Cream raised her head from the field of flowers, where she had been meticulously searching for the perfect piece to pick, to her tiny compatriot circling her head. Following his stubby blue arm that pointed off to the road nearby, she saw a slow moving, rather despondent fox shuffling along the path to nowhere in no hurry.
"Oh!" Cream exclaimed, hastening her task. She already held several flowers in her hand. But she was missing an essential plant that would complete the set of blue, passionate pink, yellow, orange, and lilac arrangement that she had already created from the available selection in the field.
Scouring quickly, she finally found it, leaping in joy when she saw those white petals peeking out at her from its brother and sisters, hoping to be added to the special bouquet. She plucked it from its roots, nestling the flower in the center of all the others, and dusted off her orange dress so as not to appear dirty when she went over to Tails. Waving Cheese to follow, who was cooing joyfully at her find, she flapped her ears and flew into the sky, not wanting to harm the other flowers by racing through them. Cream took off, propelling herself to the dirt road while shielding the bouquet from the wind she stirred up.
Once she reached it, she landed in front of Tails up the path. He had not noticed her or her rush to meet him, so she took a few moments to straighten out any wrinkles in her dress and flatten the fur on her head. Cheese hovered in front of her, adjusting her large bow.
"Thanks," she told him, putting one foot in front of the other and walking toward Tails.
As she neared the young fox, a mixture of giddiness, compassion, and shame well up inside her stomach. Giddiness because she hopes that he will like the gift she is holding in front of her and has dreamt that such a gesture might lead to him reciprocating or letting loose hidden feelings like the ones she has had for him for a while now, but has been unable and too afraid to show. Compassion because he has just been through a betrayal that only opened the wounds of past heartbreak. And shame that ties them together, scolding herself for choosing so soon after Fiona has left to make this attempteven though she tells herself she is just trying to cheer Tails up like everyone else has been trying to do for the past few weeks- as all three culminated into an upset stomach.
She had been self-assured at first that he needed help pulling himself out of his slump. Even Sonic was well on his way to recovery from it. But with each step closer to him, that feeling wavered and gave way to doubt since it could be argued that Tails had suffered a bit more. She was beginning to think herself selfish and that it might seem as if she were preying on his vulnerability when she genuinely cared for his well-being and wanted to see him overcome this.
Either way she looked at it and fought herself about it, there was no time to back out now. Tails was almost upon her, heightening the guilty side that had been wishing for something to blossom between them besides flowers. His head was hung low, his namesake tails dragged along the ground leaving superficial trails, and his normal bright orange and white fur had a little less luster to it than normal.
She wanted to reach out and embrace him. Tell him that everything would be alright and that they all cared for him. Her heart went out to him, but she was afraid to startle Tails until they were only feet apart. Then she cleared her throat, speaking up to alert him to her presence. "Hello, Tails!"
He barely raised his head, but did lift his glazed eyes enough to take notice of her. "Hey, Cream," he greeted, stopping when she did.
The tan rabbit tilted her head. "How are you feeling?" She received a shrug and a grunt as a response. "Me and Cheese picked these for you. We thought they might help you feel better," she explained the universal gift to him.
Cheese picked out the white petaled planet in the middle and stuck it just behind Tails' ear as he took the others in his hands, staring at them listlessly. Cream hid a small smile behind her gloves and, for a moment, she could see that familiar brightness return to the fox's face. "Thanks," he said, giving her a small half-smile. "I appreciate it."
Cream could swear that it had already worked. But that hope was dashed when his half-hearted grin faded while he stared at the bouquet of flowers. She wondered if she had done something inappropriate or if he did not like them as much as he let on. Or, even worse, that his mind had somehow linked them to Fiona.
"Is something wrong?" she tentatively ventured, trying to catch his eyes again.
"Hm? Oh, no. I was just thinking," he replied, each word lowering with his voice until it was nothing, but a mutter. "I better go. Thanks again."
"You're welcome," she sighed. He did not catch on to it. Instead, Tails plodded on by, his mood unchanged from when she first greeted him. Only now he held a bundle of flowers and had one in his head, making him look like a patron of one of the saddest weddings in history.
She watched the flower that she had spent so hard searching for fall off his head and to the side of the road, never noticed by the young fox. Again, Cream let loose a large puff of air and headed in the opposite direction, her own head hung low. Cheese tried to cheer her up, but she was too busy lamenting how the gift had made no difference and how Tails had barely registered her in his mind.
