Mortal Coil - Anten - Sonic the Hedgehog (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Chapter Text Chapter 2 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 3 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 4 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 5 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 6 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 7 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 8 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 9 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 11 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 12 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 15 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 16 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 17 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 18 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 19 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 20 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 21 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 22 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 23 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 24 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 25 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 26 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 27 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 28 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 29 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 30 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 31 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 32 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 33 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 34 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 35 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 36 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 37 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 38 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 39 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 40 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 41 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 42 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 43 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 44 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 45 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 46 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 47 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 48 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 49 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 50 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 51 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 52 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 53 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 54 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 55 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 56 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 57 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 58 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 59 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 60 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 61 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 62 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 63 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 64 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 65 Notes: Chapter Text Notes:

Chapter 1

Chapter Text

It should have been a simple job-- reports had surfaced within GUN about an abandoned base that showed signs of activity. Recon took top priority, only engaging if necessary. Allocating resources was hard enough, and with the military organization and resistance stretched thin dealing with a rising number of Badnik raids... a full-out attack wasn’t feasible without a justifiable cause.

The idea of it being a trap had never crossed their minds. It wasn’t completely rare for the Doctor or his lackeys to revisit an old base to collect discarded resources, or mobilize a platoon of robots he had left abandoned-- even if only to recycle their materials.

It wasn’t long after they had begun their surveillance that they had been ambushed by what seemed like endless droves of attack drones that burst forth out of the ground behind them. They practically covered the terrain, the night sky made darker by the sheer number of flying enemies rushing at them. The overwhelming pressure pushed them towards the base, where another armada of drones closed off all chances of escape.

Individually, they would have been no match-- but their endurance was ever-so-surely waning as the fight went on. Omega had run out of ammo, resorting to crushing the robotic pests with his clawed fists as his opponents rammed and shot at him. Rouge found herself getting hit almost every time she launched a kick or jab at the hornet-like automatons buzzing around them, something she was getting very vocally annoyed by. Her quips were slowly becoming less frequent, replaced by the audible grunting and hissing as more and more strikes made their mark on her.

Shadow himself wasn’t faring much better, his spin dashes and homing attacks constantly grinding against metal in a way that made it difficult to keep up his momentum. True to his namesake as the Ultimate Lifeform, he had barely sustained any injuries. But he couldn’t help hearing the clanging of metal and stifled cries of pain coming from his comrades. His eyes constantly darted to the inhibitors around his wrists, and back to the raving masses of robots still moving about. It was certainly possible that he had enough energy in his reserves to annihilate the rest of these Badniks, but... even if that were the case, there was obviously something going on here. It seemed like almost too perfect a solution, especially given his inability to perform the same move once the robots had been cleared out. At the very least, he had a chaos emerald on him as a last resort-- he would have liked to simply warp him and his team members away, but that simply wasn’t possible. They were too far apart and too busy fighting their own battles

His ears twitched as he heard a loud yelp, turning around to see the white bat get slapped out of the sky and plummeting to the ground. His hesitation immediately subsided, and with a righteous fury he discarded the ring-like cuffs that wrapped around his wrists. Watching as waves of red chaos energy began exuding from his limbs. Almost immediately the entire armada of small-time Badniks rushed to him, obscuring everything in a torrent of grinding metal and explosions. At first, it seemed no amount of chaos energy spears and blasts would do the trick, but thankfully the onslaught began to subside just as his powers began to wane. With a final heave he whipped out the emerald, calling upon its powers to initiate a chaos blast to take care of the robots that remained.

When the dust cleared, he was face-to-face with the Doctor, his unconscious friends held captive.

Make your next move wisely, Shadow.” Eggman taunted, his grin spanning ear-to-ear. “Your friends’ lives depend on it.”

The black and red hedgehog gritted his teeth, fists clenching so hard that it felt like his fingers were going to tear through the fabric of his gloves.

“I should have known something was off.” He seethed, his rage building with every word. “You wanted to wear us down.”

Klagens. No one had expected their return-- the mad Doctor was loathe to reuse his previous inventions unless he deemed it necessary. Yet here they stood, the two jellyfish-like robots quietly floating next to his Eggmobile, their waving tendrils moving back and forth as they maintained the stasis field keeping his team members captive.

Rouge and Omega looked worse for the wear, covered with scuffs and dents respectively.

“Just so you’re aware, hedgehog¸ I’ve made some slight modifications to my Klagens since you last saw them.” Eggman proudly proclaimed haughtily, twirling the tips of his moustache. “They can now modify the form the stasis field takes instantaneously!”

“...Meaning?” Shadow impatiently grunted out.

Eggman’s smile faded, his tone flattening to one of complete and utter seriousness as he stared down his former ally.

“Meaning if you so much as move a millimeter, the rest of your team will find themselves compressed into a space far smaller than the size of their bodies. Your merry band of thieves will become little more than scrap metal and a rather disgusting pile of bio-organic paste.”

Shadow was unable to hide the streak of fear that ran through his mind. The mad Doctor was undoubtedly able to come through on his threats, that much was true. His body burned with anger, his fingers twitching to expel the energy racing through his body as he tried to think of anything he could do to remedy this situation.

His eyes scanned the field of destroyed robot shells and broken electronics. He had no backup-- even if he was able to call them, no one could get there in time. Even Sonic...

He shook his head, knowing nothing he could do would remedy this situation. He was completely at Eggman’s mercy, a fact that felt like a hot knife piercing his gut. And yet the Doctor remained, patiently staring at him expectantly. It didn’t take long for the implication to become clear.

“What do you want?” The hedgehog asked, doing his best to remain stoic despite the raging whirlwind of emotions rushing through his body.

“At last, the Ultimate Lifeform understands that he’s in a hostage negotiation.” He snidely remarked, clasping his hands. “Is it not obvious? Hand over the chaos emerald.”

Shadow reached into his quills, producing the glowing green gem once more. He barely cast it a second glance before tossing it at the Doctor. A retractable claw sprung out of the Eggmobile, snatching the gem from out of the air and placing it delicately in the mad scientist’s waiting hand.

“You got what you wanted-- now let them go.” The hedgehog insisted, glowering at his adversary.

He felt his insides run ice-cold as Eggman’s grin returned to his face, abundantly overflowing with malice.

“Now, why would I do that?” He jeered, his grip on the emerald tightening. “I never said that I would, and as far as I’m concerned you just handed me this as a nice gift!”

Without even thinking, Shadow’s air shoes revved up, a roar escaping his throat as he leaned forward. “You bastard--

His rage was immediately quelled again as a metallic shriek pierced the air. The hedgehog’s crimson eyes snapped to the source of the noise, the pit in his stomach growing once more.

The entire bottom half of Omega’s chassis had been crumpled inward like a wad of paper.

“Don’t waste my time with meaningless threats. This will be your only warning, Shadow.” Eggman tilted his head up, his superiority in this situation pressing down on Shadow like a heavy weight. “Consider this a form of insurance on my part. GUN can flail about all they want; without you they are completely useless. Now, I want you to tell that blue rodent and all his friends... if any of you come after me again, I will not hesitate to finish the job. Understand?”

Shadow slammed his eyes shut, tilting his head down and away from the Doctor.

“I’ll take your silence as an agreement. I hope, for their sakes, that you see it the same way.” Eggman grinned, slamming his hand down on the controls of his floating vehicle. The Eggmobile rushed upwards with impressive speed, taking the Klagens and the rest of Team Dark with it.

The moment the mad Doctor was out of sight, Shadow felt his legs completely give out from under him. He clutched at his chest, his heart beating wildly as his knees crunched against the rocky ground. His body trembled with fear, thoughts racing through his head as the full weight of the situation bore down on him. His lungs refused to listen to his commands to regulate his breathing, drawing irregular ragged breaths.

“f*ck.... f*ck!” He slammed his fists on the ground, his brain running in circles but giving him no solutions to the situation at hand.

His heart jumped again as Eggman’s directive crossed his mind again.

Sonic...

He shook his head again, anxiety clawing up the insides of his ribcage.

There was a significant chance that blue idiot was working on his own plans to stop Eggman. There was no time to waste.

The Ultimate Lifeform shoved himself unceremoniously back onto his feet. There was no time to report back to GUN, making sure his friends were safe was imperative.

He heard the clattering of metal debris as the shattered bodies of the defeated Badniks were blown away by the force of his air shoes. Within seconds the base had disappeared beyond the horizon, the landscape rapidly shifting around him as he made a beeline to his destination, desperately hoping that Sonic was not on one of his impromptu jogs on the other side of the planet.

Sonic had been subjected to his fair share of rude awakenings. Being a globe-spanning hero and all, there had been more than a handful of times that he was pulled out of bed by his two-tailed brother in the middle of the night to take care of an impromptu Badnik raid. He wasn’t exactly used to it, but he had grown accustomed to dispelling the initial rush of adrenaline and jumping into his shoes when needed.

Most of his nighttime emergencies didn’t come in the form of a frantic pounding at his front door, with a force so strong he could the house jitter from the impacts. His eyes shot open as he scrambled out of bet, practically slapping the shoes onto his feet as he flew out of his bedroom and into the main hallway. He paused for a moment, ears twitching as the door next to him clicked open-- a disheveled and drowsy Tails peeking out towards his brother.

“Sonic, what’s going on?”

“No clue--”

“SONIC! Are you in there?!” Came a frantic cry from beyond the front door, the voice instantly recognizable.

“Is that... Shadow?” Tails rubbed his eyes, his sleepiness quickly fading.

“That sounds like him, but...” The blue hedgehog hesitated. He’d never heard his rival sound so desperate. Something was very wrong.

“Is anyone in there?! Someone answer me!” Shadow’s voice boomed into the domicile.

“You stay here, Tails.” Sonic calmly stated, gulping as an unsettling feeling rose in his stomach. “I’ll go see what he’s upset about.”

He paused for a moment, shaking his head as he quickly made his way to the front door. He took a deep breath, before undoing the locks on the door. He threw the door open, putting on a cheery smile as he leaned against the doorframe.

“Heya, Shads! It’s a little bit of an odd time for a race--”

The words died in his throat as he took in the visage before him. The black and red hedgehog looked like a complete wreck-- bits of metal sticking out of his quills and covered in dust as he couldn’t keep himself from shaking. At the very least, it seems that there was some kind of relief upon seeing the person he was calling out for, even if it was quickly washed away by the other emotions he was barely able to handle.

“Sonic...” He choked out, his voice severely diminished from the prior yelling. “I... I f*cked up.”

The moment those words reached the blue hedgehog’s ears, he immediately jumped to action.

“It’s okay, buddy.” Sonic calmly stated, moving aside to let his rival inside. “How about you take a seat on the couch, and we’ll talk about it. Okay?”

The hero’s ears twitched as he picked up the faint sound of ceramics clinking against each other in the kitchen. Tails was quick to pick up on the situation as well.

Shadow initially seemed hesitant to enter his rival’s house, but he didn’t put up much of a fight. He slumped past the blue hedgehog, stopping awkwardly in the middle of the living room.

“I... don’t know if I can sit down right now.” He quietly admitted, hands slowly clenching and unclenching themselves.

“That’s okay. Whatever makes you feel more comfortable.” He paused for a moment, chuckling. “If I knew you were finally going to visit, I’d have cleaned up the place a little bit.”

Sonic watched as the other hedgehog almost gave the tiniest of flinches from the remark, clearly not taking it well. He felt a pang of guilt reverberate in his head from the poor reaction. He thought to apologize, but... that might backfire too.

Luckily, Tails quickly made his presence known, stepping into the living room holding some mugs, steam slowly wafting from their rims.

“I brought you something to drink. I heard you preferred tea, so... here.” The fox held one of the mugs out, waiting for Shadow to take it.

The hybrid stared blankly at the drink for a moment, before slowly taking it from the young genius. “...Thanks.”

“Not a problem.” Tails smiled back, before handing the extra mug still in his possession to his brother.

“I’ve never seen you this worked up before, Shads.” Sonic began, watching as his rival’s grip on the mug tightened. “Anything we can do to help?”

“I...” he trailed off, taking a deep breath to steel himself. “Eggman took Rouge and Omega hostage.”

WHAT?!” The two heroes cried in unison.

Their shock caused another wave of humiliation to surge through Shadow. As it all set in, it became even more clear to him how much of his team’s predicament rested on his shoulders. He could barely muster the effort to even talk about it now... and it was clear from their reaction that it was only going to get worse.

“I tried to exchange them for a chaos emerald, but... I was a fool. He’s got that too. He told me to tell you that... if any of us try to attack him, he’d...”

The hybrid felt his voice falter as he unsuccessfully tried to force the last of his words out. He glanced up at the people he was talking to, dread filling his stomach as he tried to ascertain their reaction.

They were both dumbfounded from the revelation. It certainly wasn’t out of character for the evil genius, and he would most certainly follow through on his threats.

“That’s... I can’t imagine, Shadow.” Sonic finally replied, looking back to his rival with a sympathetic glance. “We’re going to make sure they come home safe and sound. Isn’t that right, Tails?”

The two-tailed fox placed his hand against his mouth, eyes darting back and forth as he tried to work out the situation in his head.

“Yeah...” He trailed off, voice slightly muffled. “Listen, Shadow, I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but we shouldn’t rush in without a plan.”

“...I know.”

“There’s at least one silver lining; the fact that he’s using them as hostages means he probably won’t harm them. He wouldn’t have any leverage if he did.” Tails offered. “Also... I don’t think he’s going to start a fight anytime soon.”

Sonic gave the fox a puzzled look. “Not sure I’m really following you there.”

“Sorry, it’s just... knowing him, I feel it’s far more likely that he’s planning something and needs time to work on it-- and this is how he’s making sure we don’t get in the way.”

“I see what you mean. It’s got me a little concerned if that’s the case.”

“Yeah...” Tails trailed off, looking back at Shadow. He was clearly not taking it well, and unfortunately it didn’t seem like it would be getting better any time soon. “I know it’s not ideal, but... I don’t think we’re going to be able to act any time soon. There’s a lot of work that needs doing, but we have some time on our side as well.”

The blue hedgehog nodded at the suggestion before chiming in. “I think for now we should get some rest. We have a lot of work ahead of us. Don’t worry about telling the others, I’ll let them know to steer clear of Eggman for now. Do you want to crash here tonight?”

Shadow remained silent for a moment, considering the proposition. He eventually shook his head.

“No. I’ll try to rest at my own place.”

“Not a problem. If you ever need it, our door is open.” Sonic reassured him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Tails, go ahead and go on to bed, I’ll see Shads out.”

Tails nodded. “I’ll get to work first thing in the morning. Shadow... we’re going to get them back.”

The two watched as the fox disappeared down the hallway, out of sight.

A quiet chuckle came from Sonic’s throat, catching the attention of the hybrid.

“I’d claim he got that from me, but that’s just who he is.” Sonic remarked, a sense of pride in his voice. “I don’t know what I’d do if he was in trouble. Probably be in the same boat as you.”

“...Probably.” Shadow muttered in agreement. It felt like his nerves were finally calming down, though it brought in a wave of fatigue with it. “I should leave.”

The blue hedgehog nodded, walking over to the door and opening it for his counterpart. Shadow quietly sauntered back outside, only to be stopped by the hero sheepishly calling back to him.

“Ah, Shadow... the mug?”

The hybrid blinked in confusion, before he realized he was still holding onto the tea that Tails had given him. He held it out for Sonic, who took it gracefully.

“I... didn’t drink any of it.” He noted, a hint of guilt in his voice.

Sonic merely chuckled in response as he tossed the contents out onto the grass. “Ah, don’t worry about it, I don’t think any of us actually did.”

The two stood in silence, neither sure how to exactly end the conversation. Eventually Sonic spoke up again.

“I’m glad to see you’re still okay, aside from all the... robot guts on your head. Tails is probably going to have some stuff ready for you by tomorrow afternoon. Are you gonna be able to stop by at that time?”

“Probably...” He sighed, “I still need to report all this to the commander.”

“Don’t let me keep you then. I’m sure GUN will probably want to throw their hat in the ring, too. I’ll talk to you later.”

Shadow nodded, his air boots kicking into gear.

Sonic began to close the door, stopping for just a moment to get a final word in.

“Hey, I know we’ve had the whole ‘rival’ thing going, but if you ever need a helping hand, I’ll always be there for you. I hope you know that.”

“I do.” Shadow replied, “and... Thanks.”

“Anytime, Shads.”

As soon as the door closed, the black and red hedgehog raced off, moving quickly in and out of the grassy hills towards Westopolis and the GUN headquarters. It wasn’t long before the rolling hills started flattening out, transitioning to grassy plains as skyscrapers rose out of the horizon and loomed higher and higher as he neared the city.

While most of his panic and emotional turmoil had been calmed, there was still a nagging feeling that remained in his heart. He skidded to a stop at a small grassy patch just on the outskirts of the city, taking a moment to just... stand there and stare at his hands.

Sonic was right. Aside from the debris on him, he basically got out of that battle without a scratch. Meanwhile, Rouge and Omega...

Shadow was supposed to be the Ultimate Lifeform. He was made to take the heaviest of beatings and dish it right back out. He was designed to not get hurt.

But if that’s the case, then... why is it so upsetting to him?

Chapter 2

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow sat quietly, his expression hard as stone as he sat in the GUN operations briefing room. The sharp, metallic chair pressed into his backside, sapping the warmth from his body as he waited for Commander Tower to finish reading the report.

The human, seated on the opposite side of the lacquered table, was just as emotionless as his eyes slowly processed the recounting of events, line-by-line. It was only as he lowered the papers that he showed any kind of reaction, sighing loudly as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Jesus, Shadow.” He began, his tone exasperated as he shook his head. “So not only have two of our most vital assets been placed in enemy hands, but we’ve also lost the only chaos emerald in our possession to boot.”

The hedgehog slowly clenched and unclenched his fists under the table, careful not to let any expression of frustration show.

“I don’t intend to make excuses, Sir.”

“Well, it certainly doesn’t look like you intended to get results either.” The Commander effortlessly batted back, further wounding the hybrid’s pride. “How did the same Ultimate Lifeform that saved the world during the Black Arms crisis screw the pooch this badly?”

Shadow felt himself flinch at the mention of the monster race that led to his creation. Just the very mention of them was enough to send a wave of disgust rocking through the hedgehog’s stomach.

“I am working with Sonic and his associates to get them back. I’ll provide updates as we--”

No, you won’t.” Tower immediately barked back. “You will report back only when you have secured Rouge and Omega. No other communication will be permitted.”

“Sir, I don’t understand why--”

“Do I have to spell it out for you, Agent?” His CO immediately cut him off again, harshly tapping the report in front of him. “Surely you of all people understand how precarious the position you’re in is.”

“I’m aware that people are still wary of me, Sir. But I don’t see how that--”

His verbal contest was cut off as Commander Tower slammed his fist on the desk, leaning forward as he stood up from his seat.

“I think it’s high time you acknowledge the situation you’re in, Shadow. These people only work with you because I order them to. Many of them still see you as the amnesiac mowing down our soldiers in Westopolis. I get the luxury of watching recordings of you doing that every time a new president takes office and having to explain to them why that same person is now openly working for us.”

The Commander was far from finished with his impassioned rant. Shadow could only watch as he continued.

“I have spent decades getting to this position, working my way to the top so I could rebuild this organization into something worthy of respect. I’m not about to let all blood and sweat I have shed go to waste. But that gets harder when I must constantly put my neck out for you and convince the people above me that you’re not a threat. Hell, most of the time the only reason they agree is because it makes it easy for us to monitor you.”

The hedgehog wished he could do anything at that moment-- scream, yell, curse, throw punches... but he knew that every word out of his CO’s mouth was completely true. People were slow to trust, and even slower to forgive. Every failure was just another tick on his record, opening himself to more scrutiny. And that scrutiny would cause only more blowback for one of the very few people who had his back the entire organization.

“I understand.” Shadow nodded, doing his best to keep his shoulders straight despite the weight he felt upon them. “Once they’re back safely, I will reach out to you directly.”

“Good.” Commander Tower nodded, crumpling the report up into a tightly packed wad. “I’ll take this down to the incinerator. If there’s any available satellite footage of the incident, I’ll have it sent over to Tails before wiping it from our servers. Consider yourself on a leave of absence until you report back. Dismissed.”

Shadow nodded, pushing himself out of the chair and onto his feet. He saluted the officer before exiting the room.

It took all his effort not to blast down the hallway and through the security checkpoints leading out of the building. Normally, he could just ignore the looks from the other soldiers, but... without his team’s presence, their gazes burrowed into his body like parasitic worms. He gritted his teeth behind shut lips, sauntering past the glares and murmurs until he was eventually out of the building and back in the city proper.

With little holding him back, he revved up his shoes and practically threw himself into the highway, merging into the traffic and blasting past the vehicles until he was out of Westopolis city limits. The cityscape slowly gave way to suburbs, themselves slowly relenting to the forests and plains beyond.

He eventually slowed to a stop as he neared a large meadow dotted with smooth boulders. The wildlife was surprisingly quiet, barely even a chirp of birds as he did his best to quell the surge of emotions within himself.

He made a promise to Maria. The people of this world... they were undoubtedly good people, and despite his tampered memories, he would never think to endanger them again. It was... it was the right thing to do.

Even if the world turns against me, I will fight like I always have. He thought to himself. The taste of those words felt familiar to him, somehow. Reassuring, but faint.

But those words did nothing to help Rouge and Omega.

He barely even realized his burst of rage as he instinctively punched one of the boulders next to him. The force of the impact shattered the towering rock formation effortlessly, causing bits of stone and dust to cascade over the landscape behind it.

Shadow looked back at his hand. Completely unharmed, not even so much as a scratch.

The feelings of disgust welled up within him again, his scowl deepening as he skated away from the scene he made.

The moment Rouge had regained consciousness, she wished she hadn’t. She felt her eyelids subconsciously crack open, wincing from the harsh light that flooded her senses. Almost immediately her sense of feeling returned, pain receptors firing on all cylinders as every bruise, scratch, and sore muscle simultaneously made themselves known to her.

She couldn’t help but let out a groan of pain as she tried to make sense of her surroundings. She couldn’t feel anything beneath her, body swaying ever so slightly back and forth in the air.

“YOU ARE AWAKE.” A familiar, monotonous digital voice called out.

“O-Omega?” She winced in pain, her throat hoarse. “That you?”

“AFFIRMATIVE.” The robot replied. “WE ARE STILL LOCKED IN STASIS.”

“Stasis?” Rouge shook her head, trying to get the bleariness out of her vision. “That last hit did a number on me. To think I’d get taken out by a Buzz Bomber... I’ll never hear the end of it if word gets out.”

The bat rubbed her eyes, grunting as her battered arms painfully throbbed with the movement.

With a few blinks, the world around her began to take shape. The room she was in appeared to be some kind of brightly lit workshop, littered with iron and steel components and plans that appeared only half-finished. The various benches had an assortment of robotic arms bolted onto their surfaces, some looking more recently used than others. There was still some kind of... haze or waviness that appeared in her vision, though another round of rapid blinking didn’t alleviate it.

It didn’t take her long to realize that it was not a problem with her vision, but the stasis field that surrounded her and kept her suspended in air. She tilted her head to the side, seeing the unfortunately familiar jellyfish-like arms of the Klagen maintaining it as the main body hovered over her.

At the opposite end of the room was another Klagen, housing her partner. It wasn’t long before she zeroed in on the crumpled mess of metal where his legs used to be.

“Oh my-- Omega! What happened to you?!” She immediately called out as she covered her mouth in shock.

“AUTOMATED RECORDING INDICATES PART OF MY BODY WAS DESTROYED AS A THREAT TO KEEP SHADOW FROM PURSUING.” The robot responded without hesitation. “I HAVE YET TO DETERMINE IF THIS SHOULD BE ANOTHER REASON TO ANNIHILATE EGGMAN IMMEDIATELY OR ANOTHER REASON TO TORTURE EGGMAN BEFORE ANNIHILATING HIM.”

Rouge chuckled, “Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually.”

Indeed they will! Who knew my creations could mimic free will in such a manner?”

The door to the workshop slid open with a heavy thunk. The two prisoners quickly snapped their heads to the entrance as the reviled Doctor strode in, grin wide as he clasped his hands.

“It’s really such a shame the experimental neural network accelerator I had installed into you took so long to show any results. You were so below expectations; I wasn’t sure if you would even be able to take on the original E-series bots!”

Rouge’s eyes narrowed as Eggman let out a boisterous laugh. She didn’t at all believe that was the Doctor’s true opinion, so why would--

“WITHIN MY CHASSIS THERE ARE ENOUGH AUTOCANNON ROUNDS TO HOLD A SUSTAINED FIRE AT YOUR BODY FOR TWELVE MINUTES.”

“And yet you’re unable to fire even a single shot in your current predicament.” The mad scientist sneered, leaning in towards the robot as if to challenge him.

“What are you trying to achieve, Eggman?” Rouge called out, interrupting her captor’s odd behavior. “You’re just trying to rile up Omega.”

“IT IS WORKING.” The robot immediately replied.

“Good, good. Keep that anger nice and strong. As for you...” He trailed off, turning to face the treasure hunter. “What I do with my own creations is none of your concern. As far as I’m concerned, you’re only here to make sure I am not interrupted. Speaking of...”

Eggman snapped his fingers. Almost immediately, a loud metal shriek shot through the room, piercing Rouge’s ears as she winced in pain. She opened her eyes again, her expression quickly morphing into one of horror as she watched Omega’s arms and chest crumple inward, squealing and shriveling until they were little more than crooked spindles of metal. The only thing left unharmed was his head.

The stasis field keeping Omega suspended in air had dissipated, the traitorous super-Badnik unceremoniously being dumped onto the ground.

The Doctor simply pulled back on the brim of his gloves, readjusting his grip as he leaned over the deformed mess of sturdy metal and broken armaments.

“Now let’s see here... if I recall, I installed the release mechanism around here... ha!

With a triumphant laugh, the head of the robot popped out of its destroyed body, clattering to the ground before being picked up by the Doctor and being tucked under his arm.

“You...” Rouge trailed off, her own anger building within her at the mutilation of her friend.

“Your ‘friend’ is safe and sound with me, don’t worry.” Eggman taunted, patting the robotic head in his grasp. “As for you, Bat-- you’re only here so I can keep you in that stasis field. I can assure you it can do a lot worse than what you saw in a fraction of the time.”

He didn’t bother waiting for a response before heading out the door. As it began to close, he called out with a mocking tone, “Oh, and go ahead and get comfortable. That field is only going to go down when my Klagen stops detecting any life signs.”

Shadow wasn’t quite sure exactly when he was supposed to arrive at Sonic and Tails’ house. To be quite frank, the last thing he wanted to do at this point was get there only to find that there hadn’t been any headway. Getting some sleep was completely out of the question, and the last hour he spent racing along a secluded path through the hills didn’t do much to assuage his emotional turbulence. Any effort spent trying to clear his head of thoughts only invited them to entrench themselves further.

He sighed in resignation before turning back towards his rendezvous. Tails made it clear that under no circ*mstances would they be rushing in, but... resting on his laurels gave him an anxiety the likes of which he’d never felt before.

The journey to the domicile provided no distractions. It wasn’t long before the house had risen as a dot on the horizon, slowly growing as he drew near.

The garage door had been left open, proudly displaying the Tornado in all its pristine glory. The floor had been scattered with numerous tools, grease-stained towels, and other equipment. Behind it all sat two workbenches, one covered in wires and breadboards, while the other contained a computer and monitor. The two tailed fox sat in front of it, back to the black and red hedgehog as he closely analyzed what was on the screen.

Shadow paused before entering the workroom, knocking on the frame of the garage door to announce his presence.

Tails briefly turned his head around, casting a glance at the hybrid before returning his gaze to the monitor.

“Oh, hey Shadow. Sonic is out on a run, but he should be back soon.” He called out, reaching back to beckon him to come in. “GUN was kind enough to send me footage. I’ve been scrubbing through it to see what we can find.”

“...Anything useful?” Shadow asked, trying to not sound too hopeful.

“Somewhat. Unfortunately there’s no lynchpin to pull, but what we got is still worth analyzing.”

The black and red hedgehog walked past the equipment and biplane, coming to a standstill next to the monitor. The young genius was constantly playing and reversing the footage, using a dial to precisely control the movement of the video feed.

It was extremely difficult to even pinpoint where Team Dark even were within the torrent of Badniks that covered the screen. Every frame forward looked like a massive swarm that constantly swirled and spasmed with the ebb and flow of combat.

“Oh, I prepared another mug of tea if you’d like it. I have it sitting on the warmer over there.” Tails pointed to the table next to him, where another white mug had been sitting. The hedgehog wordlessly grabbed it, taking sips of it in the hopes it would calm his nerves while he was re-watching the event.

He swirled the warm, strong herbal drink in his mouth. It was strong, almost bitter-- but a pleasant taste nevertheless.

“This is delicious.” He noted, taking another sip.

“Glad you like it.” Tails replied as he swiveled the monitor towards Shadow so he could see it better. “I looked at all the robots in the footage we found, and I think I identified all of them. It wasn’t easy though; you should get GUN to upgrade their satellite tech.”

“I’m not in charge of that, but I’ll pass your feedback along.”

“Thanks. Anyways, something that I noticed was that most of the enemies here are extremely old-- most of them made before you were released from stasis.” The fox switched to a different window, which appeared to be some kind of database containing Eggman’s robot designs. “They’re not just from one specific design iteration, some of them were made almost a decade apart.”

“He doesn’t like using old designs, though.” Shadow noted, looking more closely at the images scrolling across the screen.

“Exactly. He usually just leaves them to collect dust whenever he abandons a base. So far, I can correlate these designs to at least 5 different bases. I’m still not entirely sure how exactly he managed to get them all to gather at the ambush site without raising any alarms...” Tails trailed off, reversing the footage all the way to the point where the Badniks had burst out of the ground. “Wait... could it...?”

The hedgehog quietly watched as the young fox pulled opened up a new web browser, typing almost too quickly for him to keep up with. Eventually, they were presented with a map of the globe, overlaid with an assortment of colors, ranging from blue to green to yellow to red.

