���How have things been going with Tarantino?��� Cosmo
���How have things been going with Tarantino?��� Cosmo
“How have things been going with Tarantino?” Cosmo asked. “He’s nice and very funny, but he has this weird thing where he keeps trying to tickle my feet.” Galaxina replied. Before we really dive into this story, it should be explained that years of babysitting and keeping Starla out of trouble have kept Galaxina on her feet for the majority of her days. As a result, they have become calloused and numb to most sensations. Scientifically speaking, she is not ticklish on her feet and scientists believe she will continue to not be ticklish for at least the next epoch. With that out of the way, we’re free to focus on less important details, like the fact that Cosmo and Galaxina are waiting for their dates to arrive at their somewhat fancy family dinner. Standing around in the smooth hallway with its floating holograms of classical Seedrian artwork, the sisters were given no choice but to kill time. But even just standing around in a hallway was not without its interesting details, namely Cosmo’s stature. Galaxina couldn’t help but notice that her little sister was leaning against the wall with her arms folded over her chest and one foot up against the wall. While the little sprout didn’t look angry and her words were as calm as ever, the pose alone would imply she’s grown a lot of spunk. Then there was the way she was speaking to Galaxina…She was speaking to Galaxina. Gone were the stutters and stammers and here to stay were clear sentences and confidence. While Galaxina was no doctor, she had a pretty good idea of where this newfound bravado came from. And that reason just entered the hallway. “Sorry I’m late!” Tails, Cosmo’s two-tailed boyfriend called as he ran up to her side. “I was just having a tough time getting used to these clothes and lost track of time.” Ugh. You probably wanna know more about those clothes before we can move on. Okay, so, he was wearing an outfit very similar to the dresses Cosmo and Galaxina were wearing, but there was no skirt or jewel; the back also came down in coattails. Whereas Cosmo wore green, he wore blue, a color he specifically requested the same time he asked for a hole in the pants for his tails to poke out of. He kept his goggles and tool belt at home, but brought a pair of yellow gloves with him; yellow to match the gold cuffs on his sleeves. There, happy now? Cosmo broke her cool pose by letting out a strange, squeaking noise and running up to Tails with outstretched arms. She grabbed the fox in a hug and lifted him off his feet. Galaxina was about to say something, considering Tails seemed to have trouble breathing, but Cosmo put him down before long. Tails let out an embarrassed chuckle as he straightened out his uniform. “Thank you so much for wearing the clothes!” Cosmo cheered as she clasped her sleeved hands together. “I know male Mobians are defensive about wearing clothes, but they look utterly adoruh, fantastic on you!” Tails explained a little bit about why he doesn’t like wearing clothes, but his explanations had a way of getting wordy and Galaxina was more interested in Cosmo’s confidence. Having known the sapling for 11 years, Galaxina always noticed how she was courteous bordering on timid…and by ‘bordering,’ she meant ‘absolutely,’ making that last statement ‘courteous absolutely on timid.’ Deranged syntax structuring aside, it was pretty apparent that Cosmo was blooming over the last few months. Casually speaking to her big sister, hugging her boyfriend in public and being so personable that she could be described as a ‘person’ were all new things for Cosmo and new things for Galaxina to take in, but it was all very heartwarming. She would have loved to grab Cosmo right then and there and squee things about being proud of her, but was afraid that this newfound bravery could be crushed as easily as it came; better to watch from afar for now. As Galaxina thought this very long thought to herself, her own date, Tarantino, showed up. We could go into as much detail about him as we did Tails, but this story clearly isn’t about him, so who cares? He’s a Seedrian in a gray security uniform and his leaf hair is whatever color you want it to be…oh, and he has kind of a big chin. Good enough for you? The Galaxina sisters took their men by the hand and everyone walked through a circular doorway that led to a large dining room. Whereas most Seedrian décor is white, smooth and futuristic, this dining room was light blue with potted plants lining the walls and a shaggy, green carpet on the floor. The walls were spotted with painted clouds with a single sun painted at the very top-center of the round room’s ceiling, where a warm lamp was built into the ceiling; one lamp in the room just as there was one sun over the planet. The long dining table was made to resemble a magnificent oak table you would expect to see in a Victorian home, only it was made of inorganic plastics (being plant people, the Seedrians were not very keen on woodcraft, but they did appreciate the naturalistic look). Although Seedrian culture had grown to favor clean and smooth technology, most of their communal events and family affairs were held outdoors or in rooms made to resemble the outdoors. Smooth and clean technology was essential for the small living quarters they shared during their pilgrimage through space, but landing on Mobius reminded them of what they left behind on their home planet; many Seedrian cultural leaders set about mimicking the natural world in their homes, museums and artwork. Galaxina and Cosmo’s mother being the Seedrian Prime Minister, naturally had such a room in their home…pun written by accident but kept on purpose. “Girls, you’re early!” Prime Minister Hertia heard her visitors come in and turned to face them. “Early? But I thought we were late.” Tails looked at Cosmo quizzically. “I’m sorry!” Cosmo let out a goofy grin as she rubbed the back of her head. “Even though you and your friends are very fast, you always seem to be late for some reason…I lied about what time we were meeting. I’m so sorry! Please don’t hate me for this!” Cosmo grabbed Tails’ hands and begged his forgiveness with her eyes. It wasn’t a hard sell. “Early or late, as long as you’re all here.” Hertia walked around the table to greet her family with hugs. Handshakes were for dignitaries, but family got hugs. Tarantino had only been dating Galaxina for a few months, but the Prime Minister made it her business to know her city’s border guardsmen, even when they’re not dating her daughter. Then there was Tails. “Congratulations again on winning the science fair!” Hertia told the fox as she stood back up from hugging him. “I still remember the looks on everyone’s faces. They couldn’t believe an outsider learned their technology and mastered it!” “It’s…it’s nothing, Prime Minister. Really.” Tails could barely take the compliment. He tried lowering his head to hide his blushing, but the Prime Minister tussled his bangs. “Always so modest. I hope you learn to take a compliment someday. I also hope you start calling me Hertia someday sooner!” Hertia met Tails the day after Cosmo found him. She’s only known him for a few months. Those months may as well have been Tails’ entire 10 years on Mobius. Even though it was a family dinner in a family home, some Seedrian civil leaders and business moguls were invited. A little less personal than a family affair, but the Prime Minister rarely has the benefit of privacy. Especially not when one of her potential sons-in-law served as the city’s border guardian and the other one was a freakishly young technology prodigy that cracked their own species’ star-traveling secrets. Her daughters were probably interesting too…Probably. “To be honest, I never thought of di-lithium as a viable power source. No matter how slowly it burns, you can’t get around the fact that it’s so rare. I mean, Mobius doesn’t even have dilithium. There are, however, a strangely high number of instances of energy-rich crystals here. Provided they’re natural resources and not manufactured technology, they could provide an interesting and clean energy source.” Tails didn’t normally speak in public, but public wasn’t normally interested in listening to him ramble. He sat back down (he was a tad small for the adult-sized table) to moisten his parched throat. “I’m so sorry about this!” Cosmo buried her face in one of Tails’ namesakes. “I was really hoping mother’s guests would leave you alone tonight! Can you ever forgive me!?” “Forgive you? I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repay you!” Tails hugged the mortified Seedrian. “Nobody’s ever cared this much about my techno babble before! Can you believe the Sunflower Corp actually wants me to design a propulsion system for them!?” “You mean they don’t parade you in the streets and make you their prime minister back home?” Galaxina jokingly asked Tails as she tussled his bangs…Apparently, tussling his bangs was a thing now. “Heh heh.” Tails was getting embarrassed again. “No, they’re more interested in mining and archaeology back home. I help them out how I can, but you’d be surprised how different mining is from aeronautics and not even my friends can really stand my blabbering for long.” Cosmo lifted her face from Tails’ tail and looked down at the floor. She leaned over to her mother at the head of the table and after a few words, excused herself from the room. Tails watched her leave with concern, but Hertia caught his attention by putting a hand on his shoulder. “She forgot to pack for your trip.” The Prime Minister assured the fuzzy boy with a polite smile. His fears relieved, Tails took another swig of GeneriCola and followed it up with a chilidog. Being plant people, many assume that Seedrians don’t eat any form of fruit or vegetable, but this is a misconception. Fruits and some vegetables are normally just byproducts of the larger plant organism and used as a means of spreading their seeds. In the wild, trees and other plants will