In Tails' case, they manifested as nightmares.
TAGs: one-shot, Writing Exercise, word-count: 1.000-5.000, background Shadow the Hedgehog/Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails' POV, post Sonic Forces, nightmares, angst, fluff, friendship, family, Tails needs a hug
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.
Tails padded silently across the darkened hallway, body tense and motions twitchy. He knew that there was nothing dangerous hiding in the dark shadows of their secure house and that the thundering coming from outside was just a storm; the bright flashes occasionally tearing through the dark of the night and the endless waterfall cascading down the glass window panels were making this very obvious. However, no matter how many times Tails reminded himself of these facts, it did nothing to quell the unease in his stomach or keep his fur from prickling all over his body—but he guessed that was just another thing that the war had left to him.
After all, old habits die hard. Especially, when they were fostered for over six months among destruction and suffering.
Tails shuddered at the memories that particular thought brought; he had made sure to keep away from the danger zones and the horrors they contained but despite all his effort he hadn't managed to fully escape the dark sights of war. Pain. Hunger. Loss.
His today dream flashed before his mind's eye at the mere mention of those. He immediately shook his head to force the awful images away, repeatedly reminding himself that the war was over now. Dr. Eggman was in jail. Infinite was no more. Chaos had been an illusion. GUN had taken care of all the remaining enemy forces. Everyone was safe. The world was being rebuild. All threats were gone.
But despite his best efforts, the nightmarish images remained. They refused to go. The sinister laugh continued to echo through his ears, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Tails tried to focus on the thundering outside. The laugh grew louder.
Slowly, a small trembling gold-furred hand reached for the metal doorknob before him, hesitating as Tails once again debated whether to open the door or go back to his room. He knew that at his age he should be long past the stage of running to his older brother for a comfort after a bad dream and, yes, he had managed four nights without it, but he...he just couldn't do it anymore. It all felt so painfully real, made him feel so completely terrified and hopeless and lost.
He had tried to weather it, had tried to be strong instead of running to Sonic to chase the bad dream away like when he was little, but sometimes it just became too much, sometimes their small house felt giant and terrifying despite being as secure as can be and sometimes he felt again like the tiny four-year old he was when he first met Sonic—and so he'd give into the fear and run to his brother, who somehow always managed to make it all go away with just a simple hug and reassuring words.
He bit his lip, fingers already brushing against the doorknob even if though he tried to not to. But Sonic had told him it was okay to ask for help. That when you felt like the weight of the world was bearing you down, it was fine to ask for a shoulder to lean on until you recovered your strength. That sometimes the journey was too hard and you needed to take someone along to make it through.
It was okay for him to take baby steps. He'd managed four nights in a row without running to Sonic—next time he'd do five. Once he felt strong again. But now...
He pushed the door open.
"Sonic?" he asked quietly as he stepped into the dark room. His brother was unlikely to be awake at this hour but he'd still decided to check. There was no response. Only raindrops hitting the covered window and occasional quiet snoring could be heard in the room. The part of Sonic's body he could see in the darkness also didn't seem to move an inch.
Pale lips pulled into a frown. It seemed he'd have to wake Sonic up. He didn't like disturbing his brother's sleep but it was necessary; Sonic's own sleep hadn't exactly been restful lately and if he was startled awake he tended to kick first before doing anything else so slipping into the bed beside the other without waking Sonic up first was a bad idea.
So Tails stepped just a tad closer to the bed. "Sonic?" he tried again, louder this time, and this time there was a reaction; he could hear a quite grumble and the part of the sheet covering Sonic's torso shifted signifying he was heard this time. Tails immediately made an eager step forward but halted just a moment later when he realized that the way the sheet shifted was as if there was an arm moving there but he could clearly see the entirety of both of Sonic's arms and now when he thought about that grumble sounded oddly deep for Sonic...
