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Time Enough for the Stars

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   Blaze sighed in relief as she set aside the last of a large pile of papers. Her duties as princess-regent had been incredibly taxing as of late. Her ambassador to the country of Amestria had reported murmurings of dissent among the people and her communications with Amestria’s leader only reaffirmed the idea that a rebellion was on the horizon. If that were to happen and Amestria’s government was overthrown, the effect on her own kingdom would likely be minor— they only had a few trade agreements and those were largely inconsequential— but she feared that the Kingdom of Falknor would take that moment to invade or even set up a puppet government. While there were no hostilities between her kingdom and Falknor in the last century, they had never been on the best of terms and she wasn’t keen on them gaining more power and land close to her borders.

   At least things had been going well within her own kingdom. Blaze had defeated Eggman Nega barely over a month prior and his plan had been a rather high profile one. While it wasn’t an interdimensional threat, Nega had awoken some monster in Falknor that was thought to be a myth and had succeeded in doing a fair amount of damage. Her people had celebrated her victory with their usual enthusiasm— singing the praises of their invincible princess— and Blaze could only hope that her rather public defeat of such a monster would help keep the peace with Falknor.

   As if Blaze didn’t have enough to do or worry about, her birthday was tomorrow so she was forced to double down on her duties so she could have a free day to enjoy the celebration. It was funny, now that she thought about it, that she was actually looking forward to it. In the past, she had been completely disinterested with the idea of celebrating her own birth and it had been her council that convinced her to at least make it a national holiday and hold festivities to improve her relations with her people. She would only stop her work to make an appearance for the minimum amount of required time before immediately locking herself in her study. Now, however, while she would still only be publicly appearing for the minimum amount of required time, she had a private party planned in her own castle for her friends both from here and from the Chaos Dimension.

   The thought of her friends from the Chaos Dimension made Blaze pause to fight down a flutter of excitement. It had been nearly five months since Sonic’s birthday and the Time Eater incident and the memories of her time with Sonic after his party ended had refused to leave her. In her few idle moments, she had found herself reliving the time spent on that cliff overlooking the lake or their run back to Tails’ workshop the following morning. In those moments before sleep overtook her, she would pull the blankets tightly around her and wish for the warmth she had wrapped herself in that night. In her more private moments, when the stress of her position was threatening to overwhelm her, she thought back to those last moments and the feeling of Sonic’s arms wrapped around her.

   The memories were infuriatingly pleasant. Blaze did her best to push them down whenever they came up but had very little success. The thoughts those memories inspired where quixotic even in the best of times and she had no use for pointless sentimentality.

   Even as she told herself that, Blaze couldn’t help but look forward to the coming day more than she should have. They had exchanged a few messages using Tails’ new interdimensional communicator since they last saw each other but the prospect of being able to see Sonic and Cream again was exciting. She also knew that Marine was equally excited to see Tails again since they hadn’t properly seen each other since the last interdimensional crisis. The two had been exchanging messages almost constantly even with the old communicator and their communication had only increased since they got the new one. Even though this was far beyond her usual understanding, Blaze couldn’t help but smile at how obvious Marine’s crush was. It was cute but she couldn’t see it lasting for too much longer. Marine was smart, after all, and could certainly see what Blaze could.

   Putting those thoughts aside, Blaze slid out of the chair she had been sitting in for the past four hours and stretched, wincing as she felt something pop in her back. There were still things to do in preparation for tomorrow. She’d have plenty of time for thinking afterwards.

*******

   Sonic bounced lightly on the balls of his feet as he looked around the room, letting out a low whistle. This was his first time in Blaze’s castle and it was taking everything he had to not go exploring. He made a mental note to try and get Blaze to show him around one day before pushing that aside and actually focusing on the party area. It seemed that Blaze had decided to model her party after Sonic’s since the only special decoration in the room was a large table that sat near one end and was covered with some sort of fancy, lavender tablecloth. At least, Sonic assumed that it was a special decoration since the tablecloth was the same color as Blaze’s fur but the color also went well with the rest of the room so he wasn’t sure.

   Not that it surprised Sonic either way, of course. Even with her progress since they met, Blaze was still a social recluse at heart. The only reason this party was even happening was because he basically forced her to throw one. He had said in one of their messages that either she plan one herself or he was going to throw a surprise party for her and let Cream and Marine do the decorating. He could practically see her frustrated glare and resigned sigh with her response and had chuckled. Even now, the memory made him smirk in amusement. Not that he would have gone through with his threat, of course. Despite their vast differences, he understood Blaze quite well and would never force her into something she really didn’t want. He would have still thrown her a little surprise party but only inasmuch one guest and a gift counted as a party.