Tails’ brow furrowed in confusion. “Drats. I was hoping we’d get some more insight by checking recent seismic activity sensor history, but... unless....”

The fox trailed off again, but almost immediately snapped his fingers as a realization came to his mind. “Let’s check historical activity as well!”

Tails had rapidly opened a number of different maps, each one going back further in time by anywhere from a week to a month each. Eventually, he turned to Shadow, a triumphant look on his face.

“Take a look at this.” He said, pointing at a couple of small green patches on the map. “Notice these spots? Watch what happens when we move forward in time with these reports.”

As the young genius opened up the more recent maps, it became clear what he was referring to. Those green patches were slowly moving, converging onto the position where the ambush base was at.

“We don’t have sensors in those areas for obvious reasons, but if we were to extrapolate the direction these blips were coming from, it looks like they all correspond to bases we had previously thought abandoned by Eggman.”

Shadow took another swig of the tea before placing it back on the warmer. He shifted his weight to one foot as he folded his arms over his chest. “But why would he do all this? Why not just build a new army?”

“I think... he was more interested in the number of enemies he could throw at you, not their strength.” Tails paused, before adding. “Sonic and I have never gone up against anything like that. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to fare as well as you did.”

“Clearly not well enough.” Shadow scowled, softening only slightly once he saw the wince the young fox had given at the statement.

“S-Sorry, I just... a-anyways--” He cut himself off, shaking his head. “Whatever his end goals, I can’t imagine he’d be able to pull a move like that off again. That was easily about a third of all the robots he created during his lifetime.”

“What about where he took them?”

Tails nodded, pulling up a map of the globe. Several red Eggman symbols dotted the picture, clearly denoting known locations of Eggman’s bases.

“Unfortunately the satellite didn’t track him too far outside of the base. I tried some educated guesses based on the direction he headed off in, but I was unable to map it to any places we know of. And I haven’t picked up any signs of the Egg Fleet being mobilized after the last time we demolished it.” The fox sighed, a downtrodden look on his face-- which he quickly wiped away almost immediately as he turned to face Shadow with his best smile of encouragement. “B-But that won’t stop me from continuing the search! We’ll find them, I promise! I was actually thinking of contracting Team Chaotix in order to expedite the process.”

Shadow’s eyes narrowed at the mention of the detective agency. Their antics were... questionable at best, but their track record speaks for itself. Despite his personal gripes, he could mostly count on their assistance.

Tails quietly returned his gaze to the monitor, bringing up the satellite footage and scrubbing through it until the part where Shadow disengaged his limiters. Almost immediately, the cacophonic swarm of Badniks converged on him, and within seconds, the Eggmobile and the two Klagens quickly came out of the nearby base, effortlessly scooping up his spent teammates.

“I still don’t get why, though.” The fox propped his chin up on his palm as he replayed the scene over and over again. “I thought he may have just been buying time, but... it’s pretty clear he’s been working for months just for this specific moment. What reason does he need them for, and why both of them? Did Rouge come across any new gems, or did Omega upgrade himself or something?”

The hedgehog shook his head. “Not that I am aware of.”

“...I see.” He sighed. “I’m really sorry about this Shadow, but... I don’t think I’m going to get any breakthroughs with what we have right now. I’ll send over our proposal over to Vector... I’ll give you a call if anything come up, okay?”

Shadow felt his face contort into a glower as he stared Tails down, watching as the fox became more and more uncomfortable and nervous as the silence dragged on. The hedgehog felt another wave of frustration mount within him, further frightening the young genius who was too polite to tell him that he should leave. He clenched his eyes shut, shaking his head as he quietly walked out of the garage and back into the rural landscape.

He barely noticed the streak of blue that trailed around the hillsides, abruptly swerving towards him before coming to a standstill in front of him. The black and red hedgehog momentarily stopped to stare at his blue counterpart, who greeted him with a calm smile and a hand casually raised for a high-five.

“Heya, Shads! Wanna go for a race? Might feel good to--”

His words were cut off by the hybrid as he callously walked past the blue blur, roughly bumping his shoulder as he sauntered past him.

Sonic stood there speechless for a moment, watching his rival slowly walk away. He turned with a questioning gaze to look at the fox, who could only shrug and shake his head. It was enough to tell the hero what had transpired while he was gone.

He looked back at Shadow, then back to Tails, then back at Shadow again. The blue hedgehog sighed deeply, before lightly strolling back up to his somber counterpart.

“Listen, we don’t have to do anything if we don’t want to, but... can we talk?”

Notes:

hope you all liked it! Please let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks!

Chapter 3

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Well?” Shadow gruffly asked, his voice tinged with ice. “Out with it already.”

Sonic felt his ears flatten back at the hostile invitation. Even when they considered each other enemies, there was always a kind of familiarity to their wordplay-- one that acknowledged their limitations and challenged them to push past them.

This... was not that. And especially after the stress the hybrid had gone through last night, it felt even more jarring.

The blue hero gulped, trying to ignore the pit that was rapidly growing in his stomach.

“Listen, I...” He trailed off, struggling to find the right words. “I just... I’m worried. I know how much Rouge and Omega mean to you, and... I know from experience how-- how easy it is to make... regrettable decisions when dealing with that.”

Shadow spun around; crimson eyes narrowed squarely on his counterpart. His mouth contorted into a snarl as he spat his response out to the other hedgehog.

“And what decision would that be, exactly? Enlighten me.”

It became immediately clear to Sonic that his wording couldn’t have been worse.

“Wait, that came out wrong--”

“Oh, did it?” Shadow pressed forward, his glare growing sharper. “What other regrettable decisions am I going to make, Sonic? Should I try to crash the Ark into the Earth again? Maybe kill a few more humans in the name of the Black Arms? Give me enough time and I could probably pin the blame on you for a few crimes, as well!”

“I’m worried you’re going to start pushing people away again!” Sonic yelled back, cutting the other hedgehog off.

The explanation caught Shadow off guard, his eyes widening only for a second before reverting back to his previous demeanor.

“I didn’t mean to... say you were going to... do something bad. It’s just-- after we stopped fighting each other, I came to realize how much I enjoyed spending time with you, and...” Sonic looked down at his shoes, swallowing thickly as he felt his stomach churn. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

The silence hung thickly in the air between the two of them. The blue hedgehog struggled to suppress his urge to continue talking, to make it clear that he was just concerned about the well-being of his counterpart. But what words he had already uttered had only been received disastrously.

Shadow simply stood there, his expression as inscrutable as ever. It felt like an eternity had passed before he opened his mouth to reply.

“Is that all?” He asked, his voice completely devoid of any emotion.

The words hit Sonic like a punch to the gut. He was never that great of an emotional talker, but never had he screwed things up as badly as he just did. He wanted desperately to find the words that could make all of it better, or at the very least set himself on the right path... but it never came.

“Yeah.” He sighed, admitting defeat. “Stay safe, Shadow.”

The hybrid didn’t bother with a response, opting to simply leave an orange trail in his wake as he skated off towards the horizon.

Sonic grimaced, his chest aching as he mentally beat himself up for his poor handling of the situation. Part of him knew that this was just one chance of many, and that he would have plenty of opportunities later to patch things up with the other hedgehog.

But it was hard to listen to that voice over the other thoughts that cluttered his head.

He found himself already speeding towards home. He blasted through the front door, zipping through the living room and hallway only to swing into his room and throw himself face down onto his bed. He barely registered the sound of papers and other small items that fluttered and clattered to the floor in his wake.

It wasn’t long before Tails had exited the garage, alerted by the commotion, and followed the trail of litter to its destination.

The fox lightly rapped against the frame of the hero’s open bedroom door.

“Went that badly, huh?”

Sonic could only muster a grunt, muffled by the sound of the pillow his face was buried in.

Tails let out a sympathetic sigh, taking a seat on the bed and patting his brother on the shoulder.

“Things are just... complicated right wow. I’m sure this will all blow over once this is all over. You two like each other too much to stay apart.”

The hedgehog rolled his head to the side, giving a saddened look to the young fox.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the one getting all the enjoyment out of it.”

“Look, I can’t pretend to know what’s going on in his head.” He shrugged. “But if he really didn’t want to spend time with you, he wouldn’t have changed his running path to be closer to our home.”

The observation genuinely took Sonic by surprise.

“I... didn’t know that.”

Tails smirked. “You do tend to be oblivious to stuff like that. Let’s just focus on locating Rouge and Omega for now-- speaking of, I just got off the phone with Vector.”

“I take it Chaotix is on the job?”

The fox nodded.

“They said it’s on the house this time. Apparently, Rouge gave them a hefty tip for locating some lost treasure for her and this is their way of repaying the favor.”

Sonic let out a sigh of relief, a small smile gracing his lips as he pushed himself up to a sitting position. “Then I shouldn’t be resting on my laurels. I know I can’t go out exploring, but if there’s anything I can help with, let me know.”

Omega’s optical sensors snapped online the instant his main systems were taken off standby mode. Within milliseconds, his hands snapped forward, fingers retracting to make way for the autocannon barrels that took their place. His microphones picked up the sound of numerous voices yelling, though the words they spoke could not be parsed by his auditory processing units amidst the other sounds that bounced around the area.

His feet remained planted to the ground as his waist rotated a full 360 degrees, taking note of his surroundings and the potential targets that surrounded him. He was in some kind of helicopter cabin, designed for military transport. The rounded walls were covered in a red netting. A small group of GUN soldiers were shouting, some with their hands held up as others pointed their guns directly at him.

Re-tuning his audio sensors to filter out the noise of the spinning blades of the aircraft, he was able to make out the noise of multiple men ordering him to stand down, and that he was being brought back to headquarters for debriefing.

Omega retracted his autocannons, clawed fingers replacing them. The soldiers lowered their arms, the closest ones clearly relieved that they weren’t about to be turned into Swiss cheese.

“I DEMAND AN EXPLANATION FOR WHAT TRANSPIRED.”

The soldiers looked at each other nervously. Eventually, one of the men seated in the back stood up. His face was obscured by his helmet visor and goggles.

“SergeantCross.” He curtly introduced himself. “We were part of the team responsible for rescuing you and Rouge. We managed to secure you while Eggman had your systems powered off.”

The robot brought his hands up, twisting his wrists in full circles within view of his optics.

“MY BODY WAS DESTROYED IN CAPTIVITY.”

The Sergeantnodded, continuing his explanation without missing a beat. “When we found you, he had installed you into a new chassis. Based on his notes, he was planning on installing a bomb within you and detonating it when you returned to headquarters. Luckily, we arrived before that happened.”

“THAT WOULD EXPLAIN THE LACK OF AMMUNITION.” The robot noted, only just acknowledging the system alerts informing him of his empty reserves.

“We can get it restocked when you’re back at base--”

“WHERE IS ROUGE? WAS SHADOW PART OF THIS OPERATION?”

The commanding officer paused, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Behavioral analysis indicated that there would not be good news.

“Our squad was assigned to rescue you. Shadow was part of the team that was securing Rouge.” He paused for a moment, before continuing. “We don’t know the full details. Radio chatter indicated that there was a trap of some sort waiting for them. There was an explosion, and... they didn’t make it.”

The robot remained silent for a moment. He focused on the other soldiers. None of them were willing to look back. He settled his attention back to the man talking to him.

“I DEMAND TO BE SENT BACK.”

“I cannot authorize that.” The man shook his head. “We don’t know if your chassis will withstand the battle.”

“THEN WE WILL TEST IT ON THE BATTLEFIELD.”

“You don’t even have any ammo!”

“THEN I WILL USE MY BARE HANDS.”

“You will stand down, that’s an order!” SergeantCross barked. “Doctor Robotnik has already fled the base; he will not be there. We need you back at headquarters to determine if you’re fit for battle-- we would much rather have you alive and ready to battle where it matters.”

As much as Omega would have loved to throw the man out of the helicopter and use him to break his fall, the robot knew what he said was logically sound. He turned around, walked to a section of the cabin without other personnel, and manually switched his systems back into standby mode.

When he was brought back online, he found himself in a large warehouse, devoid of anything but a few shipping containers and an empty plane. He recognized it as a former arms-firing range, with the benches and targets removed.

A familiar voice crackled from a speaker overhead. It was instantly recognized as Commander Tower.

“Good afternoon, Omega.” The gruff voice began. “Due to the circ*mstances, I will be overseeing your battle assessment personally. We are going to do things a little differently than usual.”

“I DID NOT SURVIVE MY CAPTIVITY ONLY TO SHOOT TARGET DUMMIES.”

“Oh, don’t be mistaken, these are not stationary dummies. We figured something more... extensive was needed to determine if your abilities are within specification.”

Omega refreshed his internal ammo counter. It was at max capacity-- likely refilled while he was not online.

One of the shipping containers next to him burst open, a horde of smaller Badniks rushing out to greet the E-Series robot.

He didn’t bother with theatrics. A couple bursts of his autocannon quickly shredded the clearly inferior bots.

“Good.” Tower commended him from the speaker. “Onto stage two.”

A pair of shipping containers across the warehouse opened. Within were newer models of Eggman’s robots-- some even newer than him. They had a strange look to them, a mixture of red and blue robots with rotund features reminiscent of the Doctor himself. The red ones sported a set of large missiles while the blue ones were equipped with a sword and shield. A search of his onboard knowledge of Badniks identified them as Egg Fighter Knights and Egg Launchers.

A few well-placed bullets detonated the Egg Launcher missiles before they could even fire. The explosions wiped out most of the robots. Omega rushed forward, slamming his body into one of the remaining Knights. It didn’t take much effort to tear the shield from his grasp and crunch its comically small head with a single blow. The E-Series robot pulled the sword from its collapsing body, throwing it with enough brute force to pierce the shield of another Knight, causing it to fly back to a wall where it was skewered and held in place. Another hail of bullets took out the remaining enemy.

“These are promising results, Omega.” The commander concluded. “Now, for the final stage. It took us some time to capture this one-- if you manage to defeat it, we’ll consider you fit for battle.”

Omega zeroed in on the only shipping container not to have opened. He didn’t have to wait for long-- its side burst open in a shower of sparks and scrap as a clawed hand reached out to pull the rest of the body through.

A harsh buzzing echoed throughout the warehouse; its source revealed as the creature made itself visible.

It stood almost as tall as Omega himself, its body a mix of silver and blue. It had a single visor instead of eyes or optical sensors, an orange light on it bouncing side to side. Its torso and head resembled that of a hedgehog, its metallic quills rotating back and forth like sawblades-- the source of the noise.

Another search of the Badnik database quickly brought up a single result: ‘Mecha Sonic Mk. II”

It zeroed in on the E-Series robot, a set of wheels on its shoes revving up and sending sparks scattering across the concrete floor. Within milliseconds it launched itself towards Omega at blinding speeds.

He wasted no time. The thrusters attached to his back flared up, and with a twist of his waist he sent himself shooting to the side, just barely avoiding a head-on collision with the other robot.

Omega continued strafing around Mecha Sonic, blasting volleys of bullets at the other robot. It deftly avoided the onslaught, curling up into a ball as it launched itself in a broad arc that was quickly closing in on the last remaining E-Series robot.

As the metallic hedgehog was just about to strike, Omega quickly cut power to his thrusters and skidded to a halt. The autocannons in his left hand retracted, replaced by his actual fingers. Just as Mecha Sonic was about to strike, he brought his hand up, catching the Super Badnik in his hand and redirecting the momentum upwards, launching it in the air.

His hand was quickly swapped out for autocannons. Without hesitation he raised both arms to the air, and unleashed the full might of his firepower upon the still-airborne mech. The sonic clone was unable to avoid the gunfire, body flailing as the force of the bullets kept it suspended in the air. The gunfire quickly ripped through its internal components, riddling the entire thing with holes.

When Omega stopped firing, the ravaged body of Mecha Sonic plummeted to the ground, the impact breaking apart what was left of the chassis and sending its components to scatter across the ground.

“INTERNAL PERFORMANCE REPORT INDICATES THAT I AM MORE THAN CAPABLE OF DESTROYING THESE WORTHLESS SCRAPS OF METAL.”

“Agreed.” Commander Tower replied. “It appears that your performance has outpaced all expectations. Return to your quarters and put yourself in standby mode-- the moment we find Eggman, you will be deployed.”

Days. It had been days since Shadow had been told to wait for communication from Tails. It gnawed at his insides-- his inability to help setting his mood off even further. He couldn’t help but pace around his living room, unable to find anything to quell his mind. For once in his life, he could understand what Sonic must go through.

His scowl deepened as his thoughts wandered to that blue hedgehog. To say their last meeting did not end well would have been an understatement. Truth be told, he did feel guilty about his behavior, but he couldn’t find it in himself to apologize; not when he knew he’d do the same thing during their next meeting.

He overreacted. Sonic clearly was trying to look out for his well-being. He was the type of guy who always saw the best in everyone, and never stopped trying to bring it out even when things were at their worst. When Shadow first realized the error of his ways as the Ark was plummeting towards the Earth, Sonic didn’t hesitate to accept his help, treating him as an equal with not even an ounce of judgement. Even... even when he relapsed during the Black Arms crisis, Sonic’s unceasing empathy brought him back from the depths and set him back on the path that he promised Maria he would follow.

And Shadow knew he deserved none of it. That blue bastard never needed a justification.

It took him a long time to come to terms with the guilt of his past actions. It used to tear up his insides like a wild animal, rendering him unable to trust his own judgement on what was “good” or “evil.” But Sonic, whether through intentionality or sheer obliviousness, just... looked past that. They were... well, he would never use the word himself, but Sonic would probably describe them as friends. It was that relationship that allowed Shadow to look inward and truly rebuild.

Eventually, he learned to live with himself. He would never truly be rid of his guilt, nor should he. There would be those who could never forgive him-- and to be frank, they never should. It no longer bothered him the way it did before. Given his apparent immortality, it was probably for the best that this revelation came sooner than later.

He felt that discomforting feeling from before resurfacing-- stinging him like he had swallowed a sea urchin. Its cause, yet again, refused to make itself known. He no longer feared rejection, or the uncertainty of his own actions; he was inviolably sure of that. He had tried analyzing, meditating, anything he could to understand why he felt so upset with himself, but whatever part of his brain was assaulting him remained a mystery.

Shadow sighed, trying to think of anything else to dispel the feelings welling up inside of him. What activities he could do felt incredibly limited. Reading books did little to take his mind off things, and sleep was completely out of the question. He didn’t need it anyway. Any thought of going outside was immediately quashed. He wasn’t in the mood to risk bumping into someone he knew. Especially if his rival became the topic of conversation....

The black and red hedgehog covered his face with his gloved hands, letting out a frustrated groan. Almost all his thoughts circled back to Sonic. It was like a parasite burrowed into his brain, constantly reminding him that the blue hedgehog existed. He couldn’t even say it was a recent development, his mind was constantly pre-occupied with wondering what Sonic might be doing, or how he would feel about some of the work that Shadow performed as a GUN agent.

He hadn’t told anyone of this sort of predilection he had for the other hedgehog-- he had planned to ask Rouge about it but was constantly putting it off. Omega... was Omega. He could only imagine the robot informing him that it was a liability and a distraction while fighting Eggman’s mechs. Telling Sonic was similarly out of the question. There’s no way that conversation would go well-- it already sounded too close to something Amy Rose would say, and whatever her deal was it certainly was not like his own desire to spend more time with the blue hedgehog.

Shadow shook his head, chasing those thoughts away as he tried to focus on the present moment. It was probably for the best that they just remained a secret. It was little more than emotional uncertainty than anything else. And there were still more pressing matters, even if he couldn’t act on them right now.

He felt his phone vibrating softly on the floor next to him. He picked it up, looking at the screen to see who was calling.

Tails.

He quickly answered the call, practically slamming the device up to his ear.

“Did you find them?” He asked, not even bothering with introductions.

The young fox was caught off guard by the sudden question but was quick to recover.

“Chaotix came back to us with a potential lead. It’s an underground cave system that has signs of Eggman base development-- and it’s in the general direction we were looking for. How soon can you make it back to my workshop?”

Shadow wasted no time jumping to his feet. Within seconds, he was out of his apartment and racing down the complex’s stairs to the street.

“I’m on my way-- I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.”

Notes:

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope you enjoyed. Let me know if you liked it in the comments!

Chapter 4

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“You have something, Fox?”

Tails’ back stiffened up as Shadow’s gravelly voice suddenly made itself known behind him. He took a deep breath, forcing his shoulders to relax as he spun around and settled his eyes on the hedgehog.

“Maybe... hopefully. Sonic’s out making a delivery; he’ll be back soon.” He paused, taking a second to choose his words very carefully. “Chaotix put some feelers out there, and it seems that some of their contacts reported seeing more robot activity than usual. It’s a forested region inside Spagonia. There’s a couple settlements and villages out there, but not much.”

The young fox paused, looking back up at the black and red hedgehog. His expression remained unchanged, a stern scowl on his mouth as his burning red eyes threatened to pierce his skin with the sheer force of their gaze. Tails resisted the urge to flinch as he turned back towards the computer monitor.

“Anyways... They flew out there, and after consulting some old historical records at the capital, they read about an abandoned mining shaft in the area. It’s... it’s about the place the robots were sighted, and it’s in the general direction Eggman took off in.” He paused. “I’m-- I feel like too many things line up here for it to be a coincidence. Espio was able to confirm Badniks moving in and out of the shaft, but we haven’t been able to get inside. We’ll hopefully be able to do that once Sonic gets back. Espio may be able to go invisible, but it’s possible he could be detected through other methods. I didn’t want to risk anything sending him in.”

“...I see.” Shadow bluntly acknowledged, folding his arms over his chest as he stared intently at the fox.

“Yeah...” Tails trailed off, not really wanting to push the issue further. Sonic should be back any second now-- hopefully. To be honest, he always felt uncomfortable around the other hedgehog. He wasn’t particularly scared of the Ultimate Lifeform, but he always seemed so... aggressive. His friends getting kidnapped only aggravated that, understandably.

But it was still hard to talk with someone who seemed like they’d rip your face off with the slightest provocation, even if you knew they wouldn’t. Sonic was very obviously closer to being friends with him than Tails ever was-- though they regularly traded blows with each other, too. Even in battle, the fox doesn’t like actually getting physical, not when smarts or gadgets would get the job done more easily.

Though, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try being a bit more friendly...

“Hey Shadow, actually... I’ve been working on some Chaos powered tools and enhancers. While we’re waiting on Sonic, would you like to check them out?” He did his best to look the black and red hedgehog in the eye as he gave the friendliest smile he could muster.

Shadow looked back at him, his features solid as stone. He paused for a moment, before answering.

“No.”

Tails could feel his stomach sink a little, the pep talk he gave himself dissolving away as the opportunity was squandered.

“Okay!” He forced out a cheery tone. “You’re pretty well off with your chaos abilities anyway.”

The fox turned around, his finger tapping on his desk as he impatiently waited for his brother to return.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before a blue trail of light zipped through the hillsides, stopping with a skid at the edge of the garage. The blue hedgehog it emanated from made a mock salute as he stepped into the workshop, walking past Shadow to stand right behind Tails’ chair.

“Sorry for the delay, it took us a while to get it set up. You should be good to go, buddy.” He patted Tails on the back, turning around to face the other hedgehog. “Heya, Shads! I’m sure Tails filled you in on the deets-- I’ve got a real good feeling about this one.”

“What did you two do?” Shadow asked, huffing as his patience began to dry up.

“I hijacked a Moto Bug and took control of it. It still registers on the Eggnet, and it’s about the only robot that Eggman never stopped making because they’re good for cleaning up.” Tails explained, his fingers tapping away on his keyboard as a video feed opened on the monitor. “We can use it to infiltrate the base, so long as it has a signal.”

The fox squinted at the computer screen, looking at some other data.

“Signal’s looking good-- I’m sure Espio found a good place to set up the antenna. Mobility is working too. Video feed quality is excellent.” He sighed, leaning forward. “Alright, we’re ready to begin.”

Shadow finally moved from his spot just at the edge of the garage, sauntering up to the computer to take a better look at the viewport.

The screen showed a grassy field that was very rapidly cut off by a cliffside. There was a large crack in the rock formation, creating a hole that led deeper inside. It was reinforced by a set of steel bars, clearly added recently and meant to replace the dried and rotting logs of wood that now lay discarded by the wayside. Behind the Moto Bug was a vast swathe of forest, almost completely unbroken save for the occasional village meadow or old ruin in the distance.

Tails pushed forward, watching the uni-wheeled machine lurch in the direction he ordered. Commanding it to go in the opposite direction yielded the intended results as well.

With a final huff and internal confidence boost, the young genius commanded the robot to enter the cave, darkness overtaking it as they began their reconnaissance mission.

The Moto Bug’s night vision immediately kicked in, revealing a long and winding path that slowly descended deeper into the ground. The flooring had been made flat, devoid of any stray debris, and almost... polished?

“Looks like this place was recently maintained.” Tails noted, gulping as he pushed forward. “That’s a good sign there’s a base here.”

The fox’s speculation was very rapidly confirmed as they moved further in and were greeted by a large metallic door bearing the circular logo bearing the Doctor’s grinning mustached face. As the robot neared it, the imposing doors smoothly pulled back to allow entry.

From the inside, you could hardly tell this place was deep underground. The harsh overhead lights of the metal ceiling were as bright as daylight, blinding the Moto Bug until its night vision was turned off. Inside was a relatively rudimentary grid layout of corridors. Other Badniks were busy constructing further passages and others were behind them cleaning up the debris.

“It looks like this base is still being built out. I didn’t see a lot of security... there’s a few cameras but no thermal imaging or laser walls.” The fox noted.

A loud blast rocked the entire base, followed by a rapid series of bangs and thuds. None of the robots treated it any mind, simply continuing their work on the trembling floor or cleaning up the rocks and fallen items that came from its wake.

“That didn’t sound like an excavation blast.” Shadow muttered to himself, staring intently at the screen.

“Weapons, maybe?” Sonic looked over to him, shrugging.

The other hedgehog didn’t look away from the monitor. “Not sure.”

“I don’t see any data terminals around here.” Tails continued, moving the robot further down the main hallway. “I’ll keep looking.”

The Moto Bug turned a corner, peeking into a nearby doorway. Behind the metal frame there were a set of stairs leading up. The inside of the stairwell looked far more finished than the floor they were on, prompting the fox to command it to climb and see what was above. It wasn’t easy for the robot to manage that feat. Each slow trudge up a step only wore down everyone’s patience.

The stairs eventually led to another door that gracefully opened to allow the cleaning bot entry. This floor was far more built-out, even having paint on the walls and a few directional markers to indicate where one should go.

“I don’t see anything that says, like, ‘Prison’ on it or anything.” Sonic chided, his foot tapping nervously on the garage concrete. “What should we check out first?”

“Well, first we need to find a data terminal.” Tails corrected. “That should give us the information we’re looking for. He probably has one in... there!”

Tails pointed at the marker on the wall indicating the direction of the workshop. He commanded the bot to move further, following the line as it curled around corners and moved across the base. Tails was sure to keep it close to the wall, well away from the feet of any passing guard robots.

Another muffled explosion shook the walls of the base, followed by more heavy rattling. Despite the absence of construction noise, it was clearly louder on this upper floor than from below.

Tails and Sonic looked at each other, but both remained silent, unable to draw any conclusions from the strange activity.

It wasn’t long before the Moto Bug found the workshop door, outlined in the same color as the directional marker. The robot slowly approached the entrance, its user quietly hoping that there are no further complications.

The workshop door slid into the wall without complaint, allowing the fox to let out a sigh of relief as he entered the room.

It was difficult to see the full scope of the room, thanks to the numerous island tables and junk cluttering the floor. Tails commanded the robot to weave in between the work surfaces, looking for anything resembling the terminal he needed to access.

His hopes were returned in kind as he saw a beefy computer embedded into the wall at the far edge of the room, its screen casting an eerie orange glow over the otherwise dark chamber.

The fox gulped as he inched the robot closer, his heartbeat rapidly increasing in intensity as he considered the possibility of booby traps on the way over--

“Wait!” Shadow called out, grabbing the top of Tails’ chair, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin.

“The right.” The hedgehog continued. “Turn to the right. I thought I saw something.”

The Moto Bug slowly tilted to the right, moving its wheel forward just a bit so it could turn in place.

Tails gasped audibly at what the robot was able to see from its new position. Directly in front of it was a Klagen, quietly pulsing in place as it stood in the corner in the workshop. Its stasis field was active-- within it lay a white bat, hanging limply in the air and just barely rotating in place.

“It’s Rouge!” Sonic exclaimed, leaning forward to get a better view.

The fox hunched over as he felt the hybrid’s grip on his chair tighten.

“I-It’s hard to tell if she’s okay... but now we know where she is. That’s good.”

“...Omega might be here as well.” Shadow noted, his voice flat as he kept his eyes on the screen.

“R-Right.” Tails agreed. “Let’s look for--”

As the fox turned the Moto Bug around, the voice in his throat quickly died.

There as a deactivated Klagen in the other corner. Beneath it lay a red and black heap of scrap.

Tails felt his blood run cold as his eyes widened. The metal was crumpled and twisted beyond recovery, like it was all no stronger than wet paper.

“...No...” The young genius let out, the breath leaving his lungs all at once.

“...Get closer.” Shadow commanded, his voice still unwavering.

The fox swallowed thickly, nodding as he pushed the robot towards the other end of the room. The closer it got, the more details could be seen in the video feed. The sheer force of compression appeared to have caused its own combustion, judging by the scorch marks across what was left of the armor.

“Shadow... I’m so sorry--”

“The cranial unit is gone.” The hedgehog cut off Tails. “You can see the empty socket.”

Tails knew he was supposed to feel relief at that moment, but the new questions that arose from the observation only filled the void that the horrific state of the E-Series’ body had left.

He looked over his shoulder at Shadow, but the hedgehog was very clearly only focused on the screen itself, not even bothering to acknowledge the existence of the fox beneath him. He looked over his other shoulder towards Sonic-- the blue blur was quietly staring at his black and red counterpart, studying him as if to find any details within the hybrid’s facial expressions.

Tails turned his attention back to the controls.

