Present Tense

By Formerly Known As

Author's Note: It's a miracle. I'm ALIVE!

Anyway, this is a request from Outcasts Productions, along with many apologies for STILL not having completed our trade.

No, I don't do requests anymore. Yes, I still do trades, but considering I've had OC's trade for a year now and still not fulfilled my end, let that be a warning as to what you'll be getting into.

Also, much love goes out to my beta-reader, the joyous person who lets me know when I typed 'burry' when I really meant 'bury,' used the wrong verb tense, and left out really REALLY important words. Thanks for all the help, Xelia.

Disclaimer: Sonic the Hedgehog and related characters are property of Sonic Team. Sally Acorn and related characters are property of Dic. Writing is property of Formerly Known As. Steal and suffer the wrath of sporks.

To Outcasts Productions. I'm working on your trade, really I am.


In a lot of ways, it really wasn't a surprise.

"There's no fucking way!"

All things considered, the types of toxins Robotnik used in his factories, the amount of times those factories had exploded, sending plumes of filthy smoke into the air, the city itself, it's water and air crowded with really was no surprise.

"This can't just fucking can't be..."

Then again, it was quite a surprise.

"You're lying!"

After all, Sonic the Hedgehog was supposed to die in a firey blaze, on a mission, battling his enemies, slashing through anyone who got in his way, till they finally dragged him down, kicking and screaming, taking out as much as he could.

"There's no fucking way...stop LYING to me!"

He wasn't supposed to die of cancer at the age of seventeen.


But it looked like that was what was going to happen.

Sally snapped Nicole shut, brushing her bangs out of her eyes, watching as Sonic stamped off, furious. She let him go, knowing he needed some time to process the idea on his own. Probably at a run. Doctor Quack was reassuring the people who had gathered that nothing was wrong, to go back to their huts, there wasn't anything to see here. Antoine was standing to the side, stiff as a board, probably in shock. Rotor was shuffling around, trying to conceal his own worry and shock. Bunnie was comforting a sobbing Tails, reassuring the young fox after Sonic's enraged yelling. Sally stood in the middle of it all, wishing she had someone to comfort her as well.

She stared at the small computer in her hands, praying she could open it and the results would somehow be changed. That she wouldn't be told that within six months, maybe less, she would lose Sonic forever. That she wouldn't have to sit by and watch helpless as Sonic faded away from her slowly.

Instead, Sally slipped the computer back in her boots. She had checked, rechecked, asked at least ten second opinions...and the verdict was always the same, minus or plus a little time. Sonic was dying. And Robotnik was killing him, as surely as if the fat man placed a gun to Sonic's head and pulled the trigger.

Sonic had cancer. Sally said the words in her head as she walked slowly back to her hut. Sonic the Hedgehog had cancer. A malignant tumor in the soft tissue of his brain, about the size of an unshelled pecan, but promising to grow larger. Much larger. They'd discovered it about a week ago when Sonic fainted before a mission for no reason. He said it was just the stress, but Sally knew better. She knew Sonic, actually. Knew that he'd been hiding dizzy spells and suffering from a nearly continuous onslaught of headaches for the past few weeks. When he fainted, it only confirmed to Sally that something was very wrong with the azure hero.

But she'd never, ever thought it might be cancer.

She should have, of course. Cancer was a perfectly natural disease and considering all of the carcinogens that Robotnik used, very understandable. And yet, Sally just could not imagine it. Any of the other freedom fighters, Bunnie, Antione, Rotor, herself, even innocent little Tails, she could at least vaguely imagine catching and dying from some type of horrible illness. But not Sonic. Never Sonic. She could not imagine cancer striking Sonic. Could not imagine Sonic ill, at all, from any disease. Could not imagine the hero dying slowly, painfully hanging on till the very end, till the cancer ate him alive and there was nothing left to fight with.

Could not imagine a world without Sonic.

Sally pressed a hand to her eyes, feeling the tears that were leaking from them. She swallowed fiercely and held her poise, refused to break down. She would not, could not let everyone else see her break down. Sally Acorn was the leader. And there was no reason to alarm everyone, let them know that their one hope in this fight was dying.

Doctors predicted from around four to six months before Sonic...succumbed. Some said less, some said more. Sally tended to agree with the longer predictions, not out of false hope. But out of knowledge of Sonic. The blue hero would not go down without a fight. Would not die easily. Sonic never made things easy. He would not give up. He would fight to the very bitter end.

And how that would hurt. Watching him fight. Watching him lose. Losing him, inch by inch.

Sally made it to her hut, just barely in time, to break down crying.