   Bringing himself back to the present, Sonic couldn’t help rhythmically tapping his foot as he waited. He had shown up twenty minutes ago— a fair bit ahead of everyone else— and there hadn’t been hide nor hair of the birthday girl. According to Marine, Blaze still had a couple of things to take care of but would be here in a few minutes. Since then, Cream, Knuckles, and even Amy had shown up with Tails hanging behind to operate the transporter in case there were some last minute guests. He had talked with them, of course, but he quickly found himself standing to one side of the room while the others milled about.

   Sonic turned toward the door when he heard it open only to have to fight back a frown when he saw Tails followed by Marine. A quick glance at the clock showed that there were only five minutes until Blaze’s party was supposed to begin. Where was she?

   Sonic pushed away those thoughts when Tails approached him. “Hey, Sonic! Is Blaze here yet?”

   “Nope,” Sonic said as he crossed his arms and resumed tapping his foot impatiently. “If she doesn’t get here soon, she’s gonna be late to her own party.”

   “Huh. That’s strange. I expected her to be here fussing over the details long before we got here.”

   “Yeah.” Despite agreeing, Sonic wasn’t actually sure Blaze’d do that. She could be fussy about things, sure, but she would leave well enough alone if someone was better at it than her. She’d only object if something really offended her tastes. Regardless, the fact that she wasn’t here yet was driving him up the wall for reasons he couldn’t adequately explain.

   Tails gave Sonic an odd look before continuing, “Well, I’m sure she’ll be here on time. She doesn’t strike me as the type of person who’d be late to anything if she could help it.” That was something Sonic could agree with. “Talk to you later, Sonic.” With that, Tails walked over to where Marine and Cream were talking and quickly joined their conversation.

   Sonic stood and watched them for a minute, the drumming of his fingers against his arm adding to the tapping of his foot. He finally got fed up with waiting and decided to just go find Blaze and drag her here if he had to. Just as he started to reach for the doorknob, it turned and the door open to reveal a slightly startled Blaze.

   “Oh! Sonic. Did you need something?”

   Sonic blinked a few times as his nerves settled. He quickly stepped back with a hand on his hip and a small smirk on his lips, “Nah, I was just about ta come find ya. Can’t have the birthday girl missing her own party.”

   Blaze smiled slightly as she nodded and entered the room, “Sorry I cut it so close. My council can drone on endlessly when they want to.”

   “Anything we should worry about?”

   “Not particularly. Just a few affairs I thought I had settled yesterday and a few new ones.”

   “That’s good,” Sonic said as he nodded before smiling and turning to face the rest of the room. “Alright guys,” Sonic called out as he clasped a hand on Blaze’s shoulder, “The birthday girl’s finally here so let’s get this party started!”

   Despite Sonic’s obvious enthusiasm, the party was a rather subdued fair. With no music and only a handful of guests, it was more like a casual get together even more than Sonic’s party had been. Blaze seemed to prefer it that way so Sonic didn’t mind. He just generally stuck near Blaze, talking to whoever happened to be nearby or munching on those little sandwiches that had been laid out.

   As the party went on, Sonic couldn’t help but keep tabs on the birthday girl as she talked to their friends. Cream had, naturally, been the first to congratulate Blaze after Sonic and had done so by throwing herself at the birthday girl and hugging her for all she was worth. The fond and amused look Blaze gave Cream as she returned the hug and thanked her had brought a small smile to Sonic’s face. Certainly a far cry from the cold woman he first met and even from the one that had struggled to her feet after their fight to go after Eggman.

   The others greeted Blaze in turn and the rest of the party was spent with Blaze bouncing between her guests while the guests talked among themselves. At one point, Amy had pulled Blaze into a corner of the room and they talked quietly for a fair bit. Sonic had no idea what they were talking about— he was too busy with his own conversations and something told him that interrupting would be a bad idea— but he had seen a bright blush on Blaze’s cheeks and a knowing smile on Amy one of the times he had glanced in their direction. He couldn’t help but be curious as to what could make Blaze blush like that but he pushed it aside for now. Maybe he could poke Blaze about it later.

   As the party started to wind down and the cake was brought out, Sonic couldn’t help but be proud of his friend. Despite having been interacting with people and being the center of attention for a solid hour now, Blaze seemed perfectly fine. While it was possible she was just hiding her weariness, Sonic was confident in his ability to read her through most of her masks. He had stayed near Blaze and kept an eye on her in case she started to get overwhelmed so he could bail her out since she was too stubborn to excuse herself but he hadn’t needed to.

   “Keepin’ an eye on her, too, eh?” Sonic started slightly as Marine slid next to him and spoke softly.

   “Yeah. Glad to see she didn’t need it.”

   “Shouldn’t be surprised. She’s been workin’ her bum off ever since your party.”

   “Really?”

   “Yuh-huh! She’s been doing more public appearances lately and I’ve even seen her talkin’ to her staff about normal things. She’s been tryin’ really hard to get used to this socializing stuff.”

