Sonic the Hedgehog
The Ties That Bind
Disclaimer: Nack and Nic belong to Sega (or maybe Nic belongs to Archie comics). Nova is Diane Olexa's (Cynicallia's) character. All the rest (and the story idea, including Nack's middle name thing!) are mine!!!
The mighty Nack T. Weasel somersaulted to the roof of an old warehouse. He had just turned his latest bounty over to his employer and collected his pay, and he was happy. He was preparing for the jump to the next building over when he suddenly heard angry and familiar voices from inside.
"You stupid idiot! Can't you do *anything* right?"
That was followed by a slapping sound and a soft cry from another critter.
"I got the whipped cream in the gas tank just like you said, Rocky," the other critter quavered.
Nack's bad boy cousin Rocky McCallon only growled. "That's *all* you *can* do right!" he snapped. "Everything else went kablooey, and it was all your fault!!"
Mechanic Andre DuBois held his own, but Nack, looking down through the skylight, could tell that the poor critter was hurt. "I only activated the sprinkler system and busted a few windows!" he protested.
"Only!" The brass knuckles Rocky was currently sporting cracked together, creating a sound that made both Andre and Nack cringe. "Maybe you forget—the Whipped Cream Avengers pride ourselves on being sneaky and crafty. We leave our mark in silence for our unsuspecting victims to discover the next day! We are never loud and noisy. We never bring to the victim's attention the fact that we're there. But most of all, Whipped Cream Avengers are not CLUMSY!" Rocky yelled the last two words, making Andre cringe again.
"I'm not clumsy!" Andre said defiantly.
"Well, you sure weren't careful and quiet," Rocky sneered. "The opposite of that is reckless and loud . . . and clumsy! That's what you've been ever since I met up with you—clumsy! A dumb cluck!!" He slapped Andre again.
"Rocky, stop!" Andre pleaded. His expressive pink eyes mirrored the extreme hurt he felt. "I thought you cared."
"Well, guess what? I don't care. Get out of here." The bad boy weasel was using his low and menacing voice. "Get out of here, you stupid klutz." He pushed Andre forward, sending him sprawling.
Andre didn't need any more encouragement. He tore out the door of the warehouse and weaved his way through stacks of crates.
"You're nothing to me!" Rocky yelled after him. "I don't care if you never show up here again!"
Nack watched Andre go, then slowly shook his head. "Poor fool," he said softly. He wouldn't admit it to anyone, but Andre reminded Nack of himself. Nack was no klutz for sure, but the way Rocky treated Andre brought back the bitter memories of how Nack and his sister Nic had been treated by their abusive father. The name calling, the slapping, the hitting . . . all that was too familiar to the bounty hunter weasel. And over and over he heard the cries of his mother Mary as his father hit her. He shuddered involuntarily before pulling his battered Stetson hat low over his eyes again and growling, "Concentrate on the present!" With one final glance in the general direction in which Andre had vanished, Nack used his tail to spring to the next building over.
Andre had just ducked behind some more crates when a powder-blue furred weasel dropped down in front of him, grinning like a wicked Cheshire cat.
"Rambo!" Andre gasped, instinctively backing up.
"What's the matter, doofus? Afraid I'll hurt you?" Rambo taunted. Tanya/Thorn appeared behind him, also sporting a nasty grin.
Andre gulped. "Come on, Rambo, just leave me alone."
"Rocky was pretty mad about what you did," Rambo replied, advancing.
"I didn't mean to do anything!" Andre protested.
"That doesn't matter!" Rambo shot back, lashing out and kicking poor Andre right in the chest. The weasel yelped and went down, curling into a ball, throwing his hands up over his head and wrapping his long tail around him.
Rambo only laughed. "The only reason I'm not going to beat your pathetic body to a pulp right now is because we're too close to the warehouse. Rocky might hear, and then I'd be in trouble. We wouldn't want that, now, would we?" Andre opened one eye and looked at Rambo, then closed it again, shaking in fear. He had seen Rambo beating some guy up in a club when Rocky had first spotted him. Rambo had actually picked the other guy up and thrown him across the room, where he had slammed into the bar.