Three days later, there was a knock on Sally's door at nearly two in the morning.


The princess rose from bed, threw on a robe she kept nearby for just such emergencies. There were often knocks on her door late at night, as the Freedom Fighter business was fraught with emergencies at any hour. And anyway, she hadn't actually been asleep, merely laying on the bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark, because that was what one did late at night when they're suppose to be sleeping, but can't. It had been a difficult week, as far as sleep went. It had been a difficult week period. It probably would not get better.

Sally opened the door to reveal a hunched form standing there, arms wrapped around itself, despite the warm night. The bowed head lifted and emerald eyes stared at Sally, as exhausted and tired as her own.

She had known, somehow, that it would be Sonic at the door. One of those instinctive times when you just knew who it would be, in a way that went beyond thought or prediction and just became knowing. Because it just made that much sense.

They stood there, staring at each other in the darkness of the night.

Finally, Sonic's soft voice broke the silence. "How long have you known?" It was the first thing Sonic had said to Sally, since he'd found out.

Sally's voice was equally soft. She had to swallow before speaking. "We got the first diagnosis in a couple of days after you fainted. After that we spent several days doing more tests, to make sure."

Tired emerald eyes searched her soul. "Did it really take a whole week to figure out what was wrong with me?"

Sally shook her head, unable to stop the tears that welled up in her eyes. No, the first diagnosis had been correct. As had the second, third, and fourth. She just didn't want to tell him, as though not telling him would keep it from being real, keep her from losing Sonic. "I didn't know how to tell you."

He snorted. "You told me well enough in the end, didn't you?" The sarcasm in his voice was biting and Sally looked away.

There was a short uneasy silence, in which Sonic struggled, before finally saying, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. It's just....I can't....I'm damn pissed. Everything....everything's fucked up right now, you know?"

Sally just nodded, mutely. Fucked up was a very accurate description of things right at the moment.

Sonic sighed, raking a hand through his quills. "I mean, I always knew I'd die one of these days. Heroing ain't exactly the most medically sound profession, y'know?" For a moment, that old grin flashed across his face before fading just as quickly. "I just always thought that it'd be...later...I never wanted to die, I mean, who does? I just...didn't think someone'd ever come up to me and say, 'Oh, hey, you've only got this long. Then you're gone. So, yeah, bye.'" The blue hedgehog took a deep breath, swallowing hard. "'Cause, ya' know...I ain't very good at goodbyes, Sal."

She just nodded again. An instant later, he was collapsed in her arms, sobbing brokenly into her robe. Sally held him tight, tears falling silently into his shaking quills, sliding down the sharp curves to hit the ground below, like rain.


"Is there anything we can do about it?"

She cringed at the question. Not that she hadn't expected it, because really she had. It was one of those inevitable questions, just as inevitable as telling Sonic had been. That didn't make it in any way an easier question.

They were lying in each other's arms on Sally's bed. The princess could not quite remember how they got from crying in her doorway over to the bed and what had happened there. Only that it had somehow seemed natural, right, and just what was needed.

Sally shook her head no, against Sonic's cobalt fur. "We don't really have the technology or equipment, Sonic. Almost any operation, except for removing shrapnel is pretty much beyond our doctors these days. We don't have the proper tools for sanitation or the operation itself. All sorts of complications could arise and..."

"There aren't exactly a lot brain surgeons around anymore, eh?"

A nod into cobalt fur. Sonic had nailed the main problem. Sanitation, tools, those things could be worked around. But Robotnik had turned the adult population into robots, over ten years before. There hadn't really been anyone left to teach such intricate procedures as brain surgery to the new generation, nor much reason for the new generation to learn. They had their own set of problems. And brain tumors hadn't been part of that set.

Till now.

Sonic 'hmmed' softly when he felt Sally's answer. The squirrel twisted around just enough so she could see Sonic's face. The hero's eyes were closed, his face calm in the way that for Sonic, meant he was thinking. She spoke again, softly, "Even if we were able to remove the tumor....there's no way of knowing if that would fix the problem, Sonic. It's possible that the cancer has...spread."

Emerald eyes flicked open, nearly glowing in the darkness. "Spread?"

Sally nodded, feeling her heart sink. "Cancer spreads to other parts of the body. You may already have tumors forming elsewhere. We can't...can't be certain how....far gone this spread is, Sonic." They could find out, with a little work. But there wasn't really a reason. Left untreated, the brain tumor would kill Sonic in six months or less.

Sonic grunted in reply, his eyes closing again. There was a faint furrow in his brow as he thought this over too. In the long silence that followed, Sally contented herself with just staring at the blue hero. She reached up a hand, running her palm down the side of his face and quills. "So I'm really gonna die."

