"Well, little bro? You ready?"
Tails peeked around Sonic to look at the massive factory crawling with bots.
"Can we skip it this time? I mean, the engine for the Tornado II is lying all over the floor, I think I left the welder on, and I forgot to rinse my breakfast dishes again."
Sonic laughed. "Sorry, pal, but no. Chores'll have to wait. We've got a mission to complete!"
"Not that there's a point, since I'll be killing Antoine after we rescue him," Tails muttered.
"Hey, I know how you feel, bro, but Sally'll kill me if that happens and I think I have a little more left in me before I kick the bucket, if you know what I mean."
Tails made a face. "Guess I'm ready then."
"Race ya!" said Sonic, who took off. Tails somersaulted off the ledge and started to fly. Sonic and Tails reached the entrance at the same time. "Hm," said Sonic.
"Hm?" said Tails.
"Mm-hm," said Sonic.
"Hm!" said Tails.
"Hm..." said Sonic.
Tails rolled his eyes and opened the door. "After you," he said sarcastically.
"Why thank you, Tails," said Sonic, and they both started running to the detention center. Antoine was easy enough to locate; he was screaming in a panic from the alarm the two brothers had triggered. Sonic stood watch while Tails hacked the computer system, trying to unlock the doors. "I'm gettin' antsy, bro," called Sonic.
"I'm trying!" said Tails, fingers flying. "I know," said Sonic. "I meant that ants are crawling on my shoes. I don't like that. These are the shoes that never lose, and these ants are bug-"
"Stop right there, Sonic! Don't say it!" said Tails, giggling. "Way past cool, Tails!" said Sonic as the doors opened. "Now let's juice. I'm bored of standing here. Here, Ant-oine...a few of your friends're here to visit." He shook the ants off his shoes at Antoine. This was harder than it sounds, especially since all of a sudden Tails rammed himself into Sonic at full speed, knocking him over and making Antoine yell. "Yo, Mr. Prower sir, I'm not a - Tails? Tails?"
Tails only remained draped over Sonic. Sonic got up and looked at Tails. He'd been shot in the back of his left shoulder. "Blast it!" Sonic yelled. He picked Tails up and cradled him in his arms. "Hey, what about me?" Antoine asked. "What about you? We let you out, find your own way back!" Sonic yelled, then dashed off to Knothole with Tails.

"Where's Antoine?" said Tails, walking into Sonic's room a few mornings later.
"You're up, huh?" said Sonic. "Sally said you didn't come to see me the whole time I was out. Is that...is that true?"
"Yeah," said Sonic.
"...why not?" Tails asked quietly. "Are...are you mad at me for knocking you over?"
"No way! I just...I just couldn't look at you that way, bro. You were all lifeless and...well, I don't like to think about you like that."
"Oh," said Tails. "Okay, I understand."
"Bro?"
Tails turned.
"Thanks," Sonic said.
Tails smiled. "No biggie," he said. "I always knew I'd take the bullet for you someday."

The next day Sonic strolled into Tails's workshop to find his little brother fast asleep among the parts for the Tornado II's engine. Sonic frowned. First off, Tails didn't sleep all curled up in a ball like that anymore. Plus also, Tails never fell asleep when he was working, not ever. Sonic always had to force him to go to bed. "Little buddy? You asleep over there?" Sonic asked.
"Huh?" mumbled Tails, uncurling and turning around, blinking sleepily. "Oh hey Sonic."
"What're you doing?" asked Sonic.
"Dunno," said Tails, rubbing his eyes.
"What's up?" asked Sonic.
"I...I'm really tired," said Tails.
"That's what your bed's for, bro," said Sonic.
Tails laughed tiredly. "I guess that's where I'm headed, then." He stood up slowly.
"Tails?" said Sonic.
"Mm," said Tails.
"You c'n sleep in my bed, if you want," said Sonic.
"Kay," said Tails. "Thanks."
"No probs," said Sonic.