"If he could only read my mind," she mumbled to no one in particular, "he would know that things between us, aren't right." He knew that her arms, and everyone else's in Knothole, were open wide, ready to help him with this at anytime. But he rejected all of them, leaving Cream with no other idea on how to solve this problem. She was not brought out of dwelling in her trouble thoughts until lunchtime was signaled by her stomach rumbling.
"Let's go get something to eat, Cheese," she suggested to the little creature above. He babbled in delight and perched on her shoulder, nuzzling against her cheek until he elicited a giggled from her.
Unfortunately, despite being hungry, Cream could not stop thinking of Tails. And each time she replayed the event in her head, she felt as sad as he had looked. She just wished that she could help him in some way.
This did not go unnoticed by a certain pink hedgehog decked out in a red dress with white lace sitting at the same table as her. Sitting directly across from the young rabbit, Amy Rose had a perfect view of Cream's face and how she kept blinking rapidly to hide moist eyes. It was not long before she realized how upset her friend was and she leaned over. "Are you ok, Cream?" she asked in a concerned tone.
The little girl looked up and away, nodding her head. "Yes," she lied. When she turned back to her food, she could feel the hedgehog's eyes still fixated on her. Unable to stand it, she broke down and confessed. "Actually, no."
Amy left her tray of food and took a seat next to Cream. This alerted Princess Sally, who had been busily chatting with Rotor about some repairs that needed to be made today. When she saw that Amy was now on the other side of the table with an arm around Cream's shoulders instead of where she had been, she ended the conversation quickly and slid closer to the other two, adjusting her only scrap of clothing- a blue jacket- that became a little ruffled by doing so.
"I tried to cheer Tails up this morning," Cream explained, pouring out her troubles to the other two. "But he didn't even care. He's still upset about Fiona."
"We all are," Amy reassured her.
"But Tails is really upset."
"His case is a little more special," Sally explained. "Don't forget, this is the second time he's been hurt. We just have to keep doing the best to remind him that we're his friends and we're here for him."
"He'll come around eventually like Sonic did," Amy reassured her.
"I just feel so bad seeing him like this," Cream said, hanging her head once more.
The little girl did not pay attention to Amy's quirked eyebrow and studious scrutiny of her face. Sally, on the other hand, did and knew that it meant the pink hedgehog suspected something else was being hidden that no one else could see. The princess folded her hands, waiting for Amy's trained senses to latch on to whatever secret Cream was still hiding.
"Cream?" Amy slowly asked, regaining her gaze and attention. "Is there something else you're not telling us?"
"What do you mean?" she inquired, feeling a little nervous at her friend's eyes.
No more was needed to be said though. Amy's face lit up in delight and she clapped her hands together excitedly. "You like Tails, don't you?" she stated.
"No!" Cream lied while simultaneously making sure no one else had heard her. "No, you're mistaken!"
"Cream, who do you think you're talking to? I can tell when someone likes someone else," Amy said.
"You're still wrong." The little rabbit tried to stay firm, but was failing miserably. So she distracted herself by pushing the food around on her plate and acting like she was completely engrossed in it.
"You've got it bad, huh?" Amy continued.
Cream finally broke down and nodded, tiny droplets of tears pricking her eyes farewell as they left for the journey trail down her face. She buried her face on the pink hedgehog's arm and spoke into it, her voice heavily muffled. "Does this make me a bad person? I really want to help Tails."
"But you feel like you're doing it for selfish reasons, like wanting him to fall for you, instead of wanting to genuinely help over this as a good friend?" Sally surmised. When Cream nodded, still not leaving the comfort of Amy's bare arm, the princess chuckled. "There's nothing wrong with that. It's natural to want to see those we care a lot for happy. And the fact that you feel so strongly about this only shows that you're still a good friend to Tails."
"Without a doubt," Sally smiled. "You're so eager to make him happy and are thinking only about his welfare, you're making yourself miserable. While that's unhealthy for you," she said, reaching over the table and lifting the girl's face up, "it's not selfish. It doesn't make you a bad person. You're still the same sweet, helpful girl we all know and love. You just have a crush now."
"She's right," Amy nodded. "You're too kind to hurt a fly, so I don't think you're a bad person at all."
"Thank you. Both of you," Cream hiccuped, her sobs subsiding. She picked up her utensils and went back to her food, but Amy was gazing thoughtfully out into space. Sally picked up on it immediately and questioned if there was something wrong with her now too.
"I was just thinking," she said slowly, a mischievous grin creeping onto her face. "I think I know of something that could help Tails and better everyone."