Her hand froze and she stared at him. Green eyes flicked open to meet her gaze. He gave her a soft smile. "Oh, don't look at me like that, Sal. You know me. I'm always squirming out of crazy situations. Impossible situations." Sadness filled his emerald gaze. "But this time it looks like this hedgehog's got nowhere to wriggle out."

There were tears in Sally's eyes yet again that night. It was one thing to think those words in her head or even out loud. It was another to hear Sonic say them. ", don't say that Sonic. There....there's still a way out of this! I'm sure there is, if we just...."

Still smiling, Sonic leaned down and laid the gentlest brushing kiss on her forehead. "Don't bother, Sal. I'm the insane optimist here, remember? You try and you'll just strain yourself."

There was humor in his voice, but Sally could not stop crying. This time, Sonic held her close as she sobbed, crying his own silent tears into her hair.


It was a very nice funeral, though those words together sounded almost profane. But all in all, it really was a nice funeral. They'd chosen to bury the hero near the ring pool, a place where one could often find Sonic, lounging in the shade or waiting for a ring to appear. However, the ring pool was far too small a space for the large gathering that showed up, so they held the actual ceremony in the center of Knothole. Afterwards, a great procession carried the hero to the Ring Pool, for the last time.

Everyone had searched high and low for black cloth, which hung in every window in Knothole. The town center was filled with people from every corner of Mobius, here to pay their last respects, dressed in the very best they had. Bunnie and Tails had spent the whole morning picking flowers from everywhere they could think of and if the affair was more colorful than somber, at least it was fitting of the hero's spirit. Just about everyone in Knothole had wanted to speak, as had many people from elsewhere, including most of the Wolf Pack. But ultimately, it was decided by all, that Knuckles the Echidna should speak.

It seemed like an odd choice at first. Surely someone who knew Sonic better than the aloof echidna should speak. Surely the Princess should speak! But when Knuckles took the podium and began to speak, faltering at first for he was used to neither large groups of people or speaking, but with growing strength, it became apparent that the red echidna was the perfect choice.

Knuckles did not speak of Sonic as a great hero, who had saved everyone. He did not even really speak of Sonic as a friend, for he and Sonic were only barely that. But he did speak of Sonic with respect. And with complete honesty.

He talked about who Sonic was. A goofball, yes. Impertinent, yes. Impatient as hell, yes. Stubborn beyond belief. Annoying. A tease, a taunt, a real pain in the ass. A hedgehog with an annoying habit of never leaving people alone. Of becoming friends even when the other did not realize that a friend was what they really needed, what they really wanted.

He talked about how Sonic was with his friends. He never seemed to appreciate them, always rushed off without thinking about them. But whenever they were in trouble, he was there in a sonic second. He talked about Sonic's taunting but amusing way of treating Antoine. Of the blue hedgehog's many nicknames for everyone. Of his deep brotherly love of Tails. Of his tender love for his princess.

He talked about how Sonic fought in battle, observations from the sidelines, from the hero's side in a fight, from the other side as Sonic's opponent. Of Sonic's speed and power, but mostly his indomitable will in battle which always kept the hero going, no matter what the odds, how much better his opponent was, or how tired he was.

He spoke of the nobility and honor deep within Sonic. Never there on the surface, but if you dug in just a little bit, you'd find them.

He spoke of a hero's heart of pure gold in a cobalt package.

The hero was gone. But he had left behind many people who still glowed from his golden touch.

It was a good funeral.

If such words could really describe a funeral.


Sally had about eight months. Well, maybe closer to seven and a half.

It was hard to guess an exact date on her own. She ought to talk to the doctors. But she was not ready yet.

The only other person who knew was Knuckles, who stood beside her at Sonic's grave that evening of the funeral. Sally and Knuckles watched the sunset reflected in the gravestone, as it was painted bright red and dusky orange and faded pink. It was not the last time Sally would watch the sunset in this manner, merely the first.

The two had been standing in silence for a long time, since before the sunset started. Everyone else had returned to Knothole to mourn in their own ways, some crying on each other's shoulders, others contemplating in the quiet of their huts. But Sally could not leave the grave. Could not leave him.

"I wonder if he knew," she said, voice barely above a whisper. She placed a hand on her stomach. "I never told him. I...there wasn't enough time, you know."

A shrug from her companion. "Who knows? None of you were expecting him to run off like he did. You said it yourself, it was supposed to be an ordinary mission."

"I know, but still..."

