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Cover image depicting Sally Acorn comforting a teary-eyed Nicole the Holo-Lynx, sitting in the dark, lit by a holographic cyan heart behind them that symbolizes their love for one another. They’re both smiling at and in love with one another. This piece was a gift for a friend, and was drawn by qqHoneydew_. When clicked on, this image links back to Honeydew’s Ko-fi.
Cover image commissioned from qqHoneydew.

Legal Disclaimer: I do not own Sonic the Hedgehog or any of its associated characters, I do not claim ownership of Sonic the Hedgehog or any of its associated characters, nor am I making profit from this original work of fan-fiction that was created and published for entertainment purposes only. The Sonic the Hedgehog franchise is created by owned by SEGA Sammy Holdings Inc. All rights of Sonic the Hedgehog belong to SEGA Sammy Holdings Inc.

Living in Herself

Written by Felicia Rondo

Summary: It can be so lonely, trying to be a person and a city at the same time. Pair that with falling in love with your best friend, before you're even sure how you're able to love anything, and you get where we find Nicole one night in New Mobotropolis.

Birthday gift for a very important friend.

Contains: Angst, Friends to Lovers, Tangle’s Whimsical Antics, Amy’s Crush on Sticks, and a Very Lesbian Computer.

If she really focused, Nicole could feel the wind hitting her. The wind that didn’t pass right through her, anyway.

When she went to construct the city of New Mobotropolis, she was still trying to come to grips with what it meant to be a person instead of just a program. Emotions were something she always had a strange access to that she couldn’t quite explain, but how to process each of them was a puzzle. She didn’t know how the others—her friends, she should say—could solve it so effortlessly.

Across the vast city she maintained each moment of every day, filled with so many people feeling so many things every day, there was no manual for being a person. Philosophically, one could interpret every piece of writing made in a society as being an abstract guide of how to be a person living in it—but only if you wanted to be very obtuse and frustrating to an artificial intelligence that felt so lost. That’s how Nicole felt, anyway. Living in herself.

For once, it was a quieter night. She didn’t know if she preferred these, or the nights where she was too distracted with all the noise around her that the nagging questions that dwelled inside her mind could be drowned out. Those nights, she could just hear about other people’s problems. Hear people communicate with each other, understanding one another, loving…

Nicole sighed.

Of all the things she could have felt when she briefly swapped bodies with Sally, love was the one that made her need more than the ‘life’ of a handheld the most. Not just any love, but a kind she hadn’t read anything about before. One that didn’t get written about in the texts of old Mobotropolis. One so deep, and so torturously-painful, but so vital. Like to let it go would be akin to letting go of life itself.

That love was what Sally felt for Sonic. Love that Nicole felt, shortly before returning to her woefully-insufficient handheld form, that had forever changed her. She wondered what Sally felt when she was a handheld. She wondered how shocked an individual as deep and rich as Sally felt at how utterly empty an existence that was. She wondered about Sally a lot.

Out of an abundance of concern for her privacy, when her holo-figure was not present with her, Nicole tried not to dwell too much on what Sally was up to. Where she was. Technically she always could feel her, but there was something deeper to it than simply being everywhere. Every construct of New Mobotropolis was all Nicole, yet all Nicole could see was Sally no matter where she looked.

If someone else could have a problem instead, in that moment, she would stand a chance of knowing what in the world to do about it. Oh how grateful she would be for some distance from it all, to look at her situation from afar. Better yet, if she could come closer to these feelings—just close enough to be able to truly grasp them—she could be like all the rest of the people that dwelled in her. On her. Trampling her.

All these people. With their smiles, their arguments, their reconciliations. How they could come and go from each other’s lives, forget about each other, and embrace in reunion. Taking for granted their lives of multiply-contradicting truths, never knowing what it was to be such an incontrovertibly-artificial lifeform who could never—

“Yo, Nicole!” Tangle said, hanging upside down from a lamp post, taking Nicole completely off-guard even as she was the lamp post the lemur was hanging off of, “Whatcha doin’ out this late? Is there a secret Freedom Fighter mission? Can I come?!”

