One thing that bothers me about fanfiction – and some official material, for that matter – is that so many people make their protagonist 'perfect.' I appreciate the Sonic series and Sonic as a character, because he is not perfect. He is impatient and impulsive. He has not dodged every blow aimed at him. And, of course, he can't swim. As an author, I try to take those character flaws and inabilities… and test them. If you've read some of my other work, you'll find I do this quite a lot.
Some people think the reason Sonic stays clear of water is simply because he can't swim; others believe that he's also afraid of it. I don't know what's canon, but for the sake of this story, he does indeed fear water. If it seems a little exaggerated, that's because it is – also for the sake of the story.
Tails tells this according to the way he sees it, by the way, except for the first section which is third-person. Speaking of the first section, when you first start reading, you're going to think, "Oh, I've seen this before; same old Sonic vs. Eggman stuff," but I assure you there's a reason for it, and that this story will in fact turn out to be something unlike anything you've seen before.
I believe that's enough out of me for one author's note. Please review; constructive criticism is also welcomed.
Sonic shook his head and grinned.
"Okay, cool, have a head start," he muttered, watching as the exceptionally obese man he had just been fighting began to flee in his machine. He stood there a full ten seconds before rolling his eyes and finally giving chase. It took him half of that time to catch up.
"Seriously, Eggman, why do you even bother?"
"Stubborn rat! You've won, I've lost – now is the part where you're supposed to stand there with that irritating smirk on your face and watch my trail of smoke until…"
"Under normal circumstances, you're right, but I'm not letting you out of my sight until that bomb is out of your sight!"
The doctor frowned. He hadn't planned on Sonic catching a glimpse of that particular weapon. But it was too late for a Plan B now; he'd just have to shake that damn hedgehog off before going to threaten Central City…
…And he knew just how to do that.
The round hovercraft ascended further, high enough to be out of Sonic's reach but low enough so as not to get tangled in the mess of branches above. The blue blur was undeterred, dodging left and right through the trees, looking for any opportunity that might be available to stop his foe. There had to be some low branches he could use to fling himself up to Eggman's height, or perhaps a fallen tree he could use as a ramp…
"What's wrong, Sonic, can't fly like your two-tailed friend? You know, he happens to be in the area I'm headed right now, along with that annoying girlfriend of yours!"
"That's what she calls herself, not me!" Sonic said in his defense, but he was concerned all the same upon hearing the doctor's words. Sticks snapped against his ankles and shins as he accelerated, feet slamming hard on the ground. His pupils dilated. His heart pounded.
Ahh, the familiar feeling of an adrenaline rush. It had been a while.
Then, suddenly, the trees were gone… replaced with a far larger obstacle.
Sonic's cocky expression fell off his face, leaving a blank stare. "Hey… what?" He said slowly. "But… this wasn't here before…"
"Why are you slowing down, Sonic? I thought you weren't going to let me out of your sight…?"
Almost absentmindedly, the hedgehog said, "I'm not." His decreasing speed, however, told another story.
Come on, it's only a river… I can jump this easily…
Those apprehensive green eyes were locked on the body of water before him. Things appeared bigger as you neared them… but this river was getting bigger than it should have, he was certain, and there was no way of knowing how deep it was…
He had to either speed up or come to a complete halt. Anything in between would result in too short of a jump. There was no time left to be indecisive. It was now or never.
Images shot through Sonic's head in a rapid-fire sequence, all in under a second. That cold, wild liquid enveloping his entire body… the lack of any foothold whatsoever… that literal and figurative sinking feeling… that horrible sensation of drowning, inhaling against your will, lungs filling with the wrong natural elements and suffocating, suffocating until death liberated him from the torture and sent his motionless body back up to the surface…
And he chose the 'never' option, for the first time in his life, coming to a stop at the edge of the grass.
Minutes that felt like hours passed as he stood there, trapped by the water's mesmerizing, terrible spell. He barely even noticed when an explosion occurred off in the distance, leveling the city to ash.
To say he was relieved when he woke up was an understatement.
First person: Tails.