Sally was sure that she knew what Amy's mind was concocting. When the subject of love came up, her thoughts remained on that single track and it was all she could think of. And being that it came up quite frequently with her, it was usually on her mind, whether it was potential couples, holidays celebrating it, or something else entirely. So it did not surprise the princess when Amy suggested that they play matchmaker between Tails and Cream. But it did shock the young rabbit, who gasped on a piece of food. Cheese had to fly to the rescue, smacking her headfirst on her back to dislodge the offending morsel.
"I'm not so sure about that Amy," Cream coughed, expelling any remains into a napkin.
"What better way to cheer up both Tails and you?" she pointed out. "Besides, given his case, it's not exactly like you're catching him after a relationship has ended. So you're in the clear. I think he likes you, but he just doesn't realize it yet. If we turn his attention to it though, he'll forget about Fiona. And wouldn't you like that too?"
Cream could not deny that the idea did appeal to her greatly. Even Sally, whom she expected to protest, had no qualms with it. "It has been at least a few weeks and he hasn't made any progress. Normally, I would say take it slow and wait, but in this case, you have my support," the princess said. "Now what do you have in mind?"
"We just need to have Tails focus on Cream. Have her appeal to him," Amy replied.
"But he doesn't even notice me when I'm right in front of him," Cream reminded them.
"That's because you're not his type," a new person cut in. The trio of girls turned to see a familiar bat, clad in her pink and black attire, waltz their way, a drink in her hand. She slurped it and took a seat next to Sally, folding her arms as if expecting them to inquire as to her meaning and her presence there.
Cream completed the first part. "What do you mean, Miss Rouge?"
"Don't call me that," Rouge shuddered. "It makes me feel old. And I mean exactly what I said. You're not his type. Think about it. Tails liked Fiona, or so I heard through the grapevine. So I would assume he likes bad girls."
"Bad girls?" Cream repeated.
"Yup," the bat said, taking another swig of her drink. "And you aren't bad at all. Your chances don't look too good. You'd have to completely change yourself to win over Tails."
The little girl sighed, disheartened at the new revelation. Whatever hope Amy's plan had built up was dashed, leaving her once again with no idea of what to do. But the other two girls were quick to jump to Cream's defense. "Sure you're a little on the straight side, I can't lie," Amy said. "But Tails likes good girls. Fiona was good at first. She was just bad later on."
"And yet he still liked her," Rouge pointed out. "He must have if he's still moping around. He didn't even date her this time and it's eating him up just as much. Face it, Cream. Your one vice is you're too nice. Come around now you two," she said to the others,"can't you see it?"
"Why are you here anyway?" Sally asked, finishing the second part of Rouge's expectations.
"To help poor Cream," Rouge answered, placing a sympathetic hand over her heart and putting on a face of kindness. "I just can't stand to see her like this." Amy immediately scoffed at the bat's reasoning, in turn forcing Rouge to shrug her shoulders and come clean with the truth. "Ok, fine. I overheard the conversation and thought if I helped, I could get a favor in return.
"What kind of favor?" Amy questioned, pulling Cream a little closer to her and away from Rouge.
"Besides finding jewelswhich I'm sure you won't give me anywayI'm always looking to earn favors if I need them," Rouge smiled. When the older girls still glared at her, she rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to involve her in anything dangerous. You think I'm heartless enough to put a kid in harm's way?"
"Shut it, Pinky," she warned. "Besides, it could be any kind of favor. Maybe just running to the store for me or doing something while I'm out of town. Nothing above being a look-out far away from any action. And, for trust's sake, if Tails isn't swooning over her courtesy of my help, then she owes me nothing. Deal?"
Sally and Amy exchanged worried looks, but Cream was willing to go along with it. She said as much to them, telling them she would be fine. "I believe Miss Rouge," she told Amy, causing the thief to shake once more.
"But we don't," Sally retorted. "I'll volunteer instead."
"No, I will," Amy offered. "It was my idea to do this anyway."
"Hm, a princess or Freedom Fighter to call in a favor from? Must be my lucky day," Rouge grinned. And they began to wander if she had perhaps planned it that way from the very beginning. "You two can argue over that later. For now, we need to work fast if you want Tails to get better soon."
"You," she continued, pointing at Cream. "If you want to get Tails, then I want you, all tattooed, decked out in darker clothes,and I want you looking and acting bad right this instant! Your new look is going to knock everyone dead. Let's go!"
