The crickets and sloshing waves of the Sapphire Sea's evening tide kept Sonic company as he leaned on the patio railing of Amy Rose's house. The blue hedgehog wore a small smile on his face, as today had been a good day. He felt so relieved to have a good day, especially when most days this past month weren't so great... It had all started at the end; that fateful day when the Metarex, and Cosmo, last of the Seedrians, met their ends.
"Tails... I looked everywhere... This was all that was left..."
When Sonic gave him the white seed that resulted from the attempted Chaos Regeneration... The pain in his eyes and voice... Sonic had never seen or heard anything like it.
"It's not true! She was here! I heard her voice! You were supposed to save her, Sonic! I trusted you! I believed in you!"
In all the years they had known each other, through all the thick and thin they had seen each other through... The fox had never seen him fail like this, at least in his eyes. It was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do; he remained silent as his best friend yelled at him and pounded on him, before collapsing to the hull of the ship, screaming and sobbing hysterically.
It took every bit of willpower Sonic had to just close his eyes and let it happen right at his feet. If he had pulled Tails into a loving embrace and whispered sweet reassuring nothings into his ear before he had opened his heart and laid everything bare, it would have done more harm than good. Better for him to take his traumatized friend's superficial blame, and help him begin to grieve, he had reasoned. When he fell silent and stopped heaving, Sonic silently helped him to his feet and guided him inside to his bed, the fox barely able to stand; the anguish having sapped nearly every last ounce of strength.
The Blue Typhoon had made the week-long return trip home without Tails at the helm. They checked on him frequently. He slept silently for nearly 24 hours straight after that, and was almost as silent when he woke up. Amy immediately offered him food when he came to, but he declined as politely as he could in the state he was in. Most of the time he asked to be left alone, and they respected it. Someone, nearly always either Sonic, Amy, or Chris, would check up on him every 2-3 hours, and at the 12-hour mark after he had woken up, Sonic was with him when Amy tried again to get him to eat something.
Sonic had made his third check on Tails, and was just about to leave after another nearly-lifeless dismissal from his friend when Amy came in for the second time with a tray, containing a bowl of hot cinnamon oatmeal, a few apple slices, and a cup of milk.
"I brought some more food. Are you ready to eat?" She asked him, walking up to his bed. Sonic was seated in the chair next to the nightstand.
"No, I'm not hungry." Tails said, shaking his head, not even looking at her.
"Buddy, I really think you should have something. You've gone more than a day and a half without anything to eat." Sonic added encouragingly.
"Please leave me alone." The fox pleaded, barely above a whisper, again with no eye contact. Tails hadn't been able to look Sonic in the eyes since he was given the seed, and cried and screamed at him in return. Sonic had sealed the white seed safely and securely in a petri dish that rested next to the lamp on the nightstand.
Sonic glanced at Amy disappointingly and shrugged, unsure of what to do next, and her view lowered to the floor as she turned to leave. But she didn't even get three steps towards the closed door before pausing, her shoulders visibly tensing.
"You know what? No." Amy began, turning back around, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. She retraced her steps to Tails' bedside. "You can be alone after you have something to eat."
"Amy, I said I'm not—"
"I don't care!" The pink hedgehog snapped, her voice shaking as she began to cry.
Sonic suddenly felt trapped; between a grieving depressed rock and a frustrated hard place. Tails' eyes went wide as his gaze finally met Amy's.
"We're all hurting, you most of all, no one's going to deny that. But I am not going to let you keep worrying everyone else sick and adding to their pain just because you've decided to starve and stop taking care of yourself! How do you think this would make Cosmo feel? She would never want you to do this to yourself!"
Tails was startled to the point where he had scooted back and sat up against the headboard. Amy slowly but firmly set the tray of food on Tails' blanketed lap.
"Now eat." She commanded, her lips trembling, tear-filled eyes mixed with sympathy and frustration.
The first thing Tails had to swallow was the lump in his throat, and Amy only relented and took a step back when she saw Tails shakily take the spoon in defeat and begin taking his first bite of oatmeal, his right eye letting a single tear stream down his cheek. Sonic let out a silent breath of relief; he was certain that if Tails had let two more seconds pass by in defiance, Amy would have resorted to force feeding him. On his fourth bite, Amy turned and left the room, the door sliding closed with a hiss behind her.
"I'll leave you to it, pal." Sonic said, getting up, briefly putting a hand on his shoulder, then likewise left Tails to his meal and silent turmoil.
The door closed behind Sonic, and he found Amy leaning against the adjacent wall, trying and failing to get her tears under control. She glanced back and saw Sonic come up to her.