Andre didn't want that to happen to him.
"Come on, Thorn, let's go." Rambo turned to go and Tanya/Thorn followed suit. "Someday, Andre," Rambo hissed as they left. "Someday I'm gonna get you . . . and I'll get you good, too!"
Andre stayed coiled up for a long while after that, but finally stopped shuddering and slowly uncurled. He wasn't that fond of Rambo, and Rambo certainly didn't like him either. But what hurt him more than any thrashing or beating was Rocky's cruel words. Andre had always idolized Rocky like a brother and had stuck close by him. Oh, sure, Rocky had been harsh, but Andre had always thought, always fancied, always dreamed that Rocky really cared, deep inside, but that he just didn't want to show it. Now he knew the truth—Rocky was just one more person who found Andre to be a nuisance.
Andre shook his head sadly. "I'm a nobody and a troublemaker," he remarked. Even Angel, who was usually kind to him, had treated him roughly tonight. "Nobody cares if I live or die. Nobody ever cared." Tears came to his eyes, but he angrily brushed them back. Real men just didn't cry. That's what he'd been told over and over in the harsh foster homes he had been raised in. And by Rocky, too.
Andre stumbled away, rubbing at his sore chest where Rambo had kicked him. "Rocky doesn't care. He doesn't care!" he said over and over, Rocky's nasty words playing in his mind. Before long, Andre was very far away from the warehouse near the San Francisco docks, caught up in his thoughts, his feelings of anger and betrayal.
Five Days Later
Nack froze, then whirled around. A mysterious green-and-white weasel was standing there. Nack had never seen her before. "What the heck did you say?" Nack demanded.
The other weasel smiled. "You heard me. I called you Tecumseh."
"And now just where in the heck did you get that from?" Nack exclaimed, marching right up in front of her and staring her down.
"It's your middle name. Am I correct?" The green-and-white weasel simply folded her arms and blinked her blue eyes at Nack.
"Nobody, but NOBODY calls me that . . . that . . . *NAME*!" Softer he added, "It was my father's name."
The green-and-white weasel nodded slowly. "I know."
Nack looked at her suspiciously. "You do? Might I ask *how*?"
"I have ways," was her only reply. "We will meet again soon."
Then she lassoed a tree branch and flew up and over, proceeding to disappear among the many pines.
Nack's fur stood on end. Something rather strange was going on. . . . "What an annoying critter," he muttered.
Before he could think more about it, something boxed him on the ear, sending him sprawling. "What the heck are you trying to do?" he demanded, figuring it was that same odd female weasel.
But it wasn't the soft voice tinted with a Tennessee accent that responded. "Have you seen my dumb mechanic?" Nack recognized it all too well as Rocky's harsh Brooklyn voice.
Not particularly wanting Rocky to know he'd been listening in the other night, Nack only said, "When?" He tried to get up, but Rocky pushed him down again, then leaned over and glared at him, appearing upsidedown in Nack's line of vision.
"In the past five days." Rocky growled. "Dumb cluck's flown the coop."
Nack bristled, thinking of one time, long ago, when he had been four or five, and his father had been beating him up harshly. Finally, not able to stand it any longer, he had managed to wrench himself away and had ran far from home, hiding in someone's shed. He had stayed there shaking in fear, terrified that any moment his dad would find him. Finally Nic had come to get him and said that their father had gone out gambling and likely wouldn't return for the rest of the night, so it was safe to return home.
"What would you expect, treating him the way you did?" Nack snapped.
Rocky looked momentarily startled, then grinned nastily. "Eavesdropping again, I see."
In Nack's mounting rage, he almost forgot who he was talking to. "You know, Andre looks up to you. He thinks of you as his protector, his friend . . . his *brother.* And what do you go off doing? You hit him, you mock him, you treat him like he's worth less than snail slime. Heck, if I was him, I would've ran off long ago!"
"How I treat my mechanic is my business!" Rocky hissed. He paused. Suddenly his mean look was gone. He almost, Nack thought, looked normal. "I just kinda wonder where he is," Rocky said softly.
"You worried about him?" Nack asked carefully.