   “Huh. I wonder what brought that on.”

   “Oh, I can think of a few things,” Marine glanced at Sonic before returning her attention to where the cake was being revealed. “C’mon. Let’s get back before the little missy starts thinkin’ we’re conspirin’.”

   Once the cake had been served and the traditional song had been sung (much to Blaze’s pleased embarrassment), it was time for the presents. Blaze had tried to insist that the others not get her anything— which was understandable given both her status as a princess and her personality— but everyone had chosen to ignore her request. Trying to buy for a princess of another dimension was, naturally, next to impossible so everyone opted to go for hand-crafted items instead. Cream’s gift was a knitted doll she had made (well, Vanilla had made it and Cream had “helped”), Amy had made her a good sized tin of various sweets (apparently, her family had a history as confectioners, something Sonic hadn’t known), Knuckles had made miniature stone replica of the Sol Emerald Shrine (Marine had helped with that one by getting him pictures), and Tails and Marine had worked together to make a bracelet that served as an interdimensional communicator.

   With the gifts out of the way, the party finally started to wind down. There were a few more conversations, a few more cups of punch, another slice of cake, and then people started to leave. When Sonic and Tails were the only two from the Chaos Dimension left, Blaze, who had given Sonic more than a few curious looks, finally approached him.

   “Heya, Blaze. How’d ya like the party?” Sonic asked before Blaze could speak up.

   “It was quite enjoyable. I’m glad you made me go through with this.”

   “That’s good,” Sonic interrupted Blaze before she could continue. “Ya know, I’m really surprised that Amy’s folks make candy. I know Amy has a thing for tarot cards and stuff but I never knew that.”

   “Yes, I never pegged her to be capable of the delicate work of making sweets,” Sonic had to suppress a smirk at Blaze’s slightly annoyed tone. He had way too much fun teasing her. “I was also surprised at Knuckle’s mastery of stonemasonry.”

   “Yeah, that one surprised me, too,” Sonic had, once again, cut her off. “I guess it makes sense. There’s not a whole lot to do up there on Angel Island.”

   “Isolation does tend to lead one to learn odd skills.”

   Sonic chuckled, “Yeah, ain’t that the-”

   “Sonic, if I may?”

   “I got you a gift.”

   “I- Whu- Huh?”

   “That’s what you’ve been wanting to ask, right? I got you a gift. It’d just be really hard to show it off in this room so I left it by the teleporter. Why don’t you head out front and I’ll meet you there with it?” With that, Sonic left, leaving Blaze summarily flummoxed.

   A few minutes later, Blaze found herself waiting outside the front entrance of her castle as per Sonic’s instructions. It had taken her a solid moment to regain her bearings after Sonic had left and she wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about that little game he had played. Sonic was usually carefree and jovial but he had become a lot more cavalier towards her recently. It wasn’t that he didn’t care what she thought, per se, but rather that he wasn’t worried about tainting her opinion of him. She was usually pretty bad about these things but she had noticed during their brief time together that Sonic cared a great deal about his image and her conversations with Tails had confirmed it. However, that didn’t seem to be the case with her. She held no delusions that their time spent together after his birthday was something he did with just anyone, after all, and accepting her tailcoat as he had done was certainly not normal.

   That observation, whether accurate or not, only served to further the war between Blaze’s mind and her heart. She knew that it was pointless yet her desires kept driving her onward. She could have easily begged off of the council meeting but she stayed because she assumed that Sonic wouldn’t arrive until the last minute. When Marine had told her that Sonic had arrived nearly half an hour before the party began, she had to resist the urge to kick herself for not begging off and then resist the urge to kick herself for wanting to kick herself. By all rights, she should have told Sonic that she had to get back to work and send him home and yet, here she was, waiting around for some mysterious gift he got and, dammit, she was excited.

   It was infuriating, insufferable, inconceivable, inconsequential, incongruous, and incessantly infatuating.

   Blaze’s spiraling thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the very person whose presence brought her both great duress and great joy. The front door of her castle opened to reveal Sonic carrying two long objects under his arms. One was some sort of rounded board that was as blue as his fur with silver trimmings and black and white markings. The other was a vaguely similar shape but with a wider end and was carefully wrapped in some generic birthday wrapping paper. Even though she could see another one unobstructed, she still had no idea what in the world it was.

   Sonic set the blue one down, leaning it against one of the castle walls, before approaching Blaze and holding out the other one. “Happy birthday, Blaze!” Blaze took the gift from him and carefully unwrapped it. As expected, it was a board of sorts much like the other one Sonic had. Where his had been blue, the main color of hers was a deep purple not unlike her tailcoat with lavender trimming and a few white lines for flair. At two points— one near either end— there was a silver circle that she guessed indicated where her feet were supposed to go.

   “What is it?” Blaze asked as she examined the board.

