"This isn't what I agreed to, Ames."
"Oh, it's exactly what you agreed to, my darling." He could hear the delight in her voice; though his eyes were turned from her the blue hedgehog could plainly see the grin on her face. "You promised that if I beat you in a race you'd go on a date with me."
No, he wasn't looking at her; instead, his eyes were fixed upon the racetrack before him. The very racetrack he took issue with. Marked with floating orbs and, no more than 200 metres away, a flagpole that slowly bobbed from side to side. Two lanes of ocean had been isolated, made into a path through the positioning of small orb-shaped buoys. The two met at their ends, a larger central buoy with a blue flag marking the midway point. If the water were land it'd be simple, as fast as Amy was he'd beat her to the marker, around it and back. He'd probably pass her before she got halfway up her lane… well, maybe three quarters. But the sea was a different matter, they were stood on a beach rather than a raceway. Though he avoided water, he'd seen Amy swimming before. She was good and fast, while he might as well have been made from lead. The blue hedgehog needed a life preserver to keep himself above the surface, let alone swim a straight line. No matter how he tried to bolster himself, throwing his eyes to the sky or focusing on that flag, fear and, an emotion he so rarely faced, doubt was plaguing him.
There was a tug at his wrist. Shuddering, he pried his eyes away; allowing them to meet those of Cream. Innocent and full of empathy, she spoke. "I'm afraid that is what you said Mister Sonic. You didn't specify what kind of race, you only said that Miss Amy had to beat you."
"She's got you there, Sonic. You should've been more specific." From his other side he'd heard Tails, the young fox he trusted more than anyone, betray him over the silly technicality. "You kinda brought this upon yourself."
"D-Don't side with them Tails! You know what I meant just like they do! I mean really. When I say race, is your first thought actually…" He shuddered, looking to the lapping waves ahead of them. "…Swimming?"
Amy's didn't hesitate to answer, gleefully posing a question of her own. "Come on Sonic, what would you call this if not a race?"
Many phrases rushed through Sonic's head; a death trap, a nightmare, a one-way ticket to a watery grave, but he settled on, "Lame. Just plain lame." Unable to stomach it, he turned around; eyes closed and chin raised. "It's like challenging Knuckles to chess after he says he can beat anyone in a one on one match, or askin' the Chaotix to solve maths problems rather than mysteries. It's just not what they do, just like I don't swim."
Cream gasped, innocently taken aback. "Oh no, does that mean you're giving up Mister Sonic?"
"Of course not Cream." He'd turned back to the young rabbit, lowering himself to better look her in the eye. "Even if Amy's better at…" Despite having spoken it once already, the word 'swim' felt gross in his mouth. He shook off its vile taste, continuing to reassure the little girl. "Even if Amy's better at this than me, I've got to give it my best shot! No matter how scared you are Cream, you should never back down." It wasn't his best motivational speech, but then he wasn't in the best headspace. He was bolstering himself almost as much as he was trying to send a message.
The young rabbit gave a strong nod, the little chao in her arms matching it. "You're right Mister Sonic! You should always do your best, even when defeat is certain. You might get lucky!" It wasn't quite the glowing affirmation he'd hoped for; even though he knew the rabbit was being genuine, her lack of faith did scuff his pride. Before her wounding could show, she'd turned to face Amy. "Cheese and I will go set things up. Good luck both of you!"
With that, Cream rushed away from the group; what she had left to set up Sonic had no idea. There was a beat of silence, his gut wouldn't let him turn toward the sea and yet he didn't have the strength to face Amy. Thus, he looked to the sky; the sun was shining, the day was windless and only had a few clouds to its name. If this were it a regular race, these would be the perfect conditions.
"Sonic." All of a sudden his imagined visage of Amy was discarded, the anxious way she'd said his name had stripped it all away. "Are you actually scared? You know we don't have to do this if you don't want to"
"Me? Scared?" He snorted, both attempting to reassure her while, simultaneously, puffing himself up. "Yeah right."