I left the hardware store and made my way back through Central City. My arms were full of an admittedly ridiculous amount of stuff, and most of it was stuff I hadn't originally planned to get, but I couldn't help myself. Sure, all I'd wanted to do at first was replace a rusting part on the Tornado… but why not upgrade the engine and put on a fresh coat of paint while I was at it? Nothing interesting was happening today – for a change – so I had plenty of time.
Then, of course, something interesting happened.
A huge gust of wind blew by, taking several of my items with it. Even as the airstream blew me backwards, making me stumble, I groaned loudly. I'd just gotten those!
I righted myself and turned around, starting to run after my stuff before looking where I was going. I was surprised – though I probably shouldn't have been – when I nearly slammed right into Sonic, who was suddenly in my path.
He was also holding what the 'wind' had stolen, wearing a grin as he handed it back to me. "Sorry 'bout that, Tails," he said. "I didn't see you there. But hey, I managed to catch it all before it landed!"
For an instant, I just stood there, dumbstruck. Then I laughed; I couldn't help it. "No problem, Sonic."
"So – whatcha doing? Parts for another big project?"
"Nah, just the Tornado," I answered. I noticed suddenly that his eyes were a little red. Were they just dry from running so fast?
Sonic looked thoughtful. "Hm… after what just happened, I'm thinking those parts probably had enough 'tornado' for one day. Don't you?"
It took me a second to figure that one out. "…Oh. Ooh ha ha, Sonic, good one."
He simply shrugged. "I try," he said 'modestly.' I knew he had noticed the sarcasm in my response to the quip, but he pretended not to.
"Why are your eyes bloodshot?" I asked, just because. When the vibrancy left his face and he looked away, I realized the question wasn't as casual to him as it was to me. I put my hands out and stammered, "N-never mind, Sonic, don't feel pressured to answer. I didn't know—"
"Naw, don't worry about it. I just didn't get the best sleep in the world last night, that's all."
I blinked. Sleep? Then why had his composure suddenly become so reluctant? An uncomfortable night wasn't usually such an awkward subject of discussion. I wondered if he was trying to make an excuse… if, perhaps, something had upset him to the point of…
"Stop it, Tails," he said, and his face was more relaxed and even a little amused. As I looked up, his emerald eyes were set on mine, and I realized he had guessed what I had been assuming. I also realized that I had been wrong, even before he said, "I know what you're thinking."
"Easy assumption to make," I muttered.
"I didn't sleep good because I had a weird dream. You know, happens to everyone sometimes. You just made me remember it again for a second, that's all."
I couldn't think of anything suitable to say aside from, "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it," he reiterated. "Anyway… have fun with the Tornado. I'll see you around, okay? The Egg'll probably be back in a few days."
"I wouldn't be surprised."
He ran off without another word. I just stood there for a minute, thinking. That dream had to have been pretty nasty to keep someone like Sonic up the rest of the night. Even then… dreams weren't real. It wasn't like him at all to let one get to him.
I managed to complete my work on the Tornado just before dusk. My hands were oily and I was actually sweating a little, but I was glad I'd kept at it. It felt good to accomplish something.
Walking outside, I saw that the skies were relatively clear and only a light breeze wafted through the air. I decided it was as good as a time as any for a test run.
I was only out for a little while, since it was continuing to get darker and I didn't really like flying at night if I didn't have to. After about half an hour, I began to make a slow, smooth semicircle so I could head back. As the left side of the plane tilted downward to accomplish this, I looked past it, at the great view below. Directly beneath me was a forest, and a not too far beyond, a lake. The water was a deep, shimmering blue.
It also wasn't alone in its color, I realized with a start. I squinted hard at what I thought I saw down on the sand, and quickly confirmed my thoughts. There was no mistaking those six blue spikes.
Sonic…? But why?
He was a few yards away from the shoreline, just standing there. It wasn't unlike Sonic to run off to random places and just stare at the landscape… but a lake? Water? And if that in itself wasn't strange enough, then the fact that he was standing so close certainly was.
I debated going down there to ask what he was doing, but then decided not to. Sonic didn't like providing reasons for things, and he'd like it even less if he thought I'd followed him. I hadn't; it'd just been coincidence. But it was one heck of a coincidence.
Now, though, I was curious. Unless it was absolutely necessary, Sonic never went by the water. He had been fully submerged in it once, maybe twice, in his entire life… but those times were only accidents. Whenever he took a run along the beach, he kept a safe cushion of distance.