Tails felt a mixture of shock and horror wash over him at the implication. There was somebody else in the bed beside Sonic. But as far as he knew Sonic wasn't seeing anybody—
"W-who—?" he stammered, unsure what he was supposed to do. Be loud and thus alert Sonic there was somebody with them? Be silent, slip out of the room before the stranger could notice him and call for help? Or maybe—?
However, before Tails could figure out what was the best approach, the stranger had already sat up, deep red eyes focusing on him. Even in the weak light of moonlight Tails could make out the other's identity.
...to be honest, Tails wasn't really sure if that reassured him or not. He found Shadow to be quite intimidating most of the time and now in the dark the agent seemed almost terrifying.
...the severe case of bed-head however was doing a great job at toning that particular aspect down, though.
The agent stared at him with dull recognition and confusion, sleep clearly hanging onto the other's senses. But then something flashed through the red eyes, the dark body tensed up and look of realization blossomed over Shadow's face.
Something told Tails he wasn't quite supposed to discover the agent was there.
He made a cautious step back, not really sure what to say. "...I-I've come to see Sonic," he explained shortly, knowing the part '—and I didn't know you'd be here and now I have no idea how to react to it,' would be understood from his tone alone.
"...I see," the agent said, his expression having morphed into his perfect poker-face at this point. "He said you were having problems with nightmares lately," the agent added, neither his face nor voice giving away any emotion even this time.
"H-he did?" Tails was surprised. How much had Sonic told Shadow? How long had the two been secretly seeing each other that Sonic would disclose something like this? "I didn't know you and him..."
"He's planned to tell you about us this weekend," Shadow explained. "He didn't want to tell you until we figured out whether we worked well together."
"O-okay..." Tails supposed that made sense. "I guess...I should...leave then," he murmured, shuffling his bare feet uncertainly, his want to not continue this awkward experience winning over his other feelings at the moment; he just wanted to leave and pretend this never happened and hope Shadow would too once the morning came.
Shadow's voice however stopped him in his track before he could even make a step towards the door. "You came here because of a nightmare." Not a question, a statement. "Do you want to talk about it?" Shadow asked as he moved down the bed to sit at its edge instead, body-language surprisingly open and non-threating.
"I...I..." Tails knew that if Sonic were to ask him that question, he would have said 'no' immediately. But considering this was Shadow of all people asking, he couldn't quite manage anything but staring. Because why would Shadow...? "Why are you...?"
"I have my fair share of sleepless nights," was Shadow's simple answer. "I know the struggle."
Tails felt something twist in him. Shadow suffered from nightmares too? "Does talking help?" he asked, hopeful. Maybe he had been doing this the wrong way all this time?
"Sometimes." Shadow gave a small inclination of his head. Tails felt his mood dampen a bit at the answer. "It depends on the type of person and what kind of nightmare it is. Usually, it at least helps in figuring out where the problem lies." There was a small pause, Shadow giving him the time to process what he said. Then the agent gestured to the free chair beside Sonic's bed. "Do you wish to try?"
Tails shifted in his spot beside the door, trying to determine what was the best course of action to take.
Figuring he could always leave if it got too overwhelming, he decide to seat himself.
With his namesakes wrapping around him protectively and him picking on them absently, Tails tried to make himself comfortable in the chair, feeling a bit uneasy under the other's intense stare—but that wasn't anything new.
He chewed his cheek a bit before whispering at last, "I dream of the war."
"What aspect of it?"
"Things I've seen. People that got hurt, the demolition of cities." His tails tightened around himself. "...How Infinite laughed when he did all of it."
Tails bit his lips. "...Things that could have happened."
Tails' lips pulled into a frown and he tried to keep the images away even as he described them, "Infinite hurting Sonic and others. Horribly." He shuddered as he remembered his first encounter with the masked jackal—how powerless Sonic had been against Infinite despite being one of the strongest fighters on the planet. The laugh sounded in his ears. He pushed back tears. "And how I can do nothing to save them."
Shadow hummed in acknowledgement, thoughtful. "Why do you think you can't save them? What's stopping you?"
Tails clutched his fur into fists as he forced out, "Fear."