"I'm sorry Sonic, I didn't know what else to—"
Her words ceased as he gently put a finger on her lips.
"Good job, Ames." He replied with a reassuring smile, embracing her. Amy's shoulders heaved and she returned the embrace, sniffling.
"You're not angry?" Amy asked, starting to calm down.
"Of course not. I was getting a little frustrated to at his refusal to eat too. I don't think I would've had the heart to do that." Sonic finished, rubbing her back. "He needed to eat something, and maybe he needed to be told like that."
They continued to look after him, Amy in particular insisting he take at least one meal a day, although she never again had to insist as strongly as she had that second time, but other than that, they let him keep to himself in his quarters. All they could do was continually reach out, and they had, but Tails would have to take the next step, and reach back and take their hands, when he was ready.
He had kept the seed safe as if it were a newborn child, and immediately set to cultivating it when the Blue Typhoon touched down on Mobius. A two-leafed stem sprouted from his chosen pot less than a week later, and armed with a shelf's worth of new gardening guides and books, Tails identified it as a sapling, or young tree. Over the following month, he had gone from expert mechanic and pilot to novice gardener.
Amy, Cream, and Vanilla visited him at his workshop several times a week, and even Knuckles swung by occasionally, but Sonic was the sole daily visitor. He witnessed how nearly half of his property was re-purposed bit by bit. When he had realized the seed was going to be a tree, he immediately set to excavating and aerating his normally arid backyard and preparing it with nutrient-rich soil and sod. Three weeks later, after watering two or more times a day, he had the beginnings of a lush backyard lawn.
The sound of Amy's voice and footsteps brought Sonic out of his flashbacks, and he turned to greet his girlfriend that he had been living with for the past month.
"Hey yourself, beautiful."
Amy blushed at the compliment.
"How did today go?"
Sonic began to slow his ascent as he approached Tails' workshop, having memorized his route up the hills long ago. He skidded to a halt well before coming within a hundred feet of the main building; he was no gardener, but he learned that caring for plants was delicate work at times, and the last thing he wanted to do was have his sudden arrival startle his best friend at the wrong moment.
The front of the building, with the main gate and landing strip had seen minimal renovation; the paint and markings on the strip were still largely visible, and more aesthetic improvements wouldn't be practical with the jet wash that came with every landing and takeoff. No, all of Tails' efforts had been concentrated on the interior, side, and rear of the property.
Sonic jogged down the runway and began to make his way around the left side of the building. Here, the renovations become more apparent. Annexed to the left side of the hangar was Tails' living quarters, if you could call it that; it was a third as high as the hangar, and took up barely a quarter of the square footage. Sonic had been in there before; a kitchen, small table, bedroom, and bathroom. The bare essentials and nothing more. It wasn't too surprising to anyone who knew the two-tailed fox; his whole life was in that hangar. Peering in the front window, he quickly surmised that Tails wasn't inside, and continued his trek around the building.
The immediate area behind the living quarters had been significantly transformed. After completing the first and largest steps for his backyard lawn repair, Tails had set to installing dozens of clear polycarbonate panels along the sides and rear of the living quarters and hangar, effectively turning that corner of the property into a greenhouse. Immediately after that, he installed shelves inside, and then went about soundproofing and heat-proofing the side that was shared with the sheet metal siding of the hangar. Now the young plants in here wouldn't be disturbed by the intense sound levels, or heat from the activities in the hangar. He had fashioned a simple hinged doorway that led straight to the large and open backyard, where Tails' renovations were the most apparent.
From the greenhouse backdoor, Tails had created a stepping stone path to the center of the yard, where he was currently kneeling. He had created a barrier out of a white plastic pipe, and was currently making sure it was secure in the ground around the sapling. He must have taken it out of the pot, and placed it in the center of his yard.
"Hey, buddy." Sonic greeted, announcing his presence with a wave.
Tails ears twitched in response, signifying he had heard Sonic, but the hedgehog noticed him hesitate in turning around. Two seconds passed, then four.
The twin-tailed fox turned his head to look at him, and Sonic saw the expression on his face, as he got to his feet.
"Sonic..." He greeted, his voice trembling.
"You okay, bro?"
Tails turned and walked toward Sonic. The fox came up in front of him, and could no longer hold back the tears as he began crying.
"I-I'm... S-so sorry, Sonic. You've always been there for me when I've needed you. I n-never should have blamed you for what happened to Cosmo. You gave it your all, just like you always have since I've known you. Because of that, I have this sapling, and it's as healthy as it can be. You've visited me up here every single day since we came home. I don't know what this tree means yet, but maybe it's all you were going to get. I never should have screamed at you the way I did. I do trust you. I do believe in you. I've always believed in you."