actually grow fruits and specifically to be eaten by animals so that the seeds they carry can be…deposited elsewhere and grow into new plants. Seedrians are well aware of this and thusly have made fruits and certain vegetables part of their diet their whole lives. They do not, however, eat seeds, roots, leaves or fungi as those are parts of a plant necessary for growth, sustenance or a whole living plant respectively. Seedrians have also been known to eat algaerich broths, finding the sunlight-rich microbes to be especially tasty and nutritious. The Seedrian stomach is not capable of digesting meats, but living on Mobius has taught them how to prepare and serve them. For visiting animals, Seedrian restaurants and more affluent homes were known to keep a few popular meat products on hand as well as a chef who specializes in meat preparation. In Tails’ case, hot dogs were grilled, a special chili recipe lacking beans was cooked and 2 whole liters of GeneriCola were luxuriously bought at a store because…well, it was easier than making it from scratch. The night went on without Cosmo. Tails was a model guest, Galaxina told the president of Sunflower Corp where the bathroom was and Tarantino quietly told a risqué joke (Galaxina got embarrassed and Hertia snickered…which then caused Galaxina to increase her embarrassment). The food was finished, bigwigs gave Tails their contact info and Galaxina showed the guests to the door (Tarantino too because he had the morning shift the next day). When all the hustle and bustle was over with, Galaxina had to remind Tails that they have a staff to tend to the dishes and invited him over to a couch. “So, you guys are leaving tomorrow, right?” Galaxina asked as she smoothed out her skirt and sat down. “Yep.” The fox hopped onto the couch, wincing for a second when he landed on his tails. “Thank you again for convincing your mom to let Cosmo visit.” “Thank you for taking her. I hope you take plenty of pictures of her getting super uncomfortable by all the dirt and lack of air conditioning.” Tails and Galaxina chuckled. “But uh…” Galaxina tried to change the subject. “You still have that crazy guy that tries to kill you back home?” Tails had to think for a second. “Oh, you mean Eggman? Don’t worry, he’s on vacation.” “He…tries to kill you but then tells you when he goes on vacation?” “…Yeah. You know, I’ve spent so much time with him that I kinda forgot just how weird he is. But yeah, he lets us know every time he heads out of town. Mostly so we can water his plants or make sure his robots don’t scratch up his carpets.” “I thought his robots were smart. Don’t they talk?” “They do. We keep reminding him. He doesn’t listen.” “Man. That guy’s weird…But he’s definitely not home, right? I know Cosmo saved you and all, but she’s not exactly a fighter or anything…And, no offense, you don’t seem like one either.” “Oh, don’t worry!” Tails suddenly felt like he was in trouble. “Amy and I planned for everything! If Eggman does come back early, my friends are more than enough to take care of him and the town is willing to help me hide or move Cosmo back to my plane where I can fly her out.” Tails looked down at the floor and rubbed his arm. Hearing all of this out loud now made him feel ashamed. Galaxina hugged him, much to his confusion. “Hey, don’t sweat it.” She held her hands on Tails’ shoulders and looked him in the eye. “Everything about your friends checks out, especially Sonic, and you and Cosmo are the smartest seeds I know. Any plan you come up with is gonna work. It’s just that nobody likes hearing that they’re sister is gonna visit a town with a mad scientist.” Tails profusely assured Galaxina that everything would be fine and she grinned at his nervousness. One floor up and a few rooms over, Hertia opened a door and found Cosmo sitting on her bed with a packed traveling back next to her. Cosmo didn’t look up at her mother, focusing instead on her fidgeting hands. “That bag was packed all night, wasn’t it?” Hertia sat next to Cosmo and put an arm around her shoulders. “Yes…” Cosmo couldn’t look her mother in the eye. “Nervous about leaving home?” “A little.” “Nervous about the Manly Egg?” “No. I think I can save Tails if it comes to it.” “Wasn’t he supposed to--” “What?” “Never mind. So you’re not nervous about leaving home and you’re not nervous about the Eggmond. What are you nervous about then?” “…Friends.” “Whose friends?” When you raise a nervous kid, you get pretty good at hearing mumbling and murmurs. “T…Tails’ friends. Wh-what if they don’t like me? O-or what if Tails realizes he likes his friends more than me?” Hertia stroked Cosmo’s hair with her free hand. Cosmo leaned on her mother but continued to fidget with her hands. “T-Tails and his friends are rugged adventurers…And all the big companies here t-tell him that he’s a genius and wanna make him famous. What if…What if Tails and his friends think I’m boring? That I’m not c-cool or smart enough to hang out with him?” “Well then, I guess you’d wake up.” Cosmo looked up at Hertia quizzically. “Because that could only happen in a nightmare.” Cosmo pulled away from Hertia’s embrace and continued looking at her quizzically. “We’ve shown Tails spaceships and he still gets fascinated by telescope you gave him. He has all of these fantastic adventures back home, but he spent almost every day of the last few months here with you. Even if he was capable of leaving a friend behind, which he isn’t, I don’t think you’d be the friend he gets bored of. I mean, you saved his life and you’re an alien. I can’t think of anything cooler than that!” Cosmo chuckled as Hertia gave her another hug. Cosmo held her mother’s arm to get the hug to linger a little longer. “What about his friends?” “From what I’ve read about Mobian culture, Tails is what they call a ‘nerd.’ Nerds don’t make friends with people with people who think they’re ‘too cool’ for other people…Even if Sonic really is ‘Way Past Cool.’” Cosmo spent about another minute getting buttered up by her mom, but she was already feeling better about the trip. Around the same time, Galaxina finally convinced Tails that she doesn’t hate him for taking Cosmo on the trip. Hertia used the word ‘nerd,’ but ‘nerve’ may have been a better to describe Cosmo and Tails. Cosmo wanted to watch a movie that night, but Tails convinced her that it wasn’t a good idea to stay up late on the night before a long plane flight…Sadly, that did not stop them from whispering late into the night when they repeatedly said they knew they should be sleeping. Galaxina thought it was cute enough to let it slide for an hour. Then one hour became two. Then Galaxina realized she couldn’t sleep, so that nonsense got shut down. Sleep didn’t come easy, but it eventually came. Fortunately, the Sun took a little bit longer to come, so everyone slept well before the morning came. The children, giddy for their big trip, got up and going as soon as they could. “You’re sure you worked out a flight plan with the authorities this time?” A pink hedgehog asked Tails through a holographic projection cast from his goggles. Her voice was 2 parts concerned and 1 part just a liiiiiiitle bossy. “Yes, Amy.” Tails responded, trying his best not to sound annoyed. He was back in his regular goggles, work belt, gloves and shoes. He said he gave his Seedrian regalia back to Starla, but he actually threw it away. Male Mobians really don’t like clothes. “Hi Amy.” Cosmo poked out from behind Tails and greeted the hologram. Unbeknownst to Tails, she just finished packing his Seedrian clothes into her luggage in case she felt like muscling them back on him during their visit. Cosmo really likes those clothes. “Oh, hello Cosmo!” Amy cheerfully waved to Cosmo. “We can’t wait to see you!” Amy had been speaking with Cosmo and her family through holograms and phone calls ever since Tails first met them, mostly in the interest of not sending Tails or Cosmo off to hang out with strangers, but this visit would mark the first time they’d meet in person. “I’m looking forward to it too. I even packed a Rugged Outfit like you suggested!” Cosmo and Amy exchanged a few more pleasantries before Tails confirmed his flight schedule with Amy and hung up for the time being. Galaxina then arrived with Hertia, who used her power as the Prime Minister to blow off some of her duties as the Prime Minister to see her daughter off. “Good luck out there!” Galaxina hugged her sister tight. “Don’t freak out too much when you get dirt under your nails!” “Ha, ha.” Cosmo put her hands on her hips and talked at Galaxina through closed eyes. “I’ll have you know I made a Rugged Outfit just for this trip!” “Ooh! Rugged! I take it all back, Tarzan!” Galaxina put her hands up as if anything Cosmo just said was scary. Hertia cut the exchange short by kneeling down and hugging the two kids. “Keep your chin up.” She said to Tails. “I know you’ll have this whole Eggington issue under control.” “Keep your chin up too.” She said to Cosmo. “I think they already like you.” After those encouraging words, the kids climbed into the front and back seats of their blue biplane. Goggles and headsets on. Luggage secure under the seats. One last wave goodbye and the plane took off, out of the field just outside the Seed Embassy. Tarantino saw the plane through his window and waved, not that it mattered to this story. “Attention all passengers,” Cosmo heard Tails through her headset. He was putting on his most monotone voice to mimic airlines she’s never been on but got the gist of from TV. “Thank you for flying Air Prower. At this time, we’d like to ask you to keep your arms and legs inside the cockpit at all times and if you need to use the bathroom…Well, you were supposed to do that before we left.” Cosmo grinned at the little skit. “But seriously, don’t stick your arms out. The air pressure will tear them off.” Tails resumed his normal voice just to make sure that point hit home. “It’s okay.” Cosmo responded. “My boyfriend will just make me a robot arm with lasers!” “Wait, you’d really do that!?” Cosmo couldn’t tell if Tails was going along with the joke or if he truly wanted to make a robot arm, so she changed the subject. “When we reach Bygone Island, do you think we’ll find another one of those crystals? The kind with the energy?” She asked, in reference to the energy-rich crystals that not only fueled Tails’ biplane, but also allowed it to travel much faster than any biplane should be able to. “Well,” Tails started, trying to kill the fun as softly as he could. “I was thinking that we’d do something a little more…normal when we got home.” “Oh. Why’s that?” “…” Tails tried to think of a way to say this without hurting Cosmo’s feelings. “Well, things get a little dangerous out in the jungles and deserts. A lot of traps and left-over robots. My friends are used to dealing with this kind of stuff, but it would be a lot to throw at you.” A hot flash flared in the back of Cosmo’s head. That sounded a lot like, ‘You’re not cool enough to go exploring, so I’m gonna keep you in the boring parts of town while my super-cool friends that are cooler than you do cool things that your nerdy brain could never comprehend.’ Of course, that’s a rough translation, but it did seem suspicious that Tails brought up such talk when Cosmo was already wrestling with the thought of getting left behind. Surely, this couldn’t have been over-analyzing. “Oh.” Cosmo tried to sound like her feelings weren’t hurt. “Should I not have packed my Rugged Outfit?” “Oh! No, that was a good idea!” Tails could hear the disappointment in Cosmo’s voice. “We’re still gonna go exploring! Just not the super-deep and dangerous parts! No sense starting you off on the hard courses, right?” Cosmo agreed as cheerfully as she could and tried to believe Tails, and not the convoluted translation she heard in her head. Her mom made a good point last night and Tails made a good point just now. Maybe things really were going to be okay. Then again, maybe things were going to be awful. The distance between the Acorn Kingdom, where the Seed Embassy resides, and the cluster of newly-discovered islands, including Bygone Island, was roughly a lot. Using the vaguelydefined power of the crystal, Tails’ plane made the trip in some impressive amount of time. If you’re good at math, use your imagination to fill in the gaps. Just know that X=the time Tails and Cosmo touched down and that X=sometime in the early afternoon. Cosmo’s earlier anxieties were replaced with glee and awe when she saw all of the green and blue and yellow of Bygone Island. As a Seedrian, she had a natural appreciation for nature. As a spaceship baby and recluse, she never actually went out to see it much. Seeing the island from above was like crossing a portal into a fairy tale for her. “If you think it looks good from up here,” Tails started, overhearing Cosmo’s gasps of wonderment. “Wait ‘til you see it up close!” The plane landed on a sandy cliff lined with palm trees on either side; it had become a popular landing strip for Tails since the long, narrow cliff and the oddly-decorative trees made it look like a real landing strip. Waiting at the end of that cliff, standing near an artificially-made staircase in the rockface, was Amy, a dashing blue hedgehog, a gigantic red echidna and a festering rodent wearing mismatched rags that looked slightly cleaner than herself. All were waving cheerfully as the plane came to a stop just in front of a small mountain of sandbags placed there just in case the plane ever had trouble coming to a stop. “Welcome back, bro!” The blue hedgehog, who you already know to be Sonic, said as he helped Tails out of his cockpit. Tails said something in reply and they high-fived because Sonic was apparently born in the 90’s and still thinks high-fives are cool. “Welcome to Bygone! So good to finally see you in person!” Amy exclaimed as Cosmo passed her luggage down to her. Cosmo climbed out of the plane on her own. “I’m so happy to see all of you too!” Cosmo exclaimed cheerfully. “Tails has told me so much about all of you! Sonic, Knuckles and Sticks-” She was cut short by a feral lunatic grabbing her by the collar. “WHO TOLD YOU OUR NAMES!?” Sticks the Badger, a rare combination of jungle primitive and crackpot demanded as she got eerily close to Cosmo’s face. “T-Tails.” Cosmo replied, feeling more uncomfortable in just this moment than most people feel in their whole lives. “…Okay. That checks out.” Sticks let go of Cosmo when her fractured mind slowly pieced together that Cosmo clarified that very fact not 10 seconds ago. “Well, I was suspicious for a second there.” A mountain of muscle known as Knuckles the Echidna said as he picked up Cosmo’s luggage with one hand. “But Sticks says you’re okay and she never says anyone’s okay. She also never says anything I understand, but I guess that’s not important.” Cosmo held back a chuckle as Knuckles acted just like Tails said he would. She then turned her attention to Sonic and offered her hand in a fist bump, slightly more up to date than a high-five. Slightly. “Ahem.” Cosmo cleared her throat as she got into character. “How’s it hangin’, bud?” Sonic grinned. “Cool, as always. Tails taught you well.” He reciprocated the fist bump and blew it up, as is customary amongst Neanderthals. “Of course. You don’t greet the coolest guy alive with a lame hand shake.” Cosmo folded her hands behind her head to feign a cool guy’s indifference. Tails buried his face in his palm as tried and failed to hold back a smile. “Well, before we run the risk of Knuckles forgetting he’s holding your luggage, let’s get you settled in at my house.” Amy butted in and pointed down the staircase. Tails attempted to lead the way, but tripped on a loose rock and fell backwards. Cosmo caught him by the arms. “Saved you again.” Cosmo joked while Tails was still getting his bearings. “Oh. Heh heh.” Tails chuckled as Cosmo put him back on his feet. “Hope you don’t start charging me a fee for that.” Tails and Cosmo giggled as Sticks started ranting about ‘taxation without salvation’ and Knuckles pretended to understand it. Sonic hung back and Amy couldn’t help but notice. “Wanna talk about it?” She asked as she folded her hands behind her back and bent one leg at the knee. “Talk about wha?” Sonic folded his arms over his chest to remind her that he’s cool and therefor doesn’t have squishy feelings. “Aw, come on! Tails? Cosmo? Your little buddy growing up?” “I’m glad for him.” “Are you? Are you sure you’re not afraid he’ll leave you behind? Start hanging out with Cosmo?” “You kiddin’ me? Sometimes I can’t get the kid off my back.” “Well…Uh…are you--” “Nope.” “How abou--” “Eww! Why would you even imply that!?” Amy lost her composure and started tugging at her hair. “There has to be something on your mind! What is it!?” “Gee Ames, if you really wanted to know, you shoulda just asked.” Amy pulled her hammer out of thin air. Sonic got his cue to stop joking. “Well…it’s weird. It’s like…” “Like he’s growing up too fast?” “It’s like he’s the girl and she’s the guy.” “…Oh. You saw that too?” Down on the ground, Cosmo’s excitement at the little town had Sticks thinking someone poisoned the air supply to severely lower peoples’ expectations. When they made it to the island’s beach, Cosmo’s awe had Knuckles thinking that his brain was broken again and that he wasn’t seeing the same beach as her. By the time they got to Amy’s beach house, Cosmo’s mind-blown ecstasy had Sticks and Knuckles thinking that Cosmo was a little annoying. “I can’t take it anymore!” Sticks screamed in her most civil indoor voice as Cosmo went to Amy’s room to change clothes. “Every little thing she sees is like some magical fever dream!” “Well, she really likes natu-” Tails got cut short by Sticks grabbing him by the chest strap. “Don’t you get it!?” Sticks shook Tails like a doorknocker. “She’s got government agents controlling her thoughts!” “St-sticks!?” Tails tried to sound calm, but it’s hard to sound calm when a schizophrenic is lifting you off the ground. “D-did you take your medicine today!?” “Of course not! I gave it to some gullible sap!” She threw Tails over her shoulder. “Knuckles! Don’t let her take me! I-isn’t any of this freaking you out!?” “Ordinarily it would…” Knuckles sat on a couch complacently. “But this free candy is really mellowing me out.” He dumped another handful of the candy from its convenient orange carrying case. Before Knuckles could ask Sticks the candy’s brand, she dashed out the door with Tails helplessly screaming. Bummer. A few seconds later, Cosmo came out in her much talked about ‘Rugged Outfit.’ A green, sleeveless shirt and shorts were joined by a white sarashi wrapping, her red jewel fastened to the shirt. Her forearms and hands were wrapped up in sports tape with the fingers exposed. Her shins and ankles were also adorned in sports tape while her shoes were green, lowcut work boots with a fastening Velcro strap around the ankles. A white scarf with pointed edges and green trim wrapped around her neck and hung down to her waist. Lastly, the golden bands that normally wrap around the bases of her roses were replaced with straps of sports tape; she figured it was the style. If it makes you feel any better, there will be no further descriptions of outfits in this story. “Wh-what do you think, everyone?” Cosmo kept her eyes closed and didn’t try striking any stylish poses. She was getting used to talking to new people, but parading herself around as the center of attention was still new to her. “Huh?” Knuckles turned to face her. “Oh, right. Forgot you were here.” “Oh.” Cosmo would have been hurt by that but, knowing Knuckles, forgetting about her wasn’t personal. “So, where did--” “Your scarf’s too long.” Knuckles commented as he looked inside his orange tube for more candy. “It is?” “Yeah. Lotta branches n’ stuff in the jungle. That’ll get caught on ‘em.” “Oh. Thank you.” She kept the scarf. No offense to Knuckles, but she heard he’s not the best judge of, well, anything. “So, where did Tails and Sticks go?” “Huh…Where did they go? Oh yeah! Sticks carried him off.” Cosmo’s eye twitched. “Heh