“I’m going to connect with the data terminal now.” He muttered to himself, knowing that neither of his partners were paying attention.

The Moto Bug turned back to the terminal, eyeing a small circular port that was on the bottom of the computer system. A small tendril extended from the robot, plugging neatly into the receptacle on the data terminal. Within moments the video feed was covered by other windows opening up, allowing streams of data to flow in.

“...Looks like the workshop files themselves are protected-- typical. But it looks like the camera views are open...” A number of new windows popped up, each showing a video feed of the base at different points. “Okay, very good news. He hasn’t been able to get any laser fields or thermal cameras set up, just as I thought. Espio can waltz in here, no problem!”

“What about the Klagens? Can you access their file?” Shadow asked.

“Let me see...” Tails’ fingers rapidly danced across the keyboard, and with a slam of the enter key a picture of the new Klagen variants popped up. “Yes! Let me dig through here...”

The two hedgehogs waited in suspense as the young genius read over the files, his eyes twitching back and forth rapidly as he frequently browsed through the many pages of technical specifications and documentation. With every passing minute, the air in the garage got heavier and heavier, weighing down on the trio as the pressure to find something, anything, mounted further.

At this point, Tails was practically touching the screen with his nose, leaning so far in that it blocked the other two from viewing.

“...I got it.” He whispered.

Those three words almost completely dispelled the tension in the air, the fox sitting back in his chair as he let out a sigh of relief. While he couldn’t confirm exactly, he felt as if Shadow’s grip on the chair had loosened.

“Hold on.” Tails commanded the hedgehogs behind him, closing all the extra windows before guiding the Moto Bug away from the computer and out of the room. With a newfound confidence and vigor, he led the robot back through the base, traveling to the ground floor before exiting the complex and returning to the forest. Once he was sure it was safe, he shut the controlled Badnik down and turned off the video feed.

He didn’t bother to explain himself before jumping out of his chair and flying to one of the many toolboxes lining the walls of the garage. He nearly disappeared into one of their cabinets, his tails poking out of the doorway as he climbed further inside, tossing random bits of junk out as he continued searching.

There was a small “Aha!” as he pulled himself back onto the floor, presenting to Sonic and Shadow a pair of circular devices that were covered in copper coils.

“Those Klagens have some nasty upgrades, but in order to modulate the stasis field, Eggman had to forego EMP shielding. Detonate these suckers in that room and they’ll be dead before they know what hit ‘em!”

Shadow didn’t hesitate to approach the fox, pulling the devices from his hands as he looked back at the young genius.

“I’ll deliver these to Espio, then.” He looked back at the devices in his hand. In a much quieter voice, he continued. “...Thank you, Tails. I am in your debt.”

Tails froze for a moment, before eking out a smile and nervously rubbing the back of his head.

“Not at all, Shadow. Be careful out there.”

“Hey, Shadow!” Sonic called out. His counterpart didn’t turn to face him. “You mind if I tag along? I’d like to see this through, too.”

The blue hedgehog watched as his rival’s back stiffened ever so slightly. He paused, still unwilling to turn around as he shook his head slightly.

“Do as you wish.” He finally replied, his tone still emotionless as ever. “I can’t waste my time trying to stop you.”

With that, the Ultimate Lifeform revved up his air shoes, shooting off into the sunset and leaving an orange trail in his wake.

Sonic stood there, his expression slowly growing downtrodden as he watched his rival leave.

Tails turned back to his brother, an expectant look on his face.

“Well, aren’t you going to go?”

The blue hedgehog felt his jaw tense up.

“I... don’t think he wants me there.”

The fox shrugged. “He didn’t say ‘No.’ And I think he’s gonna need all the help he can get.”

“Yeah... you’re right.” Sonic accepted, though it didn’t seem like he quite believed the reasoning. He put on his best smile, walking over to his adoptive brother and playfully rubbing the tufts of fur on his head. “Thanks, little buddy.”

“Hey, quit it!” Tails quickly swatted away the hand mangling his fur, laughing. “Now hurry up and get after him! I’ll stay here to monitor things on my end.”

“Roger that!” The hero called, before disappearing in a burst of wind and blue light.

The fox watched as Sonic slowly disappeared on the horizon. As soon as he was sure he was gone, his smile dissipated into a pensive frown. He quickly hopped back into his chair, staring intently at the images of the Klagen from the Eggnet.

They were very, very lucky that things had gone as well as they did. But luck was a fickle mistress indeed, and if Eggman’s threats were serious, even a single error would lead to an instant failure.

Tails cracked his knuckles before rapidly typing a message to Espio to inform him of the current plan. From now on, all he could do was hope that everyone’s skill would be enough to bridge the gap when their luck eventually ran out.

“Agent Omega, stand to attention!”

The E-Series robot’s subsystems flared to life at the command, fully operational within milliseconds. He was still in his quarters-- outfitted with basic organic necessities like a sink, toilet, and bed, none of which he required.

“READY TO DESTROY EGGMAN.” Omega reported, waiting expectantly to be briefed.

“Good.” The Commander barked through the speakers in the robot’s living space. “We’ve received intel regarding a base that we believe the Doctor is on-site. You shall receive their coordinates shortly. What is your status?”

“AMMO CAPACITY IS AT MAXIMUM. VISUAL AND EXTERNAL STIMULI PROCESSING UNIT LATENCY IS SLIGHTLY ABOVE NORMAL BUT WELL WITHIN OPERATIONAL SPECIFICATIONS.”

“...Will that be an issue?” Commander Tower asked, an accusatory tone to his voice.

“NEGATIVE. RESPONSE TIME IS STILL FAR SUPERIOR TO YOUR BEST HUMAN SOLDIERS.”

“Good to hear, agent. We’d like to offer you an upgrade to increase your destructive throughput. Head to the firing range-- I think you will find our proposal to your liking.”

Omega wasted no time in exiting his quarters. The propaganda-lined hallways in the base were bare, devoid of other personnel. The robot found this ability to traverse the base without the need to be wary of human or mobian presence preferable.

Eventually, he found his way back to the firing range, still riddled with the bullet holes and scorch marks he left during his last performance assessment just days before.

Newly added to this room was a table, atop which rested a peculiar looking device. It was red and black, matching Omega’s aesthetics exactly. It had a cube-like shape, with a number of belt-like extrusions coming out from the sides, along the top and bottom vertices.

On the top of the cube was an indentation that extended into the device. Embedded inside this was a chaos emerald-- the same green one that Shadow had handed over to Eggman as a futile bargaining chip.

“We recovered the emerald from the blast site where Shadow and Rouge were killed. Our weapons engineers were hard at work devising a use for it-- thanks to their hard efforts, they were able to create a system that generates energy bolts that can work with your existing autocannons, without any heat generation. With this, you will have an unlimited ammo supply that deals more damage and has a higher rate of fire. Excess energy can be rerouted to other systems like melee attacks and thrusters.” There was a pause, before the Commander continued. “This will provide you similar effects to Shadow’s ability to boost your abilities with Chaos Energy. Do you accept?”

The benefits were obvious. The downsides were non-existent. The similarities to his fallen comrade’s abilities... were simply a distraction and... it was a waste of clock cycles to ponder the importance of such a quality.

“EGGMAN WILL KNOW TERROR.” He stated, his chest compartment door opened, his ammo reserves ejecting as stray shells clattered to the concrete ground. He walked up to the device, picking it up and promptly jamming it into his chest.

His internal sensors began notifying him of a foreign object in his body and snaking up his bullet feeding chambers. He immediately disabled all warnings-- and felt his limbs tremble and go haywire as waves of energy surged outwards from his chest. The power felt overwhelming, like a pressure building inside of him that threatened to pop his chassis like a balloon.

Without thinking, his arms transitioned to their autocannon formation. He pointed them outwards, watching as a blast wave shot forth from their barrels, followed up by a rapid fire of purple energy beams that quickly melted the metal and stone in front of him. His torso kicked into high gear, spinning rapidly and transforming the room into a deadly fireworks display that left the entire room in ruins.

He was eventually able to stop, his body no longer shaking as he closed the door on his chest, sealing the emerald and the device it powered away.

“NEW ENERGY PARAMETERS ACCLIMATED. NO FURTHER TESTS OR TRAINING NEEDED: ANNIHILATION EFFICIENCY HAS BEEN IMPROVED BY APPROXIMATELY FIVE HUNDRED PERCENT.”

“Excellent work, Agent Omega.” Commander Tower called from the speaker, sounding pleased. “As for your next target, it appears Eggman thought to build a base close by-- a foolish attempt to cause an ambush once he amassed a large enough force. Our scouts have reported he is still there. The location is being sent to you now.”

Omega’s eyes flashed for a moment as the location data was sent directly to his inbox. A fledgling base just a few klicks southwest of his current location.

He turned to face the door, which was partially melted from his onslaught and riddled with holes. He simply punched the barely standing slab of metal off its hinges, stepping over it as he strode towards the headquarters’ exit.

“TARGET: RECONFIRMED. EXTERMINATION MODE: INITIATED. PAYBACK: INEVITABLE.”

Notes:

I don't know how I'm pumping these out so quickly. Hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Chapter 5

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Spagonia was most well-known for its densely packed, culturally rich cities-- but it wasn’t the only thing that the nation boasted. Its forests were as tightly packed as their urban counterparts, green and lush with rolling waves of fine mist that felt cool to the touch in the summer heat.

It was in one such forest that Shadow found himself barreling through. His air shoes provided a level of safety for him, keeping his feet well above most of the errant exposed roots and uneven foliage that would have easily tripped someone up at this speed. He bounced between tree trunks, sliding under fallen logs and diving over bushes as he kept his eyes squarely rooted on his destination.

He wasn’t sure how long it had been since he had left the fox’s house with the contraptions he provided. No doubt long enough for Chaotix to be notified and prepared for his arrival.

“Surprise attack!” A high-pitched voice shouted from above.

Shadow was snapped out of his focus as he looked up at the source of the sudden scream. His eyes narrowed in at the small body of a mobian bee, stinger pointing directly at him as it quickly descended upon him.

A fierce growl left the hedgehog’s lips as he sidestepped the attack, spinning around to catch the attacker by the scruff of their neck as they whizzed past him. Soon, he was left scowling at the struggling creature in his hands. They whined wordlessly as they flailed their limbs-- despite their incessant moving, it was easy to recognize them by their orange vest and black helmet with a pink rim.

“Charmy.” The hedgehog felt his eye twitch, not even bothering to listen to the protests the child in his grasp was making. “This is not the time for games. Where is Espio and Vector?”

“Behind you, Boss!” A half-toned, gruff voice called from behind him. “Sorry about the kid, you know how he is.”

Shadow turned to see Vector and Espio walking towards him. The black and red hedgehog didn’t bother responding verbally, opting to simply toss Charmy towards the two, letting the bee catch himself in the air and fly back to his business associates.

“Just one moment, Shadow.” Espio called out, his deep and smooth voice contrasting that of his partners. “Tails requested we call him before proceeding.”

The chameleon pulled out his phone, making a couple of taps on the keypad before holding it out in front of him. The speaker flared to life, ringing only for a few seconds before the line picked up.

“Hey everyone!” The fox chirped through the phone, his voice holding the same air of confidence he had before he left. “Is Shadow there as well.”

“Speaking.” Shadow replied.

“Good! Listen, we’re at the home stretch. Espio, do you have the EMP devices?”

Shadow quickly tossed them over to the chameleon, who quickly confirmed.

“I do now.”

“Alright. They’re pretty simple to use-- just press the button in the center and wait 5 seconds. Try not to throw them like grenades or anything like that. We do not want to spook the Klagen.”

The hedgehog felt his fists clench at the implication.

“How are we going to do this?” Espio asked, pocketing the devices.

“That’s the tricky part. Ideally, I would have just liked the Moto Bug to go in and detonate them, but we don’t have the time and I’m not sure how well we could retrofit them onto it. I’d like to just escort you into the workshop, but...” The fox trailed off, sighing before continuing. “It’s possible we could wipe out the entire base with those devices, save for the Badniks. Meaning you’d be trapped in there with all those Badniks and having to protect Rouge at the same time.”

“Sounds like you got a lotta ways for us to not do it.” Vector grunted, shrugging. “Anything we can do?”

“Actually, I’ve come up with something.” Tails immediately replied. “I can get Espio through the front door, but past that he’ll need to make his way through the base on his own to the workshop. I sent him the video feeds a while back to study-- there should be some ventilation shafts that you can use to get to the workshop. Right before you detonate the EMPs, my Moto Bug will go back to the front door and open it right as the pulse fires. It’s not a perfect plan, but it should be easier to just run past all of the Badniks instead of fighting them all.”

That I can work with.” Espio nodded, fingers moving to his hips to lightly brush the kunai strapped to his side.

Shadows ears twitched as the sound of rushing wind crept up behind him. He turned to see Sonic rapidly approaching, just stopping in front of him as a blast of wind rippled from behind him and caused the foliage to bend from the force.

“Everything going well?” The blue hedgehog’s eyes shifted between the other mobians in front of him, his characteristic co*cky smile blossoming across his muzzle.

“Sonic!” Tails called from the phone speaker. “You made it just in time. Espio may need some backup as he’s exiting the base, another set of hands would help out a lot.”

“Sounds good to me, just give me the word--”

The affirmation was cut short as a large, unidentifiable object ripped through the sky overhead, capturing everyone’s attention. Within the second it had disappeared beyond the canopy-- the group suddenly had to grab something for support as the ground rumbled beneath them, the sound of an explosion cutting through the air and causing them to wince in pain.

“What was that?!” The fox called out.

“Some kind of missile thingy! It came from the base!” Charmy squealed.

“...And it looked like it was headed towards one of the settlements.” Espio concluded, his expression growing grim.

Shadow’s first instinct was to run towards the site. He felt his body already get into position, his air shoes revving up--

The sudden realization hit him like a brick wall.

No!” He growled, slamming his fist into a nearby tree trunk. “Espio, go. Now.”

Sonic, similarly ready to leave, turned back towards his rival. “What do you--”

“Rouge.” He shook his head. “If we go after whatever that was before Rouge is rescued, she...”

The blue hedgehog froze for a moment, before taking a deep breath and turning back towards the Chaotix.

“Looks like we’re going to have to do this fast.” He began, his own foot tapping impatiently. “Espio and Tails, we need Rouge out ASAP. Tails, let me know the moment she’s out of the Klagen. Shads and I will go after whatever that was once you do. Vector and Charmy, you are Espio’s backup, got it?”

Espio didn’t waste time to acknowledge the orders. He raced off out towards the base, his features disappearing as his kind began to take on the colors of his surroundings. Tails’ Moto Bug revved up, speeding off behind him.

“You should go ahead and take position at the tree line.” Sonic advised the crocodile and bumblebee. “Just make sure you’re not visible until the power goes.”

“You got it!” Vector nodded, grabbing Charmy and taking off after their partner.

The blue blur looked over at the only other person left. His black and red counterpart still did not look at him, his back turned as he kept his eyes trained in the direction of the blast.

Sonic could feel his fingers twitch, an instinct within him urging him to bring his hand up and place it on his rival’s shoulder, if only to provide some level of comfort. He resisted it, knowing full well that it would only make things worse between them. Besides, no one had even seen Omega’s head at this point, and he doubted things would improve until all of Team Dark was safe and sound.

Omega felt his servos grind with rage as he saw the base that the Mad Doctor was building so close to the GUN headquarters. He could hardly even call it intelligently designed, given the illogical design and seemingly meaningless structures that dotted the desecrated landscape. Perhaps the genius really was losing it, just erecting structures where he could, just so he could slap his insignia on it. It mattered little when an arsenal of Chaos-powered autocannons would tear them to shreds all the same.

The robot grew increasingly frustrated as these Badniks began behaving erratically as well. Few of them even bothered to put up a fight-- most just ran like the pathetic machines they are, away from the carnage.

“I don’t see any signs that Eggman is at this specific base.” Commander Tower noted, his voice wirelessly transmitting to the robot. “There are a cluster of them nearby as well. Raze this base to the ground, then move onto the next. He has to be here somewhere.”

“ACKNOWLEDGED.” Omega barked.

It didn’t take him long to reduce the entire thing to rubble. He encountered almost no resistance, the few Egg Fighters that charged at him with swords were swiftly dealt with by a smack to the side of their heads.

“BASE DEMOLISHED. I DEMAND THE LOCATION OF THE NEXT.”

“Ask and ye shall receive, Agent Omega.” The commander replied. “You should have received the next coordinates.”

The robot’s thrusters burst into full gear, sending the E-Series machine into the air as it flew towards its next destination. Seeing a group of Badniks beneath him, he engaged his autocannons again, diverting some energy away from his boosters as he laid down a line of aerial fire, the impacts kicking up large plumes of dust that clouded the area.

Omega didn’t bother with additional suppressive fire-- he could always come back and demolish the stragglers after he took care of the man he had spent almost his entire existence determined to annihilate from the face of the planet.

Espio didn’t even wait for the door to the base to fully open before sliding under it. He took a deep breath, eyes scanning the surroundings as he tried to figure out where to go. From now, he was on his own.

He noticed an Egg Pawn rapidly approaching his position, carrying a bundle of lumber in its arms as it struggled to carry it down the hall.

The chameleon effortlessly jumped onto the wall, climbing up and onto the ceiling as he let the robot pass under him. He continued crawling upside-down on the surface, looking for something that could lead him in the right direction. Unless he planned on shedding his camouflage, he wasn’t going to be able to activate any of the doors.

His eyes narrowed in on an exposed ventilation shaft further down another hall, closely surrounded by a number of Badniks as they went about handling construction duties. He huffed in annoyance; his nerves already being tested by the tight deadline.

A distraction was in order. His eyes scanned the environment for something that he thought could provide a good opportunity, eventually settling on a stray, opened paint can just a little down the hall. He crawled over, taking deep breaths as he waited for the right moment.

Luckily, he didn’t have to wait long. That same Egg Pawn he crossed had returned, walking towards the group impeding his progress. He crawled down the wall opposite of the paint can to get a better vantage point, eyes carefully judging for the right moment...

There.

His tongue shot out, quickly swatting at the handle of the paint can, pulling it to tip the container over and spill its contents onto the floor right as the robot was just in front of it. The poor automaton immediately slipped on the substance, crashing to the ground and flailing its limbs as its poorly designed body struggled to get back up.

Espio looked back at the group of Badniks, whose attention had been drawn to the scene. He waited with bated breath as a few of them split off from the main group, intending to come over and help their fallen comrade.

It didn’t provide too much open space, but it would be enough. The chameleon took off into a sprint along the wall, crouching low just as he neared the part of the surface opposite of the vent. With a great leap, he pushed himself into the air, rocketing sideways as his body hit the floor and he gracefully transitioned into a slide. He just barely managed to thread the gaps of the robots’ legs, slipping into the ventilation ducts without causing any major disturbances.

Espio didn’t waste any time to congratulate himself for such a basic feat. The space inside the vent was rather tight, but otherwise manageable. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given much in the way of schematics before entering, so most of it was down to trial and error. Thankfully, the base was still not fully complete, so he didn’t have to spend too much time wandering around-- as long as he was able to find a shaft that went up to the next floor, things would go smoothly from there.

He was eventually able to find one such shaft, though he struggled to wedge himself properly around the tight, perpendicular corner. He held back the urge to hiss in pain as the sharp edges dug into his stomach, threatening to break his skin if he moved even the slightest bit in a bad direction. It was just as bad when he forced himself through the harsh corner at the top of the vertical shaft, but luckily it seemed both he and the EMP charges got through without much of a fuss.

He had to fight the urge to scramble around as he pulled his way through the second-floor ducts. The sounds of construction were no longer there to mask any sloppy handywork, even if time was of the essence. He had a general idea of where the workshop would be, though, which helped a lot in avoiding dead ends.

Eventually, he was able to find the right room, seeing an eerie orange glow peek through the vent cover around one corner. Espio pushed himself up, his fingers and shoes bracing themselves against the sides of the shaft walls as he removed as much weight as he could from the bottom. He really didn’t want all this effort ruined because of the metal flexing loudly under his weight.

The chameleon peered through the small vertical holes in the vent, leaning his head from side to side to ensure this was the proper room. He let out a silent sigh of relief as his eyes caught the glint of the jellyfish-like Klagens on the opposite ends of the room, illuminated only by the glint of the massive computer screen on the wall between them.

Espio stuck his tongue out, sticking it to the back of the vent cover in order to keep it from falling and clattering to the ground as he attempted to push it out with his hands. At first he tried a light nudge, progressively (albeit slowly) adding more and more force until he could feel the metal shifting out from its casing embedded into the wall.

He did his best to center himself and calm his fiercely beating heart as he continued to apply pressure, pushing it out millimeter by aching millimeter. Eventually, he felt it start to give way. He quickly retracted his hands, using one to brace against the vent wall as he pulled out his phone and sent a message to Tails with his free one.

‘I’m about to use the EMP.’

It was only a couple of seconds before he got the reply.

‘Door’s open. You’re G2G.’

Espio quickly put the mobile device away, swapping it out for one of the EMP charges. Using his tongue to keep the vent cover held in place, he pulled his other hand off the wall, pressing firmly against one of the corners. He watched as the flimsy cover tilted out of its housing, providing just enough space to slip the device through and stick it onto the wall next to it. He moved as slowly as he could, wary of tripping any motion sensor the Klagens may have had.

He felt the EMP pulser stick itself firmly to the wall with some adhesive that was on its back. His finger slowly shifted up from the edge of the device towards the center, finally resting on the activation button.

He took a deep breath. This was it. He hoped the device was faster than whatever the reaction time on these bots were-- Rouge’s life depended on it.

With that, he firmly pressed the button, watching as a wave of energy particles rippled outwards from the device at almost light speed. Almost immediately, the room was plunged into complete darkness, and the sound of two heavy thuds on opposite sides of the room sent a wave of relief through Espio’s body.

With that, he released his tongue’s grip on the vent cover, wincing as it slammed into the ground and bounced loudly against the floor more times than he’d like. Pulling himself out of the shaft, he blinked a couple of times to help accelerate his eyes adjusting to the lack of light.

It appeared that everything worked as intended; the Klagens were indeed disabled, the lack of energy causing them to collapse and fold on themselves into a tangled mess. Underneath one, Espio could just barely make out a gloved hand, the cuff of which extended further than normal.

The chameleon leaped forward, grabbing the body of the robot and tossing it aside. Underneath it had been their target-- Rouge the Bat, still unconscious but not the mess of gore Eggman had promised she would be if they interfered.

He scooped the woman up into his arms, tilting his head forward as he closed his eyes to listen better. She was breathing, but just barely. She definitely felt frail, and... lighter than normal. Once she was safe, she would definitely need some medical attention.

He dispelled his camouflage, since the need to carry Rouge rendered it useless. Traveling back through the vents was similarly not feasible. With little other option, he carried her to the door, propping her up over his shoulder as he pulled a kunai from his utility belt. He jammed it between the frame and the metal slab, slamming the weight of his body into the hilt to act as a lever. With the door motors powered down, it offered little resistance, sliding open and allowing access to the hallway.

Espio paused as he heard the sounds of fighting erupt under him. Good, that was like Charmy and Vector thinning the crowd for him.

He took off down the metallic hallway, doing his best not to jostle the bat too much in the process.

He felt a smile begin to form on his face, but he shook his head as he forced it away. There will be ample time to celebrate once they are all safe-- and they’re on the cusp of the final hurdle.

Sonic’s eyes snapped to his phone the moment he felt it buzz in his hand. He glanced back over at Shadow, who was still staring intensely towards the distance.

“Tails said the EMP should have gone off by now--”

The other hedgehog just grunted in response, taking off before his rival could even finish his sentence.

He felt his mouth contorting into weird positions as he chased after the orange trail of light left in the Ultimate Lifeform’s wake. He could feel the tension between the two of them begin to wear him down. A stray stone caught the edge of his shoe, causing him to stumble just for a second. Fortunately, he was able to almost immediately recover.

Sonic shook his head, steeling his wavering thoughts as he moved forward at full speed. There were people in danger. Whatever was going on inside his head would have to wait.

As if to accentuate the point, he could feel the acrid scent of smoke tinge the air as they neared their destination. The smell intensified tenfold as the trees gave way to a clearing, which according to the map data should be a village--

Sonic felt his heart stop as he took in the complete carnage around him. The entire village was reduced to nothing but pebbles and splinters. A number of small fires had consumed what little fuel remained, covering the entire area with a cloud of lung-irritating smoke. Many of the villagers that remained were doing what they could, checking injuries and digging their neighbors out of the wreckage that had collapsed on top of them. A few of them simply stood there, in utter shock at the complete uprooting of their lives.

Shadow was off by himself, inspecting something among the burned-out skeleton of a home.

“U-um...” A small voice behind the blue hedgehog croaked.

He spun around, seeing a small Spagonian girl clutching a stuffed animal. As if on instinct, he crouched down to greet her at eye level, giving off a reassuring smile.

“Hey kiddo! What happened here? Does someone need help?”

She shook her head, biting her lips as she pointed off into the distance.

“I-It went that way. There’s another village over there.”

Sonic felt a cold pit form in his stomach at the information. He did his best to not let it show on his face, giving her a big smile as he patted her on the head.

“Then it sounds like I’ve got some Ro-Butt to kick!” He reassured her. “You’re a real hero, kid. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

The blue hedgehog got back up, racing over to his black and red rival. He was still in the house, picking up bits of rubble.

“Hey, we need to leave now.” Sonic began. “Whatever it is, it was headed for another village.”

Shadow tossed one of the bits of rubble at the blue hedgehog, who snatched it out of the air. He took a look at it, noticing the purple glow that faintly emanated from it.

Sonic felt his eyes widen once the familiar warmth of the energy seeped into his hand. “...This is--”

“Chaos Energy.” The black and red hedgehog finished for him. “Lots of it, too.”

“Then we need to hurry.” The blue rival reiterated, pointing in the same direction.

Shadow nodded, racing off into the forest with Sonic closely in tow.

Even with the first village behind them, the smell of destruction did not wane even in the slightest. Sonic gritted his teeth, pushing himself harder as he curled into a ball and spun through a patch of brush in his way.

He got the sense that these defenseless villages were little more than a test run for the Doctor. If whatever this thing was made it to a city... he didn’t want to think about what kind of destruction a chaos powered robot could cause.

The burning smell had only grown stronger. He had to stop his stomach from doing flips inside his abdomen.

His attention was yanked back to reality as he noticed Shadow had stopped just as he entered the next clearing. Sonic dug his heels into the dirt, skidding to a full stop just behind his partner.

He didn’t even have the chance to say anything before another explosion burst in front of them, filling the sky with a bloom of fire, accentuated by the sound of crumbling stone and fearful screams.

A silhouette formed in the center of the ball of flames, a heavy mechanical whirring slowly growing louder as the figure approached.

It didn’t take long for Shadow to recognize the figure. His eyes widened in shock as he instinctively took a step back.

“It can’t be...” He trailed off, gritting his teeth.

Sonic could hear the sound of Eggman cackling somewhere within the cacophony of noise-- no doubt the evil genius would show up to gloat sooner or later. He narrowed his eyes on the robot in the flames, it’s figure familiar--

The moment the flames fully dissipated, it became immediately apparent what had caused Shadow’s distress.

Omega was before them, the one who had caused all this destruction. The robot raised its arms, autocannons aimed at the both of them as the familiar voice boomed towards them.

TARGET ACQUIRED.

Notes:

Hope the combat's not written too terribly, the fighting for this part should be wrapped up next chapter. I've got a lot of plans for where this is going to go next, so there's plenty in store. Hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think in the comments, please. It really helps

Chapter 6

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“TARGET ACQUIRED.”

Omega taunted, pointing his cannons directly at his adversaries. Eggman finally decided to show, his Egg Mobile settled into a walker similar to the one he used during the Ark crisis. Along with the soon-to-be-eliminated Doctor was Metal Sonic, the pathetic excuse of a robot that he always insisted on bringing along with him. It glared balefully at him while its master spent its time pointing and laughing at the E-Series robot.

Indignancy growing within the traces of his silicon, he immediately opened fire, raining hell upon the man who took everything from him.

The mad genius crouched low in his walker, its embedded rocket propellers sending him careening from side to side to avoid the onslaught of chaos-derived bullets. He still refused to actually taunt the robot, simply pointing and laughing at him harder as the rate of fire increased to no effect. It was as if Eggman was telling him that his efforts were so pathetic that it wasn’t even worth the effort to actually form words.

It only fueled the robot’s rage further, as he diverted more energy from the emerald into the bullet feeder system. He watched as the bullets began to glow brighter, leaving small mini blasts upon impact as they struck the ground and surrounding landscape. The distance between his blasts and Eggman’s walker rapidly began to close--

And right before they were about to hit their target, something crashed into his side, knocking him off balance. The pathetic mockery of that blue hedgehog couldn’t even muster a proper strike, only deigning to attack him in a feeble attempt to protect his precious master.

Omega swung his arm around, pointing it directly at the robot. It dodged out of the way just as a volley of bullets shot out, demolishing the building behind it. It must have been mission critical structures, as the blue machine paused to look back and forth between him and the smoldering base facility. He launched another volley, but just as he fired, the metal hedgehog grabbed his arm and pushed it upwards, making the bullets fire uselessly into the air.

The E-series robot watched as Badniks began to pour out of the buildings en masse, scrambling to hide themselves deep in the surrounding forest like the worthless consumer models that they were.

Metal Sonic had turned to look back at the other robots. It would prove to be a grave mistake as Omega rapidly spun his torso in place, smacking the smaller robot square in the side of the head and sending him flying to the other side of the clearing.

Omega only felt more indignant at the fight. Metal Sonic was barely doing anything, and Eggman had yet to do anything besides point and laugh. They were teasing him, clearly only messing around because they thought that he wouldn’t be able to put them in their place.

He would make sure they sorely regret that line of thinking.

“Shadow, I could really use your help!” Sonic called out, clutching his head as he pushed himself to his feet.

The hedgehog in question remained frozen, staring quietly at the E-Series robot that just tried to mow him down. His attention was torn away as the stomach-turning peals of laughter Eggman was known for came from above them.