When Rouge had briefly mentioned tattoos, Cream had not given it much thought. In truth, she had figured it was just an example of how "bad" she had to become. So she was deathly nervous as the bat lead her and Amy, who had elected to join them, into a house on the edge of town to get one. Amy had protested at first, arguing that she was too young, but Rouge took the pink hedgehog aside for a quick, hushed discussion. Once they were through, Amy did not appear any happier with the situation, but she stayed quiet on the way there.
The house was small and off the beaten path. Rouge did not bother knocking and sauntered straight inside, calling out for someone in the process. That someone turned out to be a beastly bull that towered of the pitiful rabbit, who was scared at each passing moment. Cheese hid behind her shoulder and she tried to put on a brave front for him, but she felt her wobbly knees might soon destroy the facade.
"She's a first timer," Rouge said, indicating Cream.
The bull looked down at her, cocking his eyebrow at the situation. "Isn't she a little young?"
Rouge curled her finger, indicating for the bull to lean down to her level. She whispered lowly in his ear while Cream hugged Amy tightly, a frown crossing her face.
"Rouge, I'm not sure-"
"Relax, Pinky," she said, waving away her cares. "It'll all be fine. You ready, Cream?"
She was pulled into a backroom against his will and dragging feet by Rouge. Pushing her inside, the door slammed shut behind her while the bull told her to sit in the only chair available.
The room was only lit by one swinging bulb in the center of the room that hung above a reclining chair. Cream hopped into it, trying to focus on anything else besides what was to come. As the man rummaged around a desk in the dark, she spied a small, dried spot on the arm of the chair that had a dark velvet tinge to it. Cream gulped, hoping that it was not what she thought it was.
"Now just hold still," the bull said. He flipped a switch on an instrument he was holding and, as he came closer, she saw it was a long, pointed needle. She turned away, closing her eyes and bracing for the puncture to follow. As soon as she thought it touched her skin, she could not stand it and proceeded to leap from the chair.
But leap may not be the right way to describe it. Cream flew from the chair, yelping in pain when the instrument touched her arm. The man holding it flew back, cursing in the dark while the needle jumped out of his grasp and broke the only working bulb in the room before poking the little girl once more. Even without it, Cream frantically and quickly found the door, yanking it open and rushing into the only other room burying herself in Amy's dress.
Moments later, the bull emerged from the backroom, upset and livid. Rouge took him aside, apologizing profusely in a hushed tone and explaining once more that Cream was not used to the situation. He was unsympathetic, having broken some of his supplies in his fall, and Amy was forced to cover the young rabbit's ears for quite some time while the bull swore up and down.
Eventually, Rouge returned to the other two, grumbling under her breath and questioned why the little girl ran. "He was never going to give you an actual tattoo," she explained to Cream. "He was just going to make it look like it while putting a washable tattoo on instead. That's what touched you the first time."
"Oh," Cream said, lowering her head. "I'm sorry."
"C'mon. He's agreed to still give you some of the washable ones." She led the rabbit over to the man, who stayed behind a counter this time while applying the arm decorations. Much to Rouge's chagrin, Cream chose two of the cuter choices: one was of a daffodil and the other of a rainbow set amongst a cloud. They waited a few minutes for them to set before leaving quickly after the bull warned Rouge to never bring the young girl again.
"And you owe me for this," he added.
"I told you it wouldn't work," Amy repeated as they exited the house and walked back the way they came.
"Sorry, but I figured we could skip a lot of this ordeal if Cream had thought she had enough courage to get an actual tattoo. Then she would have the confidence to act tough in front of Tails. Guess we'll have to do this the hard way."
"Yes," Cream agreed, "but I'll do my best. Besides, I did get a little bit of a tattoo," she said proudly, showing off her bare arm.
"It's just a blue speck from when the needle accidently touched you!" Rouge declared, pointing to a dribble of dried blood. Underneath it lied a slight tinge of baby blue ink that she squinted to distinguish from the ruby fluid.
"No it's not," Cream said, shaking her head. "It's the world as seen by an angel."
"It's very nice, Cream," Amy commented before the bat could decry the spot again.
"Great," Rouge muttered. "Here I am trying to create a tough girl and she's going on about angels, and getting flower tattoos, and all sorts of things that are hindering me." She rubbed her the knitted bridge of her nose and sighed. "Fine, let's just move on and get you some new clothes. Preferably ones that don't scream 'cute'. In the meantime, you need to practice your walk."
"Yes, your walk," Rouge repeated. "You're too dainty. You need to have an air about you that says 'You can't complete me or mistreat me. I'm just fine without you." She explained all of this while walking back and forth, putting an excessive amount of force into her hip thrusts from side to side.
