It was a watch.

Tails couldn't remember how long he had been staring at it. He was dimly aware that he had been locked in this hut for a long time, raging and snarling, hating everything. Days, maybe. But the watch. He remembered it. He used to play math games with it.

He lifted a ragged glove and pressed a button. There was the calculator on the watch's screen. He gazed at it, trying to remember how to do math. What was the multiplication table? His mind was blank. He couldn't remember.

The fox stared at the watch on his wrist, unaware that he had been locked in an empty hut for a week, or that he had torn out several of his claws by attacking the wooden walls, or that no one could get near him. He had a single, simple thought in his head--the watch. His watch that was his link to sanity.

The door cracked open, and his head jerked up, lips automatically curling back in a snarl. Why was he snarling? He forced his face to relax, and watched as someone edged into the room and shut the door behind them.

A blue hedgehog wearing both arms in a cast. As he watched, the hedgehog sat down on the floor across from him. "Hi Tails," said the hedgehog.

iTails. That used to be my name,/i he thought. iI want to attack that hedgehog, but I know I shouldn't. I know that would be the worst thing I could possibly do. But I want to bite him so bad! Calm down. He hasn't made any false moves. Watch him./i

Tails stared at Sonic, and Sonic returned his gaze for a while, then dropped his eyes. He didn't want to appear aggressive by staring too long.

"It's me, Sonic," said Sonic. "I know they told you I was dead, but I'm not. I got rescued by a bunch of Robotropolis refugees." Sonic recounted the story of his recovery, knowing that it was the sound of his voice that would get through to his sidekick. He kept his eyes on the floor, not daring to look at the fox, although he knew Tails was watching him, ears pricked.

"So then I wrecked all the machines, but I hurt my back on the last ones, and Sally and Rotor had to haul me back to Knothole on a stretcher. Ranith and Skratcher came and made me lay on my back in this weird splint thing for three days, and they've forbidden me on pain of death to spindash. Isn't that terrible?"

It might have been his imagination, but he thought Tails gave the ghost of a nod.

"Ranith and Skratcher examined you, too, and they said you're not sick or anything, its just that your mind snapped under whatever torture they did to you, and it might heal if you're just left alone. So they let me come in here because I'm your best friend, and I might get through to you. It's been a whole day now since you stopped barking."

"Sonic," Tails whispered. It was the first word he had spoken since his vow of silence in the cage in the control room.

Sonic looked up, unable to look at the floor any longer. Tails was still staring at him, but his pupils were dilated now, instead of being fiercely contracted as they had been for so long. His face was softening, losing the taut, frantic look. "Tails?" said Sonic quietly. "Do you understand me?"

The fox nodded, and held up his wrist so Sonic could see the watch. "I played math games," he said.

"Math games?" said Sonic. "On your calculator?"

"Yeah," said Tails. "It worked for a while. But it wasn't enough. I stopped talking. You said not to tell them anything, so I didn't."

"Good for you."

"Yeah. Then Robotnik would kick my cage when he got mad. It started driving me crazy. And he was always laughing about killing you. I wanted to bite him."

"Too bad you didn't." Sonic watched Tails. The fox was coming to himself the more he talked, as if the act of forming words were healing him.

"Yeah, but I tried. I tried to bite Snively, too, but they were too smart. They only handled me with robots. They did tests and stuff on me. I tried to keep from getting mad, because when I did I wanted to bite them, but then I couldn't take it anymore, and I..." Tails trailed off and frowned. "I can't remember." He looked around at the inside of the hut. "Where are we?"

"Knothole," said Sonic. "You've been off your nut for a week now."

Tails rubbed his head, then stared at his ragged, bloodstained gloves. "Sonic? What ... what did I do?"

Sonic explained how Robotnik had sent Tails out to Knothole in an attempt to demoralize them. As he recounted the story, Tails went to sit beside Sonic, still staring at his torn gloves. Then he saw the deep bitemark in Sonic's cast, and he stared at it in horror when Sonic mentioned how Tails had sprang at him and bit him.

Tails ran his tongue around his teeth. He had done that? Now he was getting scared. He huddled up against Sonic as if trying to hide from the monster he had become.

They talked for an hour, and Tails clung to Sonic, talking to the point of babbling, getting over the horrors of living in a cage and being treated like a non-sentient animal. After an hour, Sonic climbed to his feet, Tails helping him. "I shouldn't really be walking," he said with a sheepish grin. "They only let me come out here because they were desperate to help you. And I'm the only one who can do that."

Sonic knocked on the door, and it was opened from the outside. Sally looked in anxiously. "Are you okay? Tails! Tails, are you okay?"