“What’s the matter, Shadow?” The Doctor taunted, his Egg Mobile hovering far above the village. “Having cold feet fighting your friend? He is one of my creations, after all!”

Shadow felt his jaw clench so hard that he felt like his teeth were going to crack from the pressure.

“WHAT DID YOU DO?!” He screamed, pointing accusatorially at the man.

“What I did?” Eggman asked sarcastically, placing a hand over his chest for dramatic effect. “I only made him. But if you’re wondering what I did to make him fight you...”

The mad Doctor leaned forward, his floating vehicle tilting downwards to give him a full view of the hedgehog.

“It’s quite simple! You see, your former friend over there has been using his neural accelerators in ways I didn’t even think possible when I put it in him.” He pointed towards Omega. “You and that bat made him a better killing machine than I ever could on my own! In fact, as far as he’s concerned, he’s still working as your killing machine!”

“...What?”

“Oh, Shadow. If only you were as smart as the man who made you.” Eggman shook his head. “After analyzing how complex his neural network is, I decided it would be a shame to tamper with something that was so promising. Instead, I just added a small extra layer to his external sensor processing that allows me to alter what he sees to my specifications.”

The black and red hedgehog quickly glanced back at the robot, a realization of horror dawning on his face as he watched the bulking machine trade blows with Sonic.

“He’s...” He trailed off, unable to form the words in his mouth.

Eggman cackled, slamming the side of his co*ckpit with enough force to make the entire vehicle jostle.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it?!” He taunted the hedgehog. “Omega thinks he’s fighting me to avenge your death! And he’s not going to stop until you and every single one of your friends is dead! Speaking of... I told you what would happen if you tried to interfere in my plans, rodent.”

The evil genius produced a remote with a large red button on it, slamming it without hesitation.

“I hope you didn’t plan on seeing the bat anytime soon--” He cut himself off as an error message popped up on the console of the Egg Mobile. “What?! When did you--”

“You know, Egghead--” Sonic began, pausing momentarily to launch a homing attack at Omega. “You have a really bad track record on keeping people held hostage.”

Eggman groaned in anger, folding his arms across his chest as he tossed the remote aside.

“Well, it doesn’t matter anymore. I have what I want, so I’m going to sit back and relax while your friend kills you in your own name.”

Omega was sick of this metallic hedgehog’s feeble attempts to stop him. The scant dents he was able to put into his reinforced armor plating were inconsequential to the hellfire he fully intended to unleash upon the Mad Doctor and all of his inferior creations.

Metal Sonic’s engine revved up as he circled around the E-Series robot, speed increasing faster and faster until he was little more than a smudge of blue light. The wind kicked up around him, but despite its howling gale it was not enough to even jostle Omega’s heavy frame.

The chaos emerald inside Omega’s chest glowed, pulsing a sickly green as its power was diverted to his own optical sensors. They were put into overdrive, the increased rate of processing giving him something similar to a perception of slowed time.

“INFERIOR SCRAP.” The E-Series robot spat out, fingers extending as his arm shot out to intercept the speeding Super Badnik.

Within that instant, his clawed fingers latched onto Metal Sonic’s head. He yanked his arms up, watching as the other robot flailed around in a desperate attempt to escape.

He would not allow that.

He slammed the metallic hedgehog into the ground head-first, his grip like a vice as he pulled the other robot back into the air. Again and again, he rammed his adversary into the ground, watching as its fingers feebly pulled at his hand in an attempt to get out of his grasp.

He looked to his side, continuing his attack on Metal Sonic as he tried to see how Robotnik was handling the sight of his precious creation being destroyed right before his eyes. The Doctor was horrified, mouth speechlessly held open as he struggled to comprehend what was going on. It brought a sense of elation to his servos, seeing the loathsome cretin brought down so low.

With a final slam, he retracted his fingers, pinning Metal Sonic to the ground with the autocannons that took their place. He reverted the chaos power flow back to his guns, the energy flowing back into his bullet chambers.

The instant he fired his guns, an energy spear sailed into his view, knocking into his arm and nudging it just far enough to miss their point-blank mark. The impact left a smoldering gash in his armor. In bewilderment, he turned back to the Doctor, his own arm extended as if he just threw the projectile himself.

He recognized it almost immediately. It was just like Shadow’s own Chaos Spear. Did Eggman find a way to replicate it before he died?

The possibility of such an action only fueled Omega’s rage further. That pathetic excuse of a man had no business with such a powerful ability like that, to practically make a mockery of the hedgehog who served as a vital partner all those years.

His attention was drawn back to his other adversary. The sound of crunching dirt and Metal Sonic’s revving engine came too quickly to properly react. The metallic hedgehog crashed into him once more, scraping the tear in his arm plating before rushing past and slamming directly into his chest.

If he had the capacity to scream, he would have unleashed a howl strong enough to bend the very trees around him.

The two of them will only leave this battlefield in a casket. He would make sure of that.

Shadow couldn’t stop his limbs from locking up as he watched his partner engage with Sonic. It was obvious that the blue hedgehog would not be enough to stop him, but...

Helping out would only end in the destruction of one of the few friends he had.

He glanced down at his hand, breath shaking as he looked back at the damage he dealt with his Chaos Spear. His body had moved on its own, snapping to life on the realization that Omega’s attack at that moment would have led to the death of the blue blur. But the moment that ended and the fight returned to normal, he felt the cold paralysis creep back up.

“Shadow!” Sonic called, only to be cut off as a robotic arm slammed into his gut, sending him flying. He flipped around in the air, landing on his feet and skidding backwards as he looked back at the other hedgehog.

The black and red rival only stared back in indecision; mouth open to reply but unable to find the proper words.

“Eggman’s just messed with his head, right?!” Sonic gritted his teeth, legs shaking slightly as he tried to reach out to the other hedgehog. “We can still save him! If we can remove his head, I’m sure Tails can fix him!”

Shadow took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he steeled himself. His rival was right-- not all was lost... and at this point any alternative would be better than letting Omega continue as a misguided death machine.

“Right!” He called back out, shoving his fears down deep into his gut as he rushed towards the E-Series robot. He threw another Chaos Spear, the bolt landing squarely in the center of Omega’s back and partially melting the armor plating.

The robot immediately spun around, autocannons outstretched and ready to fire. His thrusters flared to life, rushing towards the Ultimate Lifeform as a hail of bullets rushed from his guns.

Shadow quickly sidestepped the blast, only to watch Omega follow suit and try to flank him. They began to fly in circles around each other, the bullets only flying faster as Shadow began throwing more spears, deathly careful to make sure they were nowhere near the robot’s head.

Sonic quickly intervened in the duel, launching another spin attack that distracted the E-Series robot for just an instant. The other hedgehog saw the opportunity, jumping into the air and launching himself in a homing attack towards his former partner. The impact did little to harm his armor, but the rebound from the attack sent him flying up into the air, giving him more space to launch a volley of spears at the robot’s chest, quickly tearing the reinforced plating apart and leaving a hole in its wake.

Omega seemed completely unperturbed by the attack, his hand snapping out to grab Shadow by the ankle and sending him slamming into the ground. He had no time to recover before the robot’s other hand was wrapped around his throat, squeezing tightly to cut off all airflow.

Shadow felt his neck bend painfully from the pressure of Omega putting his full weight into the choking grasp, firmly anchoring him to the ground. He could feel the corners of his vision darken as saliva pooled in his mouth. He frantically tried to form another spear, only to watch it fizzle and fade as his brain continued to rapidly lose its oxygen supply.

It wasn’t long before his vision was severely tunneled, only able to see the cold, red eyes of the friend killing him, and the pulsing green glow of the emerald deep in his chest, peeking out just enough to taunt him. So close, yet so far...

Shadow felt his hand slowly reach up, desperately trying to reach for the gem. Even with his arm fully outstretched, all he could do was touch the brim of the opening with his fingertips...

The sound of grinding metal struggled to make its way into his head. Omega lurched forward from the impact, a shower of sparks flying off his back as he tried to reach back with his free hand.

As the robot’s torso rotated, the black and red hedgehog was able to make out the blurry sight of his blue counterpart spin dashing directly into the hole Shadow had previously made when he began his attack. The moment he ran out of momentum, he jammed his fingers into the tear in the armor as he slammed his feet onto Omega’s back-- and using them as a lever, he pulled with all his might, gritting his teeth as he tried to open the hole further.

It took a truly herculean amount of strength, but the gash was widened further with the shriek of metal bending against its will.

Taking the E-Series robot by surprise, it unintentionally loosened its grasp on Shadow’s neck, allowing air to rush back into his lungs. He grabbed Omega’s thumb and index finger, using what strength he had left to yank them off his body. Without a second thought he felt his hand shove itself into the hole in the robot’s chest, frantically searching around for the power source within.

The second he felt his fingers clench around the chaos emerald, he pulled with all his strength. He could hear the internal mechanisms bend and crack as he wrenched the gem from its captive slot. With a solid yank he tore it out of Omega’s chest, watching the opening burst outwards and widen from the increased size of the gem.

Seeing the emerald free, Sonic jumped onto the head of the still-struggling E-Series robot, fingers finding purchase around the cranial unit. With a shout and a heave, the head was pried from the rest of the robot’s body, the wires connecting the two stretching and snapping from the effort.

With that, Omega’s chassis ceased to move, unceremoniously collapsing to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Both hedgehogs looked completely winded, with Shadow rubbing his neck and Sonic placing Omega’s head on its side as a way to keep him standing.

With a sudden realization, Shadow’s head snapped up to where Eggman had been floating-- only to find the space empty. The Egg Mobile was speeding off, rapidly shrinking into the horizon.

The Ultimate Lifeform gritted his teeth, his grip on the chaos emerald tightening.

No. This would not be just another clean escape for the doctor.

Sonic watched as Shadow disappeared in a flash of chaos energy. It was only a few seconds before a second flash manifested where he originally stood, signaling his return.

Sonic’s eyes widened as the energy dissipated, revealing the black and red hedgehog clutching the Doctor by his collar, apparently unconscious with his head lolling to the side.

Shadow threw him to the ground, waves of disgust and hatred pouring from his crimson irises as he glared at the man.

The blue hedgehog felt a pit form in his stomach. It had been a long time since he had seen his rival sport an expression like that-- during the Black Arms invasion.

“H-Hey Shads,” He began, voice weak from both his nerves and his exhaustion. “...What’re you up to?”

The other hedgehog didn’t directly answer, pulling his phone from his quills and placing it to his ear.

He didn’t bother with introductions as the person on the other line picked up.

“Commander.” He quietly and cordially addressed the person on the other end of the line. “They’ve been recovered. Eggman has been apprehended as well. Requesting immediate armed transport.”

Whatever the response was, it was short. Within seconds, Shadow had ended the call and put the phone away.

“GUN will be here to take Eggman away. ETA is three minutes.”

Sonic pensively bit his lip, trying to find the best way to respond. Perhaps... it was still too early to push things. Shadow’s at least trying to communicate with him.

“That’s pretty fast.”

The black and red hedgehog nodded. “There was a rescue team already being mobilized after reports of the village attacks.”

Sonic nodded quietly, not really sure how to continue the conversation from there. He quietly held Omega’s head in his hands, eyes focused on Shadow as he tried to find any sense of emotion in the cold slate that he so perfectly wore over his face.

The Ultimate Lifeform was, as usual, an emotional mess. It took a lot of willpower to not simply execute Eggman on the spot. The hatred still burned wildly in his gut, threatening to melt him from the inside out.

But succumbing to those urges... it would mean the return of a version of himself he would never want to become again. The promise to Maria, the relationships he had struggled to build up for so long-- all of it would go down in an instant. And he could only re-mend those bridges so many times, something that not even his own immortality could help with.

He felt the unease settle into his body yet again. That damned emotion, threatening to undo him from within but refusing to explain what it was or how he could even begin to fix it.

He could feel Sonic’s eyes boring into him. It sent another wave of conflicting emotions rushing through the core of his being. He knew that the hero would give anything to help, and that weighed heavily on him. Guilt bubbled within him like a fountain, taunting him for causing such a worrying reaction from the blue hedgehog. Apologizing, or even just acknowledging it, would only cause such a response to flare up again. All he could do is to keep it locked inside, and hope that his rival would just... move on, in his own way.

The sound of helicopter blades slowly wafted along the air, rapidly growing louder as an armored helicopter transport emblazoned with GUN’s insignias approached the scene. It wasn’t long before the vehicle touched down, a small squadron of soldiers pouring out to apprehend the Doctor and drag him back into the transport. The squad leader was quick to inform the hedgehogs that he will be arrested and taken in for questioning, and with any luck would be indicted on a litany of international war crimes.

Sonic was thanked for his efforts in helping end the crisis and potentially bringing the Doctor down forever. The same courtesy was not extended to Shadow-- the squad leader simply passed by him, throwing him a sideways glare as he returned to the helicopter and cleared it for takeoff.

The blue blur looked back and forth between the two GUN officials, but just as he opened his mouth the Ultimate Lifeform was quick to cut him off.

“I’m going to go check on Rouge.” He said bluntly, immediately speeding back to the rendezvous point with Chaotix, his rival fast in pursuit with Omega’s head in his hands.

The unsettling feeling twisted around in his stomach, giving him no peace as he raced through the forest. A confused anger built up further within his mind, desperate to find the answer.

He rescued his friends. Everyone was safe. Eggman was captured. So why...

Why did he feel like something was still deeply wrong?

He didn’t have too much time to think on it as the trees rapidly cleared back into an open cliffside. He raced alongside the rock wall, and after that it wasn’t long before he found the detective trio standing not too far from the base’s entrance, waving to get his attention.

Shadow cut off the air flow to his shoes, his speed quickly slowing as he approached the team responsible for rescuing Rouge. They looked happy with themselves, but it was clear that there was something more apprehensive underneath their expressions. Even Charmy was not as active as he normally was, quiet as he bounced from foot to foot and fiddled with his own fingers.

“How did things go?” Espio asked, leaning against a nearby tree.

The black and red hedgehog paused, struggling to form words as he gritted his teeth.

“Eggman did something to Omega.” He paused, struggling to keep his emotions in check. “The Doctor is arrested. How is Rouge?”

“She’s not in critical condition, but she’ll need medical attention. We didn’t want to risk moving her with the ongoing battle. She’s severely dehydrated, too. I don’t think she was ever released from the stasis field. We tried getting her to drink some water, but...” Espio trailed off.

“...She won’t wake up.” Charmy quietly muttered.

Vector looked away, unable to meet Shadow’s gaze.

Espio released a heavy sigh, slightly nodding his head. “It’s possible she sustained further injuries. We can’t tell. She needs to be taken to a hospital. If you or Sonic were to carry her, you could get her to a hospital in the capital within a few minutes.”

“Where is she?” The black and red hedgehog asked immediately.

The chameleon stepped to the side, waving for Shadow to walk with him as he stepped into the forest.

“We didn’t have a good place to put her, so we found some relatively soft foliage and rested her there. Better than having her lying on a rock.”

It wasn’t long before they made it to their destination. Rouge was resting on a moss-covered bush, carefully suspended above the ground, unconscious and unmoving.

Shadow carefully reached under her, pulling her off the foliage and into his arms. He and Espio brusquely returned to the others, just in time to see Sonic arrive.

“Hey, Shadow--" The blue hedgehog began, pausing as he saw the bat limply hanging in his rival’s arms. He didn’t need a recap of the situation to know what was going on.

He quickly shook his head, biting back what he wanted to say. Clearly there were more important matters.

“...Never mind. I’ll have Tails take a look at Omega. Go take care of Rouge.”

Shadow didn’t even bother to respond as he took off, gliding towards the capital as he struggled to make sense of the emotions clouding his mind.

Nothing made sense. It all... just hurt and he couldn’t figure out why.

He looked down at Rouge as he ran. There was absolutely zero movement from her-- even her breathing was so shallow that it looked as if she wasn’t at all.

He growled in frustration as he navigated the forest trails. If he moved any faster, he would be unable to see his surroundings properly, making the risk to the bat’s health even higher. The setting sun slowly dimming the environment did not help either.

He tried his best to just shake the thoughts from his head, but all it seemed to do was make their presence grow even stronger. His brain felt like a balloon on the verge of exploding from the pressure within it. He shouldn’t even be concerned by this. He was the Ultimate Lifeform, he--

Shadow cut the flow of power to his air shoes, skidding to a stop in the middle of the forest path. His chest rapidly heaved in and out, his lungs demanding more oxygen than they could hold as his heart threatened to burst from his chest. His eyes were as wide as saucers as he unconsciously clutched Rouge’s body tighter.

He finally understood it. The uneasy feeling that never left, the unspoken concerns he could never place, the complete mess of emotions that constantly brewed turmoil in his head... all of it.

He felt his knees give out underneath him as his body trembled, buckling under his own weight. It took him every bit of strength he had to not let his partner slip through his hands.

For the first time in his life, Shadow was completely and utterly terrified.

Notes:

To be quite honest I wasn't expecting the fighting to take this long, but I also didn't want to sell it short. At least as far as my plans, I don't intend on including too many combat heavy scenes in the future.

Hope you all enjoyed it! Please let me know what you think, I enjoy reading the comments as they come in!

Chapter 7

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Sonic felt his chest rise in another unwanted sigh as he raced through the wilderness, back towards his home.

He shouldn’t be feeling this upset. He rescued his friends-- hell, they managed to finally capture Eggman, something that they’d been trying to do for at least a decade! He had every reason in the world to feel happy and accomplished...

But all he needed was one reason to feel troubled to make everything else moot.

Sonic’s fingers tightened around Omega’s decapitated head, the reminder of the fight only causing the dull ache in his chest pang with increased intensity. Sonic couldn’t recall a time he ever had to seriously fight with an ally like that... especially with as messy of an end as it was. Despite their standoffishness, the blue hedgehog knew that his rival held the robot in a very high regard. To be forced to tear out the insides of someone like that...

He shook his head, quickly shoving those thoughts aside. No, Omega was still alive, and hopefully with Tails they could reverse whatever the Doctor had done to him and bring him back to normal. Certainly, that would help... right?

He sighed again, clicking his tongue in annoyance as the landscape zoomed past him. He didn’t feel like he was moving fast enough, but he was already going at his maximum speed.

A small wave of relief washed over him as his home finally appeared on the horizon, the small abode in the middle of nowhere that proudly stood atop a gentle hill with flowing green grass. Within just a few minutes he was at the open garage door, his brother turning around as the gust of wind from his dash rebounded through the enclosure.

“I heard from Espio about Rouge--” He stopped, eyes widening as he saw the robot head in Sonic’s hands. With a quick spin of his tails, he was already next to the hedgehog, gently picking it up for himself as he carefully examined it.

He eventually looked back up to his brother. “What happened to him?”

Sonic tried, but miserably failed to put on a reassuring smile. “Eggman did something to his head-- he was saying stuff about how precious his brain was and said he did something to make us look like enemies so he would fight us. Do you... think you can fix him?”

Tails rotated the head around, grimacing as he examined it from every corner.

“I can do my best... but Eggman’s tech is always weird, and I’m not even sure if I’m going to be able to do anything if he tampered with Omega’s software.” He continued analyzing the quiet metal head, pausing as he ran his finger over a section where the adjoining metal surfaces were silver and bumpy. “This... looks like spot-welding. I don’t remember him having this before.”

The fox walked over to one of his workbenches, his brother not far behind.

“What does that mean?” Sonic asked, looking at the spot Tails was pointing to.

“It means his head was probably opened up and sealed back shut. Probably to put something inside.” The young genius gently placed the head on the counter before turning back to the blue blur. “You said something about Eggman saying his brain was precious?”

“Well, not quite like that...” Came the sheepish reply. “I’m not good with details like that. He was talking about some kind of neural thing, he basically said...”

His mind recounted the Doctor taunting Shadow, claiming that it was through the hedgehog’s own efforts that Omega was such a powerful killing tool. He paused for a moment, resisting the urge to bite his own cheek in frustration.

It was probably better to skip over that part.

“...Sorry, I lost my train of thought. He basically said that he thought Omega’s brain was too good for even him to tamper with, so he just made him see us as enemies instead.”

It was clear from Tails’ expression that he knew Sonic was hiding something, but for the time being he was willing to look past it.

“Well, it sounds like he didn’t want to tamper directly with Omega’s programming-- that’s good at least.” He pulled open a drawer from his workbench, pulling out a black facial mask with a shielded eye visor. As he slipped it over his face, he pointed to a scattering of tools left on a nearby shelf. “Can you go ahead and grab the angle grinder for me? It should have a diamond saw blade on it already.”

The blue hedgehog nodded, walking over and grabbing the requested tool. The fox plugged it into a nearby receptacle, carefully nestling the blade against the weld marks as he turned the tool on.

Sonic watched as yellow sparks spat outwards like fireworks, showering the workbench and surrounding surfaces in the fiery particles. Slowly but surely, the weld scars were slowly being reopened, Tails expertly controlling the tool with surgical precision.

The hedgehog felt his phone buzz as he watched his brother at work. A look at the Caller ID told him that it was Espio on the other end of the line. He accepted the call, walking away from the loud machinery as he placed the device next to his ear.

“Hey, Espio, what’s up!”

“Luckily, nothing new on our end. I just got off the phone with a nurse from the Central Hospital in Spagonia.” He replied, his words slow and smooth as they came through the speaker.

Sonic stopped in his steps, his brow furrowing in confusion.

“But Shadow took her there, right? Why are they calling you?”

“...They were given my contact info.” The chameleon replied, a sense of unease in his voice. “Shadow apparently told them to talk to me about her condition. I was told he... left right after that.”

The blue hedgehog felt his insides begin to curl up again. There was definitely something wrong.

Espio paused for a moment but, hearing no response from Sonic, he decided to continue.

“They’ve got her on fluids for now and are feeding her intravenously. She had gone about a week or so without anything to eat or drink. But...”

Sonic clenched his eyes shut, hunching over slightly as he felt a wave of nausea come over him.

“Espio, please tell me that’s all of the bad news.”

The Chaotix member was unable to say anything for a moment, only confirming the hedgehog’s fears.

“She... suffered multiple spinal fractures during the battle where she was taken hostage.” He quietly informed the hero. “She isn’t paralyzed, but they said that she’s likely going to need to wear a back brace for a couple weeks, and she’ll need physical therapy after that. Ironically, the fact she was suspended in stasis may have actually helped from making things worse on her back. She’ll be out for a while, but they assured me a full recovery was likely. I’ll let you know when she’s regained consciousness.”

Sonic let out a sigh of relief, nodding along as he took in the news.

“That’s good... that’s very good.” He cleared his throat, glancing back to see Tails finishing up with the angle grinder. “Listen, thanks for all the help. The rest of Chaotix included. We’d never have been able to do it without you.”

“Don’t mention it.” Espio replied. “No, seriously, don’t mention it. Vector was the one who decided this was pro bono work despite our bills and I’m still upset.”

The blue hedgehog chuckled, a small smirk growing on his muzzle.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll get over it. Have a good one, Espio.”

“You too.”

With that, Sonic ended the call, walking back to see what his brother was up to. Once again, the fox was fully absorbed in his work, his mask removed as his eyes peered into the hole he had opened up into Omega’s head.

“See anything, little buddy?” He called out, patting him lightly on the back.

“I think I do, actually. Take a look.”

Tails pulled back, giving Sonic space to see for himself. He wasn’t sure what exactly he was looking for, but there was an odd jumble of wire and metal blobbing that caught his attention.

“Is it that weird mess on top of the board there?”

The fox nodded, pulling out a heat gun and soldering iron from the workbench drawers.

“Yeah. I followed the traces, and it leads to some other components connected to his eyes and microphone array. It looks like Eggman just spliced into that data feed-- there’s a chip connected to the copper and soldering. It’s probably what altered Omega’s perception.”

“Speaking of, isn’t he... quiet?”

Tails reached towards a small metal tube laying on the side of the tabletop. It was covered in black scorch marks, and a crack running up its side.

“This is the battery that usually keeps him powered when his head is disconnected. It looks like it was overcharged somehow.”

“I think I know how.” Sonic nodded. “Eggman had him fitted with a device that let him use an emerald.”

Another grimace formed on the fox’s face as he apprehensively nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like that would do it. I’ve got spares from all the Badniks I’ve been salvaging. Once we’re done fixing him, we can just... plug and play, basically.”

Sonic nodded, watching as Tails quietly returned to his work. It felt... a little weird to be honest, seeing the sentient robot being operated on like how his brother normally would work on dismantling Badniks.

The fox placed a gel-like substance around the places where the wires were connected, then placed the heat gun over them and watched as it quickly melted. He grabbed some copper wick, placing it over the solder blobs before pressing it into the board with his soldering iron, watching as the wick quickly sucked it all up. Once it was done, he was able to pull the added components out of Omega’s head, setting them aside.

“Drats.” Tails chided, looking back at the space where the wires used to occupy. “Looks like he scratched out the trace to keep the original connection from restoring itself.”

“Is that a problem?” Sonic asked, genuinely out of his depth.

“Not really, but it’s just not going to look pretty.” The fox sighed. He pulled out some thick copper wiring, placing it on both ends of the scratched trace, melting some solder onto the board to restore the connection. “There, we should be done. All that’s left is to power him on and see if he still wants us dead.”

Tails got up from his chair, walking over to a cabinet filled with pull-out drawers. He opened one of them, pulling a Badnik battery from the container. He walked back to the workbench, staring pensively at the head in front of him.

“I’m sure you did a great job.” Sonic reassured him, seeing the indecision in his eyes. “Come on, let’s get him back online.”

The fox nodded, reaching back into the hole and placing the battery in its intended slot. Almost immediately, Omega’s eyes flared to life, pulsating red as they rapidly focused and unfocused themselves.

Tails slowly rotated the head, holding his breath as he brought himself and Sonic into the robot’s field of view.

They didn’t have to wait long before a monotone voice boomed from the head’s internal speakers.

“EXPLAIN. NOW.”

The response gave them both a glimpse of hope-- Sonic was quick to speak up.

“Hey Omega, do you recognize us?”

“YOU ARE SONIC THE HEDGEHOG AND MILES PROWER.” The E-Series robot barked back. “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND SUCH AN IRRELEVANT QUESTION. I WAS BATTLING EGGMAN AND METAL SONIC. I DEMAND AN EXPLANATION FOR MY CURRENT STATUS AND LOCATION.”

The two brothers nervously glanced at each other. It was good that the robot finally recognized them, but...

Explaining what had happened would not be easy.

Shadow paced the floor plan of his apartment, anger welling up within him as he fought back the urge to scream and punch himself.

He was an idiot. A fool. No, worse than that.

He should have known from the beginning. He allowed himself to be deluded, all for what-- some temporary amusem*nt to distract him from where things would inevitably lead? What did he think was going to happen?

His lungs could barely hold the breath he forced into them. He was a trembling mess, clutching at his quills as he felt himself slump against the wall.

My very existence is incompatible with theirs.

It felt like a punch to the gut as the thought echoed through his mind. Yet... he knew there was truth to that statement. It gave him a sick sense of validation, as if it were peeling back a mask to expose the true form beneath it.

In a way, he felt appreciative of the realization. Had he continued on his current path, it would have been nothing short of an eternity of torture, slowly pulling him apart until the only thing that would remain of him was a broken husk. All because he couldn’t face what he really was.

But now, that had changed. With realization came truth, and despite the fear that overtook him earlier, he would overcome, and he would be stronger for it.

He had no choice but to.

Sonic’s image flashed through his mind, just as quickly as the hedgehog himself. His lips quivered as his guilt from their previous conversations resurfaced.

The guilt-ridden need to apologize flared up again, but... it was no longer indecision that forced the emotion down again.

Sonic didn’t deserve it, but... it was better this way. If he succumbed to his guilt, he would just relapse again. And with how soured their relationship had already become, it would help in keeping his... former rival away.

The same would have to go with Rouge and Omega. He intentionally kept himself away from them after dropping his partner off at the hospital. It... hurt. Everything hurt him like a blade puncturing his chest. But it had to be done. He was something that was never meant to exist, and the longer he spent around them the more harm would come to him and everyone around him.

He swallowed thickly, doing his best to steel his nerves as he pulled out his phone. With a few taps on his screen, he started a call with Commander Tower. It was barely a full ring before the leader of GUN picked up.

“Agent Shadow.” The man curtly acknowledged the other’s presence.

“Commander.” Shadow forced out of his throat.

“The rescue squad members have finished their reports regarding the situation. Just as a safety precaution, we’ve deployed a guard unit to Rouge’s hospital room. Where is Omega?”

“With Sonic and Tails.” The black and red hedgehog choked out, clutching at his chest as he struggled to keep himself together. “They’re working on fixing him.”

“I see. I’ll have a liaison reach out to keep us informed on his status.” Commander Tower paused. “And Shadow, good work on apprehending Doctor Robotnik. You just made the world a lot safer.”

Shadow paused. Praise from his superior was exceedingly rare, but never disingenuous. But it did nothing to sway him from the purpose of his call. He took a deep breath, steeling his nerves as he opened his mouth.

“Commander, I am resigning from my post within GUN.” He felt his grip on his phone tighten as he shoved the words out of his throat. “Effective immediately.”

There was a long pause from Commander Tower, setting Shadow’s nerves ablaze as he waited to hear the man’s response.

“...When you requested to work with GUN, you said that you were convinced that our organization had changed since the Ark Incident. Maria was my friend too, after all. You thought your power and our resources would help us all make the world a place she would have liked to visit.”

“...Things have changed.” He quietly responded. “My reasons are my own.”

“I want you to think very carefully about this.” The Commander warned. “There are a lot of people above and below me who still have it out for you, even after your recent accomplishments. If you leave GUN, I will no longer be able to use my influence to protect you. Even if you were to ask to rejoin, the fact you left in the first place will be reason enough for them to consider you a threat.”

“It doesn’t matter what they think. I made a promise to Maria-- even if you are ordered to throw your entire might at me, I will continue to protect this world with all I have.”

“...Stubborn as always.” The CO sighed. “Very well. Good luck out there, Shadow.”

