From where I was sitting on the sofa, I suspiciously studied the tray placed on the couch table. The little rounds lying on it ranged in color from a dark brown to pitch black. I reached out a hand and picked up one of the less dark specimen, fully aware of the two pairs of eyes watching my doing as I bit down on it.
"And?", Tails asked, head tilted aside as he looked at me chew.
I swallowed the bite. "Well, they're… crunchy?"
Tails giggled. "That's kinda obvious."
Knuckles was more forward than Tails at the moment, it seemed. "Do they taste of anything else but coal briquette?"
I laughed, eyeing the cookie in my hand. "Yeah. There's some cookie flavour hidden beneath it, I guess."
The echidna took a cookie for himself and also tried a bite, giving me a strange look as he strainedly chewed on it. "Uh-hu…"
I shrugged in what wasn't quite meant as an apologizing gesture. "Well, we got snow outside, a tree, cookies… All you need for a great holiday. Don't pay too much attention to the little details."
"Guess you're right and it could be worse," Tails agreed, smiling. "But there's still one thing missing."
I ran a hand down my spikes, pretending deep thought. "Uh, what do you mean?"
"You haven't forgotten, have you?" Tails' ears drooped and I couldn't hold back a grin anymore.
"Of course not, squirt. You want to open the presents now, huh?"
Tails nodded eagerly, twin tails trashing in excitement. "Yes! I'll get yours!" He jumped from his seat, almost tipping himself over the low table as he dashed out of the room.
"This stuff's really important to him, huh?", Knuckles noticed.
I was still grinning when I headed for the door as well. "Yeah. No matter how many planes he builds and how many times more clever than the two of us he becomes, he stays a little guy."
When I re-entered the living room, Knuckles was leisurely leaned back on the sofa, his right foot resting on his left knee and the left foot standing right in front of where his bag remained stuffed under the sofa. Tails was already there as well, he sat on the very edge of the sofa next to the echidna, two neatly wrapped colourful packets in his lap and his twin tails playing behind his back.
I dropped into the armchair to the right of the little fox and placed my two excuses for present packets on the couch table in front of me.
Tails' blue eyes had followed my every move and as soon as I was sitting he shoved one of the almost cubic little boxes he held to me. "That's for you," he announced unnecessarily, double tails wagging.
I smiled. "Thanks, Tails! It looks a lot nicer than any of mine…" I nodded towards the lumps of paper on the table.
Tails smiled at me. "That's not important. Are you going to open it?"
My smile grew broader. "Should I?"
Tails nodded eagerly and Knuckles' face wore a smirk as he nodded. "Go ahead. I wanna see what's in it."
I undid the bow and paper around what probably was a cardboard box. "Seriously, Tails, how do you do it so it looks like it's supposed to look like that?"
"Uh, I dunno…" Tails giggled.
"I suppose he's more skilled than you," Knuckles put in.
"Possible. " I shrugged and flipped open the little cardboard box I had fully revealed by now. Inside, there was a lot of fluffy cotton stuff and something small that lay in the middle of it all. I reached inside and pulled it out, finding the thing was a flat, tiny object with a thin, long cable attached to it. I realized what it was when I spotted the double ends of that cable. Small earphones. "Is that a radio or something, Tails?"
"It's a music player. It can receive radio programs of course, but you can also store all kinds of files on it," Tails explained. "Actually, it's not the function that's unique about it. Everybody got a mobile music player…"
"I don't," Knuckles threw in dryly.
"I designed this one especially," Tails continued without minding the comment, "for you, Sonic, so you can listen to music when you're going for a run. I thought that'd be nice, but any normal player will stand neither the pressure of wind your running makes nor the force of an impact should you run into something."
I lifted an eyebrow at that. I didn't run into stuff that often!
"Like a robot, I mean," Tails quickly added seeing my look.
I flashed a grin at him. "Ah. Sure."
"And it's water-proof. And fire-proof. It's practically indestructible."
"Pretty much perfect for him," Knuckles noticed mockingly. I shot him a death glare, the opted to ignore the echidna.
"I didn't plan to go into any water, nor put myself on fire, but cool, Tails." I looked down on the small device, then smiled at the little fox. "Really, I can't wait to try it. And you're sure I can hear the music it plays even if I go supersonic?"
Tails nodded. "Of course. Since you're taking it with you, it's not moving at all relative to you."