Tails lowered his head and gave the hedgehog a half-bow, more of his tears hitting the grass.
"Please... Please forgive me."
Sonic stood there, staring at his trembling friend for just a moment, before bringing his arms up and placing them softly on the fox's heaving shoulders.
"I forgive you, buddy." Sonic told him, almost physically feeling the weight being lifted from the fox's shoulders.
Tails looked up into Sonic's emerald green eyes, and sniffled as the hedgehog gave him a gentle smile, and pulled him into a hug, and he continued crying into his shoulder in relief.
To Sonic, they were just words. Empty words, because in his mind, Tails had nothing to be forgiven for. He had brushed the traumatized fox's words off barely before he fell to his hands and knees in front of him on the Typhoon. But maybe it's what he needed to hear. Unlike his silence on the Blue Typhoon that had started his grieving process, perhaps now was the time for the reassuring words.
"Don't forget that you've always been there for me too, pal. You've gotten me out of more jams than I'd care to count. So now it's my turn again, alright? I'm going to be here today, tomorrow, a week, month, or year from now; however long it takes you to pick up the pieces and put yourself back together, you hear me?"
Tails' shoulders heaved again as he started to get himself under control, and nodded, slowly pulling away and wiping the tears from his eyes.
"Now I'm betting you've been out here since before sunrise. Let's go get some lunch, what do ya say?"
The mention of a meal made Tails' stomach realize that he hadn't had anything since the apple just after he got up at five, and it was past noon.
"Yeah," he began, sniffling a last time. "That sounds great, Sonic."
"It went better than I thought. Took him to get a few chili dogs." Sonic told Amy, keeping mum about Tails' apology that afternoon. He never told anyone how Tails went hysterical in front of him on the Blue Typhoon after being given the seed.
"Coming to bed soon?" Amy asked, getting chilled as the last rays of sunlight disappeared behind the Emerald Hills.
"Yeah, I'll be there in a few, Ames."
"Alright, see you soon." Amy said, turning to go inside.
"Oh, and he told me to say sorry and thank you from him."
"For what?" Amy asked, turning to look at her boyfriend.
"Sorry for being so stubborn, and thank you for not forcing cinnamon oatmeal down his throat when you had every single reason to... His words." Sonic said with a smile. Amy gave out a short chuckle. Wow it felt good to laugh again.
"Well... Let's just say he was lucky he started eating when he did. See you in a bit, hun."
As Amy retreated back into her house, Sonic returned to his thoughts. Real progress had been made today, that was for sure. Tails' work in his backyard was opening his eyes to the world again, and he had apologized for things he had done to both Sonic and Amy, when his grief had clouded his judgment and decision-making abilities.
'Starting to peek above the soil, eh buddy?' Sonic thought to himself, remembering how he had found Tails asleep at his workbench in the hangar barely two weeks ago. The book his head was resting on was a guide to plant life, open to a chapter on grass. Sonic had taken a quick peak, and read how grass was one of the most enduring plants in the world.
'It can be flooded, trampled, eaten, even burned down to the root; and it still comes back strong as ever.'
That particular passage stuck with the hedgehog, as it reminded him most of the struggle Tails was currently going through. He had been shaken and shattered to his core, his roots, and Sonic was determined to do whatever he and the others needed to do in order to be the nutrients to help him grow back just as strong, no... Stronger than before. Right now, Tails was his blade of grass.
Sonic made a quick glance at Amy as she disappeared up the stairs to her bedroom for the night.
If anything ever happened to her...
Sonic couldn't relate to Tails' pain. It was a kind of loss he had never experienced. He had lost people before, but not like that... To have to pull the trigger yourself... He couldn't relate. The only thing he could do was be there whenever he was needed, just like Tails had been there for him.
'I've lived fast all my life, and all he's ever done is help me live it faster.' Sonic recalled how they had first met each other when he found the two-tailed fox tinkering with his plane on the beach. Before he came along, performing maintenance on that thing was one of the most tedious things he remembered doing; but Tails relished the opportunity. Sure, Sonic could fly the Tornado, but the fox could make that sucker do a song and dance number if he put his mind to it.
So now, perhaps it was time to start slowing down a bit. Maybe he already had, and was just noticing that fact. He had always cared for Amy, but lately he was, well, welcoming how she could be so clingy at times. Okay, most of the time. Still, he wasn't oblivious to the fact that Cosmo's death had made him appreciate how Amy always wanted to be there next to him. No matter how many of Eggman's robots came charging at them.