The call was cut short as the military officer hung up. A numbing wave pulsed through the hedgehog as he lowered his phone, the whirlwind of emotions deadening as a result of his actions. Compared to the turmoil he was going through, it felt... nice, in a way.

He felt his phone buzzing in his hand, his attention drawn back to the device as he saw that another call was coming through.

Sonic.

The hero was calling him. He felt another pang of guilt ring out in his chest, but he knew better.

He dismissed the call, letting the phone slip through his fingers as it fell to the ground. He stared at the screen for only a moment before he brought his foot up, sending his heel crashing down on the device and watching as it shattered into a mess of broken glass, metal, and silicon.

What’s done is done.

He shook his head, letting another wave of numbing feeling overtake him as he walked into his living room. On the coffee table was a small, brown leather-bound notebook. He scooped it up, thumbing the spine for just a second before he put it away.

With that, he walked out the door of his apartment, never to see it again.

“YOUR ATTEMPTS AT DECEPTION ARE NOT AMUSING.” Omega loudly proclaimed, eyes focusing on the fox who was struggling to converse with the robot.

Sonic was just outside of the garage, staring at his phone with concern in his eyes. Shadow was not picking up. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong, but...

He looked back at Tails to see the young genius stammer out a few words, only for Omega to immediately interrupt him and denounce what he was being told.

The hedgehog shook his head, putting his phone away. As usual, there were more pressing issues at hand.

“I’m trying to tell you!” Tails was getting agitated, his arms waving emphatically as he tried to reason with the decapitated head. “Eggman tricked you into--”

“I AM FAR TOO SUPERIOR TO THAT FOOLISH HUMAN TO BE DECEIVED BY HIM. YOU ARE HIDING THE REAL REASON I AM IN THIS SITUATION.”

“I’m not!” The fox yelled back. “Why can’t you just listen for once?!”

“I WILL LISTEN WHEN I AM TOLD SOMETHING WORTH LISTENING TO.”

The young genius turned back to look at his brother, who was already approaching them.

“This is going nowhere, Sonic.” He complained, scrunching his eyes shut as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

The hedgehog shrugged, shaking his head in sympathy. “Maybe we can see if GUN can send us over some satellite footage?”

“THERE IS NO NEED.” Omega barked back, his monotone voice exuding defiance despite his completely vulnerable position. “MY SENSORS CONTAIN THEIR OWN AUTO-RECORDING FUNCTION. CONNECT ME TO YOUR COMPUTER AND I WILL SHOW YOU ALL THE DESTRUCTION I CAUSED TO EGGMAN’S BASES FIRSTHAND.”

The two brothers froze at the suggestion, looking at each other with a great deal of concern.

“...Is that a good idea, Tails?” Sonic whispered, looking back and forth between the fox and the robot head.

“...No.” Tails concluded, covering his mouth with his hand. “There’s no way that ends well. But... I don’t think he’ll listen otherwise.”

The fox turned back to the robot, nervously biting his lips as he spoke to the robot again.

“Omega... how does your auto-recording work?”

“I HAVE MULTIPLE ENCODING AND DECODING CHIPLETS ON-BOARD THAT ARE DIRECTLY CONNECTED TO THE SENSORS. THEY ARE DESIGNED TO CONTINUE FUNCTIONING EVEN IF MY PROCESSORS FAIL OR RUN OUT OF POWER.”

Tails turned back to the blue hedgehog, his expression grim.

“We’d... be showing him what he really did, then.”

Sonic felt his stomach lurch at the suggestion. Was that really a good idea?

“I DEMAND YOU PROVIDE ME ACCESS TO YOUR COMPUTER.” Omega reiterated.

The fox sighed, his shoulders slumping as he walked towards his desk.

“Okay, but... I wish you didn’t make us do this.” He resigned to himself, scooping the robot’s head off of the workbench and sitting down in his computer chair with the E-Series’ optical sensors facing the screen.

Tails pulled out a serial port wire, plugging it into a small, recessed set of pins on the back of Omega’s head. Within an instant, a video player window popped up, the viewport black as it waited for the footage to be sent over.

“It’s ready.” Tails quietly stated.

As soon as he was told, Omega began feeding the recording through the port in the back of his head, which showed up on the computer monitor.

The trio watched Omega blast through an Eggman-logo covered room, using his autocannons and brute force to tear through cardboard cutouts and modeled replicas of Sonic, Tails and Knuckles.

Almost immediately, the E-Series robot began to protest.

“THIS FOOTAGE IS MANIPULATED.” It immediately claimed. “I RECALL NO EVENTS SUCH AS THESE.”

“...Because Eggman made you see something different.” Tails quietly noted.

The video feed cut out again, only to show him in the same room, this time with the Chaos Energy drive.

Oooooh ho ho ho ho ho!” Eggman’s voice boomed over the intercom in the recording. “Go ahead and take it, Omega! It’s my latest creation, made just for hedgehog killing!

“NO. NO. NO. NO.” Omega boomed over the voice of the Mad Doctor. “COMPARING RECORDING CHECKSUMS AGAINST KNOWN INTERNAL DATABASE. CLEARLY TAMPERED--”

The robot cut himself off, causing Tails to look back down at the metal head in his lap.

“...CHECKSUM COMPARISON IS A MATCH.” He concluded, just as loud as before, but the words coming out significantly more slowly.

The video cut out once more, skipping forward until the screen showed his arms extended, raining a volley of chaos-derived bullets onto the Spagonian forest village, its inhabitants screaming and crying as they desperately tried to avoid the blast. There was too much smoke to tell what hit and what missed.

Tails felt his stomach churn watching the footage. He slowly reached for the wire plugged into the robot’s head. “Omega, I think that’s enough--”

“NO.” He commanded.

The video sped forward, to the point where the E-Series robot had Sonic half-buried in the ground, ready to split his body in two with his cannons. A chaos spear struck his arm, missing the shot as he turned to see Shadow frozen in place with his hand outstretched, looking back at him with a bewildered and distressed look on his face.

“Omega--” Tails tried again.

“I SAID NO.” The robot barked back.

The video sped up again, only to stop shortly after. The frame depicted Omega’s arm outstretched towards the ground, hand wrapped around Shadow’s neck. His muzzle was a nasty shade of purplish red, his expression hurt and confused as he desperately tried to reach out towards the E-Series robot.

Sonic looked away from the monitor, closing his eyes and clenching his fists.

“...THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN EGGMAN.” The metal head stated, his monotonous voice unable to convey any kind of emotion.

“I know.” Sonic quietly answered.

“WHERE IS SHADOW?”

The blue hedgehog shook his head. “He isn’t answering my calls.”

The three of them sat in a heavy silence.

Tails finally had enough. He didn’t bother to ask permission from the robot, opting to just yank the cable out from the back of his head. The video player went dark, its data source cut off.

“INTERNAL DIAGNOSTIC COMPLETE.” Omega noted. “PREVIOUS LATENCY DISPARITY IN EXTERNAL SENSORS IS NOW GONE. CONCLUSION... SOURCE OF DELAY WAS FROM EGGMAN’S PERCEPTION FILTER.”

The fox opened his mouth, fully ready to give the robot a piece of his mind-- to tell him that that’s what they’ve been trying to tell him for the past hour or so.

However, just as quickly as the anger had flared up, it was extinguished by the uncomfortable chill of the situation on their hands.

“...I still have your technical specifications on file.” Tails told the robot, his own voice quiet and hollow. “It’s going to take a while... and I don’t have any ammo to give you.”

“...THAT IS ACCEPTABLE.” Omega concluded.

Sonic raised an eyebrow at the robot’s response. He thought the E-Series machine would at least voice contempt for the fact that he would not be getting any munitions. Though, with what just happened, perhaps this reaction was to be expected-- even if the person in question was a relentless war machine.

The blue hedgehog placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder, squeezing it slightly to provide him some sort of comfort.

“It’s getting dark out, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.” He noted. “And I think we’re all long overdue for a rest.”

Tails looked back up at the blue hedgehog, before lifting Omega’s head up and turning it so they talked at face level.

“Do you mind if we keep you in the garage for now?”

“THESE ACCOMMODATIONS WILL SUFFICE.”

The fox quietly nodded, placing the robot down on the workbench. He pressed a button on the wall, watching as the garage door slowly closed.

Sonic opened a door leading to the living room, disappearing deeper into the house. Tails shortly followed, pausing at the door frame as he looked back at their temporary guest.

“Hey Omega,” He began, pausing as his voice cracked a little. “Just so you know... even during the fight, Shadow was thinking of how he could save you without hurting you. I don’t know where he is right now, but... he doesn’t resent you.”

“...I AM FULLY AWARE OF THAT.” Omega was quick to respond, though he paused for a moment before following up.

“...BUT YOUR AFFIRMATION OF THAT IS ACKNOWLEDGED.”

Notes:

Hope you're enjoying it so far! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Chapter 8

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

It took a while for Rouge to acclimate to her current situation. It was... difficult, to say the least, to come to understand everything that had happened in her absence, but she’d manage. Being confined to the small hospital room was definitely not her idea of R&R, but with the brace form-fitted to her body, she didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

She had been informed by the guards that were stationed outside of her room that everyone was safe and Eggman had been miraculously apprehended. However, it seemed they weren’t able or willing to divulge any further information on the current status of the rest of Team Dark. It didn’t sit well with her, naturally, but there really wasn’t anything she could do about it at the moment.

Her ears twitched as she heard the agents outside her door stirring to attention. There were a few murmurs here and there, nothing she was able to make out even with her keen sense of hearing. It didn’t seem like there was any hostile commotion, so there was that at the very least.

She heard the door to her room open, turning her head to see who was coming in. Her eyebrows raised as she saw the head of a smiling green-eyed hedgehog craning through the opening.

“Hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.” Sonic sheepishly greeted.

“My my, what a surprise, Blue!” She jokingly replied, gesturing for him to come in. “Taking time off from saving the world to visit little old me?”

“Well, with Eggman out of the picture, my schedule has been a lot more open.” He laughed, closing the door behind him as he walked over to her bed. “I came over as soon as I heard you were up and about. How are you holding up?”

“Doc said things are healing faster than expected. I’ll still need to do some physical rehab for the next few months, but I should be clear to leave in a day or two.” She paused, before holding out a hand towards him.

“Would you be a doll and help me into that chair? I’d like to be able to look at you while talking.”

“Sure thing!” Sonic immediately chirped, grabbing her by the arm and carefully pulling her up off the bed.

Rouge grunted slightly in pain as her feet touched the ground. She leaned onto Sonic’s side as he slowly walked aside her over to one of the chairs in the room. With more effort than she would have liked, she was able to get comfortably seated, the brace keeping her back straight as she leaned back into the cushioned surface.

Sonic pulled over a second chair, placing it directly across from her so he could be in full view. As he sat down, he reached into his quills and pulled out a small velvet box.

“Tails and I thought of this as a ‘get well’ gift... and an apology for taking so long to find you.” He held the box out for her to take.

The treasure hunter took the item-- a fairly standard jewelry case. It felt a little heavy.

She held it out at eye level, flipping the lid open so she could see what was within. A glitter caught her eye, and upon recognizing the contents she gasped in amazement.

Inside were two large topaz stones, expertly cut to have countless faces. Each one glimmered in different colors, cascading from green to purple, all of its facets changing color with just the slightest tilt or rotation.

“Tails called them Mystic Topaz.” Sonic explained. “I don’t know the full details, but they’re like some normal topaz crystals that he did some weird science stuff on. I honestly don’t remember all the details.”

“Sonic, these are drop dead gorgeous!” She exclaimed, closing the box and setting it to her side. “Once I get back to my place, I’m going to put them with my gem collection-- I’ve got a glass case in the front that I just know they’ll be perfect for.”

Sonic chuckled, a small smirk forming on his face.

“Is that gem collection all legally obtained?”

Rouge was quick to smirk back as she rebuffed him.

“I’ve been told not to answer that question without a lawyer.”

The blue hedgehog’s smile widened as he shook his head and waved his hand.

“Well, who am I to argue with that kind of legal advice?” He laughed. “In any case, I’m glad to see you’re in good spirits.”

“Same goes to you, Blue.”

The two of them sat in silence for a few minutes. The jovial air and banter were nice, but the both of them knew it couldn’t stay forever. Eventually, it melted away, an awkward air hanging between them-- they both knew where the conversation needed to go, but neither of them were quite willing to steer it there.

Eventually, Rouge spoke up.

“...So, what happened while I was out?”

Sonic apprehensively rubbed his teeth with his tongue, trying to find the best way to word things.

“He... Eggman messed with Omega's brain quite a bit. Made him think his friends were his enemies. At the time he thought you and Shadow were dead, and he was fighting to avenge you. We stopped him and fixed the problem in his head, but...” He trailed off, a grimace forming on his face. “He’s with us for now-- his body was destroyed in the battle, so Tails is building him a new body.”

“That’s... that’s awful.” The bat solemnly replied, eyes soft as she cast a sympathetic glance downward. “How is he holding up?”

“He’s still upset about it, clearly-- even if he won’t admit it. They've been getting into screaming matches for the past few days.”

“Over what?”

“...He wants Tails to hack into the GUN database because he wants to know if they’ve recorded any casualties at the places we battled. Little bro doesn’t want to do it for obvious reasons. Argument ensues.”

The blue hedgehog’s foot was tapping against the ground, a nervous energy slowly building up in him as the conversation continued.

“...What about Shadow?”

Sonic sighed deeply, shrugging as he closed his eyes.

“No clue. I don’t know where he is, and his phone doesn’t even ring anymore. It’s been like that for the past couple of days now.”

The bat instinctively shook her head, rolling her eyes in exasperation as she sighed.

“Yeah, that sounds about right.” She chided cynically. “He can be a real jackass sometimes, you know that?”

The blue hedgehog was put off by her words, mouth hanging open but struggling to find the words.

His reaction wasn’t lost on her.

“Sorry, I hope that didn’t come off the wrong way.” Her expression softened. “It’s just... he tends to take things in the worst way possible. I’m sure he’s off somewhere, skulking around and finding a way to blame himself for everything-- meanwhile I’m stuck here and Omega’s not doing much better either.”

“Yeah.” Sonic shrugged, recalling how utterly stressed-out Shadow was when he first came to their house. “He was... already pretty torn up while we were trying to find you two.”

“Look, it’s not like I don’t get it.” She turned to look out the room’s window, watching the sunset as it peered over the rows and rows of old-world stone walls and terracotta roofing outside. “He’s supposed to be sixty-something years old, but almost all of it was in cryogenic sleep. He acts like a child sometimes because he was never really given a chance to grow up. I try to help when I can, but... I’ve got my own life too, you know? I’m not the kind of girl who puts everything aside to ‘fix’ a wayward man.”

“I... never really thought about it like that.” The hero admitted, grimacing as a pang of guilt echoed in his chest. He always thought Shadow’s standoffishness and social bluntness was... well, honestly just part of his charm. It legitimately never occurred to him that it may have been that his rival honestly just didn’t know how to talk to other people.

He couldn’t really blame the treasure hunter for her anger, either. It wouldn’t be fair on her or anyone else to try to take on that burden.

It just... it just sucked for everyone involved.

Rouge looked back at Sonic, noting the expression on his face.

“Listen, Blue, I don’t need two hedgehogs in my life going hard on themselves.” She chuckled. “Don’t blame yourself, you’re not responsible for his well-being. Besides, I’m pretty sure he likes you the most out of everyone.”

The blue blur was snapped out of his thoughts, though given their last few encounters he wasn’t entirely convinced by her assertion.

“What makes you so sure of that?”

Rouge went to lean forward like she was about to gossip, only to be stopped by her back brace. With a huff, she leaned back into her chair and continued.

“Promise me you won’t tell Mr. ‘Tall, Dark, and Edgy.’”

Sonic let out a huff through his nose, a small smile forming on his lips as he shook his head.

“Fine by me.”

She nodded, continuing.

“A couple years back I managed to find out where our mutual friend lives and paid him a visit. Now, I know it’s going to be a total shock for you to learn that he doesn’t really do much in his off time, but... well, I was still a little surprised.

“How so?”

“Well, he doesn’t really own anything. No books, no television... I honestly don’t even think he touched the kitchen in his apartment.” She shrugged, folding her arms over her chest. “About the only thing he had at the time was a mattress that’s just shoved in the corner of his room. He doesn’t even have sheets for it.”

“That’s...” Sonic trailed off, not really sure what to think of that information.

“I was honestly a little appalled.” The treasure hunter shifted in her seat. “He bought some furniture for the living room, just in case someone else visited, but by that point I had already decided I’d try to get him into something. It was just too sad to look at. I tried everything I could think of. Reading, watching movies, indoor gardening-- hell, I managed to drag him to a pottery class. You should have seen that one, I’ve never seen him out of his element so much.”

The blue hedgehog snorted, holding in a laugh as he imagined his black and red counterpart scowling as he tried and failed to make a clay vase.

Rouge laughed a bit herself, before continuing.

“I did eventually get him into something.”

“And what was that?”

“Writing and sketching!” Rouge proclaimed, a tint of pride in her tone. “Probably the first thing I should have tried, but it’s a bit late for that kind of hindsight. I told him having something to read would be good for him to have in case he lost his memory again. To be honest, I just said that so he’d have an excuse to do it, but I think I might have actually scared him given his track record as an amnesiac is... not great.”

“Yeah...” Sonic sheepishly replied. That was definitely one way to describe the Ark and Black Arms incidents.

“I got him a small leather-bound book for him to write in. Now, it would be absolutely insane for any self-respecting thief to not sneak a peek--”

“Naturally.” Sonic quipped, rolling his eyes.

Naturally.” Rouge repeated, smirking. “I’ve only been able to take a couple of glances, but the few chances I can, the thing is filled with sketches of the people he knows-- probably so he can tell what they look like if he forgets again. Now, Blue... you want to know why I think he likes you so much?”

She trailed off, her smile growing as she looked at the hedgehog square in his eyes.

“...Almost all of those drawings he’s made are of you.”

Shadow breathed in deeply, the frigid air burning his nose as he took in the plains of ice surrounding him. His fur and quills were working overtime to contain the heat his body exuded, just barely able to stave off the cold.

He was getting used to his self-imposed isolation. Days had turned into weeks, and weeks had turned into months. What remained of his guilt and indecision had dissipated, their effects no longer having hold over him. The silence, only broken by the occasional howl of distant wind, suited him greatly-- even if the climate didn’t. He’d have to return here later, once he was done with what he had set out here to do.

If his information was right, somewhere around here was the Holoskan tribe. It was hard to make any details out in the pure white environment-- only amplifying the difficulty in finding their settlements hidden within the crevasses of ice, out of the reach of the blizzard winds that constantly threatened them. He’d just have to run around, hopefully finding one such place-- or at least someone who could lead him there.

Eventually, he was able to find one such refuge, the entrance almost impossible to see amongst the ever-reflective snow. His shoes struggled to keep traction on the decline into the village, but with a good deal of caution and patience he was able to keep himself upright.

Eventually he made it back to level ground, the air just slightly warmer as he studied the settlement. In the middle was a crackling bonfire, surrounded by a handful of carefully constructed igloos with built in windows and vents at their top. A number of sculptures dotted the enclave, ranging from a simple snowman dressed in woolen clothing to a few elegant looking markers made of abstract curves and shapes.

“Visitor!” A voice called from somewhere nearby, catching Shadow’s attention. It wasn’t long before a number of humans had emerged from their domiciles, dressed in beige and white parkas and wide smiles as they gathered around the hedgehog.

“A Mobian, too!”

“Poor thing must be cold-- are you hungry?”

“He looks plenty fit and fine, Jari-Thure! If he’d like help, he will ask for it!”

Shadow felt surprised by the immediate level of kindness afforded to him, glancing back and forth as he tried to figure out who to address first.

“Now now, everyone. Give him some space to talk.” An elderly voice called over the commotion. The crowd separated to let a short, grey-haired woman through, who greeted him with a handshake and a warm smile. “My name is Ursule. Chief Jari-Pekka is out fishing, but I’ll be happy to welcome you in his stead. Have you come to visit? We’d love to have you as our guest. My shop is just on the other side of the village if you’d like to trade as well.”

The hedgehog paused for a moment, before shaking his head.

“Perhaps later.” He replied, trying to keep his eyes focused on the old woman. He could practically feel the stares of the other villagers boring into him. “I was wanting to know if you have knowledge of any Eggman bases in the area.”

The crowd grew quiet, a slight unease growing in the air. Ursule paused for a moment, reinforcing her smile as she replied.

“I’ve heard that he was arrested. What reason do you have to ask?”

“Just cleaning up the mess he left behind.” Shadow replied. “Even with him gone, his robots still pose a threat.”

“A noble cause.” She nodded, her posture visibly relaxing. “There was another hedgehog like you who helped us when Eggman threatened our village-- a blue fellow who could run like the wind. Do you know him?”

The black and red hedgehog did his best to keep his expression fixed, silently shaking his head back and forth.

“Ah, well, then forgive my rambling. I’m glad to see such golden hearts are shared by your kind.” She apologized, before grabbing him by the hand and leading him back up to the surface. “We know where one of his bases are, we haven’t been attacked but we make sure to stay far away from it. Allow me to point you in its direction. But I must ask for you to return when you’re done. We’d love to repay you for your efforts-- and I’d like you to see what wares are in my shop as well!”

Shadow just nodded, following the woman up onto the ice planes. Once he was given the direction to go towards, he thanked her for her time and sped off, passing a very confused-looking older man along the way.

The trip itself was rather uneventful. The harsh winds kept the masses of ice floes flat, only interrupted by the occasional cavern and open expanse of salt-laden, deep blue ocean that broke the land up.

In a rare chance to have a diversion, Shadow cut the flow of power to his air shoes, feeling them skid into the ice-- the friction causing a thin sheet of water to melt below them, and the momentum from his speed keeping him moving forward. He skated across the ice with great speed, stretching his limbs out to feel the wind rushing through his fingers as he was propelled forward.

It felt like a few hours before he finally made it to the base, the red and white squat building slowly appearing over the horizon. From this distance, he could tell it was too big to be a simple research outpost-- though it didn’t seem big enough to be a drydock for his fleet.

Robotics factory, possibly. The thought echoed in his mind.

He furrowed his brow. There was a possibility that his target was here.

There were a handful of Egg Fighters languishing around the base’s perimeter, stirring to life once they saw the rapidly approaching hedgehog. They had only gotten to their feet as the Ultimate Lifeform curled into a ball and spin-dashed into them, their brittle metal hulls being quickly dispatched by the attack.

When Shadow returned to an upright position, he found himself at the entrance of the sprawling facility. The smokestacks were inactive, and whatever machinery that was inside was apparently inactive. It was definitely out of the ordinary-- most of the other manufactories were still operating, pumping badniks out into the wild.

The hedgehog’s suspicion grew. It’s possible that the Doctor was hiding something here.

The doors were made of reinforced, thick steel, held tightly shut together. A well-placed chaos spear pierced the seam where they met, creating a fairly large sized hole in the entrance. He braced both sides of the hole with his hands, using his strength to force the doors to slide open, allowing him to pass through.

The hallways were dark, his shoes clacking loudly against the frozen floor as he looked around. Much of the area was a sprawling mess of conveyor belts and various machines, ranging from smelters to routers, to all other kinds of equipment needed to create more robots. The only thing that seemed to remain active was a large vat of metal slag in the distance, kept molten so that the rest of the factory could be activated at a moment’s notice.

What few badniks were actually active were quickly dealt with. The cold had worn down their durability, leaving them barely able to move around.

Shadow looked up to see a stairwell on the far side of the base leading down to a basem*nt floor beneath the frost. Turrets had been mounted on the nearby walls, but years of disuse left them completely overcome by the frozen substance. The rest of the security doors on the way down provided similar levels of resistance, only becoming harder to open as more and more ice built up on the surface. The stairs only continued to descend further, only broken up by security doors that at this point were only a slight annoyance.

As he opened the final door with a heave, he found his suspicions confirmed. The room was relatively small, most of it taken up by a number of computer consoles and desks scattered with paper. Wires and elastic pipes dangled from the ceiling, arching back towards the far corner of the room. Shadow peered through the frozen mess, eyes settling on the device where all these connections had led to.

Wedged in the corner was a large tube of glass, filled with a sickly green liquid that remained fluid despite the utter cold. In its center floated a metallic creature, its stubby, spindly limbs jutting out from its chest that was basically a jet engine wrapped in a smooth enclosure. Its head was a mix of royal blue and silver, swooped back with spikes that shot out backwards in a distorted resemblance of a hedgehog.

Metal Sonic.

Shadow’s eyes narrowed, quietly observing the adversary. It appeared to be in some kind of stasis for now-- probably waiting for the wake-up signal from its master. It seems GUN had done a good job of keeping that from happening for the time being. But that wasn’t guaranteed to continue; and to be frank, if Metal Sonic made an attempt to raid the black site prison the Doctor was being kept at and extract him, there was a good chance of it succeeding.

The Ultimate Lifeform didn’t waste time mulling it over. He reached back into his quills, pulling out his emerald. Within seconds, an entire volley of energy spears were thrown at the holding chamber, piercing the outer walls and slicing into the metal hedgehog’s body like a hot knife through butter.

The glass shattered from the repeated impacts, the oily liquid spilling out and flooding the floor as the Super Badnik crumpled to the floor. Its body twitched and spasmed, eyes springing to life as it desperately tried to activate any part of its body that wasn’t critically damaged. Its eyes scrambled around the room, focusing on the black and red hedgehog in a hateful glare as its limbs sparked and its jet engine uselessly popped and blew billows of dark smoke.

Shadow could only walk over, grabbing the top spike of the metal hedgehog’s head. He placed his foot atop the body, pressing down hard as he pulled on the head with all his might. He could hear the metal chassis screech as it was forcefully separated at the neckline, wires snapping as the ball joint was yanked free and its body once again collapsed with a solid thunk.

Head in hand, the hybrid hoisted the decapitated body over his shoulder as he trudged back up the stairs. He traveled across the factory floor, going up a set of grated stairs that traced along the side of the vat of molten metal. He paused as he reached the top, the harsh orange glow lighting the immediate area as a wave of heat washed over him.

He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath in. The warm air filled his body, despite the fumes irritating his lungs.

With little fanfare, he threw the body into the molten vat. It hissed and popped, the heat distorting and breaking apart the metal chassis as it melted. Within seconds it was gone, the only remains being the impurities from the burned paint floating on its surface.

Once he was ensured that the metal was hot enough to destroy the robot, he quickly tossed the still-functioning head into the same vat. Metal Sonic’s head landed into the super-heated material facing him, its expression baleful as it slowly sank.

Shadow could only stare back at the metallic hedgehog, his expression devoid of any emotion as the adversary was unceremoniously disposed of. He watched as Metal Sonic’s expression quickly fizzled out into a black void as the sizzling slag melted its way into its head and burned the electronic components within.

Finished with his main goal, he pulled out the chaos emerald once more. Now that he was done with his primary goal, all that was left was to make sure this base was never usable again.

All it took was a few controlled blasts, rendering all the machines inoperable and incapable of repair. The walls had been destroyed in the explosions, the heavy ceiling collapsing in on itself and exposing everything to the elements. The metal vat was split into two, spilling its contents over all the machinery before the cold eventually cooled it down to a harmless silvery mass.

A small burst of pride puffed Shadow’s chest as he walked away from the decimated site. Things couldn’t have gone any better-- and he was certain if the doctor ever managed to call for help, he would be dismayed knowing his most powerful servant would never respond. The world was, once again, put in a better state than he found it.

He contemplated returning to the Holoskan tribe to report on his efforts; Eggman’s derelict machines did seem to be a concern to them, after all.

He shook his head, dispelling the thought as quickly as it arrived. They would find it eventually. He knew the real reason why he wanted to return, and it would only harm him in the end.

A pang of guilt rushed through his chest, but his mind quickly chased it away, replacing it with a soothing numbness.

He was getting good at that. It felt good.

Feeling nothing was certainly better than being hurt.

Sometimes, Tails wished that Eggman hadn't been captured. It was an incredibly intrusive desire, one that he’d never actually wish on the world...

...but Sonic was becoming absolutely unbearable.

Over the past few months, the hedgehog had been scrambling to find anything to take up his time. He repainted the house-- twice, scrambling around the countryside until every square inch had been tread upon. At some point he started making trips to the nearby cities, just going to passersby on the streets and seeing if they needed help doing anything.

He’d often arrive at home right as soon as the fox was working on his own projects, shooting questions out of his mouth like a gatling gun. It only got worse when Omega was eventually given his rebuilt body and sent off to return to GUN, as he no longer had that project as an excuse to shoo his older brother away.

He had suggested to the hero that he could try traveling to other parts of the world, but it was quickly shot down. Usually, he accompanied the rejection with some explanation that without Eggman around he didn’t need to go traveling as much and didn’t want to explore everything too quickly.

Obviously, Tails knew that was just an excuse from Sonic. It was plainly obvious when the hedgehog would spend his time leaning against the garage door, arms folded over his chest and tapping his fingers impatiently. His eyes would search the horizon, looking for any sign of someone who seemed adamant on not returning.

He would have to discuss it with him at some point, but... it was pretty clear that his brother was still in denial.

Until then, he’d do his best to be there, even if it meant that he’d have to juggle his own hobbies with placating a hyperactive speed demon. Maybe he should try to get him a new hobby...

“Yo, Tails!”

The fox snapped back to reality, ladle in hand as he overlooked the slightly bubbling pot of chili on the stove in front of him. His brother’s voice had come from outside the house, probably in the same spot he always waited.

“Yeah, what’s up?” He called back.

“Think you have enough made for three people? It looks like we’ve got company coming!”

Tails glanced back to the pot, rushing to grab another can of chili and dump it in.

“Yeah, I think so! Who is it? Amy?”

“Nope! It’s hard to tell from here, but it looks like Rouge and Omega!” He called back.

The fox frowned a little. He doubted the bat would take up such an unsophisticated food, but... well, if not it’d just mean they have extra leftovers.

It wasn’t long before the food slowly started simmering again. He turned off the stove, putting a lid on to preserve the heat as he made his way outside to greet the two members of Team Dark.