"Well, supposing you were, there's nothing to worry about." Unfortunately, his words hadn't been quite enough. She probably wanted him to meet her eye. "The waters are calm today and we shouldn't be at sea any longer than ten minutes. Besides, we're not going too far out."
Finding the strength, he looked to her. Sure enough, there was a glint of concern in her eyes, hands clasped before her. He grinned, shaking his head. "Honestly Ames, I was just putting on a show to make the kids think you stand a chance. Keep things interesting. I'll totally be able to…" The word 'swim' caught on his tongue again, its mere thought made him queasy, but he forced himself through it; maintaining bravado. "Win this race, no sweat."
"Oh really? You're not?" Following his show of confidence, her concern had mostly slipped away, a smile sliding into its place. Amy had leant in, standing on her tiptoes to match his height. "It's cute seeing you flustered for once, Sonic." Perhaps his queasiness wasn't so easily hidden. "Don't worry; I'm sure it'll be an easy lap." There were few cockier than him and so, when it came to smugness, he could recognise it from a mile away. "If anything happens just call me and I'll swim over to save you. I want you in one piece for our date after all."
Attempting to exceed her cockiness, Sonic rose to his own toes and outsized her once more. A winning smirk returned to his lips. "Don't you worry about me Ames, it may be calm now but as soon as I'm out there it's going to get choppy. Maybe duck under when I pass by, the waves are gonna be huge."
"Yes Sonic, I'm terrified of your doggy-paddle." Once again, his endeavour had failed. "Well, as long as I can hear your screaming over the splashing you're in safe hands." Amy lowered herself, turning on her heel, but before she left she looked back to him, a gentler smile on her face. "As much as I want to win, more than that, I hope you have fun; I know you enjoy competition after all. Good luck Sonic!"
"Y-Yeah, good luck Ames!" He ran his finger beneath his nose and, before he could stop himself, called out in reassurance. "Don't worry so much, swimming or running, I like spending time with you." He almost bit through his tongue as she turned around. A pinkness matching her hair had snuck onto her cheeks. "I mean, having you around keep things interesting… you know what I mean?"
Amy's hands clasped, her smile blinding. "Aww, Sonic! Of course, I know what you mean!"
When Miss Rose turned around the spring in her step had more than doubled. He rubbed his forehead. Sonic wasn't sure which parts of that conversation he regretted and, while he was no stranger to making a fool of himself, the knot in his stomach and heat he was feeling were a little too much to handle. He took a deep breath, circling his shoulders, and tried to push out such thoughts. What's done was done, he'd talked a big game so he had to do something… even if winning wasn't in the cards. Just what that something was, he had no idea. Planning was difficult…
"If you're so worried about it why don't you just run off?" Tails question pulled Sonic from his stupor; the little fox had raised a good point. "It's not like you haven't before."
"As stupid of a race as this is, I did kind of promise her, you know?" He ran a hand through his quills, continuing to ignore the heat on his cheeks. "Running off now, it'd just be wrong. Uncool even."
"Wow, I guess this really was smart of her. I didn't realise your word to her meant that much." A glance to Tails proved a fact he'd feared, there was a broad grin on his face. The smugness was spreading.
Flashing his own grin Sonic reached down, ruffling the young fox's ears. "Nah, it's just that Cream's here. Got to be a good role model, after all, I can't let her think heroes back down from a challenge. Let alone lie."
The young boy snorted. "Yeah right, you just don't want to admit it."
"Admit what?" He feigned ignorance.
"Though you whined about the race, and I'm sure you'll moan when you lose, you don't think Amy winning would be such a bad thing." Sonic could practically hear his influence in the young boy's taunts. "In fact, I bet you want to go on that da-
The hedgehog continued to noogie him, further messing his fur and cutting him off. "Yeah, well, when I beat her in this race I'll prove you doubly wrong, won't I? That'll be a change."
Finally, the boy genius pushed him off. The grin on his fluffy muzzle was forced into view. "Lucky I brought your inflatable then, isn't it? Or will you not be needing them, seeing as you're so confident."
