at Knuckles. “Let’s get you two outta here. Looks like you could use some medical treatment.”

Knuckles chuckled wearily. “Can really use that nap now.”

“Think we all would be down for that.” He looked up as a few G.U.N. helicopters flew overhead. “Looks like our backup finally decided to show up.”

“Leaving us to do all the dirty work.” Knuckles growled. “For their sake, they better stick to talking with Rouge and not me.”

Sonic laughed and Amy helped Knuckles steadily get off the robot.

Once they got the two down, Knuckles insisted on walking himself so the two hedgehogs could carry Tails over to where Silver was recovering while they awaited medical treatment.

Eggman coughed as he climbed out of his cockpit where he was safe from the explosion but left without a means for escape. He started to try to crawl away unnoticed when he found himself at eye level with the feet of the Chaotix who had made their way over once the sun had vanished and half the robots vanished as well.

“Going somewhere, Doctor?” Espio asked.

“Yeah, we ain’t done with you yet. Gotta few questions for ya.” Vector smirked as he cracked his knuckles while Charmy giggled behind him.

Eggman nervously held up his hands and chuckled. “Mercy?”

-

Doctor Eggman and Infinite had been arrested and taken in by G.U.N. under the watchful eyes of Team Dark and Chaotix. By suggestion of Shadow, Infinite was given the option of being reunited with his team where they were serving their time if he showed cooperation and his best behavior. The jackal was, of course, made aware of the punishment that would come should any misconduct were to be carried out once he was brought to serve time with his squad. One the hedgehog himself would be sure to see to if the event should arise.

Amy had taken over operations of the resistance while Knuckles recovered. She met up with higher ups of G.U.N. alongside Rouge and they combined their efforts and forces while overseeing recovery efforts after the war.

Tails was the first of the injured to recover fully, his wounds from handling the Phantom Ruby were minor. He went right back to work with helping civilians all the while keeping tabs on how his friends were doing.

Silver’s were caused by an over exertion, as a result his powers were very weak and would take time to build back up. For the time being he could only lift things no bigger than his hands. He had decided to stay longer anyway, wanting to help rebuild all the while making sure the future he saw was truly prevented. He was given home and board with the Chaotix, helping them with restorations and keeping their place clean.

Sonic managed to avoid media who were covering the war efforts as he jogged into the city hospital. He gave the nurses a wave as he passed, slowing to a walk after having been scolded during his last visit for running.

Stopping at the gift store, he picked something out and exited to find Amy leaving and caught up to her. “Hey, Amy. Visiting our dear Commander too?”

“Yeah, we were asked to show up to a press conference alongside G.U.N. representatives and they wanted him to appear. But we decided it would be best to blame his injuries as to why he can’t make it. I don’t think they’d care for what he’d have to say.”

“I can only imagine. They didn’t exactly help as much as they should have, too caught up in our numbers and worrying we would become a threat as well.” Sonic said, rolling his eyes.

“Yeah. I’ll just have to hope that no one will ask for a quote from our Commander.”

Sonic smirked. “What did he say as a quote to use?”

Amy puffed out her chest and did her best agitated Knuckles impression. “”Quit messing things up down here and making me have to clean up after you idiots.””

Sonic held back laughter. “Oh geez, you’re too good at sounding like him.”

“I worked by his side for about a year. You’re bound to pick up on someone’s mannerisms being with them so long. By the way, they’re giving out metals. You of course are invited since you got one.”

“I think I’ll pass on that. I’m a busy guy, you know.”

Amy smirked. “I figured. That’s fine, I’ll handle that too. You and Knuckles owe me big time.”

“We sure do! Thanks, Amy.”

She quietly looked down at her own hands as they fidgeted before she gave Sonic a cheerful smile. “By the way, I’m happy for you two.”

Sonic stared at her blankly before tilting his head. “What do you mean?”

She pointed to the gift Sonic held. “You’ve been visiting everyday since he was brought in.” She put her hands on her hips proudly. “Plus I know Knuckles well enough by now. He’s really bad at hiding things from me.”

Sonic laughed nervously. “So you’re cool with it?”

“Of course. In fact.” She pointed at him. “If you do anything to hurt him I will find you, Sonic the hedgehog.”

He put his hands up in submission. “Woah, I wouldn’t hurt him on purpose!”

She giggled. “I know. But it’s my job as his friend to have his back. And to do the same for you, I’m not above kicking both your butts.”

Sonic grinned. “We’d be lost without you, Amy.”

“You bet you would.”

Sonic’s voice softened. “I’m serious. You’ve done a lot for us, we both really appreciate it.”

Amy covered her pink cheeks with her hands. “Aw. Thanks, Sonic.” She smiled up at him. “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you. Both of you.”