He went to bed himself at one in the morning. The more he looked at Tails, the more he was convinced that something was seriously wrong. Sonic laid a hand on Tails's shoulder. He took it back and looked at it. Tails was warm to the touch, feverish. Sonic sat down at the end of the bed and rubbed his eyes. Then he sat back against the wall, gathered Tails in his arms, and stroked his head until he fell asleep.
All of a sudden he opened his eyes. Immediately Sonic noticed that Tails was soaked in sweat and shaking violently. He stood up, Tails like a limp noodle in his arms, and took his little brother to Sally.
"Sonic! What did you do to poor Tails?" Sally demanded. "Huh?" said Sonic.
"He was fine yesterday," said Sally.
"Hey, I didn't do anything!" Sonic protested. "Well, put him down and I'll have a look." Sonic put Tails down on a long table and the kitsune's jaw dropped open slightly. There was blood all over the inside of his mouth. Sally ran a scanner up and down his body, then gave it to Nicole to analyse. "Uh oh," said Sally.
"No, that's not what I want to hear!" shouted Sonic. "Sonic...Tails is really sick. It seems that bullet was full of nanobots...they're tearing him apart from the inside out."
She turned to look at Sonic. There were tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry, Sonic," she said, and left. Sonic stood there, his body tense, fists clenching and unclenching. "Tails," he said faintly. "...please..."
Tails remained the same, silent and shaking. "I don't want to see you like this!" Sonic screamed. "I don't! I can't! Oh God, Tails, why?" He struggled not to cry. He climbed up on the table and pulled Tails into his arms. "I won't leave you this time, bro," he vowed.
Sonic sat there with his brother, trying not to think about what was inevitable, when all of a sudden Tails was moving, pushing him away with surprising strength. Sonic was rather shocked until Tails threw up on the floor, then hung off the edge of the table slightly as if there was no energy left to pull himself back. Sonic leapt off the table, stopped for a full second. There was no vomit, only a pool of dark blood on the floor. Sonic brought himself back into gear, took 3/4 of a second to clean it up, and helped Tails lie back down.
"...sorry, Sonic," said Tails, barely audible. "No probs," said Sonic. "'s cool, bro,"
"Not about that," said Tails.
"...um..." said Sonic.
"I'm not going to make it...am I, Sonic?" said Tails, so hopefully that Sonic was tempted to lie. But he would never tell his little bro a lie.
"...no," said Sonic, holding Tails once more. Tails started to cry, burying his face in Sonic's chest. "I'm sorry, buddy. If I'd noticed...you wouldnt've gotten hurt. I'll be more careful..."
"No, Sonic," sobbed Tails, "don't change! You're the best just the way you are! 'Sides, I'll be dead soon, so you won't have to pr'tect me anymore!"
"But Tails," said Sonic, blinking rapidly, "who's gonna protect me?"

Sonic was running, burning through his shoes, leaving it all behind. He had to shake that feeling, the sensation of being trapped. "I don't fit into your damn box!" he screamed, eyes raised to the sky when all of a sudden he hit something and went flying over a ledge. Sonic watched the dark water churn over the rocks for what seemed like forever, until he hit the water so hard everything went black for a second and he couldn't breathe. Terror enveloped him and he started to thrash violently. He felt a grip on his wrists and he was paralyzed with fear. He was going to drown. In a panic he tried to draw breath but only took water into his starving lungs. He was almost glad when everything went black.
He opened his eyes to find himself back on the ledge he had fallen from, coughing violently. He started to throw up water, his chest spasming as it struggled to pull in air. He lay back weakly, still coughing, gasping so much he still couldn't breathe.
"Hey, easy!" said a voice. Sonic managed to turn his head enough to see a little orange fox crouching in front of him. He was dirty and had no shoes, but he had the biggest smile on his face. "Hey mister, you're okay! Don't worry! You're okay!"
"How'd-how'd I get-get up here?" Sonic panted.
"I can fly," said the fox. "I have two tails, see?" He twirled them for good measure. "What's your name, huh?"