Knuckles snorted in response. "It's Sonic, Princess. You know how he is. It's got to be a big battle for him or bust. If he hadn't gone and done it with Robotnik, I would have had to come down and have the grand show down with him myself."

It was not six months later.

It was not even four months later.

It was a month later, maybe. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. And Sonic was gone. By his own choice, his own way.

She reached out a hand as though to touch the stone, then let it drop. "I wonder why he did it. I really do. Why he...cut himself so short."

"He's not the sort to go without a fight, Sally. He couldn't fight the cancer. So he found someone else to fight. And you know he's wanted to go after Robotnik like he did since day one Robotnik took over."

Sally closed her eyes. "Please stop talking about him in present tense, Knuckles. He's gone, okay? I have to accept that." Tears slipped down her face.

Red spines swayed as Knuckles shook his head. "You know, I was confused when you asked me to give a funeral speech for Sonic. Echidnas don't really have burial ceremonies, per say. We bury our dead, but we don't set up monuments for them. I guess you could say we don't honor our dead, but really we don't believe in death."

She gave him an incredulous look. It was the stupidest thing she'd ever heard, or so it seemed at the moment.

Knuckles just shook his head and continued speaking. "Amongst my people, when someone dies, it isn't a matter of losing someone, it's a matter of gaining something else. Those that die, change form. They are not lost, but they remain with the people who remember and love them. When someone dies, all that they are becomes part of those they leave behind. Each person who remembers Sonic, who knew Sonic, now have a part of Sonic inside of them. He has become part of us all. So he's not really gone. Just different."

He placed a gentle hand over the hand on Sally's stomach. His large hand covered most of her stomach. "He's still alive. In you, Sally."

That got a wry smile out of her. "That's so fucking corny, Knuckles. I'm sorry, but it really is."

He smirked back, but did not remove his hand. "It's true, Sally. On a lot of levels. He's alive in your memories of him. He's alive in the parts of you where you still remain hopeful, because you know he would do the same. He's alive in everything he left you." The hand pressed a little more firmly against her stomach. "Here especially."

The tears spilled down Sally's face freely now. "I miss him, Knuckles. I miss him so much and he hasn't even..." A great sob choked her off.

Knuckles pulled her into a gentle hug, petting her hair, while she cried. "I know," he murmured. "I know, Sally...I know."

She pulled away from him, pressing a hand against her eye. "I don't want to be without him. I loved him so much and I don't know if I can be without him and if it weren't for..." she broke off sobbing, clutching her stomach.

Knuckles pulled her back into his grip and this time she crumpled against him, sobbing. She cried into his red fur, cursing and wailing and wishing it was all so very different. And he just held her and let her sob and pound her fist against him when that was what she needed.

Night had fallen by the time she stopped. The gravestone was a dark monolith, grim and cold. Sally sniffled and pulled away from Knuckles, rubbing her eyes with one hand, while the other dropped to her stomach again. "I wonder if he knew," she repeated. "I wonder if he knew, and that's why he decided to go after Robotnik. Because he knew I'd have to hold on. Even with him gone."

Knuckles shrugged as he helped steady Sally and then walked with her back towards the dim lights of Knothole. "Who knows? It's Sonic. I wouldn't put it past him, but at the same time, he really isn't known for being very observant. So who really knows." He looked up at the stars flickering to life above. "Are you really going to run a mission tomorrow?"

Sally nodded, wiping away her tears and slipping out of Knuckles grip to walk on her own. "We need to act fast before Robotnik can recover. I'm not letting the advantage Sonic gave us go to waste. And it's an entirely volunteer based mission, so those that need to mourn can do so."

"Don't you think that maybe you should be in that category, Princess?"

She shook her head. "I'm not good at mourning, Knuckles. I need something to focus on or God only knows what I'll do. And I don't want to let this go to waste."

Knuckles nodded, but placed a hand on Sally's stomach again. "I can understand that, but don't you think you need to be careful, Sally?"

She just smirked. "That's what you're here for, though, isn't it? That's why Sonic called you down here. To keep an eye on me."

A shrug. "Partially. He was worried you'd do something stupid without him, I think."

"And I might, I suppose," she agreed. She stopped on the boundary of the village, with the first glowing lights just visible. "I loved him, Knuckles. With all my heart and now he's gone and it feels like half of me is missing. You can't really blame me for being less than emotionally stable at the moment. But I don't think Sonic would have wanted me to stop. To give up. So I have to keep fighting for him. And for...for..." Her hand dropped to her stomach. "For both of us, I guess."

Knuckles smiled and lifted Sally's face to meet his eyes. "Don't talk about loving him in the past tense, Princess. That's still very much a present tense situation, with or without Sonic beside you."