"Ah... I didn't understand that, but I'm sure you thought about everything." I grinned. "Thanks, Tails. Cool present."
The two-tailed fox beamed and his namesakes were now wagging happily behind him. For a few seconds he remained like that, then he seemed to remember the second box still on his lap and turned to Knuckles. "I got something for you of course, too. Here!"
Knuckles smiled and took it from Tails, inclining his head at him. "Thank you, Tails."
"What are ya waiting for? Open it!" I grinned again, placing my new music player on the table.
Carefully Knuckles began removing the wrap, as if he was trying not to tear it. Of course the fragile stuff did tear anyway and he frowned at it. For a moment I thought he would get mad at the stuff now, but then he unearthed a box slightly larger than the one I had received and forgot about the uncooperative paper.
Tails watched closely as Knuckles pulled out a black thing about the size and dimensions of a chocolate bar. He turned it around slowly and you could read it on the echidna's face he had no idea what that thing was supposed to be. Mind him, I didn't either.
Luckily, we had Tails. "Before you keep wondering what that is, I'll explain it, okay?"
Knuckles nodded and passed the unidentified present to Tails. "What's it? You built it, right?"
"Yes, I did." Tails nodded. "It is an Emerald detector. To be specific, it is a Master Emerald detector." He looked up at Knuckles. "Now before you tell me you don't need anything like that because you can feel it, let me explain, okay?"
Knuckles nodded. "I wasn't going to –"
Tails smiled as he interrupted the echidna. "Okay. Anyway, I know you can feel the Master Emerald and also know which direction it is from where you are, but I also know when it's in pieces you can only tell how far a piece is away, and that only if you're close enough to it. Right?"
The red guardian nodded slowly. "Uh-hu."
"So, if the Master Emerald is shattered, you spend a lot of time just running around trying to get close enough to a scattered piece so you can feel it," Tails continued and Knuckles nodded again. "Now, don't get me wrong, I really hope it'll never come to the Emerald being shattered again, but you never know, huh? So, I thought of a way to make finding back the pieces easier for you if that should happen."
I bit back a grin at Knuckles' look. He quite certainly didn't expect anyone would think anything near as much about possible troubles he had with this giant glowing stone of his.
"This device," Tails touched a fingertip to what I was sure was a screen by now, causing it to light up, "is based on the Chaos Emerald detectors I used a couple of times. I modified it so it'll also track energy patterns given out by the Master Emerald, or pieces of it."
I leaned closer to my friends so I could get a look on the screen as well. It was a black background with a red dot in the middle of it, a pulsing blue dot slightly off to the left and a very weak pulsing green dot next to the red one. "What are those dots, Tails?", I asked.
"The red one is us, or specifically it's this device's position. The map is always facing in the direction you're holding the detector," Tails replied.
"What happens if I turn around when I hold it?", Knuckles queried.
Tails turned the flat device about ninety degrees around so it was pointing at me now. The blue pulsing dot now was above the red one. "See? Blue dots are Chaos Emeralds. This one is the Emerald I have in the Tornado. And it is right through the door behind Sonic."
"Ah, I see." Knuckles smiled a little. "It really works. How do Master Emerald pieces look?"
Tails frowned a little. "Actually, they're green dots. I think something is disturbing the detector, 'cause it's showing a very tiny piece right next to us."
"Maybe it's Knux," I suggested.
"I'm not an Emerald piece," the echidna noticed acerbically.
I shrugged. "No, but you're the guardian. Maybe you give a reading, too."
Strangely, Tails didn't seem to dislike my idea that much. "It's possible. Maybe also Angel Island would cause an echo on the radar, after all it's full of the Master Emerald's energy."
Knuckles' violet eyes briefly flicked down to the bag under his seat and he shrugged. "Could be. But if it already picks stuff if there isn't an actual Emerald piece around, I'm sure it'll also find a real piece if I need it to."
Tails smiled. "I guarantee it will! From a ten miles distance, minimum!"
Now Knuckles looked impressed. "Wow. That's, to use Sonic's vocabulary, really cool, Tails. Thanks."
Tails again looked as if he had received a present himself already. "You're welcome!"
I looked between the others. "You wanna have the stuff I got now?" I pointed at the present packets in front of me. "We have to free the poor presents out of the lousy wrap I forced them in…"
Tails giggled and also Knuckles gave a chuckle, taking back the Emerald detector from Tails. I used that opportunity to put my packet into the fox' now free hands.