“T-Tangle,” Nicole spoke, still reeling slightly from the startlement, “there isn’t any secret mission, I can assure you, I’m just out to be… out, I suppose.” The lemur had an incredible talent for confounding her, but Nicole knew she only meant well.

“I getcha! It’s good to be out!” Tangle exclaimed, doing a flip on the lamp post with her tail shortly before making a landing that nearly ended in her falling on her face.

Nicole walked on, not thinking much of the encounter. It was nice to be noticed and regarded, sometimes, she supposed.

“So!” said Tangle, suddenly joining Nicole on her walk, “What’s on your mind? I bet it’s math, is it math? I bet you could do a zillion math equations in like, a second!”

“It isn’t math, Tangle - ‘zillion’ isn’t even a number,” Nicole started, giggling a little despite herself, “I was actually thinking about something else, but there’s really no point in getting into that when you probably have better things to do with your night,” she assured the lemur, hoping the exuberant girl would take the hint.

“Hmm, something else…” Tangle wondered aloud, looking around at whatever was ahead of them, “Is it… that chilidog stand? That red bike? Ooh! Is it a lil critter wearing shorts?”

“No, no Tangle, it’s not—a what?” Nicole did a double take, caught off guard by that last guess, “Where did you come up with that?” she asked, curiously.

“Straight off the ol’ bean!” Tangle answered, pointing at her head proudly, “But you could make one right here, right? Just, hologram-up a tiny little critter wearing shorts?”

“I wasn’t thinking of a small animal wearing shorts!” Nicole finally said, very perplexed by the situation she had now found herself in, “… Well, I am now, but I wasn’t before!” she admitted, causing the excitable lemur to grin and give herself a high-five with her tail, “If I tell you what was on my mind, will you go to bed?”

“Hehe! Sure, I—wait, was this a Freedom Fighter test?… Did I pass?” asked Tangle, with Nicole merely shaking her head in reply, “aww darn! I’ll pass the next test for sure!”

“This wasn’t a test, Tangle,” Nicole clarified, giggling more, “I was… I was thinking about Sally…

“She’s been busy, and… a long time ago, we used to go everywhere together. So, whenever she would be busy, I’d be busy with her.” Nicole closed her eyes and continued, feeling… relief, as she finally got it all off her chest, “Now whenever I finish helping her with something she tells me I can leave and go take care of other things, because she wants me to know she doesn’t just see me as a tool, but… I just… I just want to be with her…”

“Ohh,” Tangle nodded in understanding, “I get it now - you like her!”

Nicole’s eyes shot open. Panicked, she started,

“I-I, I didn’t say—!”

“Heyyy, it’s okay, it’s cool! I’m gay too!” Tangle reassured her, “Listen! You set your worries aside, ‘cause they’re all about to be a thing of the past - I just so happen to be an expert on love~”

At the sound of that, Nicole wasn’t really sure what to expect to come next. Would she be given exorbitant amounts of advice that doesn’t quite work but, when put together, gives her the perfect idea of what she really should do? Would she hear about Tangle’s love antics? Would it be both?

“Tell her how you feel!” Tangle exclaimed.

Oh. Neither.

“That’s… that’s it? That can’t be right, how can you be so sure?” Nicole asked, “how do you know that’ll work? I haven’t even told you much about Sally and I, it’s a very complicated situatio—”

“Ah, ah, ah!” Tangle interjected, “Love is actually super simple if you come at it the right way! Trust me, I had to learn that the hard way!

“At first, I thought of what my mom did when she wanted to tell my other mom how she felt about her, so I tried to write poetry! But there are way too many words that don’t rhyme with each other for that to work!” Tangle laughed, shaking her head.

“Wait,” Nicole started, “you have paren—?”

“Then I tried just telling her all the time how much of a good friend she was and how much I liked being her friend!” continued Tangle, “But it turns out, if you don’t add in the really important part of, ‘but I really wanna be your girlfriend too,’ girls don’t find out you wanna kiss ‘em and stuff!”

“… Well that just seems a little obviou—”

“So I went back to the drawing board!” Tangle declared, interrupting Nicole’s interruptions a third time, “I needed to take all the best parts of my previous two plans and put them all together for a make-or-break final plan spectacular!