heh. Th-that’s funny…Where did they go?” “Idunno. Normally she takes him to her house.” “N-normally?” Cosmo tried to sound like she wasn’t horrified by this. “Oh yeah!” Knuckles thought they were having a happy conversation. “She does this all the time! When Eggman attacks. When Tails gets scared. When she gets bored.” Cosmo started shaking all over. She curled into a ball. Knuckles wasn’t what they call an expert on body language…but he had a hunch. Happy people probably don’t curl into balls. He wasn’t sure why she was upset—maybe because he didn’t offer her any candy—but he figured he could do something about it. “So uh…you like trees, right?” She liked them earlier. It was worth a shot. “…Wh-what?” Cosmo had to pull herself out of her mile-long stare. “Um, yes?” Aha! There was his chance! Now to just quietly…SNATCHCOSMOANDRUNAWAY! She probably said some boring things like ‘What’s going on?’ and ‘Why are you doing this?’ but whatever. After getting lost three times (15 feet is a long way; anyone could get lost going that far), Knuckles finally brought Cosmo to a jungle thicket and put her down. That’s weird. She was shaking again like back at the house. But couldn’t she see all the trees? This was his master plan! How could it possibly fail!? Wait…Maybe she forgot what trees are! Yeah, that happens all the time! “So, little known fact but…we’ve got an exclusive deal on trees.” “Wh-wh-wha?” Cosmo seemed to be snapping out of it. ‘Bout time. It’s like she’s never went running before. “Yeah, not a lotta places have trees but we get ‘em in about…every hundred years or so. Got just about every kinda tree there is. Big, small, brown…uh…lighter brown.” “These ones are Areca Catechu.” Cosmo said meekly. “Th-they’re better known as palm trees and they can live in…many different environments, but they like warm ones the most.” Cosmo hung her head low and looked away from Knuckles. “Woah.” Knuckles didn’t know what that one really big word was, but it sounded impressive. “You know a lot about trees?” Cosmo didn’t have the nerve to look up at Knuckles. “…Yes. Seedrians have always appreciated nature. I…I like to read about Mobian trees. I’m not a genius though and you probably see trees all the time. It’s really dorky. I’m sorry.” “Dorky? Nah, that’s smart!” That’s weird. Knuckles didn’t immediately burst into a fit of laughter…In fact, he almost sounded impressed. “R-really!?” Cosmo lifted her head to face Knuckles. Tried not to sound utterly shocked by his approval. Failed miserably. “Sure! Good you know it too! Everybody around here looks up to me because I’m the strongest, and ‘cause I’m taller than them, but I’ve got a secret.” Knuckles looked around to make sure nobody was listening. Cosmo’s eyes widened as she was about to be let in on something. “Truth is, I kinda look up to Tails and Amy too. I mean, I’m strong and all, but a lot of times, their big, nerdy brains really save the day. I mean, they’re puzzles to solve, Eggmans to outsmart, puzzles to solve…Lotta puzzles now that I think of it. Anywho, Amy’s good with ancient city stuff and Tails is good with machines, but we don’t really have anybody who’s good with tree stuff.” “Really!?” Cosmo almost lost her breath from the praise. “Not even Sticks!?” “Well…I’m gonna let you in on another secret.” Knuckles looked around to make sure nobody was listening. Cosmo’s eyes widened as she was about to be let in on another something. “Sticks is kinda weird.” Second secret wasn’t as impressive. “I guess she lives in the jungle all the time, but she must be like way too smart or something. I never have any idea what she’s saying. You make a lot more sense though. I bet you could teach us all about trees.” Cosmo’s heart felt so light, she thought it might float out of her chest. Knuckles actually thought she was cool! She still wasn’t sure what was going on between Sticks and Tails, but she needed this. She clung to her big, red friend and gave him the tightest hug she could. Not used to getting hugs but having seen enough of them on TV, Knuckles reciprocated as best he could...which meant he was hugging Cosmo’s head. Her arms dangled after a while when his tight hug meant she couldn’t breathe. “Hey, you hear that?” Knuckles let her go as he looked up at the trees canopy overhead. “Guuuuuuh!” Cosmo gasped as sweet, sweet carbon dioxide returned to her lungs. She’s a plant, remember? “H…Hear what? I don’t hear anything.” “Exactly. There’s always birds and stuff squawking their stupid heads off until the Sun goes down. But the Sun’s up and they’re not.” “You think something scared them away?” “I think you oughta get behind me.” Before the confused girl could comply, Knuckles shepherded her behind his back and looked directly overhead. Cosmo was going to ask what was going on, but then the little matter of a giant robot bee crashing through the jungle canopy happened. Cosmo’s jaw dropped in awe as Knuckles’s massive fist shattered the artificial insect as quickly as it showed up. Metal scraps fell all around their feet, but nobody had any time to admire them. “Run. Now!” Knuckles nudged her further into the jungle. “What’s….Eggman!?” Cosmo was bewildered but managed to put two and two together. “But isn’t he on vacation?” “And what could be more relaxing than destroying my hated foes?” A sinisterly jolly loudspeaker cut through the jungle canopy shortly before giant, whirling blades did. Floating overhead was a giant set of blades rapidly rotating every which way around a metal ball with a window. Inside this metal ball with a window was a mad scientist with an unquenchable appetite for destruction. Inside this mad scientist was some lunchmeat that he should have checked the expiration date on. “Eggman!” Knuckles growled through his teeth. “Wait…How long were you up there?” Cosmo asked. “Uh…About ten minutes?” Dr. Eggman asked somewhat confused through his Eggmobile’s intercom system. “You mean you were floating above us this whole time but didn’t do anything?” “Well, the element of surprise--” “Were you just waiting for someone to set you up with a line about your vacation!?” “…” Cosmo turned to Knuckles. “Tails wasn’t lying.” “Grrrr! Enough! Buzzbombers, ATTACK!” On cue, dozens of mechanical bees swarmed out from behind Eggman’s pod. It wasn’t clear where they came from or how nobody noticed them earlier, but it was clear that they started firing at Knuckles and Cosmo. Knuckles pushed Cosmo further into the jungle brush as lasers tore up the ground at their feet. “I’ll hold them off! You go hide! And take that scarf off before it gets caught on something!” Cosmo scurried through the foliage, Areca Catechu giving way to thicker, more densely-packed trees as she moved further from the beach and closer to the jungle’s heart. Further from the Sun and closer to the dark. Further from Knuckles, but not any further from the drone of buzzing. Looking over her shoulder, she saw that a Buzzbomber made it past the echidna and was tailing her. It was far away, but closing the distance every second. She knew she couldn’t run forever, or even for another five minutes at this rate. She had to think of something. She had to-“GAK!” She had to find out what was choking her. “What? My…scarf?” Sure enough, her fashionable neckwear was snagged on a sturdy branch. Guess that’s two things Knuckles was right about. Spinning around like an Amazon Princess unraveled her from her scarf, but also distracted her from the steep hill she was heading towards. Ouch. Oof. Agh. Oof again. Mud. Cosmo weakly pushed herself up to her hands and knees and took a second to register that she fell face-first into a sizeable mud puddle (a muddle, if you will). Being born on a sterile space ship and having grown up in a clean city, Cosmo finally realized that she had never come faceto-face with dirt. Seeing it sully her much-touted Rugged Outfit and feeling it all over her face and under her fingernails like some kind of heavy, ugly skin, she couldn’t say she was a fan of it. The Buzzbomber’s drone returned to her ears. Nowhere to hide…Wait, don’t robots have thermo-vision? Wasn’t there some movie Tails tricked her into watching where a guy hid from a robot’s thermo-vision? How did he do it!? BZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz…… When the buzzing finally faded away, Cosmo opened her eyes. Seems covering herself in mud and lying in the muddle did the trick. Guess mud wasn’t so bad after all, having saved her life and all. That movie was finally good for something too…Well, that and the fact that Tails got scared by the gratuitous violence and spent most of the time buried in her shoulder. Tails… Her own Buzzbomber missed her and she couldn’t hear Knuckles dying in the distance. Maybe nobody would mind if she made sure Tails was safe…Made sure he was still interested in her shoulder. “Of all the things he told me about Sticks,” Cosmo’s arms rose and descended as she debated on whether to keep the mud or wipe it off. “He never told me where she hides.” “That’s because it’s never the same place twice.” Cosmo jumped out of her skin…Well, her secondary ‘mud skin’ anyway. “Sticks!” Cosmo looked around for the voice but only saw trees. “Are you and Tails okay?” “Yeah, why wouldn’t we be?...Wait! Who told you Tails and I were hiding!?” “Um…In the order you asked? Eggman and Knuckles?” “I knew he couldn’t be trusted!” “Yeah, Eggman said something about hunting us being his vacation.” “Not Eggman, Knuckles! Such a gossip-hound! Can’t even keep little secrets like the fact that I have blood samples from everyone on Bygone…” “Wait, what?” “But yeah, you’re right. Eggman’s dangerous too. You should hide somewhere.” “Then let me hide with you and Tails! I swear to the stars that I won’t tell anyone where you are.” “SWEAR TO ME!” Sticks dropped out of the tree canopy, hanging upside down from a vine. She grabbed Cosmo and immediately zipped back up to the trees. Of course, all Cosmo saw was ‘SWEAR TO ME,’ whooshing then black. Why Sticks said that and how she made her voice so deep are known only to her. The next thing