"For me?", he asked.
"No, for Eggman." I grinned. "Of course it's for you, bro."
Tails laughed and started to unwrap the present. Since the paper hardly fit together at all that wasn't very hard. It basically fell off, revealing the little snow globe. Tails lifted it up and looked into it, not saying anything for a couple of moments and I wondered if he didn't like it.
"Uh, you know, I couldn't really think of anything awesome enough for you," I started. "You always build so amazing stuff for me and I never have anything cool in return. I thought this one was nice to look at and… It plays a melody. I thought you can put it next to your bed and next time there's a thunderstorm you don't have to be scared… It's stupid, but it's kinda calming looking at it, I think…"
Tails shook the snow globe softly, causing it to start snowing onto the chao. He found the switch as well and it played its short melody. "Sonic?"
"Yeah?" I knew I was looking sheepish again.
"It's great." Tails smiled at me past the snow globe in his hands. "Look at the chao. There's three of them. Just like us! I'm the one that's sitting there, and you're those that are chasing each other because you got into another silly fight!"
Knuckles grinned. "I'm the one chasing then, and Sonic better run faster 'cause I'll catch him and kick his tail."
I had never considered the resemblance. "So you really like it?"
Tails nodded eagerly, shaking the snow globe again, causing another minature snow storm in it. "It's beautiful, really. Thanks, Sonic. And it's not stupid at all. Right, Knuckles?"
"It looks nice," the echidna allowed, watching the snow fall onto the group of chao.
"You like it? Aw, had I known that I would have gotten one for you, too." I grinned at him.
"I don't get one? Too bad." The guardian smirked, irony subtly going with his tone.
"Nah, you get something else." I passed him his present and kicked back on my seat. Unlike the one for Tails, I was sure with this one that Knuckles would enjoy it.
Not near as carefully as he had been with Tails' present, the red echidna started opening it.
"How comes you were going so easy on Tails' packet and not on mine?", I asked, grinning. It wasn't that I really minded it, I was just making conversation.
Knuckles briefly looked up at me. "You know, it looked like I could destroy something on Tails' packet…"
"Ah, and mine doesn't really look like there was anything more to destroy than there already is?" I shrugged. "You're probably right. Just rip it open."
Knuckles complied immediately. The paper dropped to the floor, and the present into his hands. He stared at it. "That's –" He blinked and looked up at me.
I grinned brightly again. Bingo. "You know, I was somewhat involved with you losing the last you had. I thought you liked it a lot, so I got a replacement."
"Put it on, Knuckles!", Tails requested, finally stopping to gaze into the snow globe.
"In here?" The echidna looked between the brown cowboy-style hat and us.
"Sure, why not?" I chuckled. "I wanna see if it even fits!"
"Okay." Knuckles put the hat on, pulled a little on the brim of it to adjust it, but it fit surprisingly well. The echidna smiled. "Too cool."
"Next time you go treasure hunting, you're at least properly dressed," Tails said, studying Knuckles' appearance.
"He looks almost bad-ass with it, doesn't he?" I laughed.
Knuckles shot me a look from beneath his new hat's brim. "Just almost?"
Now all three of us laughed. It wasn't often you saw Knuckles adapting just a bit of my usual cockiness after all, and something about it was incredibly funny.
"Oh, before I forget," I said still chuckling, "What's in that bag of yours now?"
"It is a present, isn't it?", Tails added curiously.
Knuckles nodded. "Yes, it is. You know I don't really have resources for presents up on my island, that's why you're getting one thing together."
"That's fine, Knuckles," Tails assured, smiling and throwing looks to the bag at the echidna's feet. "What's it?"
"Well," the guardian leaned down to pull the bag out from underneath the sofa, "while I can't make or buy you anything useful, I've gotten you something you can only get from a floating island." He sat upright again and passed the bag over to Tails sitting next to him. "Be careful."
"Is it that heavy?", Tails asked.
"No, not exactly…You'll see." Knuckles shoved the bag into Tails' arms.
I leaned closer, now interested again. When Knuckles let go of it, Tails' grip on it apparently wasn't firm enough, it slipped out of the fox' hands, but instead of falling to the floor like I expected, it remained floating in front of Tails, over the gap between the sofa and table, about half a meter above the floor. "Wow. Is that some kind of trick?"