Cream tried to follow suit, but her shoes were far to large to step the way the thief did. She was unused to it as well, stopping and starting every few feet when she lost the rhythm that seemed only too natural to Rouge. "It takes a long time to perfect," Rouge said when the little girl stumbled once more. "But with some new shoes, you should be able to at least get the hang of it. Now, I want you to be bad. Act bad, think bad, talk bad, live bad. Got it?"
"Yes," Cream replied. "Thank you for all your help, M"
"Don't," she interrupted her. "Let's just go. And remember: bad girls don't thank anyone."
"I still say Tails likes good girls. They're better overall," Amy said.
"Keep dreaming," Rouge retorted, taking the lead. "You'll see I'm right when this is all done."
"I'll hold you to that," the pink hedgehog said as they headed back into town.
Tails sat on the bottom step of his porch, having ended his long walk around town a while ago. He had not even felt the urge to enter his dark and lonesome house, so he had flopped down onto the makeshift seat, laying the bundle of flowers on his lap. He knew they needed water, but that would mean going inside and he wanted to linger in the sunny light to mull over his troubles a bit longer.
The young fox sniffed the differing plants in his hand, each one with a distinct smell, yet all combining into a sweet fragrance that reminded him of the gift giver herself. He unconsciously smiled a little at his mental image of her and how hard she must have worked to arrange the flowers. He then sighed, remembering how sullen he had been when she had given them to him. Tails had not meant for Cream to take it the wrong way, but as the scene replayed in his mind, he saw how dismissive his past self was while his thoughts were occupied with Fiona. He was sure that he had hurt Cream's feelings when she was only trying to make him feel better.
"I never meant to hurt her," he mumbled. Then his stomach dropped even lower when he recalled how all his friends had constantly been trying to bring him out of his slump and he had waved them off as well, even knowing full well that Sonic had been through worse this time. He knew his obsession was damaging his relationships with everyone who was still patient with him.
Right then and there, Tails resolved to stop moping around and try to forget about the betrayal and his past feelings, which did not apply to the actual Fiona they knew. She was gone and he keep that in the forefront of his mind. Stewing in past affairs and fantasizing about "What if?" scenarios was doing him no good. Tails had to remind himself that those fantasies were not reality. He had to face what was actually happening, which was that he and Fiona were never meant to be. Any objections to that notion were just memories clinging to a lovesick past, refusing to let him move on to find who he should be with. He had been through this before and conquered it with his friends' help, so he was even better equipped to do it a second time.
All these realizations struck him as very forthcoming in their appearance and he stared down at the flowers he was still holding, wondering if they had some sort of magical property to them that catalyzed the reorganization of the owner's thoughts and progressively pushing through their ordeals. Or perhaps the sting of how he had treated Cream, her gift, and everyone else facilitated his mind's cause to declare that a few weeks of depression was enough. Either way, he reached up to his head to pluck out the last flower Cheese had placed there and add it to the colorful ensemble.
But he felt only fur when he did. Setting aside the bouquet and leaping up, he patted his head repeatedly, but the only things he came across were his ears, which immediately flattened when he realized the harsh truth. "Oh no," he moaned. "It must've fallen out."
He snatched up the other flowers and tucked them close to his chest while twirling his namesakes behind him. "I'll find it before Cream sees it and is disappointed. Then I'll go apologize," he nodded, propelling himself forward with his tails and back down the path he had traversed earlier.
If Rouge could only read Cream's mind, she would know that the little girl felt very uncomfortable with the selection of clothing that had been picked out for her to try on at the clothing store. Almost every piece was black or some other dark color. Not to mention that the skirts were far too short for her liking, the shirts were too tight, and the shoes were either too large for her tiny feet or had large heels, either one making it impossible for her to walk normally.
But Rouge did know that Cream had been waiting for so long to win Tails over that she was willing to try them, even if she did feel ridiculous and more like she was losing herself in the whole process. To this, Rouge had said that Cream would have the little fox "wrapped around her finger" and that "he would do anything" for her just like Rouge had over other men. Although, she was unsure if she really wanted the wield that kind of power since her idea of love was much more mutual.
"Let's see the next one already!" Rouge commanded. Cream sighed, hoping this would be the final one. She had chosen a dark blue shirt, whose color she actually liked, and that showed off her tattoos matched with a short, flowing skirt that she felt the urge to keep pulling down. The only shoes left to try were a pair of black boots, almost similar in their size to her normal footwear. Lacing them up, she marched out of the dressing room and turned in all directions for Amy and Rouge.
