Chapter Three

Tails just looks at me.

"I don't think I can convince him. I'm sure he thinks it's going to get better, but it's not. He's pretending he doesn't, but I know he has a headache now. He's more tired than ever. It was hard for him to stand up long enough to make his tea this morning, I could tell. But he refuses to admit it."

"Well, I don't know," I say, tired and frustrated. "Nothing I'm gonna say will change his mind."

We just sit there in silence. Tails is breathing shakily. He's really scared his dad won't go.

"So you DO know how to leave the house."

Tails jumps and looks around as if he's been caught stealing cookies he's not supposed to eat. "Oh hi dad," he says in an unconvincing attempt to be casual.

I move over a bit and Amadeus sits down between us. I can hear a dull rasping noise as he breathes. He coughs into a handkerchief for a minute, then looks at Tails.

"I'm sorry, son."

Tails looks surprised. "Uh…for what, dad?"

"For being a stubborn old idiot, of course."

"You're not an idiot, dad."

"Of course I am," says Amadeus. "I've been needlessly worrying you for nearly a week now. I need to get over my pride and get on with it." He coughs again and rubs his eye. His hands are shaking.

"So...so you're ready to go?" Tails says hopefully.

"Not exactly ready...but I'll go," says Amadeus. Tails looks at him for a minute, then hugs him tightly. Amadeus seems to know this is coming and hugs him back with his left arm. The other is clenched tightly in his lap, wrapped around his handkerchief.

"How are you getting there? You don't have a car," I say. Tails gives me a look that says Shut Up Idiot, but Amadeus only looks surprised. "Yes I have," he says. "It's in the-"

He stops and his face goes blank. "No. I haven't got a car at the moment," he says in a dead voice.

"It's okay. I'm sure there's someone we can borrow one from," says Tails before the silence gets too loud.

"I'll try to call Amy," I volunteer, kind of uncomfortable around Amadeus. He's even more a stranger to me than he was before. There's just something about him that makes me uneasy. I think it has something to do with the fact that he gives off the impression that he knows everything.

I go into the house, hunt down my phone, since I always leave it lying around and I can never find it, and call Amy. She doesn't answer. I'm a little stumped, then decide to text her like I should have done in the first place. Like everyone these days, she answers the text but not the call. After a bit of confusing back-and-forth because I can't text worth beans, she says she'll come right away.

"So why exactly won't you tell me where Sonic ended up?" Amadeus is saying as I head back outside. Tails looks at him like he just went invisible.

"Well - how - how do you know about that, dad?" he stammers.

Amadeus sighs and rubs his forehead. "Son, when you come home with no explanation and don't bring Sonic with you, it's obvious that he took off."

I'm impressed. This guy doesn't miss anything.

"I suspect your not telling me has something to do with not causing me to worry about you, any more than I already do, in the event that I have an extended stay in hospital and you will be at home by yourself, in severe emotional distress."

Tails just looks at him. I start laughing.

"Well dad," Tails says finally. "I just don't know what to say."

"Come now, Miles," says his father, coughing a little, "I'm supposed to worry about you. That's my job. If I don't worry about you I'm doing something wrong."

"That's what Knuckles said," said Tails sheepishly.

"I'm so glad you took his advice," says Amadeus, trying and failing to say this deadpan.

"Well I - I just don't want you to end up worse, dad."

"If I get any worse it's my own damn fault for being so stubborn. It has nothing to do with you. You've been more helpful than I deserve."

"Well I - I could've -"

"Miles," says Amadeus quietly, "not even your mother could have convinced me."

We both know it took a lot for him to say that.

"I'm sorry, Miles," says Amadeus. "Please don't blame yourself for any of this, or for anything that happens. You did your best, tried to do what was best for me, and I refused to listen. What happens now happens, and it's entirely my own fault."

"Okay dad," says Tails, but Amadeus and I both know that he holds himself responsible anyway.

"Did you reach your friend?" Amadeus asks, and it takes me a minute to realize he's talking to me.

"Uh...yeah, she'll be here soon."

"Which one is she again? The fox?"

"No dad, Amy is the hedgehog," Tails says, slightly incensed about the mention of Fiona. But seeing as Amadeus hadn't been around when all that went on, you couldn't really blame him for not knowing.

"Oh yes, the girl with the hammer, Sonic's girlfriend," says Amadeus, who seems to be oblivious to the fact that everything he's bringing up is not good for conversation.

"Amy is not Sonic's girlfriend. He doesn't have a girlfriend."

Amadeus looks surprised. "He doesn't? Why ever not? Isn't he at that sort of age?"

"Yes," says Tails, drawing the word out and continuing as if talking to a child, "I don't know why Sonic doesn't have a girlfriend, dad. I guess he can't love anyone else more than he loves himself."

I see Amadeus's expression flicker for a moment, then I realize that he does know what he's doing. He's fishing without asking Tails directly, knowing he probably won't offer up any information about Sonic leaving freely.