Tails stared. "It's flying!"
I reached out and softly pulled on the strap of the bag that was hanging down to the side. It bobbed up and down slight as it floated over to me, as if we were in space. Just that we weren't. "Cool… But now I wanna know what's in it." I carefully opened the bag and manoeuvred the mysterious content out of the bag. The latter dropped to the floor when I succeeded, leaving an about fist-sized piece of rock floating in front of me between my hands. It totally looked like your average pebble… just that it was flying.
Tails stretched out a finger and touched it to the floating stone, causing it to start spinning gently on the spot. "How does that work?"
Knuckles finally seemed compelled to say something again. "This is one of the stones that usually float under Angel Island's main landmass. Some of them are meters thick, some are even smaller than that one. They all have in common that, just like Angel Island itself, they are filled up with a certain amount of the Master Emerald's energy field. They're all linked through it. If the island moves up or down or in some direction, all the smaller chunks of rock around it follow. I don't know exactly how it works."
"Maybe I can find out!", Tails called excitedly.
"If anyone can, you do, squirt." I chuckled. "Hey, can you steer that stone, Knux? You can steer the island."
Knuckles shook his head. "I can persuade the Master Emerald to change the island's course or altitude. If I do that, it affects the entire island, not just one small piece of stone loosely linked to it."
"Ah. So, if you steer your island around, this stone will also fly around?" I gave the flying piece of rock another soft push to get it to spin again.
"It'll move slightly, in the direction the island moves as well. But it's too far away from it now for it to follow the island like it used to." Knuckles watched the stone spin around itself.
It was really fascinating to look at. Not everybody has a miniature floating island in their living room, I thought.
Miniature floating island… I blinked, shooting a glance from the stone in front of me to Knuckles on the sofa. That's what he brought us. A mini version of his home, no, a tiny part of his home. Knuckles of all people. Knuckles to whom his island and the giant Emerald on it were more valuable than anything else. He'd given us a piece of it. A tiny one, sure, a piece of debris that used to fly around under the island, but still. It was a piece of what meant most to him. He had not only joined us in celebrating our 'surface traditions' as he called it once, he brought us something precious to him as a present for it. Wow. I... had to admit that I felt somewhat flattered now.
"How'd you get it?", Tails asked, pulling me out of my thoughts although the question clearly wasn't meant for me.
"Basically, I climbed down the side of the island, glided to catch it and climbed back up." Knuckles' answer sounded simple, but you could guess that climbing down the steeply sloped, in the 'wrong' direction even, base of the island, catching one of the flying stones and going up again wasn't something you'd do in five minutes without breaking a sweat.
"That's not the whole story, is it?"
Knuckles shrugged. "What are you trying to say, hedgehog?"
"I'm trying to say thank you for this really awesome flying piece of stone you got us," I gave back, flashing him a smile. "Really, it… means a lot to me." I ran a hand through my headspines. Why do I always feel so awkward when saying things like that?
Luckily, I wasn't the only one. Knuckles cleared his throat. "You're welcome. And… thanks for inviting me, and getting me this cool hat and this useful Emerald tracking thing."
Tails giggled lightly. "You're very welcome, too! We'll find a good place for your stone, I promise. And we'll invite you again if you want to."
Knuckles inclined his head and it gave him an almost formal look. "That'd be nice, Tails."
I grinned, looking between the rotating floaty stone and Knuckles still wearing that hat. "You know, I think next time we'll introduce you to searching Easter Eggs."
"Hey, you should be really good at this!", Tails exclaimed. "You got a lot of practice searching stuff!"
Knuckles frowned a little, but then he grinned. "Sounds as weird as this holiday with the fir trees and presents to me. But as long as Eggman's not involved with those eggs you're talking about…"
"No, he's not." Tails laughed.
"Good. Maybe I'll come. There'd be just one more thing." He looked at me.
"Does this other holiday involve you burning cookies as well?" Knuckles' tone was serious, but a smirk was playing around his lips.
"Hey, it wasn't my fault they got a little too brown!", I complained. "You didn't think of the cookies in the oven in time either! And -"
My half-hearted complaint was drowned out by an outburst of laughter that I couldn't resist for much longer than my two friends.
So then... Merry Christmas, everybody! :)