Rouge clapped her hands together, delighted with the outfit, much to Cream's relief. "Tails will love it. Someone almost just like you is perfect for his bad girl desires. But we still need to show up with attitude. So let's see it. I'm waiting, so come on. Show me what you've got."
She cleared her throat, placed a hand on her hip, and lowered her eyelids just like Rouge had taught her on their walk there. "How's it hanging?" she said, low and in a flirtatious manner. "Do you always stare?"
"Excellent," Rouge nodded. "Ok, get out of those clothes so we can pay for them. It's time to nab us a forlorn fox." As Amy and her waited for Cream to change back into her normal outfit, she started to think aloud. "Maybe we should grow out her hair too. Get some of those highlights or hair colors I saw up front." Before Amy could deny the necessity of anything more, she had already dashed off. The pink hedgehog could not fault Rouge on embracing the challenge of the task at least.
"Where is Miss Rouge?" Cream asked as she came back out, the new clothes in a bundle under her arm.
"She went to go get something for your hair," Amy replied. "Cream, are you sure you want to do this? I still think Tails would like you just how you are."
"I am a bit nervous about all of this. I'm not used to it after all," she said slowly, taking a seat next to her friend. "But Miss Rouge does have a point. Maybe Tails will like me. He hasn't noticed me in this way so far." She indicated her own dress.
"But he hasn't noticed anyone. He's just really depressed," she reminded Cream.
"Well, you change for the one you love," the little rabbit said. "You did the same for Mr. Sonic."
Amy blushed, remembering the wish she had made when she was younger. "Yes, I did. But I didn't change how I acted and you shouldn't have to. I think if you just be yourself, your true love will come to you for it. Even if it's not Tails, your true love should want you for who you are. Besides, if you just put on a show like this, you're just lying to them from the start."
"Lies: the start of any normal relationship," Rouge interjected. She had returned, holding a yellow can with the words "Temporary Hair Color" boldly emblazoned all over it. "Don't listen to her," she continued, shaking up the can and telling Cream to hold still. "She still changed her body, adding a few curves to it. Yet rather than take advantage of that, Amy still pines after her blue boy with the notion that they're 'meant to be'." She chuckled at the idea while spraying a few straight lines from Cream's dome to the end of whatever hair she had.
Amy chose to not to argue, having a few choice words in her mind for the thief. She did counter with her belief that they "were meant to be" and left it at that. Rouge paid no mind to her mood and finished up Cream's hair, turning her toward a mirror a few feet away. "Come around here now," she said, ushering her closer to it."Can you see the streaks?
She could and she was shocked by how different she looked. Rouge took the stunned silence to mean that Cream approved of the new change. "I think this is as much as I can do. Personally, I would want you in something more form fitting. Like a vinyl suit. And some make-up as well."
"No. She's too young for that," Amy piped up. "Besides, you'd probably cake her in it and she already has natural beauty."
"Are you making a crack at me?" Rouge asked in a threatening tone. When the pink hedgehog turned away, she turned her focus back to Cream. "But this is good enough. I dare say that Tails will want you bad," she grinned. "Now help out and put all the other clothes back while we pay for this stuff," she said to Amy. She wrapped an arm around Cream's shoulder, reiterating the mantra she had been telling her all day. "Now remember, I want you bad, got it?" Rouge said as they walked to the cashier.
"Bad," Cream repeated.
"Let me believe it. Bad."
"Bad!" Rouge said louder.
"Bad!" the little girl shouted at the top of her lungs. Amy could only sigh and gather up the clothes to return to their original spots, hoping that it would all end well for Cream.
"I spy with my sharp eye a fox," Rouge whispered to the other two girls. They had left the clothing store, had Cream change into her new clothes, and followed the path that Tails had been walking earlier. Like the bat said, there was the young boy, his head still down and moving from side to side as if searching for something in particular.
"Now just be confident," Rouge reminded Cream, who straightened out her skirt once more.
"Ok," she nodded. "I think I'll be alright. I'll have Cheese with me after all."
At the sound of his name, the little blue chao flew over to his friend, babbling happily. Part of his excitement was over his new apparela pair of tiny sunglasses and a skull cap, tied in the back by Cream and imprinted with various skulls and crossbones. He crossed his arms, acting tough, but causing the little girl and Amy to just giggle.