“Likewise to you, Amy. We got your back.”

Amy happily said her goodbyes and Sonic made his way to the room number he had memorized. A nurse walked out as he knocked on the doorframe and entered the room.

“Ooh, got fresh bandages today?” Sonic asked with a whistle. “Looks good.”

Knuckles looked up from where he sat on his bed, bandaging around his head. “Yeah. They said the stitches look good, so hopefully that means I can get outta here soon.”

Sonic scoffed. “You had a bad concussion, Knucklehead. You’re lucky you only need stitches and rest. Good thing you have such a thick skull.” He teased.

Knuckles shot him a glare before he saw Sonic had his hand behind his back. “Have something you don’t want me seeing?” He asked.

“Yep!” Sonic drew the flowers he bought. “They’re fake, flower supply in the hospital was low since the war and all. They were sold out of the real ones. But I figured it’s better than nothing.” He was caught off guard by the stare he received and sheepishly smiled. “Heh, that bad? I didn’t think they were too poorly made. From a distance I didn’t realize they were even fake.”

“No, they’re great. Thank you.” Knuckles accepted the flowers, putting them on the table next to his bed. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”

“If I went to a hospital after I was injured, you would have done the same thing.”

“You sure about that?”

Sonic smirked. “It’s too late to pretend, bud. I’ve seen that cheesy side, I know the truth!”

Knuckles blushed and looked down at the flowers on the table. “Only when it comes to you.”

Sonic’s face grew warm and he fought the urge to change the subject. Instead, he sat next to the echidna and took one of Knuckles’ hands though he still struggled to keep eye contact. “Okay, so being honest about feelings. You really had me scared. You and Tails.”

“Sorry.” Knuckles’ eyes fell to their hands and he returned the hold. “You scared me too. That whole vanishing thing.”

“Oh, that? No big deal. Even some Null Space can’t hold me back.” Sonic grinned, mock punching at the air with his free hand.

Knuckles looked less than convinced by Sonic show of bravado.

“... Okay, fine. It was pretty scary… But hearing you two were attacked and hurt while I was in there was worse. But I guess it was the push I needed to get out.”

“Yeah, things got pretty crazy really fast. But we somehow got through it.” Knuckles stared at Sonic’s face until Sonic turned to him, then he looked back down at their hands. “How are you feeling? With the whole fighting and beating Infinite and Eggman after what they did thing?” He awkwardly asked.

“Eh.” Sonic shrugged. “It felt pretty good. But… If I’m gonna be honest I still have a few things to work on.” He nervously smiled. “I actually talked a bit to Shadow about it. He gave me a number to a therapist he knows. Said she’s dealt with our line of work a lot and is very understanding. That she can be trusted... I have an appointment in about a month.”

Knuckles nudged Sonic with his arm. “That’s great. I’m proud of you.”

Sonic snickered a bit. “Thanks.” He looked over at the window, how the curtains were mostly shut to avoid the room being too bright and hurting Knuckles’ head more. “So, what do you plan on doing when you get outta here?”

“Honestly? I just want to go home.” Knuckles said with bittersweet smile. “I need to get back to protecting the Master Emerald. Thankfully it had been left alone during this war, but who knows what could happen.”

“Is it cuz of your job, or cuz you’re a bit of a homebody?” Sonic asked playfully, looking at Knuckles’ face.

“Both I guess. I’ve been away for about a year and now that the fighting is over it’s really hitting me how much I miss Angel Island.”

Sonic smiled. “That’s okay. You did more than you needed to for us down here. You deserve to finally go home and relax... Just don’t be a stranger.”

“Actually…” Knuckles looked back to Sonic. “I wanted to ask if you would join me. You don’t have to stay, I know you have a lot here, but maybe for a week or two?” His smile was nervous and thoughtful. “Angel Island has this way of helping soothe the heart.. And you could use the break.”

Sonic squinted at him. “I dunno, that first time I visited I didn’t really feel all that soothed. I was kinda running for my life.”

Knuckles rolled his eyes. “I won’t be trying to kill you this time.”

“Your traps still active?”

“... I’ll keep you safe.”

Sonic thoughtfully pressed his fist against his lips before grinning at Knuckles. “Alright. But you gotta show me around. I want the grand tour without having to miss anything cuz I’m dodging spikes and trying not to drown.”

Knuckles laughed boisterously, the sound making Sonic’s heart flutter. “Deal! I’d love to show you around! And I can show you the safe paths you can take to go for a run when you need some alone time. And I can show you what I can really do with the food there. I make all my meals by hand, but it is much better than anything I have had down here.” Knuckles said animatedly.

Sonic wore a smug smile to cover up how thrilled he was and how nice it was to see Knuckles so excited. “Okay. It’s a date then?”