Hands crossed over his heart, an overly pained expression overcame the Blue Blur's face. Bending his right leg he allowed himself to lean on the young fox as if he'd been gravely wounded. "My own little bro, siding with the enemy. Where did I go wrong? You knew about this, you knew they'd tricked me all this time and yet you said nothing. Oh Tails, how could you?" His right arm raised to cross his brow as he began to mock cry; "My own bro, betrayed by my own bro!"
Laughter erupted beneath him, Sonic heard the sound of feet struggling to kick up sand as the little fox struggled to support him; "It's not like I could've done anything about it, you agreed before I could say anything."
At that, Sonic brought himself to stand straight; whipping a final faux tear from his eye. "I suppose I'll find it in my heart to forgive you then. Stop me next time though, alright? Tackle me to the ground if you have to, you're meant to be my brains."
"Fine, fine, I promise I'll stop you next time." Tails promised. Reaching behind himself and into a small rucksack, the youth pulled out a dark blue lifejacket. On its shoulder a new addition, a bright orange whistle on an extendable cord.
Sonic took it with a sigh, pulling it over his shoulders before doing the buckle around his belly. "You're really confident in me winning, aren't you Tails?"
He shrugged, that smugness had returned. "Better to be safe than sorry,"
The blue blur turned back to the water, Amy wasn't lying when she said it was calm. It must have been close to low tide but the beach was long and empty. A glance further up the bank revealed Cream and Cheese, staking two flags into the sand; both their finish line and likely starting point. So, there would be a dash from land to water before the true challenge started. While at first he'd thought this would merely give him a small head start, an idea snuck its way to the forefront of his mind. There was a technique that, while difficult, he had performed before in times of crisis. The sand sprawled out far enough for it, the only problem he could really foresee was rounding the midway buoy, a sharp turn. If he could control his turning long enough to manage that then things would be fine. Running on water, well… it was worth a shot at least?
"Well, good luck finding your nerve. I'm sure you'll have fun on the date." Before Sonic could get in another word, Tails had taken off; tail spinning as he rushed over to aid the young rabbit.
Rolling his eyes, Sonic opened the valve in his lifejacket and started to blow; inflating it until he felt safe. The young fox wasn't necessarily wrong; even if this plan didn't work out he was more scared of the water than he was the practically inevitable date. Despite his stutter and regret, he hadn't lied; he did enjoy spending time with her. Amy was always excited to see him and she could pull reactions from him that no one else could. She kept him going like no one else could. Pacing, he cast his eyes across the water's surface; watching the waves froth as they broke against pale sand. It really was gross, everything from the scent of salt to the sound told him he wasn't meant to be here. Even the sand beneath his feet was uneven; it kicked up with every step and certainly didn't make for smooth running. Standing on the beach was definitely way worse than lying on the beach, at least then he could keep his distance from the water, listen to music and properly daydream.
"I thought I'd be seeing you at the starting line, I'm surprised you're still hanging back here." Amy had returned, freeing him from his thoughts. "You'll be swimming in your shoes then?"
"Figured I'd end up waiting for you no matter what." He grinned, turning to her as they wandered toward the finish line. "And well, if we're starting with a sprint I ought to get the most out of my head start."
Her red dress had been shed in place of a red swimsuit. While he tried not to think too long about it, let alone stare too long, he did think it suited her. It was a simple, red, one-piece suit but, around the waist, it had additional fabric that flared out to give the guise of a white skirt with a thin red hem.
"I thought you were going to win this race no sweat." She teased.
Winning would still be difficult but with his plan in mind; there was a spark of genuine confidence in his heart. "Well yeah, but this way you won't even make it to the water. No point in you getting soaked over what's sure to be a landslide victory."
"Oh, we'll see about that." They arrived at the starting line, Cream having gathered pebbles from the surrounding area to construct the start/finish line itself and flags being planted to better separate their lanes. "If you're going to do your best, so will I."
As she started to stretch, warming up well for someone certain they'd win, he couldn't help noticing Amy's hairband had been replaced with a messy bun; her quills bundled near the back of her head. Despite telling himself he wouldn't, he'd found himself staring at the cute sight; pulled in by her excitement. Tearing himself away he reached across his body, beginning a stretch of his own.