"Yes, you're very macho and cute, Cheese," Cream said to him. He cooed happily, landing on her shoulder and nuzzling against her face.
Rouge glanced up to the sky as she felt a headache coming on. "It'll be a miracle if this works," she groaned. Tapping her foot sternly and clearing her throat, she caught the others' attention and directed her on what to do. "None of that, ok? Be aloof, casual, hard to get, and, most importantly, bad."
Cream convinced her that she would. Rouge stepped aside and urged her out of their hiding place, which was a small bush on a slight hill that overlooked the dirt road. The little girl rushed out, a bit too quickly for the bat's liking, but nonetheless, doing fine so far.
"Maybe after this, and for another favor," Rouge said as Amy and her watched, "I could help you with your love situation."
Amy ignored her and silently cheered for Cream, who tripped at the edge of the path and nearly crashed into Tails. Both of the spectators held their breath and simultaneously released it when they saw that he never took any notice of the accident, choosing to bend over and pick something up, and she was able to quickly catch her balance, acting like it never happened.
Down below, Cream hushed Cheese, who took to hovering just behind her head. Quietly echoing all that she had been taught in the past few hours, she placed a hand on her hip, let the other hang loosely at her side, and strutted over to Tails, utilizing every move that the thief above had shown her. When she was barely a few feet from him, she cleared her throat to break his concentration on the ground and have him focus on her instead.
And focus on her he did. When Tails glanced up, his jaw almost hit the ground. Cream kept her eyes half-closed, just as Rouge had taught her, when facing him. His eyes enlarged to the size of soccer balls and even his namesakes, which usually were moving about of their own free will, halted in surprise. He tried to speak, but the words could not find the way to his mouth. Cream nearly broke her front with held back chuckles at how flustered he was.
" 'Sup," Cream said in a low voice.
Tails entire face instantly flushed a deep red. "H-H-Hey Cr-Cream," he stuttered. "Nice outfit."
"Like anything in particular?" she asked, turning around and showing it off for him. He stammered a little more, unable to wring out the words for a few seconds again.
"All-All of it is good," he replied. "Why the change in attire?"
"Just felt like it," Cream shrugged. She could scarcely believe that it was actually working. Tails was thrown at her transformation, both exciting her and yet making her nervous that she might not be able to keep up the act. She was nearly blushing herself and her stomach was once again tying itself into knots. And she was also hoping that he might finally initiate a kiss, as she had been wanting him to do ever since she first realized how much she liked him.
But all of those feelings were temporarily forgotten when she saw what was in Tails clenched hand: the bundle of flowers. The same one that she had given him earlier. In the middle was the pure white flower that had fallen from his ear and that she had assumed he had not even cared for.
When he saw her staring at the bouquet, he scratched his ears and coughed. "Oh," he said as if just realizing that he was still carrying them. "I came out here to find that flower that Cheese put on my head." The little creature again answered to his name, perching himself atop his stunned master's head. "I know you put a lot of effort into it and I was a jerk for not caring about it. I actually did appreciate it, but I didn't show it. So I came out here to find it and then to apologize to you."
"Tails," Cream said, but trailed off, not knowing what to do.
"Don't get me wrong. It's not just you I need to apologize to, but everyone else. I haven't had my head on straight and I know you're only being good to me, like everyone else. I guess- no, I did let these past feelings overwhelm me. I never loved Fiona, but someone like her. I just got confused and dwelled too much in fantasies about her." That confession irked Cream a little, causing her to think she may not have a chance after all.
"But that's what's wrong with it. It wasn't reality. I was letting my past relationship hold me back, even though I've gotten through it before. With everyone's help of course," he noted. "So, I'm going to move on because Fiona and I just weren't meant to be. I hope you, and everyone else, can forgive me because I really am sorry."
Cream was shocked to say the least. She had not expected any of this to happen and she was unsure what to do. Rouge had not prepared her for this at all and Amy had never brought this up as a concern. She did not know if she should just drop the "bad girl" attitude and return to her normal self or keep up appearances.
However, he took her silence as hostility and shirked away from her. "I can understand if you don't want to. I have been moping around and been inconsiderate to others," he mumbled. "Perhaps one day?" When she still did not answer, he thanked her again for the gift, and turned to leave.
"No!" Cream shouted, running up to him. "No, I do forgive you. And so does everyone else," she assured him.
"Thanks," he said, a smile crossing his face. Cream could swear that she saw a little of his color slowly returning to his face as well.