Going slowly so the engine noise wouldn't catch Sonic's attention, I began to descend the plane. I didn't remember even making a decision to do so; I guess my subconscious decided I wanted to be nosy. That wasn't a really prominent quality of mine, so I began to feel a little guilty as I realized what I was about to do.
I landed the plane in an open area of the forest and hopped out. My better side, which usually won, was telling me to mind my own business and leave Sonic be. But for once, curiosity overpowered it, and I began to jog.
When I reached the edge of the forest a few minutes later, I spun my tails and ascended into a thick tree, landing on a branch. From there, I watched attentively.
I noticed things I hadn't been able to notice from the Tornado, even with my good vision. Sonic's fists were clenched at his sides. His shoulder muscles were knotted in tension. His quills were stiff, not even blowing in the wind.
I tried to remember the last time I'd seen him so uptight, then realized that I hadn't.
The first explanation that came to me was that he had been asleep, and another nightmare had woken him up. He was uneasy because of a dream and his mind hadn't quite figured out that he was awake yet. As soon as I came to that conclusion, I wanted to jump out there and shake him, snap him out of it.
I would have. I would have tried to help him, even at the risk of him finding out I had been spying, because I couldn't stand seeing my friend like this. But my intentions stopped in their tracks when I heard him speak.
"Come on, Sonic. One step."
I froze, not even breathing, fearing for a second that he had noticed my presence. Then my brain registered his actual words and I relaxed a little. He'd been talking to himself.
'One step'… was he going to go in the water? I looked down in contemplation, again trying to understand why. Sonic had feared water his whole life. What in the world could have motivated him to change that?
There was a strong gust of wind. I grabbed onto the tree's trunk for balance and then looked back at the shoreline.
Sonic was gone.
I woke up early the next day, at a time when it was arguable whether it was indeed morning or still the middle of the night. The weather was somewhat ominous; clouds hung heavily in the sky and harsh winds made everything sway back and forth. Undesirable weather had little to no effect on Sonic, though, who I figured would still be sound asleep on my roof as he always was this time of morning.
When I saw that he wasn't, I knew that trying to sleep again would be useless. So I rubbed the night out of my eyes, got in the Tornado, and went back to the lake.
Most of the time, Sonic was predictably unpredictable, so I figured that he wouldn't actually be at the lake when I arrived, even though another part of me expected him to.
Surprised and more curious than ever, I found my spot up in the tree again. It was perfect, providing quite the rare cover-up: I could see him, but because of the leaves in front of me and the shadow being cast on me by the morning sun, he wouldn't see me… even if he looked right at me.
There was no reason to worry about that either way, though; his head and body were turned, facing the water. I could see his profile, one side of his face… but since the rising sun was so bright in the background, I couldn't make out his expression. He was walking parallel to the water, on the wet part of the sand, his steps slow and… cautious?
He turned around and headed in the other direction for a few steps, almost like he was pacing. Every once and a while, as the tide rolled in gently toward his feet, he would glance down. It didn't look like he could stand to keep his gaze on the water for too long, though.
I wondered if Sonic had remained at the lake for the majority of the night or if he had stayed gone until dawn. Had he slept at all? I supposed it didn't matter; the naps he took during the daytime probably more than compensated for it if he hadn't.
The few questions drifting around in my head suddenly ceased to matter as my focus snapped back to Sonic. He had begun to take his shoes off. I dared to inch forward along the branch, spinning my tails just a little in order to keep my balance, and squint through the leaves. Shame would haunt me later for watching my best friend like he was here just for my entertainment… but since my presence had no affect on any of his actions, I didn't think it mattered too much. What difference would it make if I left?
He tossed the shoes back hastily, turning his head for a brief moment to make sure they landed far enough away from the water. In that moment, I could see his face. I wasn't quite sure what I found there at first… then I realized it was a mix of emotions, a mix that I had in fact seen many a time before. There was definitely deep, genuine fright… and there was definitely fortitude. Combined, they gave his expression a deep, hard-to-explain power. It was the kind of thing I only saw when he was caught between a rock and a hard place, and he knew he had to get out. The kind of thing I saw in those rare instances when he couldn't take anymore, but he knew he had to anyway. The kind of thing that most people couldn't convey, because they didn't have the kind of strength it took to experience and understand it to such extreme levels.