Knuckles’ was in stunned silence for a brief moment, finally exclaiming, “Do you want it to be?!”

The hedgehog burst out laughing, leaning into Knuckles’ shoulder. “Yeah, I think I do.”

“To be clear, this is a romantic date you are talking about?” Knuckles asked timidly, not wanting to get the wrong idea if he somehow was reading too much into this.

“You bet! But I swear, I will beat you at it. I have spent the last few days working on sappy one-liners to use on you and you gave me the perfect opportunity to really test them out.”

Knuckles raised a brow. “You’re still caught up on that? I’m not really the best with words, it just sometimes… happens?”

“Yeah, but it’s 2 to 0 so far and I need to redeem myself.” He traced his thumb over the spikes of the echidna’s knuckles. “Besides, showing your affections to someone is about opening up to them, right? And being honest?”

“Yeah, guess you’re right about that.” Knuckles said before placing his other hand over Sonic’s. “We’ll go slow. No need to rush.”

Sonic looked up at Knuckles and smiled. “Yeah, first thing’s first, you feel better so they can release you.”

Knuckles pouted. “I’m well enough to leave now! They’re just being overly cautious.”

“G.U.N.’s covering for this, so might as well make use of it!” Sonic smirked.

“It smells weird here and they check in on me way too often, I can’t do anything without them on my back!”

Sonic laughed as they continued back and forth, staying with Knuckles as long as he could just talking.

-

Tails did the last once over of the Tornado 2 before equipping it with the Chaos Emerald. “All set!” He jumped down and looked over to the two who were watching the small TV screen on Tails’ desk.

Knuckles glared, standing up and pointing at the screen. “That isn’t what I said at all!”

Sonic snickered as Knuckles got angry.

Tails walked over and peeked at the screen. “What happened?”

“Amy sugarcoated what Knuckles had to say, but I think she got the message across. The whole needing to work together thing is a nice way to vaguely nudge at how much trouble they gave us.” Sonic said from where he sat.

Knuckles crossed his arms. “They should be publicly addressed for what they did. It was their fault this whole war got so bad. They couldn’t stop Eggman before he got so much power, what kinda military are they?!”

“I agree, but you know it’s not gonna happen.” Sonic shrugged.

Tails smiled at the two. “Well, it’s over now and everyone can move on and learn from our mistakes.”

“Their mistakes.” Knuckles corrected and watched as members of the Resistance who agreed to go receive their awards for their bravery. “So only the Chaotix, Amy, and Silver showed up.”

“Did you think Team Dark would agree to public awards?” Sonic asked. He cringed as the speaker discussed Sonic’s role as their hero and how everyone cheered. “Geez, laying it on thick. I actually didn’t do too much until the end. And even then, I didn’t do any of it alone.”

“Everyone knows who you are, Sonic. It raises confidence of the civilians to hear your heroics and that you’re back in action.” Tails explained.

Sonic rolled his eyes. “Way too long winded. And they expected me to stand through that?” He looked at Tails. “So, we ready to get going?”

“Yeah! Oh, one more thing.” He went over to a desk and took out a sack, handing it to Knuckles. “You’re sure you have somewhere to seal away the Phantom Ruby on Angel Island?” He asked.

Knuckles nodded. “Yeah, there are plenty of places only I have a way through. Not even Eggman could get in.” He took the sack and looked at Sonic. “You won’t be able to join me while I seal it away. Some of the paths are underwater now and only allow members of my tribe through safely.”

“That’s fine. I’ll chill with the ol’ Master Emerald and Tails while you handle that.” He winked at the fox.

Tails smiled. “I can only stay for a day or two, then I wanna get back. They need my help here with rebuilding and I don’t want to leave Amy to have to lead all by herself.”

“That’s fine, Mr. Hero. You’re doing a great job.” Sonic said proudly with a wink.

Tails grinned then grabbed his goggles and flew into his plane. “Okay! You two ready?” He said as he opened the garage of his shop.

Sonic and Knuckles climbed up with their things in the second seat of the plane, all strapped in. The two took their places holding onto the wings of the plane and gave each other a knowing smile. “We’re ready!” Sonic answered.

The plane started up and rolled out, soon taking to the skies and heading for Angel Island.

Sonic looked back at his teammates as he clung to the wing of the plane. He still had his own hurdles to get over and feelings to sort out but he thought back to Knuckles and Shadow’s words of encouragement and felt ready to face his troubles head on. After all, he had so many supporting him; his friends, his brother, and his boyfriend. It may not be easy, but he knew he wasn’t alone. With the wind in his face and his loved ones at his side, whatever the future may bring them, he was excited to reach forward and take hold of it.