At this point, she figured that all the training had already been hurled out the window, and he had already bared his open heart to her, so she did the same. "To tell the truth Tails, there is a reason why I got these new clothes. See, we wanted to try and make you feel better. Amy, Sally, and I," she informed him when she saw his perplexed face. "So Rouge helped me get some new clothes, some tattoos," she indicated her arms, "and to act different."
Tails crossed his arms, the confused expression still planted there. "I don't see the connection to how that would help," he admitted.
"Well," Cream said, her heart beating rapidly in direct opposition to her slow revelation, "Amy thought that maybe someone else to date might help you along. And Rouge guessed that you liked 'bad girls', like how Fiona turned out to be, while Amy thought you were more into nice girls like mFiona used to be." She stumbled for only a second, her breath nearly catching in her throat as her heart hammered against her chest. She was feeling a little dizzy, but pressed forward, determined to finish. "So I guess I just misunderstood. We both did," she ended, shyly looking up at him.
She watched his mind work over what she was trying to tell him. He caught on soon enough and she earned a blush from him, his mouth dropping once more to let out an awkward, "Oh," as he kicked his shoes into the dirt. "Well, as you can probably tell now, Amy's right. I suppose I've always liked nice girls." They both turned away, neither one sure what to do in the situation they were now in.
"Do you want to go get some ice cream? Maybe take a walk around town?" Tails inquired, much to the rabbit's relief. "Unless you're not hungry. I just thought it might h"
"I'd love to," she said, cutting off his anxious rambling. He grinned widely, the first one that she had seen from him in a long while, and offered his hand. She took it, interlacing her fingers with his. "If you're up for it," she added. They both turned and walked close to one another, not even a foot of distance between them, each with an adorable smile on their faces.
"Yes. I am," Tails said. "And I think," he paused, looking directly at her. "I think everything will be fine now."
Up in the bush, Amy and Rouge had heard every word of the conversation. The pink hedgehog was grinning ear to ear while her compatriot frowned, waving off the situation as an exception. "Don't go thinking this changes anything," Rouge headed off what she suspected was Amy's gloating expression. "Nice girls still finish last. For the most part."
She only shook her head and continued to watch her friend's figure slowly disappear down the road, each step bringing the pair closer together. When they were completely out of sight again, Rouge brought up the arrangement they had made prior concerning her work that day. "You or Sally owe me a favor now and I plan to collect," Rouge said, crouching beside the other girl. "It's a pretty simple job. One of you just need to-"
"Do nothing," Amy interrupted. "We don't owe you anything."
"Yes, you do."
"No, we don't," she insisted. "You said we only owed you a favor if Tails was 'swooning over her courtesy of your help'," Amy echoed Rouge's earlier promise. "Since that didn't happen, we don't have to do anything."
Rouge huffed and stood up, turning away from her. "Some day this turned out to be," she groaned. Amy snatched a few other complaints from her mutterings, mostly vows to always watch what she said from that point forward.
"Maybe you could learn from Cream," Amy chuckled. "Maybe you just need to be a little more nice to people rather than being 'bad' all the time." With that, she left the aggravated bat up on the hill, bidding her a farewell as she raced down it.
The thief simply snorted again, eventually making her way down to the road and kicking a rock along the way. She replayed what Amy had suggested over in her mind and shook the thought away. She deemed it a silly notion and one that she would not indulge in. After all, Amy had also said they needed to be themselves and that was exactly what Rouge planned to do.
Yet she soon re-thought that decision when she spied a familiar person approaching her on the path. An echidna she was quite on well-known terms with and not in a good way. He currently was staring at the clouds, seemingly lost in their lazy drift that matched his unhurried stride, a rarity that was not often seen in the Master Emerald's guardian. Figuring that it could not hurt to try the advice just that one time, she greeted him as she passed by him, trying to be as nice as she possibly could. "Hello, Knuckles. Nice day, isn't it?"
"Hello, Rouge. Yes it is," he replied almost subconsciously. However, he came to a dead stop when he actually processed what had just happened. Baring his large, spiked fists and turning around, he glared at her. "What are you up to?"
"Nothing," Rouge told him.
"Yes you are," he accused, spreading his legs and digging them into the ground. "What did you do? Are you after the emerald again?"
"No!" she shouted at him, her temper already rising and reaching its boiling point. "I was just trying to be friendly!"
That had done it. Rouge turned around and flew off into the air, directly towards Angel Island. "I wasn't after your emerald before, but I am now!" she bellowed to him.
"What?" Knuckles cried. He dashed off to his home too, all the while growling that "girls are weird".
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