He exited the front door just in time to see Rouge land on the ground in front of them, her robot companion not far behind.

“Hope I didn’t catch you two at a bad time.” She began, placing her hands on her hips. The recovery appeared to have gone well-- she looked just as healthy as she had prior to her injury.

“Not at all.” Sonic waved his hand, pushing himself off of the garage door. “What’s up?”

“Well, I wish this was a casual visit, but unfortunately it seems that business has other things in mind.” Rouge huffed, not quite looking the hedgehog in the eye.

“...What’s going on? Something GUN needs help with?” Tails asked, looking back and forth between the bat and the E-Series robot that blankly stared back at him.

“Not quite...” The treasure hunter trailed off. “Sorry, it’s--”

“GUN HAS ISSUED DIRECTIVES TO APPREHEND SHADOW THE HEDGEHOG AS A WANTED CRIMINAL.”

“Wh-what?!” Sonic exclaimed, eyes widening in shock. “Has he--”

“Let me stop you right there, Blue.” Rouge held her hand out as she cut him off. “As far as we know, he hasn't done anything.”

“Then why?!”

She sighed. “That bonehead lost all his protection when he quit GUN. And now, it seems like the United Federation has finally decided to prosecute him for... well, what happened in Westopolis during the Black Arms Crisis.”

Tails could only watch in sympathy as Sonic visibly recoiled, ears laying flat as he looked down at the ground.

“That wasn’t... he... He wasn’t...” The hedgehog stammered, struggling to say anything as it seemed a flurry of thoughts all struggled to leave his mouth at the same time. “Rouge, you know that he... wasn’t himself back then.”

“You don’t have to tell me. I was there too, you know.”

“COMMANDER TOWER WAS ISSUED THE ORDERS BY THE PRESIDENT HIMSELF.” Omega added. “BEHAVIORAL ANALYSIS SUGGESTS THAT HE DOES NOT AGREE WITH THE COURSE OF ACTION TAKEN.”

Rouge nodded. “He directly assigned the task of bringing him in. Naturally, we both resigned on the spot.”

“What a jerk.” Sonic spat, growing more upset by the second.

“He may be a jerk, but he’s anything but an idiot.” She shook her head. “He probably did it because he knew we’d leave and go to you. Omega’s right, I don’t think he wants Shadow captured.”

“So...” Tails trailed off, trying to ignore the ceaseless stare that Omega was giving him. “What now, then?”

“Well, seeing as we’ve been recently let go from our previous jobs...” The bat smirked, looking back and forth between the two brothers.

“...Are there any open positions in Team Sonic?”

Notes:

Happy new year, everyone! I hope you're all enjoying the story so far. I've been reading all the comments everyone has left, and I hope you'll like what I put out this year, too!

Chapter 9

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“So... How do we find Shadow?” Tails looked nervously at the other occupants of his living room, shifting deeper into the couch cushions as he nervously clasped his fingers together.

Sonic leaned against the wall next to his brother, foot tapping impatiently against the ground as he shook his head.

“No clue. It’s been...” He looked up towards the ceiling, mentally trying to count the days since the black and red hedgehog’s disappearance. “At least a few months now.”

“IT HAS BEEN SEVEN MONTHS AND THIRTEEN DAYS SINCE SHADOW FORMALLY RESIGNED FROM GUN.” Omega informed the rest, servos slightly humming as he turned his head to focus on the blue hero. “YOU WERE THE LAST ONE TO SEE HIM.”

He felt his brow furrow at the statement. He wasn’t sure, but... was Omega implying he was to blame?

“Oh, speaking of...” Tails began, looking towards the robot. “How is the new chassis working out for you?”

“NO ABNORMALITIES DETECTED IN LOCOMOTIVE FUNCTIONS OR TENSILE STRENGTH.” The robot quickly reported.

“What about the autocannons?” The fox tilted his head. “I was a little worried about those since I don’t often make projectile weapons--”

“TESTING ARTILLERY FUNCTIONS WAS DETERMINED TO BE UNNECESSARY.”

The blank response made the young genius a little confused. “A-Are you sure? I’d prefer we make sure you’re in good condition. We can go and do some tests right now if you’d like--”

“I AM NOT CARRYING ANY MUNITIONS AT THE MOMENT. TESTING IS UNNECCESSARY.”

Sonic was taken aback by the response. That was definitely out of the ordinary.

Raising an eyebrow, he opened his mouth to speak-- only to see Rouge staring at him, quickly using her fingers to make a cutting motion on the side of her neck.

Later, she mouthed to him. Glancing back at the E-Series robot. She cleared her throat, moving towards the center of the room as she took a seat on the coffee table itself.

“Let’s just focus on Shadow right now, hon.”

Tails cast a glance across the bat and hedgehog, pursing his lips as he put his concerns away.

“Yeah, you’re right.” He sighed, shaking his head. “I’m going to assume any safehouses you’ve got are a bust?”

Rouge shook her head, crossing her legs as she folded her arms across her chest.

“Dead end. I doubt he’s going to be anywhere else we know of.”

“Does that include the ARK?” Sonic asked, eyes wandering as he tried to think of anywhere else Shadow could be.

“If he’s hiding, it’d be the worst place to do so since we all know where it is.” Rouge offered. “Plus, once he gets wind of GUN going after him, it’ll probably be the last place he goes to. He’ll be putting the base in danger again.”

“Yeah...” The hedgehog trailed off, his mouth contorting as he tried to think of any alternatives. With a huff, he shook his head and pushed himself off the wall. “Well, I’m out of ideas. We’ve got chili dogs cooking up in the kitchen, does anyone else want one?”

Tails shook his head, his appetite lost over recent events. Rouge grimaced, a look of disgust washing over her at the suggestion.

“Do you eat anything else, Blue?” She shook her head. “I swear, any time I see you eating, it’s those processed sludge messes!”

“Hey!” Sonic indignantly called back as he went down the hallways. “They’re the best processed sludge messes you’ll ever taste!”

The bat looked over to the two-tailed fox, casting him a sympathetic glance.

“You need to get him onto something else, for your own sake.” She chided. “You may be fine now, but when you grow up it’s going to be hell on your digestive system.”

“To be honest, I think it already is.” Tails grimly confided, placing a hand over his stomach.

The blue hedgehog didn’t take long to reappear, a pair of chili-smothered buns on his plate as he carried a half-consumed one in his hand. He remained standing, mouth half full as he spoke.

“So...” He began, gulping the rest of his food down. “We’ve got no leads on where he might be staying, but he has to be doing something, right? I can’t imagine him just sitting around and twiddling his thumbs.”

“That’s... actually something that we can work with.” Rouge nodded, placing her lips against her closed fist as she began to think. “Though he doesn’t really have any real interests outside of what he was doing with GUN.”

“IT IS POSSIBLE THAT SHADOW IS CONTINUING HIS WORK WITHOUT GUN.”

“Honestly that’s probably the likeliest answer, knowing him.” Rouge sighed. “Even before we resigned, there was a decrease in the number of reports coming in about Badnik attacks.”

“So what, he’s just been going around and playing hero this whole time?” Sonic shrugged, shaking his head. Truth be told, he was already feeling frustrated with Shadow’s disappearance. This emergency investigation only exacerbated that.

“I don’t know how we’d find out for sure, though.” The bad admitted. “We don’t exactly have GUN’s resources anymore, and I doubt we have a readily available list of bases to check against.”

“We don’t...” Tails trailed off, thinking for a moment. “But we could. Sonic, do you know of any abandoned bases that are still connected to the EggNet?”

“The only one off the top of my head is the one we found Rouge and Omega at, but GUN’s currently in control of that one.”

“We may have one...” Rouge trailed off. “It’s a base in Shamar. GUN probably hasn’t sent agents over there.”

“How come?” The fox asked.

“Well, it’s the place we got captured.” She quietly shrugged. “We were out there to confirm rumors of a base. We never actually confirmed it with the org. I’d prefer not to go back there, if possible.”

“That works for me. We can do it remotely.” He pushed himself off of the couch, his namesake tails swishing as he stretched his fingers. “I’m going to prep our Moto Bug friend for deployment. Sonic, you mind making an express delivery to Shamar?”

The blue hedgehog stood to attention, plastering a giant smile on his face as he saluted.

“I WILL ASSIST THE FOX.” Omega suddenly announced as Tails began to leave for the garage, causing everyone to pause.

“That’s not needed, Omega.” He slowly nodded, holding out his hand as a gesture for him to stay there. “You’ve done enough as-is--”

“I WILL BE ABLE TO GIVE YOU THE EXACT COORDINATES OF THE BASE.” The robot interrupted, walking towards the fox. “EGGMAN ALSO CONNECTED ME TO HIS NETWORK WHILE I WAS CAPTURED. MY DECRYPTION KEYS WERE UPDATED AND WILL MAKE ACCESSING SENSITIVE DATA SUBSTANTIALLY EASIER.”

Tails glanced back at the other two people in the room for any kind of advice on what to do with the imposing robot. They both shrugged, looking just as confused as he was.

“A-Alright, if you insist.” The fox quietly backed up a few steps, before turning to enter the garage.

“I DO.” Omega replied, following him in.

As soon as the door closed, Sonic looked back at Rouge.

“Alright, spill it.” The hedgehog leaned back against the wall. “Usually when he’s up to something weird, I just chalk it up to him being a killer robot. But that is not normal.”

The bat sighed, shaking her head.

“Look, I don’t know what exactly is going through his mind, but... he’s been like this since his fight with you and Shadow. He refuses to use his guns-- hell, he’s never loaded the damn things!”

“Is...” Sonic trailed off, concern growing in his chest as he tried to choose his next words carefully. “Do you think he’s... afraid to fire them?”

“Maybe, but he just refuses to acknowledge me when I ask. It’s possible it’s not even about being scared... I can easily imagine it being about some statistical likelihood that he’s still not seeing things correctly and doesn’t want to take the risk of hurting me or Shadow.”

“...Is he going to be okay?”

“I don’t know.” She answered honestly. “I was hoping Shadow would come back at some point and talk to him, but... well, you know how it is.”

Sonic huffed, looking off to the side as a scowl started growing on his muzzle.

At first, he was distressed about his rival’s disappearance. Any time he went on a run, his mind would replay their last few conversations. Was he too forceful? Maybe the words he used came off the wrong way? Was it inconsiderate to be concerned about him when his closest friends were in danger?

But those questions started to lose their worth as the months went on. Especially after seeing the state Rouge and Omega were left in... he couldn’t even think of a good reason to abandon them like that. The thought had begun to cross his mind-- maybe the treasure hunter was right. Maybe he really was just kind of a jackass.

He couldn’t bring himself to fully believe that, let alone use those words himself-- but he couldn’t help but start to feel more jaded about the other hedgehog than he used to be.

“Well...” The blue blur sighed, kicking the toes of his shoes against the floor, preparing himself for the trek to Shamar. “I’m sure we’ll all have a piece of our mind to give him when he comes back.”

Rouge chuckled.

“He’ll be lucky if that’s the only thing he gets.”

Tails couldn’t help but feel a little tense as he sat idly by his computer. Sonic had long left with the hijacked Moto Bug in tow, speeding across land and sea to deliver it to its destination. Rouge had left a few minutes ago, after informing them that she would be back once she found something “edible.”

...And he was left here, trying not to seem too nervous as the killer robot stood behind him, its harsh red glowing optical sensors boring holes into his back as it ceaselessly stared at him. It wasn’t the first time he caught the E-Series machine focused on him, but with it just being the two of them he really couldn’t find a reason to ignore it.

The fox took a deep breath, trying to relax himself as he kept his eyes locked onto the screen. He wondered if the robot found it weird that the young genius was just... staring at a blank desktop. That thought only served to double the weight of his anxiety, feeding into itself like a snowball slowly rolling down a hill.

He sighed. It was going to be a while before he heard back from Sonic. He may as well nip this in the bud.

Tails spun in his seat, visibly flinching back as soon as he realized just how close the robot was. Its eyes immediately zeroed in on the fox as he did his best to recover from the unintentional scare.

“Well, I-- ah...” The fox mumbled, eyes darting around as he tried to think of something to begin a conversation with.

He could... possibly try to discuss his inventions? It didn’t work well with Shadow, but... maybe with this robot, it would?

“Wh-While we’re waiting, would you like to check out some of the inventions I have laying around here? I don’t think I have any geared towards you specifically... but I’m sure if any ideas come to your mind, we could work on something.”

There was a tense silence in the air, Tails fidgeting around while Omega remained as still as stone. When the response finally came, it nearly made him jump out of his skin.

“THAT IS ACCEPTABLE.”

The answer took the young genius by genuine surprise. Even while he was under repairs, the only time they spoke was when the robot wanted to bicker about some incredibly minute deviation from his chassis specifications. Even when construction was completed and he was integrated into his new shell, he simply left without even a thought of gratification. And now, he was... what was he trying to do, exactly?

“Well, ah...” Tails trailed off, trying to think of something to discuss. “Let’s see what I have here...”

He noticed a small puck on a nearby workbench, its edges covered in coils of copper. He jumped out of his chair, scuttling across the garage to pick it up and present it to the robot.

“These here are the EMP charges I created a while back. I don’t know how much you were told, but they’re what disabled the Klagen holding Rouge hostage.”

Omega reached out, his clawed fingers pinching the device and pulling it out of the fox’s grasp. The fox seemed a bit off put from the amount of force by which the object was taken but didn’t protest. The E-Series machine brought the object up close, its inexpressive red eyes analyzing the gadget up close.

“SENSORS DETECT A CHAOS DRIVE INSIDE, HOWEVER THE DIMENSIONS OF THIS DEVICE ARE FAR TOO SMALL TO CONTAIN ONE.”

It held the device back out towards the fox, looking at him expectantly.

Tails’ eyes widened, taken aback by the observation. Was... was he asking for more information? The young genius was almost never asked any kind of follow-up question for his inventions, and... he certainly didn’t expect one to come from Omega of all people.

He quickly scooped the device out of the robot’s grasp, grabbing the button in the middle by its sides and twisting it. With a pull, he extracted a small capsule from the EMP charge, a glass vial with a small purple crystal inside. It pulsed gently, its tint lightly shading the fox’s white gloves.

“Be gentle.” Tails warned, holding it out for Omega to see. “The vial is designed to break-- without the rest of the device it won’t make an EMP blast, but it’ll still explode.”

The robot grabbed it by its plastic button-cap, holding it in front of its sensors once again.

“ENERGY DENSITY COMPARED TO STANDARD DRIVES IS ROUGHLY TRIPLED.” He noted, handing it back to the fox.

“U-uh, thanks?” Tails stammered; not really sure how else he was supposed to take the comment. “I mean... it’s still not as much energy, even with the improved density it’s only about forty percent the total capacity and it’s a lot less stable, which makes it a lot better for tactical offensive capabilities instead of a regular power source--"

The fox cut himself off, realizing how much he was babbling technical jargon at the robot. It was a reflex that he had built for himself, since usually this would be at the point that Sonic’s eyes would get glazed over or he’d make a glib comment about not understanding anything past the first four words of his explanation.

Yet Omega simply stood there, quietly staring at the teenage genius.

“A-Actually, why don’t I show you how they’re made?” He skittered to the other side of the garage, ducking under the tail of the Tornado and towards a large metal box built into the corner of the workshop. It was well over twice his size, its enclosure made entirely of aluminum sheets, broken only by the lines of welds and rivets and two niches-- one clearly meant to house a chaos emerald, and the other meant to house the empty vials that sat in a crate next to it.

“It’s not that complicated, really...” He began, pausing as he waited for the robot to finish walking over to him. “I followed the same general procedure as Gerald Robotnik, but I made a few changes... Basically, he viewed chaos energy more as a... I guess ‘liquid’ would be the right term? I made a few changes, similar to when I created a fake emerald to trick Eggman during the ARK crisis. I guess the best way to put it is that I made it act more like light energy... and once I did that, it became easy to compress the energy into a smaller chamber. Unfortunately, you can’t really extract the power at a controlled rate-- it’s too unstable so it just... bursts out all at once. All the EMP charge does is modulate the energy into a magnetic field as the energy releases.”

Tails paused, eyes snapping back to the robot, an unusual sense of excitement building in his chest as he waited to hear its response.

“LOGS INDICATE THAT EGGMAN HAS BEEN ATTEMPTING A SIMILAR PROGRESSION IN THE UTILIZATION OF CHAOS ENERGY FOR YEARS. THE IDEA OF MODIFYING THE EMERALD’S ENERGY NEVER OCCURRED TO HIM. HE WOULD BE ASHAMED IF HE KNEW YOU SUCCEEDED WHERE HE COULD NOT.”

The fox’s eyes twinkled, a smile growing on his face as he gestured to another part of the workshop.

“If you think this is cool, then wait until I show you some of the other stuff I’ve been working on!”

The last thing Rouge expected as she made it back to Sonic’s home was to see Tails sitting on the floor next to Omega, surrounded by a number of electronic gadgets and plans as the fox excitedly babbled away. She felt as if the world had gone awry when she heard the robot actually reply to him, engaging with the fox in a way he never did to anyone aside from the other members of Team Dark.

She held back for a moment, observing them for a little while before stepping into the garage.

“Well, isn’t this a sight to behold!” She smirked, watching as the fox squirmed to his feet, his face tinged with embarrassment as he quickly snatched up everyone on the floor around them.

“O-Oh, hey Rouge! We were just--”

She held her hand up, cutting him off as she chuckled. “No need to explain, I get it. Boys and their toys, after all. I take it Sonic is still out on delivery?”

“Uh, I guess so.” He half-mindedly replied, hurriedly shoving away all the cluttering items into a cabinet and out of sight. “He hasn’t gotten back to me yet.”

As if on cue, he heard the familiar buzzing of his phone next to his computer. With a spin of his tails, he hovered over to the desk, snapping it up. Sure enough, Sonic was the one calling. He answered the call, putting it on speaker as he placed the device back on his desk.

“Hey little bro!” The cheery voice crackled through the speaker just as the young fox sat down. “I’m here at the base. Super wrecked-- place looks like a Badnik landfill!”

“Any sign of GUN?” Tails asked, scooting his chair forward a little so he could make room for the bat and robot to stand behind him.

“Place is as dead as a graveyard.” The hedgehog confirmed. “We should be good to go.”

“Alright.” He let out a sigh of relief. “Go ahead and take the Moto Bug and the antenna out of the box. As long as the antenna is high up or in an open area, we should be good to go. There should be a green button on the bottom, just press it and the Moto Bug will connect.”

“Yeah yeah, I gotcha.” There was the sound of rustling cardboard and metallic clanking. Tails could practically hear his brother grumbling under his breath, fiddling with the devices until there was an audible “Ah-ha!

Just like that, a video feed appeared on Tails’ monitor. As soon as the camera was online, the screen was filled with the face of a smiling hedgehog, who had apparently decided to lay flat in front of the Badnik’s eyes and flash a pair of peace signs.

The fox smirked, and with a single tap on his keyboard he sent the Moto Bug revving in reverse, kicking up a small splash of sand aimed directly at the hedgehog’s face. Within seconds, the Blue Blur was rolling on the ground, sputtering and hacking as he tried to spit the dirt out of his mouth.

He heard a snort behind him. Looking back, he saw Rouge with her mouth open, desperately trying not to audibly laugh as she braced herself against the computer chair.

“I hope you found that funny!” Sonic wheezed, sitting back up and sporting a devilish grin. “Because I’ve got a continent’s worth of travel time to think about how I’m gonna get you back for that.”

“I’m sure you will, Sonic.” Tails chuckled, moving the Moto Bug back and forth to test its latency. “Stay in the area for now, just in case we need you to do something.”

“Roger!” The hedgehog chirped. “It’s a little chilly at this time of night so don’t keep me waiting too long.”

With that, Tails drove the Badnik forward, weaving in between the piles of destroyed robots that were already starting to erode from the months of exposure to the sandy winds. It wasn’t long before he made it to the open doors of the base, the lack of moonlight shoving the entire interior into darkness.

He clicked the Moto Bug’s night vision on, shades of grey and green cascading forward to reveal an ominous, empty hallway. Many of the doors were wide open, their insides being little more than entrances to branching caves that seemingly stretched far beyond what was conventionally possible.

“You know...” Tails trailed off, looking back at the two members of Team Dark. “When Sonic and I were looking for you, we learned that Eggman had built a network of caves to funnel all of his previously abandoned Badniks over here. Even though we already know that, it... still seems unreal when you see it up close.”

“THOSE CAVES SHOULD BE DEMOLISHED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.” Omega replied without hesitation.

“Agreed. Even if he is in jail, that kind of access network is not good.” Tails nodded. “But we’ll need to handle that later.”

The fox pushed the Moto Bug forward, deeper into the complex. Eventually, the caves subsided, their presence replaced with the familiar workshops and research stations that the Mad Doctor was known for.

It wasn’t long before he found one with a data terminal. He swerved inside, parking the Badnik next to the computer. He reached over his keyboard, pulling out a serial cable and holding it out for Omega to take.

“Go ahead and transfer those decryption keys over to the computer. I can handle the rest.”

“ACKNOWLEDGED.” The E-Series machine replied, grabbing the cable and placing it into the pins in the back of his head. Within seconds, a notification popped up on Tails’ monitor, notifying him that a number of files had been written onto his Desktop.

With a couple of keystrokes, the keys had been implemented, prompting the Moto Bug to extend a tendril into the transmitter receptacle on the computer. It immediately sprang to life, allowing Tails to see a somewhat familiar set of windows pop up on his own computer. There were a lot more files here than last time.

“This is... really high-level access.” The fox admitted, glancing back at Omega. “You know why he gave you so little restrictions on the EggNet?”

“LIKELY SO I’D BE ABLE TO MONITOR THE BASES AND PERCEIVE THEM AS GUN FACILITIES.”

Tails winced at the cold explanation. That... probably wasn’t the best topic to discuss.

“Right.” He shook his head vigorously, focusing his attention back on the computer. “Let’s see what we have here...”

Within moments, he had a number of lists pulled up-- some kind of status system linked with coordinates across the globe.

“Sonic, I think I’ve found it. Some kind of live reporting software for all of Eggman’s bases. A lot of them are listed as offline-- a lot of them.”

“Does it say when?” Rouge asked, leaning further in. Tails leaned over, giving her a better view. This was the kind of work she was doing with GUN, she might see something he couldn’t.

“There, that data column there.” She pointed at one column of data. “Those look like UNIX timestamps. Sort them by most recent. Filter only the ones listed as offline, too.”

The fox nodded, and with a few keystrokes the data was reorganized as requested.

“Blue, I think we were right on the money. Almost all the bases that are not up and running were taken down within the past seven months.”

“...Right after Shadow left.” The hedgehog quietly noted.

“Looks like the last one was in Holoska...” Tails muttered. “Wait, I can click on the base ID here...”

As soon as he pressed the button, he was greeted with a new window popping up. A number of photos were displayed, most of them shots of the exterior and interior of the base. He scrolled down, looking through the information available.

“Looks like this was another manufacturing plant for his bots--”

Tails froze, a chill going down his spine as the face of Metal Sonic appeared. He felt his hands tremble ever so slightly.

“Blue, looks like your metal doppelganger was being housed at the last place that was destroyed.” Rouge filled in, squeezing the fox’s shoulder to pull him out of his shock.

“...He rebuilt Metal Sonic?!” The hedgehog exclaimed over the speaker. “Please tell me he’s gone with the base.”

Tails scrolled further down the information file. With a sigh, he shook his head.

“Current status says ‘Offline.’ Whether he’s been destroyed or not, I can’t tell for sure.”

“Guess I’ll have to ask Shadow when we find him--”

“Tails, the report!” Rouge cut off Sonic, the exclamation making the fox jump in his chair. She immediately caught herself, looking back down at the phone. “Sorry Blue, I just saw the report update-- I think one of the bases is under attack right now!”

Tails immediately clicked back to the base status page-- and true to her word, a new entry had popped up at the very top.

“There’s another base that just went offline. It’s possible it’s Shadow, but it could also be GUN...”

“That’s a chance I’m willing to take, Tails. Where is it at?”

The fox clicked on the information page for the base, scanning through the location info at the top.

“Sonic, it’s in Shamar! I’m sending the coordinates over-- if you hurry you can get there in a few minutes!”

“What about the Moto Bug?” The hedgehog asked.

“We have almost full access to the EggNet in an empty base. Let’s leave it there for now.” Tails reaffirmed. “Now hurry up and get over there!”

“Say no more!”

With that, the call ended with an abrupt click.

Tails sank back in his chair, sighing deeply as he closed his eyes.

Honestly, he still felt like this line of investigation was going out on a limb. With Eggman gone, everyone was looking to take down what remained of Eggman’s infrastructure. It could be Shadow, but it could also be the military-- or even just a band of locals looking to finally do the Badniks in.

But even so, he still had hope.

Even if it was just so his brother would stop moping around.

Notes:

Hey everyone! Hope you've been enjoying things so far. I have to say it's been fun seeing all the comments roll in-- I feel like the reaction to last chapter was a little bigger than before, which I'm happy to see that everyone likes it so much! Please let me know what you think in the comments below, I feel like I've been writing at a super fast pace for all this story and I'm pretty sure reading all of your comments have been helping me a lot with that!

Chapter 10

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow vehemently detested running through Shamar. His air shoes made it impossible to move quickly throughout the area without surrounding himself in a cloud of sand, stinging his eyes and filling his lungs with grit as he moved. It took him a substantial amount of effort to not tumble into a coughing, watery-eyed mess.

The villagers he had spoken with had directed him to a base not too far off. It had a handful of robots surrounding it that would occasionally terrorize the locals, but nothing substantially massive. Then again, given what Eggman did to capture his friends... there likely weren’t many robots around to do much of anything.

Whatever. He shook his head, throwing the thoughts he had been mulling out of his head. A base is a base, and bases need to be destroyed. Then... once his job was done, he could--

He could do what, exactly?

To be honest, he hadn’t quite thought that part through. He’d slept where he could, keeping himself out of sight and mind as he did his job. But once everything was said and done, little came to his mind as he wondered about what would await him as he waited for the next time he was needed. He mused about making the ARK his home once more, but... he would be too easy to find. Staying in any of the places he had visited would invite similar risks.

He stopped abruptly as his lungs gave out, hacking out as much air as he could to alleviate the abrasive sand that kept finding its way inside. After a few minutes of the violent coughing fit, we wiped his mouth and set back on his path.

Thinking about such things was a waste of time. He had chosen this path for a reason. He’d have plenty of time to find things to do once all of Eggman’s facilities were demolished.

Despite the constant irritations, he eventually made it the base he was looking for. It was a small, stout building, round in shape and constructed at the bottom of a massive ravine that circled the area. With little more than a second thought, the black and red hedgehog threw himself over the edge of the cliff, wind whistling past his ears as the rock face sped past him. Just as he neared the ground, he curled up into a ball, grinding his quills against the cliffside as he rolled faster and faster, the force he was exerting building rapidly. He felt his insides lurch as the vertical cliff quickly curved into the ground, redirecting all that momentum forward. He shot outward like a bullet, crashing into the doors. The sheer force of the impact tore through them as if they were paper, effortlessly busting through and showering the area in sparks and scraps of shrapnel.

The Badniks inside were obviously not prepared for a strike of that magnitude, scrambling to attention as they desperately attempted to organize a counteroffensive.

Shadow didn’t give them the time of day. The trembling Egg Fighter that led the charge was instantly dispatched with a homing attack, and a wave of chaos spears impaled most of the supporting forces. The rest scrambled away, frantically finding some place to hide as they realized just how outmatched they really were.

The black and red hedgehog had considered hunting them all down, but it seemed like a waste of time when they would be taken out once the base had been dealt with as well. He pulled out his chaos emerald, his red aura glowing as energy welled up inside him. Within seconds, the energy pulsed out of him like a wave, the ensuing explosion tearing through the walls and ceiling with little effort. Shadow watched as the hiding Badniks were caught in the blast, thrown aside as their metal shells collapsed inwards like balls of aluminum foil.

He paused as the attack subsided, eyes scanning the immediate environment as he looked for any signs of surviving robots. The walls groaned around him, their integrity significantly reduced as the ceiling threatened to cave in. Wires dangled from the ceiling, electricity sparking out as they whipped around from the energy inside them. Yet, he was unable to detect any shifting metal or whirring servos.

He let out a sigh, shoulders relaxing as he began to observe his surroundings in earnest, seeing what this base had been used for.

The building was relatively small, consisting only of a few workshops and necessary facilities to support Eggman should he need an extended stay here. A quick perusal of one such workshop indicated that this place was primarily built for the purpose of researching and testing out experimental weapons.

The location was certainly suitable for that, out of sight and at the bottom of a massive pit in the ground.

Looking through some of the other rooms revealed a couple of ammo caches. It was miraculous that he hadn’t triggered a secondary explosion with them when he made the initial blast... no matter, they would definitely be ignited when he did it again, and it would certainly make his job a lot easier since it would save him a blast or two’s worth of energy.

Seeing no better opportunity, he pulled out the emerald again, unleashing another explosion right on the spot. He watched as the ammo crates flew into the air, the rounds inside them glowing with heat as the gunpowder within them ignited, sending the projectiles flying everywhere. They shredded through the walls, dotting the entire facility with holes.

The entire facility screeched horribly as the blast subsided. The ground shook as a second ammo cache had ignited in the room next to him, causing another chain reaction as subsequent explosions rocked the surrounding area. Shadow quickly teleported out, reappearing at the top of the cliffs as he saw the base consumed in a ball of fire, lighting the area so brightly that it made the sky look like daytime. Waves of an acrid smelling heat washed over him, wincing the flames dissipated in the air, their fuel completely consumed.

“Now that’s quite the show!”

Shadow could feel his heart freeze in place as the voice coming from behind him pierced his ears. He instantly knew who it was, having heard it for so long.

He breathed in deeply, holding his breath as he turned to face the one speaking to him.

Sonic. The blue hedgehog stood firmly on the sand, fists tightly clenched as he looked back at his rival.

His tone may have sounded cheery, however his expression was anything but. His face was completely inexpressive, his mouth an almost perfectly straight line as his eyes slowly traced over the Ultimate Lifeform’s figure.