Cosmo saw was a dank cave that was neither dark nor smelly; probably because there were oddly-decorative candles strewn about the walls. A thin stream of water quietly flowed deeper into the cave by her feet. Sticks walked through a cave’s equivalent of a doorway and into an impenetrable darkness. Seconds later, Sticks penetrated the darkness when she came back into the room with Tails. Who was holding hands with her. Phew. Cosmo was afraid they were doing something weird. “Oh. Tails!” Cosmo tried not to sound distracted. Given her track record, she should give it up. “Cosmo?” Tails quickly let go of Sticks’ hand. He started to walk over to her, but he tripped. Cosmo didn’t catch him this time. “H-how did you get here?” “Don’t answer that.” Sticks butted in…Covering up the wrong conspiracy at this point. “Um…H-how isn’t important right now.” Cosmo was trying her best to keep her squishy feelings from gushing out, so it was getting hard to keep a straight tone. “Why is important and why is that Eggman-” “Never left town and said that destroying us would be his real vacation?” Tails said it like it was nothing as he got back to his feet. Sticks didn’t look surprised either. “How--” “When you’ve known Eggman as long as we have, you learn things about him. Even if you don’t want to.” “But don’t worry about him.” Sticks closed her eyes smugly and did that thing where anime characters rub their noses and it probably means that they’re feeling proud. “He’ll never find us here. This is my best-kept secret!” Buzzbomber enters. Everyone dies. Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but the Buzzbomber from earlier did find them and opened fire with lasers from its stinger. “How did it find us!?” Sticks shrieked as everyone ducked to the ground and covered their heads. “I told you that sign outside was a bad idea!” Tails replied, referring to a sign outside of a cave that read ‘Sticks’ Hideout.’ As you can guess, they were in that very cave. “What did you expect people to think when they saw it!?” “They were supposed to think that nobody would ever label their own hideout and that the sign was a trap! It’s the most obvious thing in the world!” Before anyone could say ‘Only to a deranged crackpot,’ Cosmo couldn’t help but notice a pattern in the Buzzbomber’s fire. “Why is it only shooting the candles!?” Tails took a second to do the math. “Its thermo-vision is picking the candles up before us! It can’t see us right now, but we’ve gotta run before it runs out of candles!” “What if we just make him run out of head!?” Sticks stood up, not a single laser coming near her, and threw her boomerang at the insectoid robot. The boomerang cut through the air and then cut through the Buzzbomer’s neck. By the time the flying weapon returned to Sticks’ hand, the machine’s head fell to the ground with its body not far behind. Three candles to spare. Three kids still alive. Before we go any further, it should be noted that Sticks’ boomerang is not made out of any special kind of wood and the Buzzbomber was not made out of any kind of flimsy materials. For Sticks to exert enough force to decapitate a robot, she would require a level of strength that is, quite frankly, inhuman (or inMobian if you will) and does not even cover how implausible it is that the boomerang would survive such an impact. Suddenly, this world of talking animals and plant aliens just got a little less realistic, didn’t it? Anywho, back to the story. “D…Did you just--” Tails cautiously stood up, squinting his eyes. “Wow! You took out that robot and made it look easy!” Cosmo got up to her feet in time to see Tails high-five Sticks. The light clapping of their hands sounded like a clapping of thunder in her ears. Felt like a fissure in her heart. No big deal. “Yeah, but Amy’s not gonna be happy.” Sticks said like she didn’t just flaunt something in front of Cosmo. “She gave me those candles to light up the hideout and make it smell pretty.” “Don’t worry,” Tails replied happily, like he wasn’t just flaunted in front of Cosmo. “You still have a bunch on that shelf in the other room. I’ll help you restock them, but first, I have to go do something irrelevant off-screen.” Tails walked out of the room, presumably towards the hideout’s exit, stumbling once along the way. Now it was just Cosmo and Sticks in the room. By themselves. Cosmo folded her arms. Unfolded them. Folded them again. Decided she liked them unfolded…until she folded them again. She tried leaning against a wall, but it was much easier to pace...or it would have been if they didn’t just want to tap the ground like a woodpecker. Woodpeckers are funny animals, aren’t they? How fast their heads move and that goofy laugh they do. How do you suppo-“They’re tracking your thoughts too!?” Sticks asked, suddenly grabbing Cosmo by the shoulders. “Waaaaah?” Cosmo tried to ask something, but that was kind of hard with Sticks prying her mouth open and looking around inside. “Waah aaar yooo saaaaahin?” “Yep, I’ve seen this before. Textbook tooth probe.” Sticks closed Cosmo’s mouth like she was closing car’s trunk. “Just swish some salt water around once a day and it keeps the government from hearing anything. Don’t remove the probe tooth though, or your head’ll explode.” “Th-the government’s not tracking my thoughts…” Cosmo rubbed her jaws as she tried to figure out what was going on. “First off, yes they are.” Sticks put her hands on her hips, not having any of Cosmo’s childishness up in here. “Secondly, why else would you be fidgeting around so nervously?” “Fidgeting? Me?” “I’m a paranoid schizophrenic who’s off her meds and you’re standing in one of my hideouts. I know nervous when I see it. So, spill it. What’s eatin’ at you? I won’t stand for secrets in my secret hideout!” Cosmo gulped. She really didn’t want to do this. But then again, she also wished didn’t have to do this. Why should she feel bad about speaking her mind? Her body quaked from the extraordinary courage she summoned, but she kept her voice calm and didn’t even shoot Sticks a glare. “Did you know that Tails and I were dating when he fell for you?” Sticks raised an eyebrow. She was expecting to hear that Cosmo was a triple agent of some kind, not whatever this was. “I’m very upset that he found somebody else, but I can understand. It’s obvious why any girl would want Tails and, to be honest, you’re a much better match for him than I am.” “What’re you--” “You’re strong. You go on adventurers. You’re exciting. You show a lot more skin than I do. You’re--” “What was that last one.” That’s weird. Sticks didn’t really ask that question so much as demand it. Cosmo cleared her throat as she tried to not notice how Sticks was gripping her boomerang. “I-I’m glad you and Tails are happy toge-gether…I j-just wanted to know if you knew that we were dating before he started dating, uh, you…?” Sticks stared at Cosmo, confused as a grandmother with a computer. Is this how everyone else felt talking to her all this time? Before the girl-talk could go any further, Tails came speeding back into the room like a bullet…A bullet that tripped every few steps. “Eggman! He’s here! He’s here!” “Aw. You ruined the surprise!” Eggman’s voice sounded over his intercom. It was hard to tell if he was sincerely disappointed or joking at his prey. The metal pod crashed into the room. It looked beat up though. Dents all over the surface and cracks in his windshield. What was once many whirling blades was now just one. Even Eggman himself look worse for wear, his uniform scuffed and mustache frazzled. Tails scurried to the next room behind Cosmo and sticks, but the girls couldn’t help but tilt their heads curiously. “What? Do I have something in my teeth?” Eggman stopped his rampage in its tracks. “A tracking device.” Sticks responded flatly. Nobody seemed to pay her mind. “Why’s your Eggmobile all beat up?” Cosmo couldn’t be bothered to be scared at this point. “…Well, you see…in the heat of battle…” “You ran away, didn’t you?” “Of course not!” “So Knuckles beat you up and then let you go home?” “Nobody lets me go home! I go home when I want!...Just don’t tell Knuckles I’m here.” “Alright. But would you mind leaving? Sticks and I were talking.” “Oh, okay. Let me just get outta here.” Eggman’s pod turned around and its blade stopped whirling around, revealing that it wasn’t attached to the pod, but revolved around it magnetically. “Oh, wait! I don’t care about that!” Eggman charged, the blade lighting up the cave sparks as it cut up the rocky interior. Cosmo and Sticks started retreating to the back room Tails went to earlier before. They stopped at the ‘doorway.’ “Don’t worry! I’ve got this!” Sticks readied her boomerang as the mad scientist closed in. Cosmo hung her head and rubbed her arm. It was nice not getting sliced up, but it was still a little disappointing to get saved by her ex’s new girlfriend. Guess she was right though. Someone strong and brave like Sticks would be a much better fit for Tails. “Hey Eggman!” Sticks shouted over the sound of scraping metal. “GET A LOAD OF THIS!” With terrible fury and blinding speed, Sticks threw her boomerang. With a simple ‘tick’ and nothing else, the boomerang just…kinda stuck into the glass. With an awkward silence and much disappointment, everyone stopped in their tracks and stared at the boomerang. “Huh. That normally works.” “What a coincidence. So does this.” Eggman pushed a button. A net shot out, speeding Sticks off into the next room. “Heh heh heh heh…” Cosmo laughed nervously. SCRAT!SCRAT!SCRAT!SCRAT!SCRAT! The blade started whirling and scraping the cave walls again. Cosmo ran into the next room, screaming like a plant-girl being chased by a mustachioed madman. When she saw Sticks pinned to a wooden cabinet, she turned to her right (Sticks’ left). “Cosmo, take the fork to the left!” Sticks shouted as the chase passed her by. “Psst! I lied to throw off Eggman! You should actually take the right!” Not sure if she should roll her eyes or wrinkle her brows in utter confusion, Cosmo quickly thought of the best route to go. “I’ve got you…What!? You were supposed to go riiiiiiiii--” Eggman’s shocked and betrayed voice faded into the distance as he flew down the right corridor. Cosmo let out a sigh when it became clear that Eggman wasn’t going to double back for her. She put her hand against the rocky wall dividing the corridors and walked along this supposedlyforbidden path. The heat of danger gave way to the cool rock. This part of the cave was even darker than the first room. It was getting harder to see. For all Cosmo knew, this shadow went on forever and the wall touching her hand and the running water at her feet were all that were left of the real world. A shiver went down her spine and goosebumps decorated her skin as she soldiered on. It would have been easier (maybe even sensible) to go back to Sticks, but Tails was still somewhere in this cave. She may have been in the wrong corridor. Tails may have left her for Sticks. Eggman may have returned at any moment. She still had to find him though. Breaking up a relationship is bad, but letting Eggman slice him up would probably be just a little too much payback. More importantly, Cosmo just couldn’t leave him defenseless and alone. Thinking about it hurt, even if they weren’t dating anymore. Maybe it was her fault for being a bad girlfriend or maybe she was being a doormat. Or maybe it was his fault for being so cute. Who knows? “There you are!” Cosmo almost jumped out of her skin when she heard Tails. “Tails? Wh-where are you? I can’t see anything.” “I’m to your…Actually, maybe this will help.” A yellow snake materialized out of nowhere…No, not a snake. A rope. A glowing rope? It lit up the cave a little bit. Cosmo could see Tails standing a few feet from her, holding his rope up like a long, skinny lantern. He waved to her with a smile on his muzzle and his goggles on his eyes. Tails held his hand out for Cosmo to grab. She walked over to him, but quietly declined the hand. “Oh. Okay.” Tails was a little weirded out but didn’t make a thing of it. “Well, I’m glad to see you’re okay. I made it out of this cave and waited for you two, but nobody ever came. I guess you guys beat Eggman? Or his DVR filled up again?” “Neither, actually.” Cosmo responded casually. “He’s actually still around here, somewhere. And Sticks is trapped in a net.” “That’s…not good.” Tails wasn’t sure why Cosmo was so okay with this (Cosmo wasn’t sure either). “We should probably head for the exit again.” Cosmo and Tails started walking in the light of his yellow rope. Cosmo walked in front of Tails as she normally did when it was dark out. She was walking faster than usual though. With his backseat view, Tails could see a strange rigidity in her posture. “Are you okay? You’re very tense…” “Well, you know, Eggman’s lurking around.” Cosmo didn’t turn around to face Tails. “That would make you nervous. You were nervous when you thought you heard a wolf when we went camping last week. You were tense when you thought you messed up our first kiss. Right now, you’re tense.” “…I’m just wondering what that rope you’re holding is. What’s that rope? How do you make it glow like that? Where’d you get it from?” “It’s my Enerbeam. It’s a hard light construct that’s malleable like rope. We got it from one of our enemies and I must have forgotten to tell you. Now, tell me what’s really upsetting you.” A hand on Cosmo’s wrist brought her to a stop. She balled up her fists and looked down at her feet. She couldn’t look Tails in the eye. Tails put his Enerbeam down. His hands had more important work holding Cosmo’s shoulders. “…I know about you and Sticks.” The words fell out of Cosmo’s mouth, almost involuntarily. She raised her head. Stopped shaking. “I know you started dating Sticks. I’m not mad because I get it. She’s perfect for you. She’s strong. She’s cool. She’s everything you could want.” “Cosmo--” “You don’t have to explain. I know that I’m just…weird and dorky and I can’t keep up with you and your friends. I know that I wasn’t right for you and I know we’ll be better off this way, but I just feel so strange. I feel like it’s my fault for holding you back but…I don’t know. I just feel like maybe…Maybe you should have told me first. C-can you just tell me when you started dating her and then we just…Just break up? W-would you mind taking me home too?” Cosmo couldn’t breathe. She thought it was because her speech choked her up, but looking down revealed the true culprit. Tails arms wrapped around her tightly and his head pressed against her back. “Why?” Tails’ voice wanted to cry, but he was holding it in. “Why would you think that? Why would you say that about yourself?” “But it’s true. Knuckles told me how she always takes you to her hideouts. And you were holding hands when I got here.” Tails loosened his grip and his knees almost gave out from under him. A laugh jumped out of his throat, but it was gone just as fast. His hug returned with renewed strength after that. Cosmo winced. Is this what it felt like every time she hugged him? “Cosmo, I’m so, so sorry!” Tails still had a smile on his face. “I don’t see well in the dark. That’s why I made night vision goggles, remember? I didn’t have ‘em on earlier because the battery life still isn’t very good.” Cosmo blushed green. Could the explanation really be that simple? “But…Wh-what about Sticks taking you here? Why does she do that so much?” “Because Amy wasn’t around and Knuckles was too big to carry.” Tails rubbed his cheek against Cosmo’s back. “Sticks got bored when you were changing your clothes. She gets bored a lot and when she gets bored, she calls it a conspiracy and tries to save a friend. It’s normally Amy and sometimes, it’s even Sonic. If you were in the room, she may have grabbed you. I know it’s weird but...I did warn you about her.” Cosmo’s blush seized more of her face. The shift from sorrow to embarrassment was so quick and so total, it actually made her head spin. Come to think of it, she actually fell back and the young couple found out the hard way that Tails couldn’t hold her up. Tails gagged when he hit the ground and Cosmo bounced a little to his left when she hit him. “Heh heh heh. Sorry about that. I’m not used to catching you.” Tails chuckled as he rubbed his ribs. Cosmo was too busy shaking off her surprise and confusion to hear him. “Um. Sorry about that. We should get going.” Cosmo said as she snapped out of her stupor. She tried to sit up, but Tails’ arm blocked her path. “Hold on. We didn’t finish talking.” Tails was uncharacteristically assertive, but still had the concern in his voice from earlier. “Wha? O-of course we did. You were right and I was wrong. I’m sorry for all--” Cosmo’s words disintegrated when Tails’ hand eased her back into lying on her back. She felt one of his tails under her head and saw him fluff the other under his own head like a pillow. Tails rested his hands on his chest and looked at Cosmo; took his goggles off so he could look on her with his own eyes. That was enough to send Cosmo’s eyes staring at her own fidgeting hands. “You weren’t wrong about Sticks and me, you were scared. I should be apologizing for that. If I saw you hanging out with a bigger, stronger guy like that and didn’t get to talk to you about it, I would be scared too!” “I would never do that!” Cosmo desperately assured Tails, turning to face him with misplaced guilt on her face. “You’re the nicest, greatest person I know!” “And I say the same about you. So why did you say all those awful things about yourself?” “I…I don’t know. Y…You just hang out with all of these…cool, exciting people and you go on so many adventures. You’re a genius and I’m...just plain.” Tails took Cosmo’s hand in his own without asking. Cosmo didn’t invoke takesies-backsies. “Cosmo, you saved my life and you’re an alien. I can’t think of anything cooler than that!” Cosmo’s face blushed greener than the lushest rain forest. Where had she heard that line before? “Thank you, Tails.” Cosmo was so embarrassed about how wrong she was that she still couldn’t look at him. “I feel so--” “Much.” Tails finished her sentence for her…Though he may have deviated from the script just a bit. He must have been embarrassed by this brazen rewrite because he started blushing too and didn’t have enough confidence to look Cosmo in the eye. “You feel so much.” Cosmo’s eyebrows wrinkled in confusion. Before she could ask Tails what he meant, he explained what he meant. “Ever since I first met you…You were always so kind and you always cared so much about what you’re doing and who you’re with…Sometimes, I think you care too much and it makes you nervous or upset…But…But I wouldn’t want you any other way. I mean, how many other girlfriends out there would actually apologize to their cheating boyfriends instead of beat them up!?” Cosmo and Tails’ eyes teared up. They tried hiding their smiles, but they were still holding hands, so they decided to just laugh and hug each other. “Eeeeewwwwww….” The happy moment was interrupted by a familiar intercom and a spotlight kicked Privacy out of the room. The two lovebirds looked up and saw Eggman and his metal pod hovering over them. The good doctor didn’t seem amused by what he saw. “Less kissing, more fighting!” Declared the Eggman as he fired up the last whirling blade on his pod. “Gah!” Tails, caught up in all of his squishy emotions and still lying on the ground, could only stammer in fear. Fortunately, Cosmo found life-threatening peril easier to deal with than her emotional crises. Now that she knew there was no trouble in paradise, she sprung to her feet, scooped Tails up in her arms and darted away before either genius in the room could say ‘Wha?’ “Wha?” Tails gasped after his brain caught up to what was happening. “You said you made it out of the cave this way, right?” Cosmo’s voice was cold and blunt, like an action movie star. “…Um, yeah.” Tails needed another second to catch up. “But we’re gonna need my Enerbeam. Which I left back there.” “Well…darn.” Shortly after saying that, Cosmo and Tails passed by a ledge high up near the ceiling. That ledge led to a hole in the ground covered by a green tarp. That way would have led to safety, or at least a wider lead in front of Eggman. But they didn’t go that way. They stayed on the ground, which only led to a wall. A wall with a large hole at its base, but a wall nonetheless. SCRAT! SCRAT! SCRAT! SCRAT! SCRAT! SCRAT! The scraping of blades forced Cosmo to make a dicey…er, risky decision. “What, are you trying to hide in there?” Eggman asked over the intercom as Cosmo fled into the hole in the wall. “ ‘Cause I can still see you. Seriously, you’re juts embarrassing yourself.” “It’s a nice try, but this hole’s only gonna buy us a second at best.” Tails said as Cosmo put him back on his feet and started running in front of him. Cosmo ran with outstretched arms, feeling for the back end of the hole, but didn’t find one. “Oh, good! It’s not a hole, it’s a tunnel! Follow me!” Cosmo and Tails ran down the tunnel. The spotlight behind them illuminated their path barely enough to see where they were going, but that’s not what made Tails look over his shoulder. “Cosmo, he’s not following us.” “That’s good—Oof!” Cosmo almost tripped in the poor lighting. “Isn’t it?” “Good for me.” Eggman replied, his pod in idle and a sweat rag dabbing his head. “I was getting exhausted chasing you. Now that you’ve cornered yourselves, I can finally catch my breath.” Cosmo fell onto her butt when she crashed into a wall of rock she couldn’t see; she felt the shallow stream of water from the beginning of the cave around her. Tails turned on his night vision goggles and confirmed that they reached the end of the road before turning them off and facing Eggman’s spotlight glumly. “Thanks for getting us this far, but we’re trapped.” Tails hung his head in shame and lowered his voice. “But don’t worry. Eggman’s pretty easy to flatter. I can probably trick him into taking us prisoner and then, it’ll only be a matter of time before my friends rescue us. I never should have let this happen to you, but I promise you won’t get hurt. After that, you can dump me.” “It wasn’t your job to protect me.” Cosmo replied nonchalantly as she felt the surface of the wall. “Don’t worry. I know exactly how to get out of this mess.” “Cosmo, what are you talking about!?” Tails tried shaking some sense into her. “Eggman might be a goofball, but he’s a dangerous goofball! I’m sorry I couldn’t keep you out of trouble, but we’ll be okay in the long run. Just let me talk to him.” “Okay, but me first.” Cosmo turned to face Eggman, much to Tails’ worry. Eggman’s spotlight looked like a faint glimmer this far away, but he soon intensified the glow. Now that everyone could see everyone, Eggman was none too pleased to see Cosmo waving to him. “What’re you so happy about?” Eggman asked after chugging a bottle of water and wiping off the last of his sweat. “You like getting cut up or something? ‘Cause I’ve got other weapons if you do like getting cut up. Just tell me your least favorite thing and I’ll get that!” “Well, I’d hate to get caught in your net like Sticks, but I know that’ll never happen. You couldn’t net us even if we let you!” “Cosmo…” Tails whispered nervously to the audacious plant girl. “What’re you doing?” “WHAT!?” Eggman broke out in another sweat, and even after he spent all that time dabbing. “Take this! Take this! Take this! Take this!” Why he felt the need to shout ‘Take this!’ so many times when he only fired one net is anyone’s guess, but Eggman fired another net from his pod. Tails shrieked as the metal net spiraled through the air, but Cosmo merely backed Tails and herself up against the wall with a smile on her face. “A-ha!...A-wha!?” Eggman’s jaw dropped when he saw that his net dropped. “I hate to agree with Eggman but…A-wha?” Tails turned to Cosmo for an answer, but only found a confident smirk. “Didn’t I tell you? Not even if we wanted you to.” Sweat or no sweat, Eggman wasn’t going to take this lying down (though he was tired enough to sit). He slammed his control panel and sent his blade whirling around the pod furiously and changed his spotlight to a red filter. “You’re not making a fool of me! I’ll cut you to ribbons for this! CHAAAAAAARGE!” Tails clenched his eyes shut and hugged Cosmo his last hug. Eggman’s face burnt like a star and phlegm erupted from his mouth as his pod shot through the tunnel like a bullet in a barrel. The pod’s metal blade scraped the walls of the tunnel with ear-piercing screeches and giant sparks. The red spotlight closed in on Cosmo like a tidal wave of lava, but she just hugged Tails with one arm, shielded her eyes with the other and smiled a little smile that said ‘Got’cha.’ SCRA! SCRAT! SCRAT! SCRAT! SCRAT. Scrat. … The spotlight went back to white. The blade slowed down to a stop. Eggman’s ferocious roar gave way to relieved panting. After chugging another bottle of water to cool off from that exhausting bout of sitting down and pushing a lever forward, the good doctor got up from his seat and looked around for his conquest, or what was left of it. What he found…What he found was impossible. “What!? This is…This is impossible!” “No, what was impossible was your blade ever cutting through this much marble.” Tails opened his eyes and saw Eggman’s pod hovering a few feet in front of them. He saw a chipped-up, gnarled nub slowly come to a stop in front of the pod where long blade should have been. Wrinkling his brow in confusion, he looked all around. The walls were barely scratched, but the ground was littered in shards of metal. “Studying trees means you have to reference rocks once in a while.” Cosmo said as she let go of Tails and started walking towards Eggman. “Some rocks, like the marble this cave is made of, are very hard, even compared to the technology you and Tails can make.” Cosmo reached the blade stump hovering just a foot away from Eggman’s pod and hopped up onto it to get eye-level with the scientist. Tails and Eggman were still getting over what just happened. “Trees have been known to break up these rocks because they know how to sneak into their cracks. Water and air can break them because they’re patient and chip away at them. But metal? Well, metal likes to run into things and it’s used to winning because it’s so hard. But sometimes, rocks are harder, especially when the rocks are so thick and the metal is so thin. So, your blade could spin and cut as much and as fast as it wanted to, but it was never any match for this cave.” “You…You’ve gotta be kidding me…” Eggman broke out in a sweat, a cold sweat this time, as Cosmo leaned in towards his pod’s windshield. The windshield was scratched and cracked from the fight with Knuckles earlier that day, but there was one crack that especially caught Cosmo’s eye. Sticks’ boomerang was still embedded in the windshield. Cosmo grabbed the end of the boomerang on her side of the windshield and gave it a little tug. “Hey, what’re you doing?” Eggman tried to sound annoyed, but it was clear he was tightly gripping his dashboard. “Oh, nothing. Unf!” Cosmo gave the boomerang a tug. “It’s just that--Unf!” She grabbed it with two hands. “This thing’s been bugging me--Unf! All day.” “Now hold on! I kinda like it there! Gives the whole place a sort of a uh….rustic feel!” Eggman’s eyes twitched behind his sunglasses. “If you want rustic--unf--you can start by getting--unf--rid of the cupholders. No, this boomerang doesn’t fit your décor at all right now.” Eggman went to grab his half of the boomerang, but it was too late. With one last ‘Unf,’ the stick was dislodged and the window that once imprisoned it splintered and rained down all over Eggman’s dashboard like thousands of crystalized tears, shattered dreams and jagged regrets…Eggman knew because he’s made all of these things physical in his spare time. “See?” Cosmo asked facetiously as she admired the boomerang in her hand. “Now your whole pod matches again.” “You…you…Dooooooooh! You’ll pay for this!” Eggman sprang to his feet, but sat back down just as quickly. “And now that you don’t have that window, you can get more in touch with your surroundings.” Using what she picked up from Sticks, Cosmo stood ready to hurl the boomerang right into Eggman’s face. His face turned white like his namesake because he learned a long time ago that sometimes, little animals pack a big punch. “Ha!” Eggman bellowed, still pale all over. “You fell right into my trap! This is the perfect chance for me to test my…EJECT BUTTON!” With a mighty press of his finger, the back of Eggman’s pod opened and the entire console he was sitting in shot out, revealing that his day-to-day Eggmobile pod was housed inside the much larger pod all along. “Ha ha ha!” Eggman laughed as he flew away. “You gave me exactly what I wanted! This day is miiiiiiiiiii--” Like a deflating windbag, his desperate bragging faded in the distance. And so did his power supply. A few seconds after Eggman fled--er, flew away in glorious victory--all electricity in the metal shell dried up, turning off the spotlight and the electromagnets that kept it and its blade afloat. “Cosmo!” Tails cried out worriedly when he heard the cacophony of crashing metal set to a backdrop of complete darkness. “Don’t worry, I jumped away just before it fell.” Cosmo responded, her voice notably more pleasant than the aforementioned cacophony. “Stay where you are, I’m turning on my goggles.” Black gave way to green in Tails’ vision and soon, he could see his green girlfriend. Still clutching the boomerang but shoulders slumped, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she was worn out, even if Tails just happened to be a rocket scientist. “A-are you okay?” Tails rushed to her side and tried his best to prop her up from under her shoulder. “Heh heh…” Cosmo let out weak laugh that doubled as a gasp. “I’m just glad he didn’t call my bluff. I’ve never thrown a boomerang before. I doubt I would have hurt him.” “Heh heh heh. That’s Eggman for ya. Too busy saving his own butt to think things through.” Having escaped danger and emotional crises after what felt like hours, Cosmo and Tails couldn’t help but break out in laughter. They fell into a seated position and hugged like two classical cartoon characters laughing at funny joke, only the joke was, ‘Boy, do we like being alive!’ “Ha ha! Ha ha. Heh…” Tails wiped a joyous tear away as he caught his breath. “So…you knew exactly how everything would play out with this cave? The net not sticking into the wall? The blade breaking on contact? You knew exactly how that would turn out?” “Well, I have been reading about Mobius’ nature. I know it sounds kinda dorky, but I guess I can name a rock just by touching it the way most people can name a song just by listening to the first notes.” “Cosmo, you just outsmarted a super scientist and scared the living daylights out of him. If that isn’t cool, then I don’t know what is!” Tails gave his guardian another hug. With total darkness cloaking her, Cosmo blushed and smiled in secret. It felt so good to put all of those fears behind her. It wasn’t easy leaving that perfect moment, but the lovebirds eventually did. Tails’ goggles led them to the Enerbeam. The Enerbeam’s light led them to Sticks, still trapped in Eggman’s net. Sticks’ incessant squirming and screaming…led them to say Knuckles would come back for her. Cosmo and Tails reached Amy’s house by the time the Sun started to set. “Aw man!” Sonic ran his hands through his quills. “Of all the Eggman fights, that’s the one I had to miss!? I’ve sent him packing more times than I can count, but blows anything I ever did waaaaay out of the water!” “Heh heh.” Cosmo did that nose-rubbing thing Sticks did earlier…despite Seedrians not having visible noses. “Figure I’m a real pro at this now. Just call me next time Egghead gives you any problems.” Sonic gave his new friend the appropriate props (that is to say, ‘mad props’) by giving her a fist bump; the ‘blowing up’ portion of the fist bump went nicely with the setting sun behind them. “Ohmygosh!” Amy held her cheeks as she tried (and failed) not to squee. “Of all the adventures, that’s the one I had to miss!? It’s all so romantic!” “Heh heh.” Tails rubbed the back of his head as his cheeks lit up red. “Yeah, she has a real knack for saving me.” Amy ducked back into her hut to refill everyone’s lemonade. Before she came back out, Knuckles and Sticks walked up to the porch. Both looked a little worse for wear and Sticks had shredded pieces of net stuck in odd places of her fur. “Hey, sorry we’re late.” Knuckles waved to the group. “Getting Sticks out of the net was harder than I thought. Nobody told me she was a biter.” “I told you this morning.” Sonic didn’t sound amused. “But not this afternoon!” Sonic still wasn’t amused. “Ugh. I hate being stupid.” Amy came back out and tried to hand Cosmo a glass, but Cosmo was distracted. She fidgeted back and forth on her feet. After a few seconds, Amy noticed this and decided to make the move for her. “That’s so interesting, Cosmo!” She announced so loudly that everyone in the world looked at Cosmo…Well, it felt like that anyway. “Um…” Cosmo gulped before finding her courage. “You’re not stupid, Knuckles!” “Huh?” Asked everyone. Including Knuckles. “You don’t always know what’s going on or what everyone’s saying, but neither do I most of the time. But you did know that looking at trees would cheer me up and you knew exactly when and where Eggman was gonna come in from! You’re not stupid, you just know the things you want to know. And what you know is how to be a good friend!” Riding high on her own energy, Cosmo ran up to Knuckles and gave him a hug. She forgot that Knuckles would invariably hug back and hug back too tightly, but Amy quickly chimed in and the crisis was resolved. After she caught her breath, Cosmo looked over at Sticks. She smiled softly. “Sticks…I’m so, so sorry for everything.” Cosmo walked up to the badger and gave her the biggest hug her arms would allow. Turns out, it was pretty big. So big that Sticks couldn’t kick and squirm her way out. Given her fear of physical contact and feral outbursts, keeping her contained meant it was a big hug indeed. Just a little hypocritical considering Knuckles gave Cosmo one only seconds ago. “I was scared when I thought you and Tails were dating behind my back, but I know better now! I know you’re a very loyal friend! I know that can’t be easy because you have such a hard time trusting other people! Well, you can trust me from now on! Thank you for everything!” “Yeahokaywhatever!” Sticks was foaming at the mouth trying to free herself and reaaaaally wishing Cosmo’s arms were within biting distance. “Justputmedown!” Cosmo put her new friend down. Before anyone could blink, Sticks dashed off to the nearest bush and disappeared into the young night. A few seconds later, however, a pink boomerang was lightly tossed to Cosmo. “Huh?” Cosmo looked down at the stick. Still made of wood and still the same build, but smothered in pink paint with a crude, white heart painted onto the center. “Awwww!” Amy ran up to Cosmo’s side and put her hands on her shoulders as they both looked at the boomerang. “That’s how she tells people she likes them! She’s given us all a pink boomerang, but you’re the only one she didn’t knock out with it.” “Re-really?” “You bet.” Sonic replied from the porch, having finished Cosmo’s lemonade. “Welcome to the family, sis.” Having gone from seeing herself as an outsider to being accepted by ‘the cool kids’ in just one day, Cosmo cherished that last remark and committed it to her permanent memory (later on in life, the storage space she used for this moment would cause her to forget her first school play, but that would prove fortuitous because that was a horrifying experience). Cosmo hugged the Friend Boomerang, Amy hugged the friend. Knuckles decided that was enough squishy feelings for one day and bid everyone a good night. Sonic decided Tails should change up his plans for the night, but Tails declined just a little too loudly. “No, what?” Cosmo asked as she and Amy approached the porch again. “N-nothing!” Tails played with his hands as his face blushed for what had to be the umpteenth time that day. “Nothing except Cosmo stays with him tonight.” Sonic had already dashed in and out of Amy’s house and returned with Cosmo’s roller luggage bag. Cosmo’s face lit up at the suggestion and would have run up to grab her bag had Amy’s arm not barred her way. “Didn’t we all agree that she’d spend the nights with me? I mean, how would Hertia and Galaxina feel if they knew Cosmo was sleeping over at a boy’s house unsupervised?” Never having spoken to Cosmo’s family, Sonic had no idea who Hertia and Galaxina were. That changed his next suggestion an astronomical 0%. “Aw, c’mon. It’s just Tails. I mean, if anything, we’d have to worry about Cosmo.” “What?” Tails wasn’t sure he liked that statement. “He has a point.” Cosmo nodded. “But I promise not to do anything fresh.” “What!?” “Well, even with that in mind,” Amy butted in. “Where would you sleep for the night? You live in Tails’ house, remember?” “I’m sure you’ve got a spare bed or somethin’.” If how fast Sonic is was a hill, then how fast Amy put Cosmo’s bag in her hand and sent the kinds on the path to Tails’ house was Mt. Everest. “Good night you too!” Amy called out from her porch, which felt like miles away now. “See you tomorrow! We’re going hiking…or something! I don’t care!” “Um…” Tails needed a second to come to his senses. “Right. Well, this is the way to my house. Do you need any help with your bag?” “No thanks. The wheels are enough.” “…So, uh…That was Day One, heh heh.” “It’ll be hard to top that day.” “Well, I hope tomorrow isn’t too exciting. Just because you’re a super hero doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous the whole time.” “Oh my Nebula, I was so nervous too! I didn’t really calm down until…Eggman left!” They laughed. “Ha ha! Ha ha! Heeeeh…But seriously, you were awesome back there…I just don’t think we should tell your mom or sister about it.” “But…I was so coooool!” “I know, I know…But I promised them I’d get you out of trouble if Eggman attacked. I was totally useless today. They probably wouldn’t like to hear that.” Tails hung his head and rubbed his own arm. “But…I told them that I would save you.” “You--” “Besides, do you think they expect you to be some kind of, well, super hero? To be able to predict when danger’s coming and break metal with your hands? I mean, I joke around about what happened today, but I was scared too!” They stopped walking and faced each other. Crickets filled the silence before either of them had the nerve to talk again. “But you still did everything! Even though you never met Eggman before and never fought anyone, you still saved me and made it look easy.” “But…you saved me too. You made me feel better when I was scared of losing you. You didn’t even know what I was feeling most of the day, but you saved me and made that look easy. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to beat Eggman if I was still scared about, you know, us.” More crickets, but Tails eventually worked up the nerve to lift his head again. “So, we saved each other? Can a couple do that?” “Why not? We both really care about each other. Why should only one person get to do all the work and worry about protecting the other? We can work together! I’ll protect you and you’ll protect me!” Crickets filled the air when Tails failed to respond. He couldn’t think of anything to say, so he decided to just hug Cosmo instead. Cosmo liked that response more anyway. “…Well, I guess the first thing we should work on is a good cover story.” Tails said when they finally broke off their hug. “I’m still not sure your mom and sister would like to hear we almost got sliced and diced today.” “Heh heh. Well, Galaxina might think it’s funny…But let’s work on it tomorrow. Right now, I have something else I need your help with.” “S-sure! I’d love to help!” “Heh heh heh. That’s good…” The duo resumed their trek to the house. Tails was couldn’t wait to help Cosmo, but he would sing a different tune when he found out the thing she needed help with was a certain outfit from last night.