"...I'm not sure," he admitted quietly. He was older than Sonic had been when he'd first started fighting Dr. Eggman, he had lived most of his life fighting bad guys beside Sonic and yet he found himself more and more often gripped by fear and not able to do anything. Foes like base Chaos that he had taken on before without much struggle—while much younger—suddenly made him freeze and fear for his life. But he didn't understand why. Had he grown too dependent on his gadgets? Was it because he preferred to keep from the immediate battlefield and thus grew fearful of fighting altogether? Or maybe he was just afraid of failing and thus didn't want to act all?
He honestly didn't know.
"That might be one of the possible reasons behind your dreams," Shadow noted. Tails looked up in surprise, shoulder tense, wondering if the other had somehow just read his mind. However, the tension quickly fell away when he realized he might have been voicing his thoughts aloud.
Well, he supposed that made things a bit easier now at least.
Shadow continued, "You're afraid but think you should not be. You need to learn how to manage your fear."
Gold brows furrowing, Tails' lips pulled into a thin line. "But isn't managing pointless? If instead I learned how to be fearless like Sonic—"
"Sonic's brave, not fearless," Shadow cut in, sharp.
Tails reared a bit at the other's sudden change of tone, but he quickly recovered. He let his body relax again, raising a questioning brow as he believed those two were one and the same.
"There's a big difference between being fearless and being brave," Shadow explained when he saw his puzzled gaze. "One means being without fear, the other means being able to act despite it. Sonic is the second kind."
Golden brows furrowed in confusion. "But how comes he never looks afraid?"
"He's great at putting up a face when the situation calls for it." Shadow shrugged his shoulders. "And why do you think his motto is 'Gotta go fast!'? The more time you give fear to grow, the worse it gets and the more likely it is to make you freeze up."
Tails frowned. So the reason why Sonic was always so quick to jump into action was so he wouldn't freeze up?"But, but—but how does he make himself just jump into it?"
"You just need to do it one day and keep on doing that. There are no tricks or shortcuts." Shadow shrugged his shoulders. "But it gets easier with practice."
"It gets easier with practice," Tails repeated, mulling the words over in his head. Maybe he had just fallen out of practice? It wasn't that he had been less afraid as kid, maybe he just knew how to deal with it better? Because he had had more practice, always being in the center of action right next to Sonic. He just needed to get back into form.
With new determination filling his veins and feeling he actually finally got the answer to his questions, Tails rose up from his seat. "Thank you for listening to me, Shadow," he said. The red eyes were watching him intently, studying him. Tails didn't let their gaze unnerve him this time. "I'll return to my room now."
"Are you sure?" Shadow asked, testing him. "If you want I can still wake up Sonic and then leave so you can't talk to him about it too. I don't mind."
"No, it's alright. I'm fine now. Talking about it helped." He offered the other a smile that was only slightly forced. The agent didn't comment on it. "Thank you for listening to me. Good night, Shadow."
Shadow watched the kid until he disappeared into the hallway and the door closed behind him. Only after he allowed himself to return back to Sonic's side. "You can stop pretending being asleep now, you know," he muttered as he slipped back under the covers beside the hero.
"I suspected you'd notice I woke up," Sonic commented with a grin as he rolled over, shifting to be laying on his side instead so he'd be facing his partner this time. He immediately used this new position to plant a small kiss onto the other's lips, green eye meeting red ones just a moment later. "You've handled it great, Shad," he praised. "Better than I would have."
"He did look like he needed one of your hugs when he came in."
"But he left happy even without it. I think that just shows how amazing job you did."
"I doubt it will be enough to stop the nightmares."
"Hmm, probably not. But now he at least knows he can go to you too if he needs too," Sonic noted, wrapping his arms around his partner. Shadow did the same right after. Sonic allowed his lips to stretch into a big warm smile, giving a small chuckle as he tightened the hold onto the dark body. "Well, I guess that makes you officially part of the family now."
Shadow let a small smile of his own to show. "I suppose it does."