When Autumn Comes
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! The title is symbolic, not literal. I've had this kicking around on my hard drive for years, and every now and then I come to try to fix it up and get it ready to post. Now I'm going to attempt it. It takes place during the second season of Sonic X, as described at the beginning. Specifically, it's between episodes 46 and 47. It is my effort to come up with a canonical reason why Mighty the Armadillo has completely vanished from the games and has never so much as gotten mentioned on Sonic X. Yeah, I know in reality it's copyrights or something like that, but that doesn't make for a good story! Also, I'm introducing a new, Sonic X version of a character whom I used to write for a lot. Please do not confuse him with my old version of the character.
It had been two weeks since the tournament when Emerl had gone berserk and started attacking Sonic and his friends. Some people had still not recovered from the shock--specifically Cream, who had been forced to fight against her friend Emerl to protect everyone else. With tears in her eyes, she had sent the robot plunging into the ocean where he had sunk. But not only that, a geyser of water had then shot straight up, as if Emerl had short-circuited and detonated under the water. Since then, Cream had become quiet and reserved, so unlike her normally cheerful persona. It was obvious that she was still feeling guilty for what she had had to do. Chris and the others did not know how to help her.
"I can understand her feeling bad and all," Chris said quietly to Sonic on this overcast afternoon, "but I wish we could help her! I mean, she really couldn't have done anything else." He sighed, gazing out over the expansive Thorndyke backyard. They were out on the patio, with Sonic staying as far away from the pool as possible.
"Yeah, I know," Sonic replied from where he was lounging on the wooden patio railing. He placed his hands behind his head. "Emerl was really gonna seriously hurt all of us." He still wondered exactly how that had happened. It seemed so strange, for the robot to have malfunctioned without any warning. And it seemed to have happened as soon as he had handled the red Chaos Emerald. Sonic was certain that it was not a coincidence.
Tails looked up from where he was tinkering with his airplane. "It must be really hard for her," he said, his voice sober. "I mean, Emerl was a robot, but he acted like a real person, and Cream was friends with him." He could not imagine how horrible it would be if he ever had to kill someone that he cared about. He did not know if he would ever be able to go through with it. Hopefully he would never have to find out.
"There has to be something we could do for her," Sonic frowned, sitting up.
He blinked as he saw Knuckles running toward the property. As he got closer, it was obvious that the red echidna was upset about something. His fists were tightly clenched and his amethyst eyes were flashing in anger as he stormed over. Sonic snickered to himself, wondering what had gotten the short-tempered Guardian so uptight. More than once he had told Knuckles that he just needed to calm down and chill out, but Knuckles was far too tense to even know how to do that for very long.
"Hey, Knuckles," Chris greeted. "What's up?"
Knuckles growled. "Fang the Sniper is here!" he announced. Chris just looked confused, while Tails gasped and Sonic frowned a bit.
"How do you know, Knuckles?" Sonic asked. Fang was not especially one of Sonic's favorite people, and anyway, wasn't Rouge enough when it came to greedy mercenaries? But oh well. Sonic did have to admit that he would have fun beating Fang again, if Fang was here to cause trouble. And knowing Fang, he probably was.
"I saw him!" Knuckles retorted in indignation. "He was driving that speeder and laughing to himself!" And Knuckles was not pleased in the least. He could see that Sonic was already looking forward to the challenge that might take place, but he was not. He was tired of dealing with enemies who wanted to steal the Chaos Emeralds and the Master Emerald, and he knew that Fang had been after the Chaos Emeralds in the past.
Sonic shrugged. "Maybe someone hired him for a job," he suggested.
Tails looked worried. "If he took out a contract on someone, I wonder if it's someone we know," he said. "I mean, I don't think anyone from this world would hire him." He set his tools aside and stood up. "He could even be working for Dr. Eggman again!" The little fox found this possibility to be quite likely. Eggman had hired Fang more than once in the past, and even though the mercenary did not like him much, he would accept the jobs because the pay was good.
By now Chris was frustrated at the lack of information. "Hey!" he cried in a loud voice, causing everyone to look over at him. He took a deep breath. "Who is this guy you're talking about?!" From the way they were talking, he sounded dangerous. And Chris had just been hoping that they could relax and figure out how to help Cream. If something new came up, they probably would not be able to.