“I spent weeks analyzing my first two plans, weighing the pros and cons of both of them, and I figured it out! My first plan failed because words don’t rhyme with each other, so I couldn’t get to the part where I told her how I felt! Then my second plan failed because I was only telling her part of how I felt! So what I needed to do was find some way to tell her exactly how I was feeling without having to rhyme or whatever! And that’s when it hit me—”

“I think I get it, Tangle,” Nicole assured the lemur, almost dizzy at how long it was taking to get to the point, “it’s really, really simple - you just needed to… to…” the words caught in her throat before they could come out, but the Holo-Lynx was surprised to find herself exactly where they started.

“Tell her how I felt, yeah,” Tangle smiled, a mixture of pride and embarrassment on her face, “like I said, it’s really super simple, and I had to learn it the hard way.”

“But… but what if she doesn’t feel the same?” Nicole asked.

“Then she doesn’t! There’s really not a whole lot you can do in that case, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with getting it off your chest!” Tangle placed her finger under her nose as she continued,

“If you’re only supposed to be friends, you’ll stay friends. If you’re better off being girlfriends, now she knows you want that! In my case, I found out later that Whisper really wanted to be my girlfriend the whole time, so telling her I wanted it too was all we needed to make it happen!”

Nicole sat and thought about it, how much sense Tangle was… sort of making. Would she just tell Sally how she felt, let her reciprocate those feelings or reject her, then move forward and away from this limbo she had been stuck in? Could she set her true feelings free from where she had kept them hidden, living in herself?

“I… can’t deny you’re making sense, Tangle, and I’ll certainly give it some thought,” Nicole finally said, “thank you for talking to me, tonight. I think I needed this.”

“Don’t mention it!” Tangle assured the Holo-Lynx as she began to head home, waving her goodbye, “Lemme know how things go with Sally!”

Closing her eyes, Nicole thought about what she was planning to do.

“Just go to her, and tell her how you feel…” she told herself, “… and find out she doesn’t feel the same way, probably making her feel bad in the process, ruining our friendship and rendering this whole holographic avatar experiment a regrettable mistake.”

It was a terrible idea, she realized, and she had no idea how it could have sounded like anything else moments ago.

Everything around her, the city she maintained, she kept it all running like a well-oiled machine. But her form, the imitation of life she had created to satiate the curiosity of a glorified calculator, flickered. Her ‘eyes’ closed, shrouding her ‘vision’ in darkness, as she slowly curled up. Alone, on the street paved by the incontrovertible fact of her artificiality, flickering in and out of corporeality before finally… vanishing.

“Amy, be sure to debrief Sticks on the developments that have come up on our side before you two set out on your mission, okay? I know she’ll make a great addition to the Freedom Fighters, but she’s going to need you to get her on the same page as the rest of us for the operation to go smoothly,” Sally told the pink hedgehog, who was trying not to blush too hard at the notion of getting to work with the badger.

“W-will do, Sally!” Amy nodded, doing her level best not to sound like the giggling schoolgirl she felt like in that moment. She’s been a Freedom Fighter for years, she has a reputation to keep up, dammit!

“Good,” Sally smiled, before turning to the rest of the team, “Freedom Fighters, dismissed.” With that, everyone went on their way to fulfill their part in the latest move that Mobotropolis would be making against Robotnik. Sally watched Amy leave, being able to very clearly see her quietly go over what she’d be saying to Sticks to herself.

Young love…” Sally sighed, shaking her head as she remembered how she felt when she was Amy’s age. Thankfully, due to the sacrifices she and her compatriots had made, there had been a lot more room for innocence in Amy’s childhood than there had been for Sally. Everyone was older now, and still living, so they had to have done something right.

“Ugh, headache,” Sally groaned, “where the hell do we keep the aspirin around here, again?” she wondered, scanning the area, only for her gaze to unexpectedly land on the Holo-Lynx curled up in the corner of the room.

“Nicole?” the squirrel said, curiously, calling the Holo-Lynx’s attention away from the thoughts of anguish that were consuming her.