Sonic sat up, rubbing his hands over his face. "Sonic the Hedgehog," said Sonic. He was shaking.
"I'm Miles! Miles Prower!" said the fox, jumping up and down. "Wanna be my friend?"
"Miles per hour? What kind of a name is that?"
Miles stopped jumping.
"No...Miles Prower! P-r-o-w-e-r! Not per hour!"
"Where's your parents, little guy?" asked Sonic, trying not to think about what had almost happened.
"Don't have any," answered Miles. "Everyone has parents," said Sonic bitterly.
"Not me!" said Miles. He dropped to the ground. "I wish I did."
"No you don't," said Sonic. "They yell and nag and try to mash you into their little boxes, even though you don't fit and don't want to."
"...but I would have someone to tuck me in at night," said Miles quietly. "I would have a bed and a house and people who love me. I might have friends, even."
"Why don't you have friends?" said Sonic. If he focused on someone else's problems, maybe he would forget his own.
"'Cause I talk smart, sometimes...and I like to build stuff...and I have two tails," said Miles.
"How old're you?" asked Sonic.
"Six, I think, " said Miles. "It's hard to tell when you don't know what day it is."
"Well...I don't have a house or a bed, 'cause I'm running away, but maybe I'll have that later. You c'n come with me, if you want. I'll be your friend for a while. I owe you, anyways, for...for saving my life."
"Really? Oh, thank you, Sonic, thank you!" said Miles, giving him a big hug. Sonic shook him off. He wasn't sure if he wanted this kid hugging him...yet.
"I can't call you by that silly name, though. I'm gonna call you Tails instead."
"Oh wow, a nickname! Thank you, Sonic!" "You'll have me for a big brother, how's that sound?" said Sonic.
Tails started to cry.
"Oh, Sonic, I'm so glad you ran into me! I don't have parents, but now I have you!"
"You don't need parents, you just need a really good friend."
"'Kay, Sonic!" said Tails, jumping up and down again.
"Ready?" asked Sonic.
"Yeah!" said Tails, and he looked so happy Sonic had to laugh. "Let's speed, keed!" said Sonic, and he took off. He looked over and saw Tails flying beside him, and had the strangest feeling that it was supposed to be this way.

Sonic started to cry, holding Tails to him as if he'd never let go. "You can't go, Tails! I need you! C'mon, little buddy, you can do it! We're Sonic and Tails, we never lose!"
"We didn't lose," said Tails. "We'll just be undefeated, is all."
"But...but you didn't finish your plane!"
Tails laughed tiredly. "Just don't let Rotor touch it, okay?"
"Tails, please don't go. I love you...I love you too much to let you go. Where will I be without my little brother by my side?"
Tails was silent for a long moment.
"...that's the first time you've said that to me," he said quietly.
"Said what?"
"That you loved me," said Tails.
Sonic's heart froze as he tried to remember another time. There wasn't one. Tails had told Sonic the same thing many, many times before, when he was little, but he had never once let Tails know how much he meant to him. "I'm sorry," said Sonic.
"Don't be," said Tails. "'S not your style, I know." He grimaced in pain. "Oh Sonic, it hurts..."
"Okay, litle buddy," said Sonic. "You do what you need to do, okay? I...I don't want you to be in pain."
Tails's nose started to bleed, and he wiped it away futilely with a weak hand. "My head hurts," he mumbled, almost inaudibly. Sonic rubbed behind his best friend's ears, like he used to when Tails was still small, still slept in Sonic's bed with his tails over Sonic like a protective little blanket, still too loving to judge, still so happy it was infectious, still so young Sonic could pretend they really were brothers. "I love you, little bro," said Sonic, burying his face and his tears in Tails's fur, still soft and warm and comforting to him even though he was all grown up now and he shouldn't feel mushy over stuff like that anymore.
"I love you, Sonic," said Tails for the last time, and all Sonic could do was sit there and cry over what was left.