   “It’s called an Extreme Gear. They’re these cool little hoverboards I learned about a few months ago. So long as you’ve got enough speed, you can easily soar through the air on these things.”

   “So you bought me an Extreme Gear? Thank you very much, Sonic.”

   “I did a little more than that. Tails and I actually customized that bad boy since they’re normally a little slow. I also gave it a new paint job. It was originally some kinda weird yellow color.” Blaze marveled at the device for a little while, running her hands over the smooth metal, before Sonic spoke up again. “Why don’t I show you how to ride the thing?”

   Blaze nodded emphatically, “Yes, please.”

   “Alright. It’s actually pretty easy,” Sonic began as he retrieved his own Extreme Gear. “The first thing ya gotta do it turn the thing on. There’s a little switch near the base. Just flick that thing and we’re in business.” Sonic demonstrated as he spoke and Blaze quickly followed his example. The air was filled with a low whine as the boards powered up and was followed by a very low hum. “Okay, now the next part’s a little tricky. These things won’t float if you’re not moving fast enough so you’re gonna have ta learn as you ride. They’re pretty easy to control, though, so you should be fine. You see these silver pads? Your feet go there. Once you’re on, it’s real simple: Lean to the side to turn, lean forward to speed up, lean back to slow down.”

   Blaze nodded in understanding, “How fast do I need to be going before it works?”

   “The board will start trying to push away from you when it’s good to go but you can just follow a step behind me if ya want. How about we go once around the grounds so you can get the hang of it? After that, we can go wherever you want.”

   “That sounds fine. Alright. Let’s go.”

*******

   Tails smiled as he watched through a window as Sonic and Blaze circled each other on their Extreme Gears before taking off in some random direction. It was always great to see his best friend having fun and he just seemed to be so much bouncier whenever Blaze was around. Sonic’s attitude regarding their favorite feline friend was quite interesting to observe, Tails found. While he probably hadn’t said anything to her, Sonic had actually been the one to do most of the work on her Extreme Gear. Tails gave him pointers, went over it himself, and tuned it up, sure, but it was at least 80% Sonic’s doing. One thing a lot of their friends either didn’t know or just forgot was that the Tornado 1 was Sonic’s plane and he’d had it for some time before Tails started following him. He was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for.

   Tails thoughts were interrupted by a pair of arms wrapping around his waist. “Whatcha lookin’ at?” Marine asked as she rested her head on Tails’ shoulder. Tails glanced at her before returning his attention to where Sonic and Blaze had gone.

   “Just Sonic and Blaze. They just took off on their Extreme Gears.”

   “Don’t let Gordon hear that. He’ll get his knickers in a knot if he does.” The pair chuckled lightly before lapsing into silence. At length, Marine spoke again, “Ya know, it’s great to see Blaze actually relax and enjoy herself. She’s always worked hard but she’s been like a woman possessed lately.”

   “Anything big going on?”

   “Not that I know of. We had a run in with that no-good Nega a bit ago but Blaze showed him what for. Other than that, thing’s have been quiet here. If the Captain wasn’t keeping me busy, I’d have gone crazy by now.”

   “How’s your job with the Corps of Engineers going, by the way?”

   “Oh, it’s been great! They didn’t like me at first because I was so young but they shut up real quick when I built a working engine from some spare parts I found in a tool shed. Watching those blokes try to figure out how it worked was priceless. The Captain’s been great, too. He’s a real nice bloke so long as ya don’t make him mad.”

   “That’s great! I’m glad Blaze managed to get you in.”

   “I wouldn’t say she got me in. It’s more like she told them I exist and then I got myself in.” Tails chuckled softly at that. She might have been one to exaggerate her accomplishments in the past but she had grown a lot not only on their adventure but also during the intervening year. He held no doubts as to the validity of her story, especially since he had seen her growth as an engineer almost first-hand.

   “I really hope Blaze won’t do something stupid,” Marine said after a while.

   “What do you mean?”

   “I mean with Sonic. You know she’s got a crush on him, right?”

   “Yeah, it’s kind of obvious but what do you mean by ‘something stupid’? You don’t mean….”

   Marine flushed as she pulled away from Tails and rapidly shook her head, her eyes growing wide, “No! Nononononono! Nothing like that, ya pervert!” Marine sighed before taking a deep breath. “You remember that talk we had before we became a thing?”

   “Of course. What about— Oh! I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Knowing Sonic, they’ll be fine.”

   “He’s not the one I’m worried about.” Marine was silent for a moment before taking Tails by the hand and gently pulling him out of the room. “C’mon. I’ve been working on designs for an upgrade to the teleporter and I need some help.”

*******

   Sonic and Blaze twisted and turned down the paths they made as they ducked, dodged, and weaved around trees and over rocks. They had no real idea where they were or where they were going but neither of them cared, whooping and hollering and laughing in pure joy as they lost themselves in the feeling of the wind whipping through their fur and the simple presence of the other.