I suppress a shudder. I'm glad he's not my dad. There's no hiding anything from him.

We just sit there for a minute. Tails is pissed, I'm getting uncomfortable again, and I have no idea what Amadeus is up to because he's still pretending to be pleasantly senile. Every now and then he coughs or kneads his forehead a little. His hand stays clenched in his lap.

Thankfully Amy shows up not too long after that. Luckily she's not driving her Beetle. That wouldn'tve worked out so well.

"Hop in!" she says. Obviously none of us feel like hopping right now but we get into the car with varying degrees of reluctance. Out of the corner of my eye (I don't want to look like I'm staring, of course) I see Amadeus look at the car like he wants it to disappear, then slowly climb into the back seat. Although that may have had more to do with his age than any reluctance to get into the car.

I don't want to sit in the back because I feel so awkward around him, so I duck into the front of the car instead. When we're all somewhat settled Amy starts driving.

After a minute Amadeus says, "So how have you been, Amy?"

"Oh, swell," she says. "I have a new job, school's going great, got a couple of new friends..."

"Oh really?" says Amadeus. "Such as?"

"Well, I've got this penpal now," says Amy. "He's really nice. I used to write to him a lot, but now I just write him when I have a problem mostly. I know it's not really fair but usually I forget. He's so nice about it though, he just helps me and that's it. He's great at giving advice."

"That's lovely," says Amadeus. "It's nice to have someone you can count on." He coughs wetly for a minute but doesn't continue.

"What have you guys been up to? I haven't heard in you in forever!" Amy exclaims. I'm kind of jealous that she's so peppy and happy while we're all sitting here stewing in misery.

"Oh, you know. The usual."

"Really? Nothing new?"

"Nothing at all," says Tails. "Nothing."

In the rearview mirror I see Amadeus look at Tails for a moment. We hit a pothole and I actually see fear on his face for an instant of an instant, so small that if I didn't know what went on I wouldn't have noticed. He clears his throat and says, "Amy, have you heard from Sonic lately?"

"No," says Amy. "I haven't. But that's okay. He'll either come back or I'll move on. I'm happy to sit back and wait and see what happens."

"That's an interesting philosophy," says Amadeus.

"Well it's better than crying my eyes out every night, thinking about the girl he picked over me," says Amy, somehow managing to be cheerful about this too. There's no sign whatsoever that's she's faking it.

"I wish Miles would take the same view as you do," Amadeus says quietly.

"Dad, I don't think we need to talk about that right now," Tails says.

"I think we do," says Amadeus. "Why don't you talk to your friends about your problems? If you keep them inside your head there's only you to solve them. If you couldn't solve a math problem, would you just keep plugging away at it yourself forever or would you go for help?"

"I've never met a math problem I couldn't solve," says Tails. "And every problem can be approached like a math problem. I'll deal with it, dad."

Amy makes a rather sudden left turn and Amadeus breathes in sharply.

"Sorry," she says. "I always get in the wrong lane by accident when I go this way."

"That's quite all right," says Amadeus, but another glance in the mirror shows me that he's getting more uncomfortable with every second. Tails seems to be oblivious, staring out the side window like his life depends on it. He must really be angry with Amadeus right now.

We all stop talking and I'm not even paying attention to the world around me anymore when suddenly I almost get my head taken off by a sudden stopping of the car. Amy has slammed on the breaks so hard I think the seatbelt bruised my ribs.

"Ow," I say.

"Amy, my dear," says Amadeus, out of breath, "I need you to-to not go anywhere for a moment, if you please."

"Huh?" says Amy, thinking she has accomplished something by stopping for a red light at the last second.

"Just-just don't go anywhere is all I mean," says Amadeus, and he opens the door and all but falls out.

"Oh my gosh!" says Amy. "Is he alright? I didn't know he was that sick."

"He-no, it's something else," says Tails. "Pull over for a minute, will you, Amy? I'll just be a minute."

He jumps out and runs over to his dad.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," says Amy. "It's just they have a camera there, and if I get another ticket my mom's gonna freak out..."

I'm really glad to hear she gets a lot of tickets.

We both get out after she's pulled the car over and put the panic lights on. Tails is sitting in front of Amadeus, who is on his knees, breathing hard between fits of coughing.

"Dad, it's alright," Tails is saying. "It...it's not gonna happen again. It was just a red light. There was a camera. She didn't want to get caught."

Amadeus just keeps coughing.

"Oh Amadeus, I'm so sorry," says Amy in a scared sort of voice, like she's afraid he's going to hit her or something. "I just didn't want to get caught..."

"No, it's all right," says Amadeus as soon as he can breathe again. "It was...it was something else."

"What was it?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

I guess we've all decided it's not the best time to bring up what he just said about having people help you solve your problems. Although dealing with your friend not coming home is a bit different from dealing with being in a car accident where you watch the person you love most die.