It was… raw, undying resolve. And as I watched him step forward, I knew he wasn't going to give up until he got in that water and faced his fears.
What I still didn't know was what in this universe had made him want to attempt such an impossible feat.
His left foot went in and he winced. Even from my spot in the tree, I could see his shoulders scrunch up. As he kept going, moving his feet slowly as if the ground would drop out, I couldn't imagine his eyes were still open. I couldn't imagine he wanted to see what he was – literally – getting himself into.
I heard him breathe in sharply as the cold liquid reached his shins. Then he forced out a loud exhale; the kind of breath that tries to convince you it's relaxed but in fact tends to relay the opposite. As he kept going, tormenting himself in ways I hoped I'd never have to experience, a visible shudder made his shoulders and back tremble briefly.
Then he stopped… and began to retreat.
Relief was the response I would have expected from myself; I didn't want to see him in pain. But relief wasn't what I felt. No, keep going forward, I found myself yearning to shout, because another part of me really wanted him to succeed. I knew how it would affect him to fail, even if it wasn't a big deal. I knew how it would hurt him to acknowledge that he had given up.
The next half minute was long, not only for him but for me. More than once, I drew in a breath, thinking about encouraging him on, but stopped myself each time. I was mature enough to know when it was and was not my time to speak up… and this battle was purely Sonic's.
After the fourth or fifth step back, he stopped. He knew how it would hurt him to fail, too… he never gave up.
At that point, I knew there was more he planned to do before allowing himself the reward of dry land. A gust of wind blew by, rustling the leaves around me noisily, and I used the opportunity to readjust myself on the branch, leaning forward onto my stomach and wrapping my arms around it. Sonic's ears perked up at the wind, but I knew he hadn't heard me. Even I wouldn't have heard me, and I had sensitive ears.
As I had gotten comfortable, Sonic had cautiously inched forward again, making himself keep moving until the gentle waves were hitting right below his knees. Now, as I watched intently, he began to crouch down, one inch at a time, body shaking. Finally, I saw his fingers touch the surface of the water, little rings expanding outwards from the point of contact.
I felt my own ears perk up then. The sound of his voice… it was as if he was taking a ride on the bumpiest dirt road in the world. I had never heard him sound that way; never.
What was he counting to? And why? He had never swam before, surely he wasn't about to try it right now!
His voice was louder now, more steadfast, but not any less shaky. Hesitance was more prominent in his features than I had ever seen it before, and he was frightened almost to the point of panicking… all of his own accord. I wondered if enough would ever be enough for him.
Three. That cruel, cruel number that signified commitment to whatever was being counted to; that single finalizing word that – in that context – was meant to set everything in stone. And almost as soon as it escaped past his lips, Sonic indeed followed through with it.
He crouched down further, going deeper than he had ever willingly gone before… in his life. His rear end touched the surface of the water. I expected him to stop there, but he didn't. Sonic didn't stop until he reached the sand.
I don't think either of us had any idea how he managed to go through with that.
Since he was good at hiding any sort of anxiousness or pain, it wasn't very often that Sonic's physical appearance perfectly reflected his mental state. Right now was one of the only exceptions to that I had ever seen. His muscles were so tense that I could have gotten my fist stuck between his shoulder blades. And had there been no fur on his arms, I was sure the veins there would have been visible, even from my tree. I was positive I could see his hands squeezing the sand under the water as he leaned back on them. He was utterly terrified… and his fear went without shame because he thought he was alone.
For the first time, I realized something about my older brother that I had never even stopped to consider before.
All these years, I had underrated and taken for granted his carefree, positive attitude. I had assumed it was as easy as it looked for him. Now I was forced to wonder: what else had he experienced in the depths of his own consciousness that I had no knowledge about? What else had tortured that poor mind that he had managed to overcome? How afraid was he really whenever he fought Eggman, got seriously injured, or experienced anything that was terrible? And yet… he could remain so calm, and he could endure everything without ever looking back, and he could smile.
For the first time, I was able to fully appreciate the extent of the things he went through every single day.