   Sonic couldn’t even begin to remember the last time he had this much fun. Riding his Extreme Gear had always been enjoyable but even his most intense race with Jet couldn’t compare to what he was feeling now. Everything just felt so much better when he was around Blaze and seeing her so genuinely happy with a wide smile lighting up her whole face made his week. There was something addicting about what he was currently feeling and he was more than willing to indulge himself. If making Blaze happy made him happy then who was he to complain?

   Blaze, meanwhile, found herself in a similar position. The sheer freedom that she felt in this moment was addicting. For just this moment, she didn’t have to worry about her people or her nation or her duty as a princess. She didn’t have to worry about politics and trying to stay one step ahead as other countries tore each other and themselves apart. She didn’t even have to worry about Eggman Nega launching some diabolical scheme to take over the world. For just this moment, she could be herself in her purest sense and just enjoy her life without any cares. It was as if she had lived in a cage her whole life and someone had just opened the door and given her wings. Sonic had shown her what it was like to truly live life and for that—

   And then Blaze stopped.

   It took Sonic half a moment to notice but he quickly stopped himself, getting off his Extreme Gear like Blaze had and walking up to her. Her head was hanging down, her face obscured by shadow, and she had set her Extreme Gear against a nearby tree. “Hey, what's wrong, Blaze?”

   “This isn't right,” she said quietly.

   “What’re you talking about?”

   “What we're doing. What's happening. This isn't right.”

   “Having fun isn't right?”

   “No, this is much more than that, Sonic. We're becoming too close.” Sonic was silent so Blaze continued. “All of this time we spend together means so much to me. Your companionship has brought more joy to my life than I ever thought possible. But this is just too much. No matter how much we may wish it wasn't the case, we are from separate dimensions. I am needed here just as you are needed there and nothing can change that. We can’t be together no more than the stars can be with the Earth. I cannot, in good conscience, allow this to continue any further. It would be too much for me to handle and would be unfair for the both of us.”

   Sonic was silent for another long moment and his expression, a cross between hurt and confused, forced Blaze to turn away lest she break. When he finally spoke, the emotion in his voice made Blaze squeeze her hands into fists and clench her teeth as she fought down her own emotions. “Blaze, I-I don’t….”

   Sonic’s head spun as he tried to process just what was going on. It just didn’t make any sense to him. He could understand what she was saying and implying well enough but he just couldn’t understand why she was saying it. It was like he had been whisked back in time and was talking to the cold, closed off Blaze who didn’t allow herself to have anything. The only thing that assured him that wasn’t the case was the barely suppressed emotion in her voice and the slight tremors running through her frame. It was clear to Sonic that what she was doing was causing her pain so… why? Why would she put herself through this? Sure, being together would be hard but she wasn’t the type of person to give up just because it was hard. It just didn’t make any sense.

   Before Sonic could get his mind moving again, Blaze spoke up, “We should be going. I have work to do and you and Tails should probably return to your world.”

   As the two silently rode back to Blaze’s castle, Sonic could only blankly stare ahead while Blaze pushed down her anger and self-loathing. She’d have time to deal with them later.

*******

   Tails had to force himself to not jump as he heard the door to the room he was in practically slam open. He had been in the teleporter room with Marine, going over their schematics, when Blaze burst in and all but stomped inside, Sonic trailing languidly behind her.

   “I appreciate you attending my birthday party but I need to get back to work. It’d be best if you were to take your leave,” Blaze said in Tails’ general direction, her tone clipped and controlled but her words sharp enough to draw blood. Tails shared a look with Marine before nodding and approaching the controls. He worked on them for a few moments, the familiar hum of the teleporter filling the air, before he looked at the controls in the confusion, the hum quickly dying down.

   “Sorry, Blaze,” Tails began. “Marine and I have been working on upgrading the teleporter and it seems we broke something somewhere. We can fix it but it’ll probably take us the rest of the night.”

   Blaze closed her eyes and silently fumed, something halfway between a frustrated sigh and a growl escaping her lips. “Very well. I suppose it can’t be helped. You are free to spend the night in one of the guest chambers; I’ll have a maid show you the way later. If you need anything, seek one of them. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work I must attend to.” With that, Blaze quickly marched off to parts unknown. Sonic stood there for a moment, hardly moving other than idly looking around the room at nothing in particular as Tails and Marine stared at him, before shuffling off himself.

   Once they were out of earshot, Tails groaned and rested his head on his hands. “I don’t recall us touching the teleporter,” Marine said.

   “Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with it. I just needed to buy some time.”

   “Seems like Blaze did something really stupid.”

   “Sure seems that way and Sonic’s really not taking it well.”

   “What do you mean? He seemed fine to me.”

