Sonic turned his head to look at the young fox, his best friend. Tails had been trying to distract him from his thoughts for weeks on end, but nothing he did seemed to last for long.
"Sonic, what are you thinking?" Perhaps it was a foolish question, because Tails already knew the answer. The question and answer were becoming almost routine. Every time Sonic slipped back into this mood, Tails tried his best to snap him out of it, but he couldn't seem to get far enough from the events of two months ago.
"If I had just held on... for a few moments longer... Tails, we were right next to each other! I could have caught hold of him, pulled him back!"
"No, Sonic! Neither of you had the energy for that! You would both have died!"
Sonic shook his head and turned back to the window.
"There had to have been a way... I could have... There must have been something I could have done..."
Even looking into Sonic's eyes hurt. He blamed himself for not being able to save Shadow, and the pain was written within them, reinforcing its message across Tails' heart. It was no use arguing - goodness knew he'd tried, but after a point, what was there left to say, when Sonic could not let go? Tails changed tack, hoping to break him out of it again, at least for a time, to distract him with something else. Perhaps this time he'd not lapse back... perhaps if Tails could get him running, testing the limits of his ability, perhaps then he would revel again in the speed and freedom he loved so much...
"Hmm...?" A slightly quizzical acknowledgement of Tails, a vague question more out of politeness than true curiosity, so far from his usual self that Tails might have cried if he hadn't got used to it already, done enough of that already. At first when Sonic returned, it had been fine. He seemed all right. But then, as the days passed, he began to grow more sombre, as though everything were pushing at him in a way he could not avoid. Until he began to sit like this for hours at a time, withdrawing into his own mind, unable this time to let go of the past. Even after he'd lost a part of himself with the destruction of that robot, Hyper Metal Sonic, Sonic had kept on going. Had it all finally become too much? All the pain he'd seen, and stopped, and been unable to stop, all the people he'd seen, and saved, and been unable to save... and then the death of Shadow... had it all been pushing him, slowly, for all that he didn't usually think much on the past? Tails was resolved to keep on trying, because Sonic was his friend, but even he was no longer sure that Sonic would ever return to his normal self.
"Uh, Sonic, I wanted to do an experiment, and I was wondering... could you help me?"
"...What is it, Tails?" No real interest, no spark of curiosity, just a question to Tails, what do you want me to do, because Tails was the best friend he'd ever had, so he'd do it for him if he could. Tails plunged on anyway, hoping to somehow fire his interest, making it up as he went along.
"Well, it's all to do with physics... the faster you go, the more time seems to slow down for everyone else, as far as you're concerned. As you approach the speed of light, the effect gets more and more pronounced, until at lightspeed, as far as you're concerned, you're everywhere at once... I wanna see just how fast you can go, and just what effect that'll have on you relative to me... Will you help me?"
"Time slows down? You serious?" But there was a spark of real interest in his voice, interest on his own behalf, and not purely because Tails had asked him to do something. It was a better reaction than Tails had got in a long time.
"Yeah. Come on, I'll show you the explanation if you like."
Sonic shook his head. "Never mind. You saying it's true is good enough for me. Let's go ahead and try this thing!"
Sonic's actual enthusiasm sparked a smile across Tails' face, hope and delight and relief mixed.
"Great! Let's figure out where to do it. We'll need a long, flat strip of land - I'll just get the maps..." Tails turned, but before he could go anywhere, Sonic spoke.
"No need. I'll just go Super and head out across the ocean!"
"Super?! Are you sure?" Tails' surprise was momentary. It was the best way to do such a thing, but was it really that important? At least, he supposed, Sonic was throwing himself into the idea.
"No, wait - Hyper. I'll charge up to Hyper - that'll get me the greatest speedboost I can have!"
"Uh... okay, Sonic." Tails wasn't sure why this seemed so important to his friend. Perhaps it was just a way of finally putting everything behind him, to shove it from his mind with something else completely. Sonic got up and raced ahead of Tails to where the Cyclone waited in the hangar, already standing atop it by the time Tails arrived with the seven Emeralds.
Tails nodded and fired up the engines, sending the Cyclone soaring off the end of the runway and up into the cloudless sky.
The flight was short, and Sonic's questions about the experiment made it seem shorter. Tails was only just answering them, the majority of his intellect simply rejoicing in the fact that Sonic seemed to be regaining his normal self.
"Say, Tails... what happens if you go faster than the speed of light?"
"...Dunno. Nobody's ever managed it - it's not supposed to be possible. Guess if anybody could do it, it'd be you." Later on, the question would weigh heavily on his mind, but for now he barely noticed Sonic had asked it, buoyed up in his euphoria. It seemed far too soon that they landed on the long beach Tails had picked, stretching out to the calm sea with hardly a ripple to mar either the sand or the water. The wind was still, but neither of them noticed the heat. Both Sonic and Tails walked up to the top of the gently sloping beach, Tails synchronising their watches down to the last second.