Knuckles looked annoyed. "He's a no-good jewel thief, just like that bat!" he declared.
"He's more than that," Tails said quickly. "He's a bounty hunter." His tails drooped. "We've had a lot of trouble with him in the past. . . ." He remembered one time in particular, when Knuckles had believed that Sonic was out to cause trouble, and while that was going on, Eggman and Fang had been trying to get the Chaos Emeralds. That had been a disastrous case of triple trouble, especially with part of their noted "Triple Threat" working against them.
Knuckles grunted at the look Tails was giving him. Obviously he was remembering as well. And he would just as soon not; that time shamed him. He abhorred how gullible he could be at times. Living all alone on the Floating Island, without interacting with anyone else for most of his life, had certainly contributed to that aspect of his personality. But as far as he was concerned, that was not an excuse.
Sonic jumped down from the railing. "Fang's pretty good, too," he said. "That's why Eggman's hired him in the past." He grinned mischievously. "But I can always outsmart him."
Chris stared. "A bounty hunter?" he yelped. That was one thing that they had not dealt with before. And he was not certain at all that he was anxious to begin. He swallowed hard. "Does he . . . kill people?"
Sonic shrugged. "Dunno." He smirked a bit. "Even if he tried, he probably wouldn't be able to actually do it."
Tails looked at him. "We shouldn't underestimate him, Sonic," he declared. "I mean, he was the best in our world." He bit his lip. "I wonder how long he's been here. . . ."
"Well," Sonic said brightly, "maybe we should find out. See ya!" Before anyone could reply, he had run off, leaving a trail of dust in his wake.
Knuckles rolled his eyes. "Show-off," he muttered.
Someone else had learned of Fang's arrival in Station Square. Charmy the Bee had been eavesdropping on the conversation. And once Sonic had left, he hurried to get home to tell Vector and Espio what he had learned. Fang had not been heard of for quite some time, and this was urgent news. Charmy had been stunned to hear that the purple weasel was back, for more reasons than one. He had secretly been looking for him all this time. They had unfinished business, after all. And the very mention that he was back was already starting to open up old wounds.
He burst into the house, looking around wildly for the other members of the Chaotix. "Vector! Espio!" he yelled, his small wings beating at a frantic pace. "Hey! Where are you guys?"
A flicker of color appeared from the couch and then Espio appeared, looking annoyed at being disturbed. "I was taking a nap," he grumbled.
Charmy shook his head, going over and grabbing the chameleon's arm to pull him up. "But this is really big!" he exclaimed. "Knuckles says he saw Fang the Sniper here!" He continued to yank on Espio's appendage while the lavender creature started in shock. But then his eyes narrowed.
"So?" he grunted.
Charmy let go, staring at him in disbelief. "So?!" he gasped. "Espio, don't you know what that means?!" He could not believe this. The chameleon did not look impressed at all. But all of them knew what it meant for Fang to have returned. They all knew the information that he could be holding . . . and whose blood might be on his hands. They could not simply let the opportunity to question Fang pass them by!
Espio growled. "It means that you should leave him alone," he retorted. "Vector would tell you the same thing. For once it's something we're in agreement on." The serious reptile continued to frown at his energetic comrade. It had been a mutual unspoken agreement between the three members of the Chaotix that the past was not to be discussed or revisited. Their lives had to go on, and they should not go looking for unnecessary trouble. Seeking Fang the Sniper constituted unnecessary trouble.
Charmy landed on the arm of the couch. "But this is our chance to find out what really happened!" he protested. "Don't you want to know, Espio?" He clenched his fists. "Don't you want to know how . . ."
He was cut off by Espio placing a hand over his mouth. "Even if I did, what good would it do now?" came the retort. "It wouldn't bring him back. And digging into the past like that wouldn't be wise. You know it would hurt Vector." Espio's expression never changed as he looked firmly into Charmy's eyes. "He never really dealt with his grief. He pushed it aside and tried to keep going on. We all did."
Charmy flew up near the ceiling. "That's not healthy, Espio!" he cried in frustration. "I still want to know! I've always wanted to know. . . ." His voice wavered and broke. Usually Charmy was the hyper, obnoxious member of the Chaotix Detective Agency, but sometimes it had actually been somewhat of a strain to stay happy. He would often think back to how things had once been. At times he wanted to talk about it, but Vector and Espio would have none of it. They seemed to be satisfied with forgetting that once there had been four of them, but Charmy was not.