   “I haven’t seen Sonic this bad in a while,” Tails corrected. “Didn’t you notice? When Sonic’s walking with someone and isn’t leading the way, he’s usually either right next to them or half a step behind. Here, he was several feet behind Blaze. Whenever someone’s talking, unless he’s distracted, he always looks directly at them but here he wasn’t looking at anything and seemed to actively avoid looking at Blaze. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone capable of holding Sonic’s attention like Blaze so that’s really bad. Then there’s the fact that he just stood there doing nothing. Can you ever recall a time when Sonic wasn’t fidgeting or gesturing with his hands or just moving in some way?”

   “Now that you mention it, I can’t.”

   “I can and it’s never a good thing. It usually just means he’s sick or exhausted but I’ve never seen him quite like this before. Blaze wasn’t much better.”

   “Yeah, I noticed that. She seemed really angry and just completely ignored Sonic. Do you think Sonic was the one who did something stupid?”

   “It’s possible but I don’t think so. If Sonic makes a mistake, he always owns up to it right away and I don’t think Blaze is the type to hold a grudge, at least not like this.”

   Marine hummed for a moment, “So what do we do?”

   “I need some time to think and then I’ll go hunt down Sonic and talk with him. You should also try talking to Blaze. Whatever happened, we can’t leave here with it still hanging in the air between them. It wouldn’t be good for either of them.”

   “Alright. I’m not sure what good I can do since I haven’t known Blaze for nearly as long as you two but I’ll do my best.” Marine quickly kissed Tails on the cheek. “Good luck.”

   “Thanks,” Tails said as he returned the kiss. “You too. We’ll both need it.”

   Some hours later, Tails found himself making his way to the room Sonic was given for the night. Tails had sat himself down in a quiet study with a cup of tea and had meticulously gone over every bit of information available to him. It usually wasn’t hard to cheer Sonic up and spur him into action but Tails wanted to be as certain of things as he possibly could before going in just in case. This was really important and he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.

   Tails found Sonic laying on his bed, his arms tucked behind his head with his left leg pulled up and his right leg resting on his knee, his foot slowly tapping with no discernible rhythm. According to a couple of the staff he talked to, Sonic had just been aimlessly wandering around the castle, usually looking around at nothing in particular but occasionally asking questions about this and that. He had only been in his room for maybe ten minutes by the time Tails arrived. While it was good to know that Sonic was steadily getting back on track and he’d probably return to more or less normal once they got back, Sonic’s mental state wasn’t something Tails wanted to gamble with and Blaze had apparently been locked in her room since they got back, according to Marine.

   “Heya, Tails. What’s up, buddy?” Sonic asked when he noticed Tails enter the room.

   “Hey, Sonic. Listen, we need to talk about what happened,” Tails said as he pulled up a chair and sat down.

   “About what happened when?”

   “When you and Blaze were out of the castle. Things were different when you two got back.”

   Sonic sighed before rolling over on his side to face Tails, propping his head up on one arm, “That’s the thing. I have no idea what happened. One minute we were having fun and the next she’s going on about how ‘this isn’t right’ or something.”

   Tails hummed, “Why don’t you tell me what happened? What did she say?”

   Sonic scratched at the tip of his nose with his free hand as he glanced to the side, “Well like I said, we were just riding and having fun when she suddenly stopped. I asked what was up and she started going on about how ‘this isn’t right’ and how ‘we’re becoming too close’ and all that.”

   “It’s… pretty clear what she was talking about to me, Sonic.”

   “Yeah, I get what she meant by it but that’s not the problem. What I don’t get is why she said all that. If she just wasn’t interested then that’d be one thing but there’s no way she isn’t. She’s hurting herself here and I just can’t figure out why she’s doing it.”

   Tails hummed again and closed his eyes in thought. “Did she talk about being from different dimensions?”

   “Yep.”

   “About how you each had your own duties?”

   “Uh-huh.”

   “And how it’d be unfair?”

   “You got it.”

   “That’s not the reason why.”

   “Right. How’d you know what she said anyway?”

   “I thought about this a lot.”

   “Well do you know why she’s doing this?”

   “I think I do but it’s not my place to say even if it’s just a guess.”

   “Well, you’re a lot of help.”

   “But what I can do is ask you this: Do you want to be with her?”

   “Of course I do.”

   “Why?”

   “Because she’s so much fun to be around! Just having her around makes everything better.”

   “Then what are you sitting around here for? Go talk to her and tell her that!”

   “But what if she starts on what she said before again?”

   “Would you let those things stop you?”

   “Of course not!”

   “Then why are you letting them stop you now?”

   Sonic opened his mouth to respond only to find that he didn’t have an answer. The two sat in silence for a long moment before Sonic finally hopped off the bed and started for the door. “I… think I’m gonna go talk to Blaze.”