The mean look came back. "Worry? WORRY? Why would I worry about a nobody like him?" Rocky snapped. "I don't care what he's up to."
"Then why ask about him?" Nack replied smoothly.
"You better watch it, cousin, or I might just decide to punch your lights out." Rocky's voice was low and rumbling, as it had been five days ago when he had cursed poor Andre. "I can do it, you know."
"I don't doubt it," Nack grumbled. "But you wouldn't get a good punch without a fight from me first."
Rocky only laughed. "I'm being easy on you, cousin—just don't bug me with any more insolent questions and I won't beat up on you . . . this time."
He let Nack up, but looked as though he wanted to kick his bounty hunter cousin. He barely restrained himself. "Just . . . keep an eye out for him, won't you?" Rocky said softly. It was more of an order than a question.
Nack just nodded slowly as Rocky turned and fled.
He hadn't got very far when Angel came sashaying up to him, looking for all the world like a '40's gun moll. "Rocky, baby," she cooed.
Rocky put his arm around her. "Hey, Angel."
There was a long silence. Nack stood and watched all this with his arms folded, not caring if Rocky got mad about it.
Angel paused, then pulled something out of the pocket of her leather skirt. "Rocky, Tanya found this floating around downtown San Francisco," she said softly.
Rocky took it, while Nack strained to see what it was. "She did, huh?" Rocky tried to make his voice sound as emotionless as possible, but Nack could hear a hint of concern.
A tear fell from Angel's eye. "Rocky, what if he's . . . dead?"
"So what if he's dead?" Rocky replied, shrugging, then seeing Angel's stricken expression. "Oh, hey, I'm sorry, Angel. The dumb klutz was like a brother to you, wasn't he?" Angel nodded, trying to brush away the tears that insisted on coming. "Well, hey, I'll tell you what—we'll find him. Dead or alive, we'll find him. I promise."
Angel brightened. "I just knew I could count on you, honey," she purred, giving him a hug.
Nack shook his head in disbelief. Rocky could actually be almost civilized, at least when he was with the women he loved.
But . . . what of that poor fool Andre? He was obviously the subject of their conversation. Was he dead? What had Tanya/Thorn found?
He didn't have long to wait to find out. Rocky came over to him, waving a scrap of cloth in his face. "Do you know what this is?" Rocky growled. He didn't seem surprised that Nack was still there.
"A piece of cloth," Nack replied. "But if you'd just hold it still, I could probably tell you more about it."
Rocky didn't hold it still. Instead, he rushed on with the explanation. "It's a piece of cloth torn from my ditzy mechanic's denim jacket. And it's got blood on it! Blood!! The stupid idiot has been getting himself into more trouble!"
"Sounds to me like he's been getting hurt," Nack responded.
Rocky grabbed Nack and lifted him up into the air. "If you find out anything about who might've done this, you tell me!! You hear? Cause if you don't. . . ." He paused, snarling. "If you don't," he repeated, "I'm gonna find something very, Very hard—something no one could stand being hit with—and I'll clobber you with it!"
Even being held precariously up in the air, Nack kept hold of his dignity. "I've told you before, Rocky—I don't scare easily, and I certainly don't get scared by threats. If I tell you anything, it won't be because I'm afraid of you beating me with some old stick!"
Rocky's left eye blinked, then his lips curled in a wry smile. "You always did have a certain amount of gumption, cousin." He laughed. "Heh. You would be an asset to the Whipped Cream Avengers."
"You know I won't join your old gang, Rocky. Now put me down!" Nack demanded.
"As you wish." Rocky let go of Nack in midair, sending the poor weasel crashing back to terra firma. "Now, I'm off to kick some Red Radishes."
And with that, Rocky was gone with Angel.
Nack lifted his hat off his eyes and drummed his fingers on the ground, trying to figure out what Rocky meant by "Red Radishes." Was he going to go raid someone's garden?
Then a light clicked on in Nack's head. "Red Radishes—of course!" he blurted out loud.