With the kids continued to set things up, Tails preparing a camera in case (by some miracle) a photo finish occurred, Sonic saw idle opportunity to pry. "So Ames, what did you have in mind for that date?"
"You'll just have to wait and see." She swapped from crossing her right arm against her body to the left.
"What, no spoilers?" He bent down, touching his toes before reaching behind himself; feeling his calves warm. "Come on Amy, give me a hint at least."
"I know the only way to keep you interested is to keep you on your toes," She continued to refuse. "If I told you now, wouldn't you get bored?"
"A deal's a deal, isn't it? I'm coming on the date if you win, no matter how gross it is." Another glance to Amy found her mid-lunge, returning his gaze. "But that doesn't matter, I'm only asking 'cause I'm gonna win. Tell me now, it might convince me to lose on purpose."
"We both know, as soon as your feet leave the sand, you're going to get stuck my darling." She jested. "Regardless, I want you to enjoy yourself on the date so…"
"So?" He quirked a brow, awaiting her statement.
"Well…I haven't quite decided what we're doing yet." That surprised him; Amy had been asking him out for as long as he could remember… yet she had nothing planned? She elaborated. "I've waited so long for this, I've had my heart set on so many ideas, but now it's so close I'm not sure what I want to do." She stood straight, rolling some final kinks out of her shoulders. "Twinkle Park, going to the movies, getting dinner… I can't decide." There was a sparkle in her eyes that, coupled with the glow in her cheeks brought on by her warm-up, was too much for him.
Maybe, if his plan did work out, he'd treat her to something anyway. Go out for chilidogs or maybe just hang around the beach a little longer, today felt like an ice cream and relaxing kind of day.
Having caught himself staring again, Sonic turned away. "Well, it's good you're not set on anything seeing as I'm gonna win."
"In your dreams my darling Sonic." The pink hedgehog had taken her place on the starting line, lowering herself to a crouching start position.
Sonic matched it, fingertips buried in the sand and eyes locked on the path ahead. The running lane couldn't be longer than twenty metres, even that was a higher estimate. Still, he figured it would be enough to build up the speed, he'd grab onto the buoy on the way around for turning leverage. Yeah, that seemed like it'd work!
At the edge of his lane stood Tails and at Amy's stood Cream, both prepared a flag in one hand and a whistle in the other. Cream was beaming. "The first one back wins! Good luck you two!"
"On your marks…"
With the blow of the whistle he was off, kicking up sand and bolting forward as fast as he could; not a glance to Tails nor even back to Amy as he claimed his lead. No sound but his footfalls and breathing filled his ears, vision tunnelled on the midway buoy. Soon the dull thudding of his feet turned to splashing, the smack of his soles against water, he had to be prepared for that; had to maintain his pace, quicken it even. He could feel the wind cutting against his cheeks, muffling the sun's warmth as the pounding of his heart grew faster.
Then it happened, the first splash; he'd arrived in the shallows! Sonic closed his eyes, refusing brace himself lest it slowed him. Seaspray coated his body, beads of water like bullets buried into his fur to mingle the salt of his sweat with their own. His footfalls continued; short, rapid, splashes that blurred into each other, making it impossible to identify how far out to sea he was. Confident he could keep this up, the hedgehog's eyes reopened. As he could feel, the waters directly in front of him were flickering up with every step; colliding with his legs and bare stomach. He refocused on the buoy, growing closer with every fraction of a second, in preparation he reached out with his right arm. It couldn't have been ten seconds since he'd left the beach, probably closer to five.
The hedgehog lent in preparation for the turn. Contact was made with the flag. His fingers coiled around the pole's length. A resounding snap cut through his wet footfalls. The flagpole hadn't been strong enough to handle his speed and had broken in two; before he could even realise what had happened it was dragging behind him. The drag from the pole had an immediate impact on his speed, rather than bounce off the surface Sonic's next footfall splashed straight through it. Sonic quickly let go of the pipe but it was already too late, his slowed (but still considerable) momentum led him to bounce off the surface twice, splashing deeper each time, before he found himself submerged and spinning.