   “That’s more like it. And Sonic?” Tails said before Sonic fully shut the door.

   “Yeah?”

   Tails got up from his chair and walked over to the door. “I knew what Blaze said because Marine said pretty much the same thing to me.” Before Sonic could get so much as a confused noise out, Tails fully shut the door. Telling Sonic that and letting him know that such a relationship can work would be good to kickstart his confidence. Besides, getting a one up on him like that was almost impossible and Tails wouldn’t pass up a chance to do so for the world. He just hoped that things would end up alright.

*******

   Blaze was pacing back and forth, her bare feet padding across the plush carpet of her room. Marine had left a few minutes ago and the raccoon’s words were still bouncing around inside her head. Ending things with Sonic was supposed to have been simple and clean. Just stop things before they got too far, send him home, and then drown herself in her work until she didn’t think about it anymore. Instead, that infernal machine that facilitated this nonsense decided to break down and she had been forced to confine herself to her room lest she run into Sonic while attending to her duties.

   With a frustrated growl, Blaze all but tore off her tailcoat and haphazardly threw it over the back of a chair, leaving her in her undershirt. It was getting late and she needed to ready herself for bed but she knew that sleep would not be easy coming. Between her own conflicted emotions and Marine’s revelation, she was simply far too agitated to rest. To make matters worse, Marine’s words about pursuing what her heart desired regardless of the consequences brought to mind her conversation with Amy earlier that day. The pink hedgehog had pulled her aside and confided that she wasn’t going to stand in the way of her relationship with Sonic. Amy had no intention of giving him up just yet but Sonic being so happy was something she didn’t want to stop, even if his happiness was gained with someone who wasn’t her.

   Amy’s concession had left Blaze flabbergasted and more than a little embarrassed. Someone she hardly knew being able to read her so easily was bad enough but that someone being Amy and her reaction not being to swear an eternity of death upon her almost broke her. Even with their extremely limited interaction, it was clear to Blaze that Amy was obsessed with Sonic and she had a newfound respect for Amy’s ability to set aside her obsession with Sonic for his own happiness. Regardless, Amy basically giving Blaze her blessing had been what kicked her inner turmoil into overdrive and everything that followed had been the result of that conflict.

   If she was being perfectly honest, a small part of Blaze was scared. Scared of what Sonic might think of her now. Scared that he might resent or even hate her. She knew in her head that the chances of such a thing happening were basically zero but she couldn’t help but run through the possible scenarios and wonder if such an outcome might be for the best. After all, if Sonic hated her then-

   Blaze froze as there was a knock at her door. She had no idea who it could be at this hour and she was honestly afraid to find out. She held her breath and waited silently as the seconds agonizingly ticked by. If she was silent, maybe whoever it was would think she was asleep and-

   There was another knock followed by a voice. “Blaze, it’s me. We need to talk.” It was Sonic and Blaze found herself paralyzed by indecision as a million different thoughts and feeling tore through her. Sonic knocked again, a little more forcefully this time, and Blaze found herself moving towards the door automatically. “Blaze, we really need to talk. If you don’t open up, I’m gonna-” Sonic was interrupted by Blaze throwing her door open. She briefly looked into Sonic’s eyes before abruptly turning around and walking to her window.

   Sonic quickly stepped into the room and carefully shut the door behind him. From the wine-colored carpet to the chocolate-colored walls, Blaze’s room had a surprisingly homey feel to it not present elsewhere in the castle but that feeling was ruined by the tense aura of frustration given off by the princess. Sonic slowly approached her but stopped a good five feet away. It was almost like there was a physical wall separating the two.

   “What is it that you want?” Blaze said without turning from the window. Sonic could just barely make out her cold yet conflicted eyes in her reflection.

   “We need to talk.”

   “So talk.”

   Sonic hesitated for a brief moment, Blaze’s clipped tone cutting right through him. “It’s about earlier today-”

   “I have nothing more to say about those matters.”

   “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

   “I already told you why.”

   “No, you didn’t. You gave me some excuses.”

   “Those are legitimate problems-”

   “Problems we can handle so why are you letting them stop you? I know you want this.”

   “What do you know?”

   “I know that you’re a kind and caring person who had a rough past and shut herself off. I know you’re driven to do what you think is right and what you need to do no matter what. I know that you love it when Cream hugs you or when Marine is talking to you about something she’s working on. I know that, when you think no one’s watching, you look at your friends and just smile. I know that you were hurt a lot in the past and that it’s really hard for you to trust people. I know that you always put what others want first and still sometimes think that it’d be easier if you didn’t open up to others. I know that, despite that, you try your best to let others get close to you and let them see the real you. I know that you want to be closer to your friends and your people and that you want to see where we can go. What I don’t know is why you’re stopping yourself now.”