"...I guess so."
Now that they were there, Sonic seemed oddly reluctant to begin, checking his shoes, fiddling with this and that. Then he shook himself minutely, as though resolved to see this through, and set his aim directly towards the ocean.
'If I do this... and it works... I was never free... if it doesn't... I'll never know...'
But Tails could not even begin to guess at his thoughts as the hedgehog nicknamed by some the 'Blue Blur' accelerated down the beach, running at incredible speed. As he reached the water he drew upon the power of the Chaos Emeralds - Super, and his eyes were red - again, more - Hyper, and his eyes shifted back to a brilliant green - again - speeding him ever faster, already out of Tails' sight - Light Speed Dash and a feeling of bordering the edge of reality, of space and time itself - Chaos Control!
And then, there was... nothing. Tails, Emerald detector in hand, watched in horrified amazement as the blip of Chaos Energy that was Hyper Sonic disappeared completely - and did not return.
Darkness, but not a calm darkness, a rushing darkness, fragments of images sharp as knives, cutting at him, pushing at him, pulling him back, stronger than anything he had ever felt, pushing him from his destination, as though he were on a piece of elastic stretched almost to its limit, only his will keeping him moving at all as he seemed to slow to a relative crawl... and then he was there.
Darkness... but a different darkness. He could see the stars. Sonic turned, and the world hung beneath him, turning gently. Fiery streaks of small meteors burning up in the atmosphere. Sonic was holding himself against the stretched-elastic feeling - he did not belong here, he was being pulled away - He closed his eyes, and he was further down, one hand outstretched and then holding on tightly, he must never let go - and something stretched beyond endurance threw him back or forwards through the rushing swirling darkness of image fragments and invisible knives, but the trip was a thousand times faster for he was returning to where he belonged, being thrown from where he could not be, and then all was a different dark again, and Sonic knew no more. But he had not let go.
Tails sat alone in the cockpit of the Cyclone, unmoving. What had happened? Sonic... Sonic had... had... No! Sonic would never...! Would he...? Had he, Tails, had he... his idea... had he... shown... No! Never! Sonic would not! He would not! That was not like him! That was not his way!
Like it wasn't his way to hold on to the past? To be unable to forget? Like that wasn't his way? But he'd done it, hadn't he! He had! And so... who was Tails, to say what was or was not his way. He'd... he had... he had given his friend - though he didn't know it - had he given him... at long last... an... an easy way out?
No! Sonic would never choose to end it all like that!
Lying discarded on the sand beside the plane, the Emerald detector, still active, beeped twice - and exploded.
Only an immense surge of Chaos energy, more than anything Tails had ever encountered, could have done that. Was Sonic still... alive? Out there, somewhere? Galvanised into action, Tails reactivated the Cyclone and powered up its own Emerald detection system. A faint but steady signal indicated the presence of all seven Emeralds, drained of almost all their power. If Sonic still lived, then he would be there, with those Emeralds. And Tails had to find him! Once more the plane shot up into the cloudless sky, but this time with a far more urgent mission.
Tails flew directly to the source of the faint signal, out in the middle of the ocean. A short way from a little island, a single rock poked its very top above water - and there, on that rock, was a scrap of something, something white. Sonic's glove? The plane swooped down for a hurried landing on the island, Tails flying across to the little rock without even bothering to turn the plane's engine off, or even stop it from moving completely, heedless of everything but that white speck he had seen from above. A hand, and only that, limp on the rock, the arm extending under the water, invisible in the murk of stirred-up dirt and algae. Tails grabbed hold of it and pulled hard. Sonic must have been stuck, because he seemed at least twice his normal weight - or was Tails just weak from relief that his friend was still alive? He tugged Sonic onto the rock - but Sonic's other hand was holding onto something else, clutched in a grip that even death would take time to loosen. A torn, burned... glove? Tails pulled harder, faster, only half believing what he saw. Singed and burned, fur seared away in places, somehow it was Shadow - and both he and Sonic were still alive, if only just.
So this... this was what happened when... when you somehow, however you did it, when you somehow exceeded the speed of light... time went... backwards...? Sonic had... had returned to the planet's atmosphere... before Shadow burned up... and saved him...? How could this be? But it was... it had to be... true...
Tails spun his tails hard and managed to lift them both into the air, flying as fast as he was able to his plane, which lifted off, heading back the way it had come. Although they were barely alive, both Sonic and Shadow lived, and Tails flew back with hope in his heart for the future.
Author's note: I play with sanity and reality. Mostly, I put 'em back together when I'm done... if not, feel free to pick up the pieces. Hyper Sonic's eye colour, just in case you were wondering, is definitely green - or at least, it was on the Sonic and Knuckles Collection, and I've never seen any evidence to the contrary. To go Hyper requires all the power of the Emeralds, Super only half (which is how Sonic and Shadow charged up together). But you knew that anyway. Review my story, whether or not you liked it, and you have my gratitude!