"I'm sorry," says Amadeus, and he straightens a little. "I'm all right now. Is it much farther, Amy?"

"N-not too far," says Amy. "Only a couple of minutes."

"Splendid," says Amadeus. "The sooner I get this over with the better."

We all get back into the car and me and Amy sit there in silence while Tails and Amadeus talk very quietly. I don't think I would've known what they were saying anyway. I'm pretty sure they were speaking kitsune.

We get there soon enough and Amy does not get out when she pulls up to the drop-off zone. Amadeus turns to her.

"Thanks very much," he says. "Don't worry yourself, it was an oddity I have to clear up. It had nothing to do with you."

Amy smiles.

"Yeah, well, I think I'll take it as a sign," she says.

"Of what, may I ask?"

"That I need to work on my driving."

Amadeus laughs.

"I think that might just work in your favour," he says. "I bid you good day. Thank you again."

"No problem," says Amy. "Call me anytime."

She heads off and we go into the hospital. Tails makes Amadeus sit with the other people who are waiting to be admitted, which he vehemently doesn't want to do, and goes up to the counter to get the paperwork. I go with him. He's kind of underage so I'll be there to clear anything up if I have to.

There's no trouble and after an hour or so of waiting and people giving Amadeus dirty looks for coughing so much (there are points where he actually can't stop to save his life), they finally give him a room to stay in. Man that was the longest hour of my life.

"They gave you the middle one, dad," says Tails.

"Splendid," says Amadeus. "That's the best place to be."

"Uh...why?" I ask. I sure wouldn't want the middle bed.

"Well, it's like a sandwich, and I'm the filling," says Amadeus. "I'm the best part."

"Oh dad," says Tails, but he doesn't sound exasperated, he sounds kind of sad. I'm still confused, since Amadeus doesn't usually say things like that, but I guess there's gotta be a whole side of him I've never seen.

"Well think of it this way then," says Amadeus. "I can talk to both of the other people in this room without shouting. I can both see out of the window and the door. And I have two curtains instead of one. I've kind of got it made."

"Sure dad," says Tails. "Whatever you say."

"I sense a lack of conviction," says Amadeus.

"Your radar is acting up again."

"Damn," says Amadeus. "You've got me again. Must you keep pointing out my faults, Miles?"

"If I don't, who will?" says Tails, but I can see that he's cheered up a little. "Sit down before you fall down, dad."

"Don't be silly, son," says Amadeus. "I have stood for days on end, a few more minutes won't make a difference."

"You did that ten years ago," Tails said. "Now sit down."

"It was not ten years ago," Amadeus protests, but sits down anyway.

"Your mind is going. It was so ten years ago."

Amadeus sits there and looks up, doing a little math in his head I guess.

"Egad," he says, coughing, "it truly was ten years ago."

"Told you."

"Miles, what have I told you about gloating?"

"Nothing."

Amadeus looks at me.

"You see what happens when your son is more intelligent than you are? He knows all the loopholes. He's only a child and already he has bested me."

"You're good at what you're good at and I'm good at what I'm good at," says Tails, sitting down next to his dad and looking at his hands. "Sometimes I win and sometimes you win. It's...it's the only way I'll learn."

"Learn what? To exchange pointless, potentially harmful barbs?"

"No," says Tails quietly. "It's the only way I'll learn to be clever like you."

Amadeus clears his throat a little and looks at the ground, then looks back at Tails.

"You are quite clever already, you need not study from me."

"I have to learn everything I can, before..."

Amadeus sighs, a thin noise coming from his chest as he inhales. "Son, I'm not going to die. I got through my idiocy and now we'll get on with the rest of this unpleasantness. I've been in far worse danger before."

"No, you haven't. Only 50% of people make it through this, 50% of young people where it's caught early. In the rest of the general population, it's overwhelmingly fatal."

"I didn't get where I am today by fretting over death rates," says Amadeus briskly. "I was supposed to die 40 years ago and I'm still around. And believe you me, Miles, believing you'll make it is half the battle fought and won."

Tails looks at Amadeus. "You're still not taking this seriously."

"I am," says Amadeus. "Why would I go into this acting as if I'm already dead? I may as well leap out of the window!"

"You're on the first floor," I put in helpfully.

"Well the way Miles is presenting it to me I'll probably be one of the 2% of people who land on their necks doing so!" says Amadeus. "Really now. I've been told I'm going to die of illness before. I will do what I always do, and come out of it maybe a little weakened, but out of it nonetheless."

"What do you always do?" I ask.

"Fight," Amadeus says simply. "That and only that, day and night until I am successful. It gets to be trying at times, but only rarely have I met a battle I have not won."

"Well you've sure convinced me," I say. "But I've got to get going. I've got something I've got to do."

"Off you go then," says Amadeus. "Thank you for your help, Knuckles."

"I'll be around," I say to Tails, but he doesn't answer me.

Oh geez. I think he's hitting his breaking point.

I don't want to be around when that happens.