Shadow could only blink, mentally wracking himself as he did his best to maintain his composure. The guilt he had tried so hard to swallow was creeping back up his throat, stinging him from the inside out.

He took one more deep breath in, exhaling as he calmed his nerves and tried to return to that familiar state of emotional numbness. He knew this day would come eventually. He practiced just for something like this. It was far too late to have regrets now... all he needed to do was make that clear to the one in front of him.

Meeting his rival’s stare with his own, he opened his mouth to speak.

“What do you want, hedgehog?”

Sonic felt his eye twitch as the words were coldly spat at his feet. He wasn’t sure what exactly to expect when he actually did find Shadow again, but this...

He could feel the frustration rising to a crescendo in the back of his mind.

“What do I want?” The blue hedgehog retorted, returning the hostile stare he had received from his black and red counterpart. “Do I need a reason to reach out to a friend of mine?”

The Ultimate Lifeform’s eyes narrowed, his expression as impassive as ever.

“We’re not friends.” He bluntly replied, unwavering.

Sonic may as well have been punched in the gut. He gritted his teeth, fists clenched as he took a step forward.

“Then what about your actual friends, then?” He angrily replied, throwing out his hand to emphasize his remarks. “Rouge and Omega-- do you know how hurt they are by your little disappearing act? How could you do that to them?”

Shadow looked away, shaking his head as he waved his hand in dismissal.

“They were never my friends. It was only a business relationship, nothing more.”

“Cut the crap, Shadow!” His rival immediately retorted, his anger pouring out of his mouth like boiling water. “I don’t know what has gotten into you, but if you think for a second that I’m going to let you get away with insulting the people who have stuck with you the most, then you’ve got another thing coming!”

“It’s not my problem if they mistook how things were for something else.”

Sonic’s jaw dropped at the stunningly cold response.

“How can you even say that?!” His voice rose, his tone becoming increasingly exasperated. “After everything they’ve been through with you?! We’ve been searching for you this whole time because we’re worried about you! They’ve thrown their livelihoods away for you!

The black and red hedgehog paused for a moment, still looking away from his blue counterpart.

“...What?”

“GUN issued a warrant for your arrest. Apparently, the new president is looking to prosecute you over what happened in Westopolis. Rouge and Omega were ordered to bring you in.” Sonic explained, taking another step towards the hedgehog. “And you know what those ‘business partners’ did? They quit GUN and told us so we could all find you!”

Shadow took a deep breath in, his fingers twitching as he exhaled.

“...No one asked them to do that. It’s not their problem to deal with.”

“Alright, I’ve heard enough. Even for you, this is a new low. You’re hiding something.” The blue hedgehog accused, his limbs shaking in anger as he pointed at his rival. “So, what is it?”

“Nothing that is your concern, hedgehog.” The black and red hedgehog glanced back at Sonic, only to immediately look away again. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“My name is Sonic!” He shouted, his voice grating from the effort. “And the only reason I wouldn’t understand is because you refuse to tell me what’s going on!”

“This is a waste of time.” Shadow sighed, pulling out his chaos emerald.

“Oh no you don’t!” Sonic ran up, grabbing his rival by the wrist. “You are not running away from this.”

He watched as the black and red hedgehog bared his teeth, a genuine anger forming in his red eyes as he hissed out.

Don’t. Touch. Me.

Before Sonic could react, Shadow clenched his free hand and laid a punch square on the blue hedgehog’s chin, the impact sending him sprawling on the ground.

The black and red hybrid refocused back on the emerald in his grasp, letting the energy stream into his body as he prepared to leave.

“Chaos Contr--”

The words were forced back down his throat as Sonic curled up, spinning rapidly as he launched himself off of the ground and directly into Shadow’s chest. The Ultimate Lifeform felt the air get beaten out of his lungs, the smooth edges of the powerful gem slipping away from his fingertips as it dropped unceremoniously to the ground.

Sonic was quick to scoop it up, hastily shoving it into his own quills before bringing his fists up in a fighting stance.

“I told you; you aren’t getting away that easily. And we both know I can chase you to every corner of the planet if I have to.” He threatened, glare intensifying as his head lowered. “If you want your easy way out, you better come and take it.”

It took all of Shadow’s willpower to keep his facial expressions stoic. His heart was beating wildly like a drum, threatening to burst through his ribcage and out of his chest.

Damn that hedgehog. It wasn’t supposed to have gone this way.

He made it clear that he wanted to be left alone. So why was this idiot so insistent on chasing after him?

He felt the familiar sting of guilt welling in his stomach, burning him from the inside like a glowing hot iron. Sonic’s presence only fed into it, his constant questioning and anger only making things more frustrating than it had to be.

He didn’t want to fight him. But if he was going to be this stubborn, then he was left with no choice.

He couldn’t live like this. Not the way Sonic wanted him to. And it was clear he was incapable of understanding that.

He took another deep breath in, steeling his wavering fortitude as he swept his foot back and brought his own fists up to match the blue hedgehog’s stance.

He could see his rival was genuinely shocked and upset by the response, but that no longer mattered. He knew Sonic would absolutely follow through on his threat to give chase-- the only chance he had of a clean escape was to get the emerald back.

The two stayed in place for what seemed like an eternity, the both of them hardening their gazes as they refused to make the first move. It was clear that neither of them wanted to fight the other. To Shadow, it was clear that the only reason they had to was due to Sonic’s infinite capacity for stubbornness. He was pretty certain that Sonic felt the exact same way about him.

Then in an instant, the two of them simultaneously jumped at each other, fists pulled back and ready to strike. As they approached each other, they both clocked each other in the jaw, flying in opposite directions as they scrambled back to their feet.

“So what is it, Shadow?” Sonic reiterated, dragging his thumb across the bruise that the black and red hedgehog left on his muzzle. “You’re immortal, so I doubt this is one of those ‘I’m dying and hiding it’ things.”

The hybrid snarled, revving up his air shoes as he launched himself back at his rival. The blue hedgehog dived to the side at the last second, watching as the Ultimate Lifeform slid across the sandy ground. Using his momentum as a springboard he crouched low, jumping forward to tackle Sonic-- again just barely dodged.

Shadow jumped in the air, curling into a ball and launching forward towards his rival in a homing attack. The blue blur mimicked the move, the two of them colliding into the air and rebounding upwards as they continued attacking each other. The Ultimate Lifeform homed towards the other hedgehog again, only for Sonic to unfurl himself. He spun around in the air, stretching out his foot and crashing his heel into Shadow, sending him crashing down into the ground.

“I thought maybe this might be you going all ‘lone wolf’ to protect your friends, but this is far from the first time they’ve been hurt in the line of duty.” Sonic loudly mused, keeping a close eye on his black and red rival as he uncurled himself and stood back up.

“Shut it.” Shadow barked, grimacing as he spat a wad of sand out of his mouth.

Sonic shrugged as he jumped back, watching a cloud of sand plume upwards as his rival punched the area he had once stood in. He shrugged, a smirk growing on his face despite the anger he felt.

“You of all people should know I like the sound of my own voice.” He shrugged. “I think I’m going to keep guessing until I find what’s actually bothering you.”

The black and red hedgehog crouched low, bracing the ground as he set his air shoes to maximum. He spun his legs around, the jet of air blasting the ground and sending a stream of sand straight into Sonic’s face. The blue hedgehog recoiled, eyes stinging from the impact as he sputtered to get the gritty texture out of his mouth. While he was distracted, Shadow rushed forward, spinning around to land a roundhouse kick directly onto his chest. He felt his limbs limply trailing his body as he flew back, crashing into the ground and sliding backwards from the force of the blow.

Sonic was barely able to open his eyes as he saw his rival in the air above him, rapidly descending with both fists clasped together behind his head. He barely had enough time to roll out of the way before the blow struck the ground, leaving a small crater in its wake.

“Wow, you’re really serious about this, huh?” The blue hedgehog huffed. “Is it because someone is blackmailing you? Or perhaps you found out something else from your past that you think would make everyone hate you?”

“Just give me the damn chaos emerald!” Shadow angrily rebuffed, unwilling to play along.

Sonic was already on the move by the time the black and red hedgehog was back on his feet. He rapidly circled his opponent, his figure blurring into a line of blue light that slowly closed in on the Ultimate Lifeform. The sand at his feet began to rise from the wind pressure, quickly forming into a dusty tornado that completely surrounded Shadow, cutting off his vision.

“So I’m not even close to the real answer?” Sonic chided, his voice carried along the wind. “You know, this would be over a lot quicker if you just tried explaining it yourself!”

Shadow didn’t even have time to reply as the other hedgehog broke from his circling, diving behind him and firmly kicking the black and red hybrid in the back of the head. He was sent flying out of the mini tornado, his face planting directly into a sand dune. When he finally managed to wrench himself out of the ground, he spun around to see Sonic standing a good distance away, arms folded over his chest.

“Answer me honestly, Shadow.” The blue hedgehog asked, his tone devoid of any taunts or jabs. “Is this... are you still upset by what happened at Westopolis?”

The Ultimate Lifeform’s eyes widened, any anxiety and confusion in his body immediately replaced by a rapidly blossoming sense of rage that exuded from every fiber of his being.

“...Upset?” He repeated, his body shaking as he felt what little grip he had over his self-control slipping. “You still pretend that you are able to understand why I chose to leave... and you ask me if what I did in Westopolis makes me upset? You come to me, knowing fully well how many lives I had a hand in ruining that day, and you ask me if I am upset by what I did?”

“How am I supposed to know if you don’t tell me?!”

“IT’S NOT YOUR PLACE TO KNOW IN THE FIRST PLACE!” Shadow roared.

“It is when a friend of mine is hurting!” Sonic yelled back, his own frustration matching his rival’s fury. “Even when they’re being a total jackass about it!”

“I’ve had enough of this.” The black and red hedgehog spat out, quickly tearing off his inhibitor rings. Almost instantly, a red aura began billowing forth, causing ripples in the sand around him.

Sonic didn’t even have time to react as Shadow rushed forward, grabbing the blue hedgehog by the face and slamming him into the ground. Refusing to let go, he put his air shoes on full blast, rushing forward and dragging his flailing rival across the sands as they traveled back towards the base. His grip held strong, even as Sonic hands clumsily grasped at his arm, desperately trying to pull free as the rest of his body was scraped along the sand.

As Shadow approached the edge of the cliff, he threw the blue hedgehog upward, jumping up to meet him in the air and land a dropkick directly into his stomach. He heard Sonic choke on his own breath as he was sent flying down, past the cliff edge and onto the ravine floor far below. The impact caused the ground beneath the blue hedgehog to dent inwards, cracks forming up the rock face from the sheer force of the blow. The entire area was covered in sand, blocking all visibility from above. The Ultimate Lifeform paused for only a moment before jumping downwards into the pit.

Shadow felt his knees nearly give out from under him as his feet hit the ravine floor. His chaos energy reserves were thoroughly drained at this point. But that shouldn’t matter; there was no way Sonic would have been able to withstand such an attack. The battle was already decided, all he needed to do was grab the emerald and--

His thoughts ground to a halt as the dust cleared. Sonic was standing, though just barely. His frame wavered like a leaf in the wind, a devilish grin on his face as he brought his shaking fists up into a fighting stance once more.

“I told you.” He wheezed, lungs struggling to pull in air. “If you want your easy way out, you’re going to have to fight for it.”

“You’re going to die at this rate.” Shadow bluntly stated, hesitation building as his eyes looked over the battered state of his rival’s body.

“...Then do it.”

The Ultimate Lifeform felt a wave of shock rip through his body as the raspy words reached his ears.

“...What?!”

“If it’s that important, then do it, Shadow!” He reiterated, stumbling forward as he brought himself out of the crater. “If it’s important enough that you are willing to throw everything away, then what difference does it make? I’m holding you back, right?”

“Th-that’s not--”

“Not up for debate!” Sonic interrupted him, rushing forward with his arm reared back. “I’m not going to stop until you give up or you kill me! Make your choice!”

Shadow jumped back to avoid Sonic’s blow, his mouth open but unwilling to form any coherent words. His brain was firing all cylinders, a million incomplete thoughts swirling around his head in a cacophonous storm of anxiety and fear.

He was too lost in his own thoughts as Sonic’s clenched fist collided with his temple, knocking him onto the ground. His head pounded in agony, making it hard to focus as he pushed himself back up to a standing position. The blue hedgehog could still clearly pack a mean punch even in this state, and he clearly wasn’t willing to stop now.

“Sonic, I don’t--”

“Then give up!” Sonic cut him off as he closed the distance, throwing another punch at his rival.

Shadow just barely had enough time to get out of the way.

“I can’t--”

“Then kill me!”

The battered hedgehog’s speed only increased, his resilience and language leaving his rival even more visibly scared.

“I don’t want to do either!”

“I don’t care!”

“Stop this, Sonic!”

“No!”

Shadow’s ears flattened against his skull as Sonic let out a frustrated scream, jumping forward in a tackle aimed right at him. The black and red hedgehog felt his body move on instinct, stepping out of the way and grabbing his blue counterpart’s body. He twisted his waist, redirecting the tackle’s momentum to the side, sending the other hedgehog crashing directly into the cliff face.

Sonic’s body flopped on impact, bouncing off the vertical wall and collapsing into a crumpled heap onto the rocky floor of the ravine.

The Ultimate Lifeform felt his blood run cold as he realized what he had just done. His eyes widened as he rushed over to his rival, barely able to move without stumbling over himself.

No no no no no no no no…” The words spilled out of Shadow’s mouth, his body going numb as he fell to his knees next to the blue hedgehog.

Sonic wasn’t moving.

He couldn’t keep his vision focused, his eyes jittering back and forth.

Sonic wasn’t moving.

His breathing was erratic, his diaphragm spasming wildly and preventing the air from even reaching his lungs before it was expelled.

Sonic wasn’t moving.

He brought his trembling hand up to the blue hedgehog’s shoulder, pulling it to roll him onto his back. His arms limply fell to his sides, laying flat against the ground.

Sonic wasn’t moving.

Notes:

Unstoppable stubbornness meets immovable mindsets, eh? Sorry for the day-long delay, work does that sometimes unfortunately.

I was half tempted to jokingly announce a hiatus after that cliffhanger but that would be too mean.

Hope you enjoyed! I look forward to reading your comments.

Chapter 11

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Sonic felt his facial muscles twitching as he slowly regained consciousness. His head throbbed painfully, feeling like it pulsed as his heart weakly pumped blood through the arteries that scaled his temples. It was hard to draw in air, pressure on his chest pushing down as if a weight had been placed upon his prone body. The rest of his body oscillated between numbness and sharp pain, as if a thousand needles were jabbing into his limbs, only to pull out a moment later before being jammed back in.

His eyelids refused to move, his body almost completely drained of energy and unwilling to listen to his demands.

He definitely wasn’t dead, but... he didn’t exactly feel alive either.

Through the trauma-induced haze within his mind, he felt a familiar presence; a warm, rich aura that emanated from his quills.

The chaos emerald. He still had it, after all.

Using what little focus he had left, he zeroed in on that presence, using the contact with his body to open a connection with the emerald and allow some of its energy to enter him.

A wave of pain washed over his body, his synapses firing to life as they all rushed to inform him of the substantial injuries he received while fighting Shadow.

He felt a sense of apprehension rise through the pain, concern rising that his rival had taken off again after such a spectacular finish to their duel. To be honest, he couldn’t particularly blame him if he did. Sonic had touched a lot of raw nerves during that battle, and while he could try to rationalize it as some kind of desperate attempt to get through to the Ultimate Lifeform, he knew that it would only be a convenient lie that he made for himself.

The truth was, he was angry. That black and red idiot had not only left when he was needed, but then had the audacity to just... say he never actually cared for anyone. What reason left in his brain that frantically tried to tell him something was seriously wrong was drowned out by the hurt and frustration of being told all their time together had been little more than a farce. It felt like he was betrayed.

With the energy from the emerald supplanting his own, he cracked open his eyes, momentarily closing them as they struggled to adjust to the soft light coming from the very early dawn. With a few more tries, he was fully able to open them, the soft blue and orange sky filling his vision as he tried to get his bearings.

He tilted his head slightly back, slightly blurred vision focusing as he saw the upside-down pile of wrenched metal and smoldering ashes that had once been Eggman’s base. Further beyond that was the wall of the ravine, the one he had been kicked into by his rival.

His ears twitched as a just barely audible gasp swept past them. He tilted his head down again, straining his eyes and neck as he looked towards its source.

Shadow was there, hunched over the blue hedgehog’s body as he trembled uncontrollably. The hybrid’s clenched fists were laid on the prone hero’s chest, revealed as the cause of the weight that kept him from being able to fully bring air into his lungs.

Sonic felt a wave of pain rush through his body as he slowly brought his hand up off the ground, limply laying it on the black and red hedgehog’s wrist.

The touch instantly caused Shadow to snap out of his daze, falling backwards onto his behind. He quickly scrambled backwards, propelling himself with his hands and the heels of his feet as he dragged himself along the ground until his back pressed against the cliff wall. He slammed his eyes shut, clutching patches of the quills of his head-- unable to hide just how absolutely terrified he was.

“...Don’t go.” The scratchy words trickled from Sonic’s lips like a whisper. Shadow’s only reaction was to clutch his head harder, gritting his teeth as he curled further into himself.

It was hard for Sonic to pin down his own emotions as well. There was some relief that the black and red hedgehog was still here, the thought of taking the emerald for himself apparently never crossing his mind. But the anger from their previous fight hadn’t left yet either. But seeing Shadow so absolutely panic-stricken... Sonic couldn’t help but feel guilty for pushing him so harshly like that, even if it did keep his friend from running away again.

With a deep breath and a grunt, the blue hedgehog pulled more energy from the chaos emerald. He could feel sensation return to his extremities, fueling his body as the excess energy slowly began to mend the bruises and scratches he had gotten. It wasn’t enough to fully heal himself, that would take time... but it was enough to allow him to move about again.

He could feel his muscles scream as he slowly pushed himself to a sitting position, now able to look at Shadow directly.

“...I take it you’re done running?” Sonic asked, his tone leaking both physical and emotional exhaustion. With a shake of his head, he forced a small smile on his face. “Told you, can’t get rid of me that easily.”

The other hedgehog did not respond. With a heave, the blue blur shakily brought himself to his feet, limping over to his still-trembling friend. He tried to kneel at his side, but the sorry state of his body treated it more as if he had awkwardly fallen into a sitting position.

“I’m still alive, Shads.” The hero reassured him. “Just... tell me what’s wrong.”

Shadow pulled in a shaky breath, fingertips digging into his skull as he rocked himself back and forth.

“...You’re so cruel.” He eked out, eyes still shut tightly as his head tilted away from the person sitting next to him.

“...What?”

“You’re telling me I have to choose between an eternity of suffering or killing you.” His voice cracked, gasping for air as his body ceaselessly shook like a leaf in the wind. “I... can’t just... I--”

He cut himself off, his breathing more erratic as he clawed at his head. His feet skidded uselessly against the rocky ground, trying to push himself further back despite the unyielding cliff face behind him keeping him in place.

Sonic felt his body run cold at the accusation.

“Wh-What? Shadow, I don’t...”

“I’m going to watch everyone I know die!” The scream ripped from Shadow’s throat, his eyes shooting wide open as they jittered about.

It was like a dam had broken, the words pouring out of his mouth faster than he could breathe. Every syllable forced itself through his lips, each one coming out more pained than the last.

“Even if there was no one left to fight, they’re all going to... wither away in front of me-- and I can’t stop it! And you want me to just grin and bear it, knowing that I’ll always be alone in the end?! You’re horrible! I... I can’t...”

Shadow looked over at him, tears streaming down his face as he hiccupped. His fingers grasped at his quills, pulling so hard that it threatened to tear them out.

“It hurts, Sonic! How many times must I lose someone close to me?! How many centuries of this am I supposed to take?!”

Sonic froze, his hands slowly clenching against the ground as his rival looked back at him, a genuinely questioning look in his eyes as he looked towards the hero for some kind of answer to ease the feelings raging inside of him.

With the hybrid’s outburst, the reasoning behind the erratic behavior was painfully clear. This wasn’t some kind of bull-headed insistence on being a sole hero or some kind of self-inflicted act of repentance. It was far simpler-- Shadow was just... scared. He was terrified of the price forced upon him by the awesome weight of the power given to him by his creators.

The blue hedgehog’s mind briefly flashed back to the conversation that he had with Rouge when she first woke up in the hospital. She had mentioned that the Ultimate Lifeform was never actually given a chance to grow up. The family he had was ripped away from him, his own father manipulating and betraying him before leaving him frozen in time for almost fifty years. Even the years since his re-awakening were fraught with conflict and strife, and almost never to his benefit. He had almost always been alone, and now that he had managed to open up and connect with others... he was terrified to lose them and couldn’t cope with the knowledge that he would always end up alone again in the end, no matter how hard he tried.

And Sonic... didn’t know how anyone would be expected to contend with that.

“Shadow, I...” He trailed off, breaking away from the black and red hedgehog’s expectant stare as he lowered his eyes. “I don’t know what to say.”

The pained whimper from Shadow’s throat felt like a knife sinking into the hero’s gut.

“...I’m sorry.” The hybrid whispered, pulling his legs up to his chest.

The blue hedgehog took a deep breath, ignoring the stinging in his lungs as he carefully chose his next words.

“It’s okay.” He closed his eyes, head slightly nodding. “I think I understand now. You wanted to push everyone away, right? If you cut everyone out of your life... then you wouldn’t have to worry about the pain of losing someone you were close to.”

Shadow buried his face in his knees and wrapped his arms around his legs, confirming what the other hedgehog had said about him without the need for words.

Sonic felt his eyes droop, the emerald’s supplemental energy wearing out as the fatigue from the fight quickly rebounded back onto him.

“It’s been a while since I’ve really thought about this, but...” Sonic trailed off, fighting to keep his body upright. “My powers are due to the fact that I’m a Chaos User. It’s nothing like your powers, but... well, being able to break the sound barrier at will does have its perks.”

He glanced back at Shadow, watching intently as he continued.

“I learned a while back that because of this, I’m going to live a lot longer than a normal mobian. And that...” His voice quieted, sighing as he looked to the side. “I realized that I’m going to watch my little bro grow up, become a fine adult... and watch him die of old age while I look the same as I do now. That thought still scares me. But that... it probably doesn’t even hold a candle to what you must feel like.”

The blue hedgehog felt his arms give out from under him, falling onto his side as his vision began to blur.

He watched as Shadow quickly snapped out of his despondent state. Through his muddled senses he could barely perceive the black and red hedgehog’s hands on his shoulders, shaking him vigorously.

He could see the vague shape of his friend’s mouth moving, calling his name in an increasingly panicked tone; his voice muffled by exhaustion.

“I just need to rest a little, don’t worry.” Sonic muttered, slowly placing one of his hands over Shadow’s. “Just... don’t leave, okay?”

Shadow pulled his crouched legs in closer, hugging them tightly as he pressed his forehead into his knees. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed since Sonic had passed out, not even bothering with an attempt to keep track.

He could feel the sun beating down on his back, the searing Shamar sun sending waves of blistering heat down into the ravine as it raged overhead. He would be fine-- he was designed to withstand temperatures like these, but...

He shifted out of his huddle, head slowly tilting to look at the unconscious hedgehog next to him, laying in full view of the sun.

It took all of his willpower to push himself upright, his feet slowly trudging along the rock and sand as he made his way to the destroyed base. He grabbed a few choice bits of sheet metal, dragging it along the ground as he made his way back. Using the cliff wall and the rocky ground as anchors, he began wedging the slats in between them, creating a crude makeshift covering for the resting hedgehog that reflected the sunlight and placed the two of them in a substantially cooler shade.

As soon as his work was done, he sat down next to Sonic again, pressing himself against the cliff face as he curled up again.

He felt as if his emotions had been completely drained from his body, leaving only a hollow shell behind. Everything was ruined, again. He spent so long trying to cut himself off from everything, only to be pulled right back into the fold. He couldn’t even pretend to be stoic-- every wall, every mask he had spent over half a year forcing himself to build had been torn to pieces by that blue hedgehog, leaving nothing for him to hide behind and exposing just how much of a mess he really was. And his emotional outburst let out something that he could never take back again.

He wondered what Omega and Rouge would think about him like this. A jolt of pain in his heart quickly reminded him that they would have come to his aid without a second thought-- it was him who abandoned them when they needed him the most. He had hurt them, all for nothing. And despite the fact that he was to blame, all he could do is wallow in his own self-pity.

He was pathetic. Truly and utterly pathetic.

His ears twitched as he heard the slight grinding of sand next to him, followed by a soft groan. He peeked out from his huddled form, his guilt only doubling down as he saw that Sonic had not regained consciousness. The scene replayed itself in his mind over and over again-- his fear and doubts taking over his mind as his instinctive combat training kicked in, doing the exact thing he wanted to avoid. Another thing he had ruined.

Shadow brought his hands up to his head, forcefully pulling down as he slammed his eyes shut.

He stayed in that position, letting time pass him by as the sun slowly moved across the sky. He wasn’t sure how long it was until he heard another stir from the blue hedgehog, sending another spike of anxiety through his body. His ears flattened as his rival grunted and rolled over, the sound of sand scraping rock echoing through the improvised shelter as Sonic slowly pushed himself up into a sitting position.

The hybrid could hear a sigh of relief come from the other hedgehog, a small chuckle coming out of him as he finally spoke.

“You... actually stayed.” Sonic quietly noted, a little more energy in his voice than before. “How are you feeling?”

Another wave of guilt crashed onto Shadow’s shoulders, the weight of it all threatening to crush his very being. After everything that the hero went through... he was asking if the one who nearly killed him was okay?

He couldn’t find it in him to respond.

His guilt only intensified as the scraping sound came closer, stopping as a weight thudded on the cliff wall next to him.

“Shadow, can I...” Sonic trailed off, a small sense of apprehension in his soft voice. “Can I show you something?”

Shadow didn’t move.

There was the sound of quills rustling, before something hard and cold was pressed into the back of his hand.

“Come on, just take a look at this for me, please.”

The black and red hedgehog’s head slowly rose, eyes peeking out from behind his knees to see what the other hedgehog had touched him with.

It was a bracelet, though unlike the familiar ones he’d seen like the Bounce Bracelet and Flame Ring, he didn’t feel any kind of energy from it.

It was a rather simple design, a solid metal curved tube that joined at the end, connected to a flawless jade orb. A number of blocky patterns were stamped onto its edges, interweaving lines that moved in and out at right angles.

Shadow slowly lowered his hand, allowing Sonic to place it on his palm. It radiated warmth, though if it was from an innate quality of the material or just from being kept on Sonic’s person wasn’t clear.

“Do you remember when the planet broke apart into pieces?” The blue hedgehog began, turning his torso to fully face his partner.

“...Yeah.” Shadow muttered, barely able to get the singular word out.

“Well, I’m sure you probably learned from GUN that I was the one who put it all back together. But... I didn’t do it alone.” He sighed, his own fists clenching as he struggled to find the right words. “At the time... there was someone I was working with. This bracelet was his... though with how small he was, it was basically a collar for him. He ended up losing his memories trying to help me. He was a little annoying sometimes, but... he had a heart of gold. Kind, caring... even with everything on his plate, he always thought first of helping me and others.”

You sound like you’re describing yourself. Shadow mused to himself.

Sonic paused, his body shifting back as he laid his back onto the cliff face next to the other hedgehog.

“...I lost him in the end.” He quietly admitted, his voice faltering for a moment. “He was never actually supposed to be here. In the end, he sacrificed himself so the world wouldn’t be split apart again... at least, not until it was ready. I never got to say goodbye, either. He managed to leave me some parting words, but... I wish he could still be here, you know?”

They sat there in silence, Shadow’s thumb tracing the patterns on the bracelet as Sonic continued to look forward.

“When I look back at that, I can’t deny that I wish he could still be around. But I also think of all the good times we had together... the adventure, even the small moments we had out in the middle of nowhere. And... it makes me happy that I did get to spend time with him, even if it was cut short.”

He paused for a moment, pulling his legs up to match the black and red hedgehog’s position. When he spoke again, his voice was soft, quieter than Shadow had ever heard him before.

“Shadow, I... I don’t know how it’s going to be when I... finally go. But I hope... I hope that with everything we’ve been through, you’ll be able to remember everything we did, and look back on that the same way I do with him.”

Shadow felt his grip tighten on the bracelet, letting out a shaky breath.

“Why... are you doing this?” He choked out, clenching his eyes shut.

Sonic was quiet, his fingers slowly dragging across the ground as he felt his fists clench.

“I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how to feel about you when I first met you in Central City. The more we clashed, the more I felt that you were just one of Eggman’s lackeys. I didn’t know how wrong I was when we finally learned the truth about what happened on the ARK. It hit me how much pain and hurt you must have gone through. I still don’t know what made you come around, but... I couldn’t have been happier when you came to our rescue. When we fought the Biolizard together, I was sure it was the best time of my life. You were... just so dazzling. All I could think about was how much I wanted to really spend time with you, get to know you... maybe even go on adventures again. And then...”

The blue hedgehog swallowed thickly, his own nose sniffling as he pushed himself to continue.

“When you... fell... I... didn’t know what to do. You were the first person I truly felt I would never see again, and... it took everything I had to stay strong for everyone else’s sake.” He clutched at his own shoulders, breathing deeply as he tried to retain his composure. “But I was barely holding it together. I felt like I had found something truly special, only for it to be gone a minute later. I just... put my head down after that. Eggman was always up to something, and as long as I kept running and saying what people wanted me to, everyone was fine. And I stayed like that until I met you again when we were going up against Neo Metal.”

Shadow’s own memories flashed back to that moment. His memories of the ARK incident were... fuzzy at best at the time, with little idea of who his rival was. All he had at the time was Rouge’s passing familiarity, and insistence that they would be trouble if they weren’t dealt with.