The Red Radishes were a group of cheap bank robbers and gangsters who had had it in for the Whipped Cream Avengers ever since one of them had got on Rocky's bad side and the WCA leader had had the Red Radishes' headquarters whipped creamed. Whenever the RR's decided to attack the WCAer's, they usually went for Andre, the sweetest and most vulnerable member. Suspected Mafia don Jacques Boyer was rumored to have recently become involved with the RR's, hoping to upgrade their image and get them into the Mafia, but nothing concrete had ever been proven, Nack knew.
Nack knew something else, too: If the RR's had seriously hurt Andre (or worse), Rocky would find out, and then there'd be heck to pay. "Watch out, varmints," Nack muttered, chuckling slightly. "Y'all are in for a world of hurt!"
Since Nack wasn't involved in a case, he decided to go spy on Jacques Boyer in his high-rise office in downtown San Francisco.
Perched precariously on the balcony outside Jacques' window, Nack watched as suddenly Rocky stormed in, waving his spiked ball thing like a madman.
"I want a word with you, Boyer!" he growled, pointing his forefinger at the businessman, who was sitting contentedly at his desk, feet propped up, reading the paper.
"Oui, Monsieur McCallon?" Boyer looked up, putting his feet back on the floor. "It has been a while, n'est-ce pas? To what do I owe this unexpected . . . pleasure?" he finished after a pause.
Rocky marched right up to the desk and leaned over. "You tell me what you did with my dumb mechanic!!"
"Monsieur DuBois, you mean?" Jacques brought his fingers together. "Most unfortunate. I do hope you find him . . . alive."
"You know something!!" Rocky declared. "And I'm not leaving till you tell me what!!"
Jacques looked surprised. "Surely, mon ami, you do not suspect *moi* of being . . . involved in Monsieur DuBois' disappearance."
"Ohhhhh, surely, mon nemesis, I do!" Rocky hissed, imitating Jacques' French accent.
"And why would I do a wretched thing like that, Monsieur McCallon? I am a respectable businessman." Jacques folded his arms, looking disturbed at Rocky's accusations.
"Words get around that you're sponsoring the Red Radishes, Boyer!" Rocky replied.
"Oh, no, no, they are lying!" Jacques insisted. "Why would I do that? The Red Radishes are made up of only skunks besides, just as your . . . organization is made up of only our fair species, Monsieur McCallon."
"The perfect excuse, Boyer!" Rocky was so mad, his fur was standing on end.
"It is the truth, Monsieur McCallon, but you are certainly free to your own opinion."
Nack, peering through the plate glass window, suddenly discovered how insecure the durn window was, as, without warning, he fell through, sending glass particles everywhere. Luckily, he hadn't got cut in the process, though he was definitely surprised.
By their expressions, Jacques and Rocky were surprised as well. "Another one!" Jacques exclaimed in dismay.
"You!" Rocky declared, annoyed. "I have a mind to throw you out of that big hole in the wall you just made!"
Nack picked himself up, kicking stray glass out of his way. "I would advise you not to try it, Rocky," he replied somewhat nonchalantly. "You either won't be able to do it, you will do it but I'll manage to survive the fall, or you'll do it and I'll die, but even if it wound up being the latter, I'd find a way to haunt you for the rest of your life, so you still wouldn't be rid of me."
Rocky snarled but said nothing.
Jacques ran a hand through his long red hair. "Well, mon ami, I do believe our conversation is terminated. I do not know where Monsieur DuBois is, nor do I know who does."
"You better not be pulling a fast one, Boyer," Rocky hissed, "because if you are, I'll be kicking *you* outta that hole and into the next galaxy!!"
With that parting remark, Rocky turned and left, holding out his spiked ball thing as a warning.
Nack tipped his hat to Jacques. "Sorry about the mess," he said. "You really oughtta find a better window company." And with that he was gone as well, trailing after his cousin.
Jacques watched them go, then turned back to his window, shaking his head. "I knew I should've gotten that replaced earlier," he muttered.
Outside the building, Nack asked Rocky, "Why are you so persistent in your search for Andre? I know it's not just because of Angel, 'cause you were looking fer him before she told you what Tanya had found."
Rocky turned to glare at Nack. "You're still shadowing me? If you must know, you idiot, it's because he's still a member of my gang, and he can't go running off somewhere like this unless he's officially discharged from it!"