“S-Sally?” responded Nicole, opening her eyes and realizing where she was, “M-my apologies, I appear to have malfunctioned in some way, I truly didn’t realize I was… er, here…”

“Oh no, that’s perfectly okay, Nicole!” Sally assured her friend, before studying the look on her face more closely, “… but are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Nicole stated, turning her head away and attempting to replicate the steady monotone that used to come so naturally to her before, “I am an artificial lifeform that can be neither ‘okay’ or ‘not okay,’ you need not concern yourself with my status when there are other matters of importance to attend to.”

“That’s funny,” Sally replied, taking a seat next to her, “because you seem to be experiencing new emotional phenomena - I thought that was what becoming this, taking this form, was all about.”

“Perhaps it was all a mistake,” uttered Nicole, lowly, in a voice that betrayed the composure she was trying to embody.

Sally looked at Nicole, curling up into herself, and wondered… what could be wrong? It wasn’t the sort of concern she would spare for just anyone, either. There had been, in fact, very few who would make Sally worry the way she worried about Nicole in that moment.

“What… makes you say that?” Sally asked.

Nicole let out a sigh, and began to answer Sally’s latest query like she had done so many times before,

“That night, when I first took this form, I didn’t fully comprehend what it would entail. How could any computer program know?

“I have experienced so many new, incredible things since then. Things that I know were important to me, for my development, yet… with them, there has also been a weight that has grown in my chest. In taking a form independent from that handheld that once encompassed my entire existence, I have never again been as close to you as I was back then,” she said, her words sounding as though they could have just as easily turned into sobs at various times.

“Close to me?” Sally repeated back at Nicole, raising a hand to put on the Holo-Lynx’s shoulder, “Nicole, if you’re worried you’re not doing enough for me…”

“It’s not that!” Nicole suddenly yelled, causing Sally to pull her hand away, “I’ve already said too much, this is only going to make it worse…”

“What’s going to be worse, Nicole? What’s this weight in your chest you’re talking about?” asked Sally, “You can tell me anything, Nicole, I promise—”

“I can’t tell you I love you!” Nicole said, turning to look at the only love she had ever known, “I can’t tell you I’ve been falling deeper and deeper in love with you since before I knew what love was, I can’t tell you any of it because I’m not a person like you or Tangle!” With each word that left her mouth, her vision seemed to blur. It stung to even look at Sally.

“I’m not a person who can be loved, who can be held by another person, who can truly feel like a person can!” she stated, shutting her eyes and turning away from Sally… only for Sally to take her chin and make her face her again.

“Nicole…” Sally spoke, in that soft voice of hers.

“It’s not fair, it’s not fair to only be able to come halfway, to want what I can never have… to be what I can never be…” the Holo-Lynx frowned, her ability to speak deteriorating more and more.

“Nicole, you… you’re crying,” Sally told the crying Lynx.

She opened her eyes and, finally, noticed the damp feeling on her cheeks. Slowly, Nicole began to wipe the tears, only for Sally to help her - brushing the tears away from her left eye. Her vision became clearer, and she began to be able to see the look in Sally’s eyes as they looked into her own. There was something behind the look Sally had that was unfamiliar to Nicole, as she’d never been looked at that way before in her life.

“You can tell me you love me, Nicole,” smiled Sally, gazing at her with love, “you can tell me all of this, I promise. Wanna know why?”

Then, Sally cupped Nicole’s cheeks. In a moment that went by so quickly, yet would never leave Nicole’s memory for as long as she lived, she closed the distance between the two of them and locked lips with her love.

Nicole’s eyes widened, then softened, before finally shutting as she let herself kiss Sally back.

“It’s okay,” Sally assured, when they finally pulled away from one another so Sally could breathe, “because I love you too.

After that, there was nothing more to say. Nicole clung to Sally like she needed to - not because she was gonna go anywhere, but because she was there right then and that mattered more than anything else. Sally held Nicole and comforted her, grateful enough to know that those ‘unrequitable’ feelings that she’d had for her best friend all these years were returned.

If Nicole really focused, she would be able to tell that little had materially changed in the city she had constructed. Everything ran like it had before, and much of its mobian inhabitants remained peacefully asleep in it just as they were moments ago. But Nicole knew that wasn’t the whole story - and she knew that, much like that city, love lived in herself too.

The End

Originally-published on December 20, 2022

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