"You've always wanted to know what?"
Both of them turned to see a confused Vector standing in the doorway, holding the groceries. The crocodile set the bags down on the table and reached into one, greedily pulling out a donut. Espio was about to interject something when Charmy flew out in front of him and hurried to Vector.
"I want to know how Mighty died!" the bee declared.
Vector stared at him, his eyes wide. All was silent for the next moment, and then suddenly, he started coughing from the donut that he had put into his mouth all at once. When he finally managed to swallow, his eyes narrowed in a furious glare. "He's dead, and that's all we need to know!" he yelled then.
Charmy had completely bowled him over with this announcement. It was true, their comrade Mighty had been killed some time back, and Vector had not wanted to acknowledge it. The whole experience had pained him so much that he was content to pretend that Mighty did not exist. Of course that did not work. He thought about the armadillo every day, and about the mysterious events surrounding his death. But they would never know the truth, and Vector wanted desperately to put it all behind him. Why was he never able to forget? And now Charmy had to bring it out into the open to make it worse. . . .
"It's not either!" Charmy yelled in indignation. He was fed up with all of this. Why was he the only one willing to face their past? Why did they have to keep humoring Vector when his idea was only making everything worse? "Look, Fang the Sniper is back!" he cried. "He was seen right in town! If we could find him and question him, we might finally get some answers!"
Vector looked stunned again for a moment, but then shook it off. "Answers?" he burst out. "I'll give you answers. Mighty died because we weren't good enough to protect him!" I wasn't good enough. . . .
Charmy looked at him in disbelief. "Mighty didn't need protecting!" he exclaimed. "He was strong. . . . Yeah, sure, he kinda had an ego problem, but he was always there to help us out!"
Espio stayed silent, watching the exchange. He had known that this would happen if Charmy brought up his idea. Vector was not receptive for several reasons. In one way, he dreaded knowing the truth because he feared that then he would know for a fact that it had been his fault. Actually, Espio mused, that was probably the main reason. Well, that and the fact that Vector felt that it was just easier to deal with Mighty's death if it was never spoken of.
Espio himself was the sort who tried to never get close to people. He did not feel that he needed to discuss Mighty's demise with the others, even though the tragedy did pain him. To keep the peace, he was content to go along with Vector's wishes. But he had the feeling that the stubborn Charmy would not give up, even though both of the others would be opposing him. The chameleon doubted, however, that things would go well if the tiny bee went to confront a notorious bounty hunter such as Fang. Such a heartless creature could easily destroy Charmy if he felt like it. If another died, then Espio strongly doubted that he and Vector would be able to keep the detective agency running. And Mighty would have wanted them to. Espio was certain of it.
He looked up as the argument drew to a close. Charmy was flying out the open door and screaming, "I'm going to find out what happened! I promise I'm going to, and you'll see that it'll be better for us that way!"
Vector glared, slamming the door shut behind him. "Fine!" he yelled. "Go off and dig up the skeletons! What do I care?"
Espio grunted, prompting the crocodile to turn and give him a furious look. "Well?" he snapped. "Are you gonna agree with him? You've been pretty quiet about all of this!" Vector wanted some confirmation that this was the right thing. He did not want to be the only one trying to keep their pasts shoved in the closet. And he had always thought that the other two had agreed with him. Charmy had protested at the beginning, saying that it was not right to ignore Mighty's existence, but after a while he had seemed to settle down and accept what had to be.
The chameleon shook his head, feeling put-out. "I've always been quiet," he retorted. "Both Charmy and I usually have stood back and let you have your way, even when we haven't agreed. After all, it's hard to argue with someone who refuses to yield or to make sense." Vector's plans were generally outlandish and Espio rarely approved of any of them, but somehow he always ended up being dragged into them. Many times he had wanted to simply forget everything and leave the detective agency, but he doubted that it would last very long without him. Usually he was the only one who stayed serious about their missions without either getting bored or coming up with absurd ideas.
Vector moved closer and leaned down to be at Espio's eye level. "And what's that supposed to mean?" he demanded. "Are you calling me crazy?" Oh, he had always realized that Espio hardly ever liked the plans he came up with on their missions, and usually it did not bother him, but this time the criticism was not about their assignments, but about the way Vector was handling the relationships among themselves. And when Vector was already criticizing himself so strongly, he did not want to hear it from anyone else too.