Nack nodded slowly, not quite believing that explanation. "Uh huh."
"I'm sure not looking for him because I care about him!" Rocky added harshly.
They wandered through the city, finally ending up on the bad side of town. Nack suddenly paused in front of an old, abandoned house.
"Are you finally gonna stop following me and stay here?" Rocky asked.
Nack shook his head, instead silently handing Rocky something he'd found—another piece from Andre's jacket.
Rocky took it, looked at it briefly, then stomped over to the house with purpose and busted the door in. Nack was close on his heels.
"Andre! Where are you, you stupid idiot!" Rocky yelled. He headed down the stairs, forgetting about his cousin, who was still right there.
At first he couldn't see anything, but when his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could make out a still form over in the corner. Slowly he went over closer and kneeled down on the floor.
It was Andre, all right, Rocky could see that. He was laying on the floor bunched up as tightly as he could be, his black hair flying here and there and everywhere, free of the ponytail that usually kept it under control. His tail was spread limply across the floor, instead of wrapped around him like it usually was, and streaks of red ran through the soft lavender fur.
Rocky touched his mechanic on the shoulder and Andre flinched, whether in pain or in fright, Rocky wasn't sure.
Carefully Rocky gathered the other weasel into his arms and looked down at him. Andre's pink eyes were half-open and focused on Rocky.
"You know," he said hoarsely, "all I ever wanted was just to be accepted, for someone to care about me. I guess . . . that . . . wasn't . . . meant . . . to . . . happen." Andre spoke the last words with great effort, suddenly going limp in Rocky's arms, his pink eyes closing completely.
Rocky just stared at the other weasel in shock, then shook him frantically, calling over and over, "Andre! Andre, you dumb idiot, wake up!! Wake up, will you??" Andre's body hung lifeless in Rocky's arms, and he received no response.
"Is he . . . dead?" A soft voice asked. Rocky didn't need to turn around to know that Nack was standing there.
Rocky didn't answer. They both remained silent for a long time, but finally Rocky said quietly, "At the very last, he didn't shed a tear. Didn't cry at all. I taught him that, not to cry." He shook his head. "And now, I'm not that strong."
For once, Rocky abandoned his harsh persona. His tears fell as he held Andre's motionless body. "Sure, I treated him rough. I didn't want him—or anyone, really, except maybe Angel—to know that I had a heart of any kind. It's not proper for someone like . . . like me to have compassion. And sure I was mad about that goofup . . . but Heck, there's a million worse things he could've done. I didn't mean any of that garbage I fed him. This is all my fault!"
Nack sighed, pondering. Would his father have ever regretted the harsh abuse he laid out on his family? Somehow Nack didn't think so. But he'd sure never suspected it of Rocky, either . . .
With another sigh, he laid a hand on Rocky's shoulder and spoke in a soft, calm tone. "Rocky, you didn't kill him. Some other jerk did that."
Rocky shook his head vehemently. "He might've survived. But he didn't have a will to live anymore. And that's my fault!! I'm responsible. Because I was too pig-headed to show that I did care, to tell him that I loved him just like a brother, and because I let my temper go off the deep end, I'm responsible," he insisted.
Nack didn't know what to say to that. They sank into silence once again, as somewhere, a clock struck the midnight hour.
Two Weeks Later
Nack looked out over the city of San Francisco, shrouded once again in its famous fog. He was standing on a hill in Golden Gate Park when suddenly the same green-and-white weasel dropped down next to him. Nack was used to her by now—she seemed to pop up at some time every day, but only for a minute or so. Nack had found himself rather looking forward to and wondering about her sudden appearances. Now she seemed to want to talk.
"We've never had a formal introduction," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm Nova."
"Nack. *NO* Tecumseh, just Nack. Or Jet." He purposely refrained from adding his other nickname, "Fang," which he wasn't that fond of. He shook Nova's hand.
"Nack it is. No Tecumseh," Nova agreed. She paused. "So what're you doing?"
Nack gave her a sidelong glance. "You don't know already? You seem to know everything else."
Nova just smiled.