(It wasn't until years later that I wondered why Sonic had hidden all those things from me at all. I was his best friend, right? Then I realized that it wasn't fair to think that way; everyone had their secrets. Not to mention, I kept it hidden from him that I had ever witnessed what I did. And besides, I figured: it just wasn't in Sonic's nature to pour out his feelings, even to a friend. Instead of focusing on them and pitying himself for them, he preferred to just leave said feelings where they had formed and move on.)
A small but forceful wave hit Sonic right below the chest. He threw his head back, as if looking skyward would protect him from the deadly liquid below, and a frantic cry pierced the tranquil morning air. He pulled his knees up toward his chest as if preparing to get up and flee. Another wave smacked into him. Several droplets scattered through the air and landed on his face. His breathing quickened.
Someone who did not know Sonic might look at what was occurring and find it pathetic, even sick. I found it admirable. Sonic was not a hero because of his skills or his strength; he was a hero for reasons like this. He was brave. Enduring. Resolute. He was nowhere near perfect, but he didn't have to be. He knew how to make up for it in the right places.
A larger wave rolled in towards the shore. For a second, I was afraid for Sonic's safety; if he wasn't paying attention, the water would go in his mouth and likely destroy the fragile self-control he had maintained, putting him back at square one.
It made contact just below his neck.
For at least the third time that night, Sonic exceeded my expectations. He didn't scramble away, didn't panic, didn't so much as get back to his feet. He was making himself stay there, making himself suffer. I didn't quite understand why, as staying even partially submerged seemed excessive for him at this point. But I didn't have to understand. Sonic did, and that was all that really mattered.
Considering that I wasn't even supposed to be here.
Seconds passed. A minute. Two minutes. Then, suddenly, Sonic let out a long, steady sigh. I watched closely as he lowered his head back to its normal position, collapsing inside his body without actually collapsing. I wondered if those determined jade eyes were open.
The events from the previous day floated to the surface of my memory. It seemed like such a long time ago now…
"Hm… after what just happened, I'm thinking those parts probably had enough 'tornado' for one day. Don't you?"
"…Oh. Ooh ha ha, Sonic, good one."
That lighthearted, witty playfulness that he had displayed yesterday made it hard for me to believe that it was indeed less than 24 hours ago. It was amazing; the complexity of an individual. You would never have such a relaxed discussion with someone like him and think for a second that he was in a battle with a serious phobia. You would never think he went so much deeper than his superficial, easygoing conversations.
Had he been on his way to the water when he had stopped for that conversation? If so, had those casual remarks been an act, or had he genuinely been in that decent of a mood?
In the privacy of my own mind, I tried to come up with the answers to those questions myself. I figured he probably had been feeling okay, because I had never known him to worry about things before they were worth worrying about. And besides… if it was all just a façade, Sonic wouldn't have been so honest with me about his red eyes, would he? He had told me it was because he had lost sleep, when he so easily could have blamed it on the force of the wind…
Glancing back at the subject of my thoughts, I put my questions aside for the time being. He hadn't looked at the shore since he had gone in the water, and from where I was he appeared even more focused than before. I decided it was a good time to leave. Morning birds were chirping now, a great cover-up for the slight noise I would make in heading back to the Tornado; and besides, I had been invasive enough for one… friendship. I had no doubt that this wouldn't be the last time he came here for this purpose, but it was the first and last time I would.
Before I left, though, I flew down from the tree and cautiously approached the shoreline, stepping on his footprints to prevent forming my own. From the closer perspective, I thought he looked pretty decent, given the circumstances. The rise and fall signifying his breathing was steady and even, and by the angle of his neck, it looked like he was even watching the sunrise.
If only he knew I was thirty feet away, watching it with him.
As I left, I was already looking forward to seeing him again. I knew I'd be looking for those little signs, those little displays of body language and subtle speech references that would unintentionally give away how he felt about this whole thing.
But I also knew that I wouldn't find any. Not because he would make an effort to hide them, but because the fear, the stress, the torment… none of it would matter anymore. All that would matter was that he got one step closer to overcoming his greatest fear.
I smiled, hopping in the Tornado and taking off, figuring that today would be an excellent day to 'just happen' to buy us both chili dogs for lunch.