Sonic decided to give the not-so-good doctor the benefit of the doubt when he claimed that there was a very small window of opportunity for Chris to return home, which was why he couldn't say his farewells. His craft had barely vanished from the sky before the mad scientist began hatching his schemes for world domination again.
Sonic didn't feel anger towards him so much as pity.
They were all there; at the heart of the universe, they came an inch from the end of everything, and when the day, and indeed the days to come, had been saved, the notorious Ivo Robotnik went right back to his attempts to carve out his own little slice of the universe. Sometimes old habits die hard, and sometimes they don't die at all.
Then again, maybe that was how he coped.
Eggman had been the one to keep his head, and talked Tails down just enough to get him to make that impossible choice. Maybe going back to his old ways, back to what was most familiar, was just how he convinced himself that everything was still turning. It's not like they all stood there dumbfounded; Sonic and company jumped at the opportunity for excitement. Maybe a part of all of them wanted to get back to what was most familiar. Even Tails, who now spent most of his time in his new backyard garden and greenhouse, still hopped in the cockpit at a moment's notice.
With a long yawn and stretch, Sonic figured that was enough reminiscing outside tonight; he could do more of it in bed before falling asleep. He turned back and stepped inside the house, taking one last took out at the Emerald Hills before shutting the sliding glass window.
"Sweet dreams, little bro."
Today had been a good day, Tails decided.
For the past month, Cosmo's death had racked his body, mind, and heart with grief, and it had been compounded by the guilt of laying the blame for all of it at Sonic's feet in the immediate aftermath of that bittersweet victory. But now, a part of that was gone. His best friend had forgiven his grief-stricken words without a second thought.
The night sky above the Emerald Hills was clear of cloud cover, and Tails lay on a sleeping bag and pillow he had set up on the slightly slanted roof of the back of his hangar, giving him a moonlit visage of not only his developing backyard below him, but also a stunning sight of the thousands of stars above that could be seen with the naked eye. He came up here every clear night to gaze up at what they had saved; a compact sliver of the countless civilizations that she had given her life for. He wasn't ready to lay down on his young lawn just yet. When the grass was more fully developed and grew another couple inches, he'd be more comfortable with walking and laying on it. For now, he was doing all his watering from the sides with a hose, or hovering above with a watering can, only stepping on it when he absolutely needed to.
As his gaze descended down to look at the eight-inch high plastic barrier that the top of the sapling was just barely peeking out above, he began to once again imagine what the future would bring.
The Chaos Emeralds; seven of the most powerful forces of energy combined in the known galaxy, produced nothing more than a seed. What did it mean? Was this the key to the rebirth of the Seedrian race? Was it a way for Cosmo to be revived? Was it her child in some way? Or... Was it just a tree?
Tails made a conscious effort each and every day to keep all of these theories open as possibilities. If the Chaos Emeralds had given him a way to bring Cosmo back after all, it would be the most miraculous thing he would ever witness. For Sonic and Shadow's super forms to do all the work, no, it didn't seem right in the grand scale of things. Tails would have to do his part too.
But if that wasn't the case... If it didn't...
Tails felt a stinging heat in the corners of his eyes as fresh tears threatened to spill down his cheeks into the grass, but he managed to blink them away. This was why he kept other possibilities open to thought; if it wasn't the key to Cosmo's resurrection growing there in the center of his backyard, he didn't want months or years of hard work and careful tending to be for nothing and send him careening down into the pit of despair and depression again; something his new backyard had been helping him claw his way out of. Constantly being reduced to a weeping mess every time Cosmo entered his thoughts wasn't the way to live the rest of his life. He deserved better than that, his friends deserved better than that... Cosmo deserved better than that.
He would be proud of this tree no matter what it ended up being. If it was Cosmo, he would cry with joy. If it was her child, he would care for it as his own. And if it was just a tree...
Then it would be a marker. A memorial to her ultimate sacrifice so all of existence could carry on, and he would do everything in his rapidly developing expertise in gardening to ensure that he would grow old long before it did. It would be the most majestic tree on this entire continent, and his body, his workshop and hangar would be dust and memories while it stood tall among the surrounding meadows.
There wasn't a cloud in sight, so he knew there wasn't any risk of being rained on, like what happened the first time he felt like sleeping up here. He slid several inches deeper into his sleeping bag, and snuggled into his pillow, and fell asleep to the crickets chirping through the night.
Tomorrow was a brand new day.