Espio looked back, his gaze unwavering. "No," he replied then. "But you're a coward. You refuse to face the truth about the past. You're too afraid to know, because then you might find your fears are true. And because of that, you've ignored the fact that maybe not everyone has the same mind-set. You should especially know that Charmy would want to know something like this. He's just a child."
Vector straightened up, looking furious. "No one ever said anything to show me that they felt different!" he said hotly. "How'm I supposed to know?!" He slammed his fist down hard on the table, rattling it and all of its contents. "I've been handling things the way I think is best!"
Espio sighed. "You rarely listen when anyone has a different opinion than you," he retorted.
"That's not true!" Vector yelled, even though somewhere within him he knew that it probably was. "I always listen . . . I just think my opinion's better!"
"That's exactly why no one can try to talk to you!" Espio informed him. "You think everything revolves around you!"
"Oh yeah?" Vector was aware that his voice was raising, but right now he did not care. "Well, if that's the way you feel, you can just go ahead and leave the agency right now!"
"And you'll run it by yourself?" Espio frowned.
"Yeah!" Vector snapped. "I'll do fine by myself!"
"You'd never solve a case at all if I wasn't part of the team," Espio pointed out.
"And who thinks the world revolves around himself now?!" Vector cried.
"It's different when I'm just speaking the truth," Espio retorted. "Your ridiculous ideas never could get any mystery solved. Mighty never thought so, either." He realized too late that he had gone too far with that statement.
"AURGH!" Vector pumped the air with his fists, his eyes flashing. The memories were crashing through his mind, unwelcome and all too clear. Vector had made a deduction on a case that had been completely wrong, causing all of them to end up running for their lives. Mighty had decided that he could solve the mystery himself, and following an argument with Vector he had left to do exactly that. And he had learned the truth, alright--but at the price of his own life.
The case was still unsolved. The only clue they had was that Fang the Sniper had been present on the scene, and shortly afterwards he had vanished altogether from the Chaotix's knowledge. After trying and failing to find him for a short time, Vector had at last conceded defeat. He did not want the same fate to befall Espio or Charmy. As far as he was concerned, it was obvious that Fang had killed Mighty. And if they abandoned the search for him, then he would not reappear out of nowhere to murder someone else.
"Do you want to go join Charmy or Mighty?" Vector yelled now, stepping forward as he pointed at Espio. "Do you? Well, be my guest! I don't know why you've hung around here all these years anyway! It's not like you ever really wanted to. We all knew you really wanted to just be by yourself. And here's your chance! You're fired!" He gestured to the door. "Get out!"
"You can't fire me, because I'm quitting," Espio retorted in disgust. "And I'll be happy to leave." With that he headed for the door. "If you're not going to do anything about finding Charmy, then I will."
Vector glowered after him, flinching as the door swung open and then shut a moment later. It would not do any good if he went after Charmy; the bee would refuse to listen. And Vector would not be able to protect him any better than he had protected Mighty. He crossed his arms, looking away.
Everything was falling apart, right in front of his eyes. Mighty's death had really been the end of their friendships, even though they had tried to keep going. Vector had fooled himself into believing that they would be able to continue as they had been. Now, in the course of a few short minutes, he was being forced to see the truth that he had denied for ages.
He really was a coward. He had refused to speak of Mighty because he had been afraid of the pain. He had closed the case and not tried to locate the bounty hunter because he had been afraid that they would not be able to fight him and win. What was wrong with him? Normally he would be plunging headfirst into the fray, refusing to give up until the villain was caught. He still tried to act like that on their cases, actually--except on this one.
Did that mean Mighty had died in vain?
Maybe Fang the Sniper did hold the answers, but he would never give them. He would kill Charmy, and Espio, without a second thought. They actually would end up joining Mighty.
Vector whirled back, looking to the door. He might fail, but he could not stand by and let the others go off into danger without trying to help them. That was not like him at all. Not that any of them had really been like themselves since Mighty's demise. They had been shadows of their personas, using facades to get through their lives.
But no more.
Vector's eyes narrowed as he marched to the door. He would face the past and get to the bottom of this. And no one else would die in order for it to happen.