   Blaze was silent for a long while, her arms wrapped around herself as she stared down at the floor. When she finally spoke, her voice was quiet— almost too quiet to hear— and impossibly fragile. “I’m afraid.”

   “Afraid of what? Of me?” Sonic asked, his voice also quiet.

   “Of myself.”

   “Why are you afraid of yourself?”

   Blaze slowly reached up and undid her ponytail, letting her hair cascade around her shoulders before setting the ring aside and holding herself once more. “All of this is so new to me, Sonic. So new and wonderful. I just can’t get enough of this feeling. I find myself wanting more and more of it, more and more of you, and it scares me. I’ve never been this close to someone before. I’ve never felt like this before. My heart screams out for you but my head tells me to stop. My head tells me that it’s too risky. That I’m not good enough.” Sonic had to bite his tongue to keep himself from interrupting. “You deserve someone who can be with you all the time, Sonic. Someone who doesn’t have duties that will tie them down and thus tie you down by proxy. You deserve someone better.”

   “But there is no one better than you.”

   Blaze held herself tighter even as a ripple of pleasure ran through her heart and down her spine. Her breathing was heavy and her heart was pounding in her chest, the sound deafening to her ears. It was becoming so difficult to restrain herself, to hold back her emotions, to keep her body in check. She was coming apart at the seams and, if she didn’t end this now, she would surely come undone. However, her traitorous heart had full control of her voice and it wouldn’t stop for the world. “I’m so afraid that I won’t be able to be what you need me to be. That it’ll hurt you.”

   Sonic took a step forward, the wall between them crumbling. “Blaze, all you have to do is be yourself and you’ll be everything I need you to be no matter what.”

   At last, Blaze’s control slipped and she turned her head to look at Sonic. She looked into his blue-green eyes and saw the compassion and understanding and love that they held and her control broke. She turned fully and ran at him, throwing her arms around him and burying her head into the crook of his neck as tears of catharsis ran down her face uninhibited. She didn’t cry out— she was above such theatrics— but, for the time being, she let the emotions she had bottled up for so long drain out of her as Sonic slowly and gently rubbed her back.

   Blaze didn’t know how long they stood like that before she finally started to calm down, releasing one last shuddering breath before she pulled away to look into Sonic’s eyes, her arms wrapped loosely around his neck. He looked down at her with a gentle, caring smile on his face which she returned with a shy smile of her own. They just stood there, staring into each other's eyes for a moment, before Blaze removed one of her hands to wipe her eyes. With a more confident smile, she hugged Sonic once more, this time able to notice how her arms seemed to perfectly fit between his quills. They held each other for another long moment, no words needing to be said.

   At length, Blaze spoke, “Sonic, please stay with me tonight.”

   “Sure thing, Blaze.”

   Blaze didn’t know how long this would last— not this moment, not this relationship, not this life—  but she didn’t care. For now, they had time enough for this feeling. For now, they had time enough for the stars.

*******

   The following morning came to find Sonic, Tails, Blaze, and Marine standing in the teleporter room, Marine working away at the machine as she prepared to send Sonic and Tails home. Tails had noticed that Sonic never returned to his room last night but he chose not to comment on it. He could see how happy and relaxed Sonic and Blaze were so he knew that, whatever had happened, it was a good thing.

   Tails stepped through the teleporter first and was gone in a flash. While Marine readied it to send Sonic home, he turned to Blaze and held his hand out to her. “See ya, Blaze,” Sonic said, his smile halfway between his usual cocky one and the gentle one he wore last night. Blaze stared at his hand for half a second before grabbing it and quickly pulling him into a hug. Sonic was briefly stunned but he quickly returned the hug. They stayed that way for a moment before slowly pulling away, Blaze pausing at Sonic’s ear.

   “I’ll be free Thursday afternoon,” Blaze whisper before lightly kissing Sonic on the cheek. Before he could so much as blink, Blaze was out of the room, a massive blush on her face.

   Sonic was completely frozen. He was faintly aware of a barely suppressed squeal of happiness and rapid clapping coming from somewhere nearby but that was secondary to the warmth that lingered on his cheek. A very familiar warmth that quickly spread through his whole body and told him that everything was going to be alright.

   When Sonic didn’t so much as blink for a solid minute, Marine loudly cleared her throat, causing the blue hedgehog to nearly jump out of his skin. “Ready to go whenever you are, lover boy,” Marine teased.

   Sonic coughed and scratched at the tip of his nose, a light blush dusting his cheeks. “Y-yeah, r-right. Cool. Umm. Well, uh. See ya later, Marine,” Sonic said as he quickly stepped into the teleport.

   “See ya, Sonic,” Marine said as she pressed another button.

   As the familiar light enveloped Sonic, he didn’t feel the touch of melancholy that usually came when he and Blaze inevitably parted ways. This wasn’t an ending this time, not by a long shot. This was the start of something much, much better.