The world was a blur, his mouth opened only to fill with seawater as his head dunked time and time again, carried by his own prior speed. When he finally stabilised and surfaced he'd completely lost his bearings, coughing and spluttering the hedgehog found himself surrounded by ocean; kept afloat by his life vest more than his awful attempt to tread water. His shoes waterlogged, he could already feel them starting to slip. Limbs smacking against the surface, Sonic was struggling to turn. Craning his neck, bobbing as though he were tempest-tossed, Sonic could see the base of the buoy and, no more than a few metres beyond that floating grey orb, a bobbing pink head on the approach.
Having spat up what was either his fourth or fifth mouthful of water, he felt a wave meet with his back and push him ever so slightly closer to the floater. He knew he was supposed to lean forward, kick his legs and swing his arms, but the position was just too bizarre to him. The hedgehog was at his best upright, sprinting, not lying down and flailing. Thus, precisely as Amy had predicted, Sonic found himself doggy paddling; arms fumbling through the water as he ran in place. His pace was gruelling, though he continued to wriggle the truth he'd always known had set in. In the water, he stood no chance of beating Amy.
Her consistent, fast-paced, breaststroke was cutting through the water unfazed by its gentle waves. As he watched the pink hedgehog approach he did, admittedly, feel himself relax. Tail's lifejacket, despite its condescending whistle, was keeping his head well above the water despite his frantic efforts. He wasn't comfortable but, at the very least, seeing her so close made him feel safe. Before he could quite make it to the buoy she'd pulled up in front of him, coming to a halt and treading water so very casually.
Soaked and ragged, he used most of his remaining smarm. "Hey, Ames. Long time no see."
"Hey." That prior cockiness wasn't there, instead that gentle smile she'd worn when she'd worried about his fear. "Need a little help?"
"Maybe just a little, looks like you're goin' my way and getting there way faster than me." He smiled.
"Nothing to it but practice." She'd gotten closer still, floating shoulder to shoulder with him. "Wrap your arm around me and I'll show you."
He fully stopped treading water, taking her offer and allowing herself to properly float with her. It'd be a lie to say he wasn't embarrassed but, given the situation, he thought he was keeping his cool rather well. "I think it'll be lost on me but I'll give it a shot."
Amy lowered herself, laying flat in the water, and began to swim again. She'd slowed yes, head permanently raised above the water rather than bobbing, but her pace was still ten times what his had been, "You just need to understand that, as long as you keep moving, you'll keep floating."
"You say that but without this vest, I'd have sunk like a stone regardless of how hard I struggled." He explained.
"That's where the practice comes in, the more you do it the longer you'll manage to stay up."
"I'm sure you're right Ames, but, I think I'll just stick to dry land wherever I can." He couldn't help staring at her as she swam; powerful arms cutting through the water. Words seemed to bubble up without his say. "Then again, I guess I would like to practice running on water some more. If I'd made it around that corner I'd have beat you for certain."
"Well, if you want another shot at it you could always challenge me to another race." He could tell she was joking, at least mostly, "Although, I've yet to decide on our first date, let alone a second…"
As she raised the deal again, a thought entered the hedgehog's head, one he hadn't considered until now. Thinking fast, Sonic waggled his forefinger; "I said if you won I'd go on a date with you, not what kind of date we'd be going on." Finally, having been soaked and beaten, things were back to their natural state. He was the one being cocky. "That means I get to pick what we do."
"Oh Sonic, you really think that matters to me? Of course, you can pick our first date! I'd love that!" Her swimming slowed, she'd turned to look over her shoulder. A smile had spread across her lips, still gently pulling him along. "I didn't pick this race because I knew I'd win, I picked it so you couldn't keep running once you cleared the finishing line. Any time spent with you is a good time."
"Y-Yeah, sure, wh-whatever, Ames." Though he couldn't bring himself to admit it, surrounded by ocean and blushing profusely, he felt the same.