Nack sighed. "I'm just . . . thinking. Reflecting." He suddenly realized that he was longing to talk, to tell someone, anyone . . . even this near-stranger. "Over the past weeks, my cousin Rocky has been bringing back some . . . painful memories."
Nova smiled again, this time in sympathy.
"I've seen the worst and the best of my wayward cousin lately." Nack shook his head. "That poor ol' fool Andre. He . . . reminds me of someone." He didn't say aloud that the "someone" was himself.
Now it was Nova's turn to give him a sidelong glance. "What happened to poor ol' Andre, anyway?" she asked.
Here Nack cracked a half-smile. "You see that place over there?" The fog parted at least partially and Nova could see Nack was indicating . . .
"Oh no. Not the cemetery. You don't mean . . ." Nova looked at Nack wide-eyed.
"Not in the way you're probably thinkin'," Nack replied. "He went to visit his parents' graves." He shook his head. "All these years, and no one would ever even tell him where they were buried. Andre may be somewhat of a klutz, but he isn't really dumb. He knows when he's had enough. He went out and managed to find out for himself where they are."
"Soo . . . he's alive, then?" Nova realized that Nack actually hadn't said for sure.
Nack broke into a grin. "Oh yeah. He's alive. Very much so."
"But I heard . . ."
Nack held up his hand. "I know what you probably heard. That he died from a brutal beating?" Nova nodded. "Well, that's very near the truth, actually.
"Rocky held Andre's limp body for one, two hours. I lost track, but it was a long time. He just stayed there holding him and cryin' and saying over and over how it was all his fault, that Andre wouldn't have gotten hurt and killed if it hadn't been for Rocky's mean comments.
"Then after a while Andre's ear kinda twitched and he moaned. It was soft and weak, but it was definitely there. Rocky just looked at him in disbelief and went, 'You're alive? You're alive?!'
"It took another little while, but eventually Andre came back. I was amazed at the change. He looked up at Rocky with those oh-so-innocent pink eyes and exclaimed, 'You do care, Rocky! You do care!' And Rocky didn't deny it. It was like two brothers. Kinda mushy." Nack looked disgusted, but Nova could tell he had actually been very touched.
"You see, even though Andre took a harsh physical beating, it was the emotional wounds that hurt more," Nack explained. "Rocky was right when he said that Andre had lost his will to live. Poor fool thought nobody in the world cared. But heck, after that show of Rocky's temper, who would! So anyway, he didn't really have the strength or the incentive to fight to keep himself alive because he thought no one would care whether he did or not. He was very nearly dead when Rocky found him, and he was just *barely* clinging to life after he passed out. Or maybe he really was dead. I'm not sure, and he isn't, either." Nack half-smiled. "But somehow, somewhere through the mists, he realized that Rocky did care, and then, and only then, was he able to fight to live. And he came back."
Nova shook her head, almost in disbelief. "Do they know who tried to kill Andre yet?"
Nack sighed. "Andre doesn't know their names, but he described the red fur and pirate-like appearances of Red Radishes to a T. He said they demanded he tell them where the Whipped Cream Avengers were holed up. And you know somethin'?" Nack looked as though he could barely believe what he was saying. "Even after the rotten way he'd just been treated by Rocky and the gang and all, Andre refused. That critter's got some kind of otherworldly loyalty!"
Nova looked equally shocked. "Little guy's almost too sweet and good for this cruel world," she agreed.
"I don't know if I could ever be that forgiving," Nack said darkly. "My father's favorite activity besides drinking and gambling seemed to be using us as punching bags." He paused. "But you know, even though it made me scared and angry when he hit me, it was much worse to see him hit Nic and Mama. I don't think I can ever forgive him for what he did to them."
Nova put her arm around him and Nack didn't shrug it off like she thought he might. Instead they stayed there like that for a while in silence. Nack enjoyed the company. He hardly ever bothered to tell anyone about his thoughts and his feelings because he figured that hardly anyone would care. The only ones he'd ever told these things to was his mother Mary, his special soulmate Calia Pembroke, his special friend Princess Sally Acorn . . .
And Nova, he realized. He had told Nova, and she had listened, and offered comfort. Maybe this seemingly annoying weasel wasn't such bad company after all.