"I am now," said Tails. "Sonic's hurt and he shouldn't be in here."

Sonic and Tails stepped out of Tails's impromptu prison, and Tails and Sally helped Sonic limp back to his hut, where he laid down with a sigh. "Another month before these casts come off," he told Tails. "You have no idea what it's like to have no hands. If my nose itches, I can't scratch it."

"I had mine tied up once," said Tails. "I was trying to run and I kept falling, and I couldn't steady myself ... um..." He trailed off, frowning. Sonic looked at Sally.

Sally stuck her head out the door and called for Bunnie Rabbot, who entered the hut a moment later. She looked at Tails warily. "Is he better?"

"I'm good," said Tails. He looked at the bandages on her stomach. "What happened to you?"

Bunnie fingered them. "Oh, nothing. I was in a wrestling match."

"You do wrestling?" Tails exclaimed, eyes popping. "Whoa! Did someone hit you with a chair?"

Bunnie smiled and relaxed visibly. "Nothing that serious, punkin. Glad you're okay." She hugged him, but Tails pulled away with a start.

"I did that. I scratched you. I remember."

Bunnie shrugged. "It's not much. It's almost healed now."

Tails's eyes filled with tears. "I hurt you, Bunnie. I thought you were trying to hurt me! I'm sorry!" He flung his arms around her middle and burst into tears.

"There there," said Bunnie, patting him on the back. "You're all better now, and nobody can blame you for going crazy around Robotnik and Snively. They're enough to drive anyone crazy."

Tails smiled through his tears. "They sure are."


Robotnik kicked the console, a stream of profanity pouring from him. The cheetah robot had been destroyed, the hostage had been rescued, and what was worse, all of his logging robots had been destroyed by Sonic. All of them!

He didn't know what infuriated him more, that all of his equipment was now scrap, or that Sonic had somehow survived. Maybe he was merely hurt and in Knothole all along, recovering. And at the last minute--the very last second--Sonic had come out to fight!

Robotnik smashed his fist on the console and regretted it, for two of the screens filled with gibberish. "Snively!" he roared, rubbing his hand. "Get in here and fix this!"

Snively hurried in, lugging a toolbox and sporting a bandage on his head. He said nothing, but set to work unscrewing the crushed keyboard. Robotnik stalked back and forth behind him, still cursing. He was in an unspeakably foul mood, and had punished Snively for selling him a faulty plan.

And now they were down one hostage, and all the machines were destroyed. Robotnik knew that he could easily build more, but Sonic would just as easily destroy them, wasting valuable resources. Not to mention that all those machines out there would be salvaged by Freedom Fighters, and their parts and weapons would be used against him.

He sat down in his throne-like chair and sank into thought. It was time to come up with something new and brilliant. Some idea that was not Snively's, but his own diabolical and flawless plan.

Robotnik smiled.


Sonic lay in the sun on the edge of one of the clearings where there had one been trees. Tails, Sally and Bunnie were busy with shovels, digging holes in the loamy soil. Fifteen saplings lay in a heap nearby, their roots wrapped in damp cloths. They had been carefully extracted from the neighboring forest, and were awaiting new homes in the cleared acreage.

"One nice thing about this," said Sally, standing up and resting for a moment. "With those big trees gone, there will be plenty of sunlight for these little ones."

"Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?" said Sonic, wishing he could get up and help.

"You said it," said Sally, smiling.

Tails straightened up. "Who's that over there?"

Everyone looked and saw a pink hedgehog trot out of the trees and look around. "Sonic!" she squealed, and dashed to him.

The pink hedgehog was followed by a brown one, and several other nondescript Mobians who appeared to be short both several meals and a bath. The brown hedgehog walked up to Sally and bowed.

"Hello. My name is Kaysar, and we're from the village of Petra."

"Pleased to meet you, Kaysar," said Sally, wishing she had time to wash her hands and brush her hair. She shook his hand anyway. "What brings you here?"

"Our village is in an unsuitable location," said the hedgehog. "It's a hard life there, and we're looking for a home suited more to our tastes, here in the Great Forest." He looked her in the eye. "And we want to aid you in the battle against Dr. Robotnik."

Sally experienced a mix of emotions--shock, joy, and worry about where to put them all. "Of course!" she said. "I'll show you to the village." She dropped her shovel and hurried off, greeting the other newcomers and fairly glowing. More people. At last, Knothole had enough people to run real missions!

She passed Sonic on her way into the woods, and saw him straining to get away from the pink hedgehog's attentions with a look of disgust on his face. Sally smiled. Every cloud had a silver lining, indeed.

The End