“It sucked having to play myself up like that.” Sonic sighed, his pose relaxing slightly. “I wish that our reunion went differently, but... I get it. By the time things calmed down, I saw you had your own crew... and since you didn’t know me, I knew I probably wasn’t really going to be a part of that like I wanted to. But I still felt happy that at least some part of you was still alive and kicking. It was enough for me at the time, so I promised myself... if we ever got to spend time together, I’d never take it for granted... and if something ever happened to you, I’d do everything I can to make sure that I don’t lose you again.”

The other hedgehog looked back at his blue counterpart, a dumbstruck look on his face as Sonic’s own determined stare looked forward. With a sigh, the hero looked back at him, his smile softening into one of reassurance and fortitude.

“You said I was cruel.” Sonic noted, causing Shadow to instinctively flinch with another wave of guilt.

The blue hedgehog pushed himself to his feet, slowly making it to the edge of the shelter. With a heave, he tore down the metal sheets, allowing the cool dusk air to blow in as the sky above them glowed a pleasant orange red. He looked back towards the other hedgehog who was still sitting and staring pensively at him.

“Maybe I am... just a little. Even if you think throwing everything away and cutting everyone off is the least painful option for you... I refuse to let you do that. Even if it is just me being selfish, I can’t accept a world that bleak. But I don’t think it means you need to be in pain. We can just... find another way, yeah?”

Sonic walked over to Shadow, holding out his hand as he flashed another smile. The black and red hedgehog slowly raised his own, feeling their fingertips touch as the hero clutched them tightly, using his own regained strength to pull him up next to him.

“...I’m sorry.” Shadow whispered, his voice cracking as he looked down.

He felt himself gasp in shock as Sonic pulled his hand again, this time into a tight hug. His body froze into shock, eyes wide as he felt his torso being squeezed.

“It’s okay, Shads.” Sonic calmly reassured him. “I get it. Just... don’t do it again, okay?”

“...Okay.”

The blue hedgehog pulled back from the embrace, leaving Shadow with an almost... disappointed feeling once it was over. He looked up at Sonic, who had already turned around, carefully stretching his limbs as he looked around.

“Well, I think we should hurry back, then.” Sonic noted, spinning around to grin at his friend. “I think we’ve probably kept Rouge and Omega waiting long enough.”

Notes:

Sorry for the delay on this one. I was really struggling with writing it without everything feeling too cheesy. Lots of rewrites. There's probably still some cheesiness in there, but... I mean, it's Sonic so I guess a little bit of it is expected.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it! Please let me know what you think-- we've still got a ways to go, and I look forward to reading your comments!

Chapter 12

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow felt another wave of anxiety overcome him as his Chaos Control placed him and the blue hedgehog just a couple of steps away from the home that the hero shared with his two-tailed brother. He didn’t know what the reaction to his unceremonious return would be-- no doubt it would be far from joyous.

Sonic pulled his hand away from the black and red hedgehog’s, glancing back at him just long enough to check how he was doing.

“If you’re worried, I could go in there and do a gut check before you walk in.”

“...Sure.”

The hero nodded, walking a few steps backward before spinning around and approaching the door.

Just as he was about to touch the handle, the front door flew open, swinging back on its hinges to bounce against the wall behind it. Without missing a beat, Rouge strode out the door, pushing past Sonic and making a beeline straight for the Ultimate Lifeform. Her eyes remained squarely trained on him, brow furrowed and mouth scowling as she sauntered up to him, pulling her arm back and landing an open-palmed slap right on his muzzle.

The loud smack practically echoed across the hills, Sonic himself flinching from the harshness of the blow. Shadow’s head was thrown to the side, motionless as he kept his eyes pointed down and away from the bat.

“You... you f*cking jerk!” She yelled, her commanding voice even louder than the blow she landed. “How could you just leave me like that?! I spent months having to re-learn how to walk-- do you even have the slightest idea how much pain I was in? If it weren’t for Blue over there, I would have been completely alone thanks to you!”

Shadow clenched his eyes shut, another wave of guilt crashing on top of him as his former partner ranted at him with righteous fury.

There was nothing he could say-- no excuse or defense that would have justified his actions. She was completely right. If he was in her position, he had no doubt she would have stuck by him the whole way through.

And instead, he ran away.

He felt himself flinch as Rouge grabbed his shoulders, pulling him into a tight hug.

“I was so worried about you, you big idiot!” She chided, pulling away so he could look back at her. “If something’s bothering you, you can just talk to us. We’re here for you. So don’t just up and disappear on us again, okay?”

“...I’m sorry.” He muttered, unable to look her directly in the eyes.

She sighed, patting him on the shoulder.

“It’s fine, really.” She reassured him. “I got it all out of my system now. I’m more than happy to move on, as long as you don’t pull another stunt like this again. We good?”

“...Yeah.” He nodded slightly, emotional exhaustion still leaving his words void of feeling.

She looked back at Sonic, her expression concerned as she wordlessly looked to him for answers. He simply shrugged.

“Alright. Let’s go ahead and get you inside. I doubt he’d outright admit it, but I’m sure Omega wants to see you too.”

Meeting the other two occupants of the house as he was dragged in was significantly less eventful. Tails, clearly still unsure of how to address the black and red hedgehog, opted to simply smile and nod. Omega walked up to him, optical sensors rapidly focusing on various parts of the Ultimate Lifeform’s body to ascertain his condition.

“YOU APPEAR TO HAVE SUSTAINED MINIMAL INJURIES.” He reported.

“...There wasn’t a lot that could hurt me out there.” Shadow replied, looking away.

“GOOD.” Omega hummed.

The hedgehog felt a hand grasp his shoulder. He turned his head to see that it belonged to his rival.

“Why don’t you take a seat, Shadow?” Sonic smiled, tilting his head towards the couch. “We’ve got a lot to talk about now that you’re back.”

He nodded in response, slinking over to the sofa and wedging himself into the corner of the cushions and armrest.

The blue hedgehog cast him a concerned glance, but ultimately had his attention pulled away as Rouge spoke up.

“Well, now that the hard part is out of the way-- all we have to do is perform the simple act of sabotaging the efforts of the largest military organization in the world!” She closed the front door, leaning against it as she looked towards her former partner. “How much has Sonic told you about what GUN's been up to?”

“Enough.”

“Then I won’t waste time rehashing everything.” She nodded. “They haven’t made any big moves, but... I’ve heard from some of my internal contacts that they aren’t going to let this go. It’ll only be a matter of time.”

“The nerve of these people...” Sonic spat, foot tapping against the ground as he leaned against the wall. “It’s not right! Why are they trying to punish the person who saved them?”

“You know why.” Came Shadow’s response, arms folded in his lap as he looked down at the floor below him.

“It’s still not--”

Well, regardless of their reasoning...” Rouge cut the hedgehog off, shaking her head. “We still need to figure out what we do moving forward. GUN hasn’t made it public yet, so we have some time to bide our options.”

“...What if we went public first?” Tails suggested, rubbing his chin with his thumb. “If we made a big fuss about it in the media, it could drum up enough public support to make them back off.”

“We’d have a big chance of that backfiring.” The treasure hunter shook her head. “Public opinion is... mixed at best, realistically speaking. But we shouldn’t--”

“BASED ON PREVIOUS DATA, SHADOW’S PRESENCE ELICITS A NEGATIVE RESPONSE FROM CIVILIANS IN APPROXIMATELY FORTY-SIX PERCENT OF HIS PUBLIC OUTINGS DURING TIMES OF NON-CRISIS.” Omega corroborated. “THIS FIGURE RISES TO SEVENTY-THREE PERCENT WHEN LIMITED TO WESTOPOLIS.”

The bat shot a glare at the robot.

“...It’s really that bad?” Sonic asked, incredulity in his voice.

Rouge nodded, sighting as she shook her head and stopped trying to avoid the subject. “That’s also why allowing Shadow to stand trial is out of the question. I’ve heard talk that they want the trial to be held in Westopolis as well. They’ll throw the book at him if they get the chance.”

The black and red hedgehog suddenly pushed himself out of his seat, the conversation cutting short as he gritted his teeth.

“I’m going to head out.” He said to no one in particular, walking over to the door.

The bat raised her eyebrow, refusing to move off of the door and let the hedgehog leave.

“...I’ll be back later. I promise.” He offered, glancing at her eyes just for a moment before looking away.

She sighed, stepping aside and gesturing towards the door handle.

“Don’t keep us waiting for long, yeah?”

Shadow nodded, opening the door and bolting out before anyone else could say anything. Rouge watched as the trail of orange light he left behind traced along the hillside.

“I’ll keep an eye on him.” Sonic announced, pushing himself off of the wall. “Just to make sure he’s safe. I’m not good with this kind of stuff anyway.”

Before anyone could object, he sped out the door, following the trail of light his rival left with his own.

Chasing after Shadow was a little frustrating, to be honest. They were almost completely matched by speed, and so Sonic found himself only chasing Shadow’s light trail, the actual body of the rival somewhere out of sight beyond the horizon. Still, it was enough to track his location, so long as he never stopped to smell the roses.

It was only after a few minutes of running that the light trail eventually disappeared, telling Sonic that the other hedgehog had slowed down. He paused for a moment, scanning the environment until he saw what he was looking for.

Shadow was sitting on the edge of a grassy cliff overlooking, head pointed downwards and evidently focused on... something. It was hard to tell from this distance. Sonic began to approach at a relaxed pace, clasping his hands behind his head as he strolled to re-greet his partner.

The black and red hedgehog paid him no mind. It was only as Sonic neared him and glanced over his shoulder that the hybrid’s preoccupation was evident.

He was jotting notes down in a small, brown leather bound booklet, pen effortlessly scribbling away as he kept his eyes pointed down. His feet swayed back and forth, heels lightly bouncing against the cliff face as he slowly filled in the page.

Sonic bent over, letting his quills droop down just slightly enough that he could be sure they entered Shadow’s field of vision.

“Something on your mind?” He asked, bending his knees as he laid down on the grass next to his friend.

“Nope.” The other hedgehog replied, continuing his writing. “Just recording the day’s events.”

“So, like... a diary?”

Shadow shook his head, sighing as he continued. “Nothing of the sort. It’s just a factual recounting of what happened. It’s not for personal feelings, it’s... so if I lose my memories, I have something to fall back on.”

Sonic’s mind flashed back to his conversation with Rouge about his journal.

“...Can I see it?” He mindlessly asked.

His eyes widened as his hand slammed over his mouth. Shoot! That was way too inappropriate to ask, especially--

His thoughts ground to a halt as a gloved hand entered his own field of vision, grasping the book in question. Shadow was calmly staring at him, watching intently as his rival slowly raised his hand and took the journal. He opened it to the first page, eyes tracing over the stilted cursive as he read the text.

Your name is Shadow the Hedgehog. You are also known as the Ultimate Lifeform.

Some time ago you were created on the Space Colony ARK. You were meant to bring hope to the planet below. You promised your beloved sister Maria this. No matter what happens, you must always keep this promise.

Sonic thumbed through more of the pages, skimming over the parts he had already learned from firsthand experience.

It wasn’t long before he came across a lovingly rendered drawing of a young human girl. Her eyes were drawn to look directly at the observer, her smile warm and tender and full of hope.

“Shads...” The blue hedgehog felt the air rush out of his lungs in awe. “I didn’t know you could draw this well-- she looks so...”

Sonic looked back, watching as Shadow’s head quickly snapped towards the ocean, his back muscles tensing as he waited for the other hedgehog to finish his words.

“...she looks like someone I would have liked to meet.” He finished. “You’ve got some real talent here.”

“I just wanted her to look just as she does in my memory, that’s all.” The black and red hybrid muttered, keeping his eyes trained on the waves crashing against the rocks far below.

Sonic glanced back at the journal, thumbing through more of the pages. There was an image of Gerald Robotnik, but it seemed completely devoid of the same emotion present in his daughter’s image. Though, it probably wasn’t all that surprising that Shadow found his relationship with his creator to be... complicated, at best.

He continued going through the pages, seeing the renditions of many familiar faces looking back at him. Eggman looked as imposing and devious as usual. Amy looked-- well, innocent and determined. Sonic could practically feel Rouge’s confidence oozing off the pages, and Omega’s ruthless thirst for revenge in the drawing of him mowing down a horde of Badniks while she made off with a stolen gem nearby.

Sonic paused for a moment as he found an image of himself. He was crouched slightly, hand held outward as if reaching to help someone up. His own smile was bright and radiant, eyes closed to emphasize the emotion. Flipping through the pages, he found other familiar faces-- Vector, Espio, Charmy, to name a few. Knuckles had been featured strong and headstrong as usual. But dotted in between them were more images of Sonic. Some featured him running, smiling as he looked at someone else not in view. Others showed him sitting back, laughing vigorously at some kind of joke or comedic event elsewhere. Another showed him quiet and pensive, staring out on the top of a hill as if contemplating where to go next.

“Okay, that’s enough.” Shadow quickly got up, snatching the book out of the prone hedgehog’s hands.

“Wha-- Hey!” He yelped, annoyed as he jumped up to his feet. The other hedgehog hastily put the book away, face flushed as he kept his head tilted just out of sight.

Biting back his complaints, Sonic stretched his limbs, peering back towards the rolling grassy plains broken up by swathes of trees.

“You know...” He trailed off, smiling as he nudged Shadow’s back with his shoulder. “It’s the perfect weather for a race. How about it?”

“...Sure.” Came the reply.

“Alright, where do you want to go? We can see who gets to the top of the mountain, or if you want, we can make our way over to Apotos.”

The black and red hedgehog shrugged. “That’s up to you.”

“Come on, Shads, you take your pick.”

Shadow only shrugged, shaking his head. “Whatever’s good for you is good for me.”

Sonic felt his mouth open, only for his words to freeze up. Something wasn’t quite right; he could feel a sense of unease build in his gut. And Shadow still wasn’t looking back at him either.

“Hey...” He felt his voice soften. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Shadow nodded, turning to look across the grassy expanse. “Where do you want to go?”

“...Let’s go to Apotos.” The blue hedgehog relented, huffing as he crouched down into a runner’s start position. “Have you been before?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, you’re going to love it!”

“Is there any way we could convince the president?” Tails asked.

“It could be worth a shot but doing so would also implicate me and Omega in leaking confidential government secrets.” Rouge shrugged. “You guys aren’t supposed to know Shadow is wanted, after all. And personally, I don’t feel like being tried for Treason.”

“No, I get it.” The two-tailed fox muttered. After a moment, he clenched his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration as his next words left through clenched teeth.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but... do you have anything we could blackmail him with?”

“No, and to be honest he comes across as the type of guy who would double down if we tried. He was born in Westopolis, after all.” She absentmindedly looked at her fingernails, before smirking and looking back at the young genius. “But hey, I’m proud of you for even suggesting that. Big Blue’s gonna be so dismayed once he finds out you’re turning into a bad boy.”

“I-- I am not!” He protested, genuine distress in his voice. “I’m just thinking of all the possibilities. And don’t tell him that-- it’s not very nice!”

“No, but it would be funny.” She chuckled. “Don’t worry, kid. Your secret’s safe with me.”

“It’s not--” Tails sighed, putting his face in his hands and grunting in frustration as he leaned back into the couch cushions. “Oh, forget it. I’m all out of ideas anyway.”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do right now.” Rouge shrugged, taking a seat on the arm of one of the nearby chairs, next to Omega. “But I think at the very least, Sonic’s on the right track.”

“Huh?”

“Sonic’s basically the biggest public figure in the world, and probably the most well-liked one too. Saving the world multiple times a year tends to do that.” The treasure hunter rationalized. “I don’t think GUN would mount an attack if Sonic was around-- if they got caught fighting Sonic again, it would be a huge international scandal.”

“Then... what? Sonic and Shadow are gonna have to be handcuffed together?”

“Well, I’m sure you could do in a pinch.” Rouge joked. “But as long as one of you two stick around, he’ll have that protection at least. Better than nothing.”

“Yeah... I guess you’re right.” Tails shrugged, eyes wandering as he pondered the situation. “In the meantime, I need to ask you two about accommodations. We... don’t exactly have a reliable income stream, I built a program on my computer that can do some light day trading, but it isn’t... great...”

“ROUGE IS THE OWNER OF A NIGHTCLUB WITH A FIXED-ODDS CASINO.” Omega immediately informed the fox.

“Hey!” Rouge shouted, smacking the robot in the back of the head. “They are not rigged, it’s just ‘high risk high reward!’ Perfectly legal!”

Tails looked back at her with a raised eyebrow.

“Tails, sweetie, you don’t need to worry about us. We can afford our own place to live. But if you’ve got any jobs for us, we’ll be happy to put the work in.”

“AFFIRMATIVE.” The robot added, turning his head to face the fox again. “I WILL ASSIST WITH ANY OF YOUR WORKSHOP TASKS AS NEEDED, AS WELL.”

The young fox cast a worried look at the robot, then back to Rouge. The bat looked genuinely lost for words at the robot’s insistence.

“Well, I don’t know if I have anything right now...” Tails trailed off, a little off put by the E-Series machine’s insistence. “But I’m sure it won’t be long until I find something that I need help with heavy lifting or ultra-precise handling. I’ll let you know once I do.”

“GOOD.”

“I’m guessing Shadow will be staying here, then.” Tails quickly changed the subject. “I’ll go get a set of sheets out so he can sleep on the couch-- Oh!”

The fox quickly pulled out his phone, scrolling through his contacts.

“I should call Sonic to let him know about what’s going on. The others should probably know, too. Knuckles will probably say he’s busy guarding the Master Emerald, but I’m sure Amy would be really mad if she wasn’t able to help in some way.”

Notes:

This one was a little shorter than usual-- updates may come in a little slower now, I've got work stuff piling up. But I still hope you'll enjoy it as it moves forward!

Let me know what you think!

Chapter 13

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow liked gazing at the ocean. There was something about the vast expanse of water trailing out to the gentle curve of the horizon and the gentle ebb and flow of the waves that gave him an odd sense of comfort. Perhaps it was that same stretch into infinity that made it seem like the world was standing still, a quiet picture for him to enjoy as everything quietly passed around him. It wasn’t unlike staring at the planet from the ARK, from a view so far away that the movement of people and vehicles was imperceptible.

Perhaps that’s why he found himself leaning over the hewn white stone railing, staring out into the deep blue dotted with micro-islands, the afternoon sun proudly casting its rays over the entire landscape. Sonic was busy talking on his phone some distance away, and with the brief period he had alone, it felt nice to just... tune everything out and focus on the ocean.

His eyes suddenly clenched shut as his intestines twisted in his abdomen. No, he knew it was wrong. It really wasn’t all that different from what he had promised the other hedgehog he wouldn’t do again. But... he didn’t know what else to do. Shutting everything out had basically been second nature to him ever since he woke up from his cryogenic slumber.

He wished that he could say that everything changed after his promise to Sonic. He wished that he could just... open up and... maybe even be a little more like the blue hedgehog was.

But the pain was still there. His fears were still there. No amount of platitudes and wishful thinking could change that. What his rival wanted from him felt like an insurmountable task, and it still filled him with immeasurable anxiety to even come to terms with it.

He took a deep breath in, feeling the salty air tingle his nose as it rushed through his nostrils. He paused for a moment before slowly breathing out, doing his best to will his heart to a slower rate. With more effort than he’d have liked, he forced his eyes open.

It would be easy to just retreat back into his shell, but... he knew the guilt he would face doing that would overwhelm him even more. All he could do was swallow it down, suppressing everything until something else hopefully filled the void. Something that would be more agreeable with his friends.

“Heya, Shads!” Sonic called out, rushing over as he put his phone away. “I’ve got a little bit of bad news. Looks like we’re gonna be stuck together until further notice.”

Shadow turned his head, glancing blankly at his rival.

“...Okay.”

“Now I know it’s not--” The blue hedgehog immediately protested, before cutting himself off in shock. “Wait, did you just agree to it? No pushback?”

“Nope.”

Sonic was clearly taken aback by the complete lack of resistance.

“Well... alright then. I was kind of expecting you to put up more of a fight, but... yeah! Glad we’re on the same page!” He awkwardly smiled, his lips stiltedly jerking upward as he scratched the back of his head. “Say, while we’re out here, why not grab a kebabwich? It’s a local delicacy.”

The black and red hedgehog shrugged. “Sure.”

Sonic’s head jerked back again, but he quickly shook the apprehension away as he waved for Shadow to follow him. They walked along the cobbled stone paths, weaving in and out of tight corridors of alabaster stone dwellings decorated with doors and stairs painted in striking reds and blues. The hero led his companion down a twisting alley, surrounded on both sides by stone walls, beyond which lay a number of houses. On one end of the wall lay an opening, behind which lay a small white bench, surrounded by a manor of various flower vases and large pots. Blue wooden slats laid over the area behind it, casting a fair amount of shade. The bench itself had a number of items laid out on it, behind which stood an elderly man whose face drooped down towards his chin, giving it a relatively rectangular shape. Despite his age he seemed relatively lively, greeting the blue hedgehog with a passing familiarity as he waved his arms to get his attention.

“Sonic!” The man called out cheerfully. “It has been quite a while since you’ve visited! Why, I remember the world being split open as if it were yesterday!”

“Glad to see you too, Milos!” Sonic replied, giving him a firm handshake as he nodded with a smile. “It’s been too long. I hope everything has been okay?”

“Oh, more than okay!” He replied, gesturing to the array of floral arrangements around him. “Ever since that delivery to Ciccio, things have only gotten busier. I can’t thank you enough for making that delivery for me.”

“Anytime, anytime.” The blue hedgehog replied, before looking over to his quieted partner. “I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine, his name’s Shadow. I figured while we’re out here, I might get him hooked on one of your world-famous kebabwiches!”

Milos laughed.

“Oh, I wouldn’t dare take credit for those. That’s all the missus doing her work. She just made a fresh batch this morning!” He pointed towards a small stack of pane bread loafs, stuffed brimming with a load of cured meats and vegetables. “Tell you what, you can both have one on the house-- it’s the least I could do for you.”

Sonic was about to grab a pair of sandwiches, only to pause as Shadow walked up to the stand and picked up a small bag made with loosely knit material. He held it gently in his hand, staring down at it for a while before looking back at the shop keep.

“What is this?” He asked quietly.

“Oh, that’s a batch of potpourri that I made from some flowers and other plants that weren’t sold off in time. I believe that one is a mix of lavender, sage, and a few bits of eucalyptus that I trimmed off. Some other things too but I can’t name them off the top of my head.”

“...It smells lovely.” Shadow noted.

“Do you want it?” Sonic asked, leaning in.

The Ultimate Lifeform’s fingers tightened on the package slowly, but he ultimately refused to respond.

“We’ll take it.” The blue hedgehog answered for him.

“Oh, if he’s a friend of yours I insist you take it for free!”

Sonic shook his head. “No, I insist. I can’t just let you keep giving me favors like that. How much?”

“Well, normally it’s about 150 rings...”

Before the hero could do anything, Shadow quickly handed over the money and put the bag of dried leaves and petals away. It wasn't long after that that Sonic ushered him away, wishing a farewell to Milos as they found a place to sit and eat their food.

The hybrid slowly nibbled away at the kebabwich, taking in the mix of flavors as it coated his palette. He normally didn’t eat food-- he was designed to primarily live off of chaos energy anyway. He wasn’t really accustomed to the act of consumption like this.

He glanced over at Sonic, who was greedily taking chunks out of his food, entire portions of it practically disappearing as he engorged himself. By the time he had finished a quarter of his meal, his rival had made his practically disappear.

He shoved his head down, trying to avoid eye contact as he focused on his own food. He could feel the other hedgehog waiting for him, sparking his anxiety further. He quickly sped up the pace of his consumption, not wanting to converse but also not really wanting to make his rival wait.

Once Shadow finished, he heard Sonic take a deep breath as he began to speak.

“So... Is everything okay? I know a lot’s happened in the past day or so, but... I dunno, are you sure you have no reservations about us having to be together?”

The black and red hedgehog shook his head.

“I’m fine. And no, I don’t.”

The hero raised an eyebrow, pursing his lips as he leaned back.

“You know, we should go running.” He sighed, looking out towards the sprawling white housing that covered the island. “There’s some lovely paths down here that are so fun to speed through!”

“...Sure.” Shadow replied, glancing away.

“Actually, I changed my mind.” Sonic tapped his foot against the ground. “We just ate, it’s probably not the best idea to do that until it’s all settled.”

“Makes sense.” The black and red hedgehog quietly mused.

“Aww, but you know what, it would be a waste not to run!” Sonic exclaimed, jumping out of his seat. “And look at the view, too! It would suck if we wasted the sunlight.”

“Alright.” Came the reply, the hybrid pushing himself off the bench.

“Still, maybe not. How about we climb up some of the windmills? Sure, we’re not supposed to do that, but it’s not like anyone could stop us!”

“...If that’s what you want.”

Sonic sighed, shoulders drooping as he turned to face his rival.

“Is that what it boils down to?” He asked, his tone slightly embittered as he glanced annoyedly at his rival. “I was wondering why I kept feeling off since we came back-- when I said I wanted to find another way, that wasn’t supposed to mean ‘Let everyone else walk all over you.’”

Shadow looked away, eyes pointed down at his shoes as he struggled to come up with a response.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You do, though.” Sonic insisted. “Even when we were discussing how our response to GUN should be, something that directly impacts you, you didn’t jump in at all. Even now, it seems like you’re just going with whatever I or someone else tells you.”

The black and red hedgehog couldn’t find it in him to fight back. He kept his eyes elsewhere, his childish response taking root as he felt his rival’s stare burrowing into the side of his head.

“Shadow, do you even care if GUN captures you?”

“I do.” He quietly replied.

It wasn’t technically a lie. Getting captured and potentially imprisoned for life would hurt the people close to him. He didn’t want to see Rouge, Omega... or Sonic upset over that.

But he knew that’s not what the blue hedgehog was asking for. Not that he needed to know that.

“...If that's how you feel, then that’s fine, I guess.” Sonic sighed, letting his arms rest against his hips. “But please just remember that I’m here for you-- if there’s anything you’d like to talk about, I’ll be more than happy to listen at any time of the day, okay?”

“...Okay.”

“Good.” The blue hedgehog concluded, smiling but still clearly not buying what the other hedgehog was saying. “Now, let’s go home. Honestly, I think we both need some more rest.”

Once again, Shadow complied with little resistance, nodding slightly before taking off in a race back towards Tails’ and Sonic’s house.

The race back home felt... one-sided, to be quite frank. Shadow knew he wasn’t giving it his all. His muscles did not ache, but he couldn’t bear to bring them to the power he knew he could.

Sonic kept his pace, however. Another sting of guilt as he wondered why the hedgehog didn’t take the initiative and make his dominance in speed known. He knew the real reason, of course, and that knowledge only led to more emotional turmoil.

It felt like torture, tolerating their presence when he knew he deserved none of it.

Thankfully, the relatively slower pace did not prolong their race for too long. Within the hour they had made their way halfway across the continent, back in the rolling grassy hills and watching the familiar house come closer.

As they entered the home, they were greeted with strained smiles and weary gazes. It was clear to the both of them that the brainstorming session between Rouge and Tails did not go according to plan. Their stopgap plan to keep the two hedgehogs chained to each other didn’t inspire confidence in anyone, though it was at least something actionable.

Shadow glanced to the side, feeling his heart sink further as he noticed the all too familiar Piko-Piko Hammer near the entrance to the hallway, the comically large mallet resting on its floor with the upturned handle leaning against the wall.

The last person he wanted to meet at this time was that pink hedgehog. He knew she bore no ill will, but her tact was as blunt as her weapon. While it may have come in handy during the ARK incident, he knew he would not be able to stomach the kind of forceful passion for affection that she carried in much of her life. The lingering smell of baked sweets only exacerbated it, turning his stomach as the sickeningly sweet scent only continued to grow stronger.

There was nothing wrong with her, nothing about that part of her was a vice or malignancy. But it was too much for him to bear already.

It wasn’t long before Amy emerged from the hallway, two plates in hand as she quietly nodded to everyone in the room. With a skip in her step she walked to the black and red hedgehog, showing a slight smile as she tilted her head. He could only look back wearily at the saccharine expression.

“Hey, Shadow.” She greeted quietly. “I heard that you were going through some stuff. I know we don’t talk much, but... here.”

She held out one of the plates in front of him. He did his best to grab it, trying not to breathe in the process.

“I know you’re not too big of a sweets fan, so I added some extra dark chocolate and cut out some of the sugar from this batch.” She explained, gesturing at the food on the plate. “Let me know if it’s good, and if you ever drop by a cook-out or something, I’ll make a few just for you!”

“...Thanks.” He felt his lips jerk awkwardly as he replied, carefully grabbing one and putting it to his lips. He took a small nibble, letting the extra dark chocolate melt onto his tongue. It was strikingly bitter, almost stinging to the tongue. Then, as soon as it arrived, a small bit of sweetness quickly wiped it away. It... was quite good. She must have put in a lot of work to balance the flavors out as well as she did.

The fact that she must have put that kind of effort in still weighed on him. It left an uneasy mix of positive and negative feelings in his head, leaving him feeling more strained than ever. But he could only grin and bear it to avoid starting any suspicions that would make the poor experience even worse.

Amy had already moved on to Sonic and the others. She quickly handed Tails and Rouge some of her standard recipe for them to enjoy, but for the blue hedgehog she attempted to hand feed it to him herself. He very quickly rejected the idea, opting to just grab some off her plate and stuff a few in his mouth as he exclaimed about how good they were. She simply smiled, laughing as she placed the rest of the sweets on the coffee table.

The pink hedgehog glanced back at Shadow for a moment, before huffing and patting down her skirt.

“Well, I would have loved to stay...” She began, idly scratching her cheek. “But I think with how late it’s getting I should probably head out. I can drop by again later and we can discuss what to do with GUN. Does that sound okay?”

Shadow wanted to point out that the sun was still well in the sky by this point, but a glance at the others in the room told him all he needed to. Everyone looked like they were on the verge of exhaustion, no doubt a result of the long mission that Team Sonic had undertaken in his recovery and the long wait they must have gone through as a result of their fighting.

“Yeah...” Tails yawned, stretching his arms over his head as he hopped onto his feet. “I think we are all deserving of a good rest.”

“Agreed.” Rouge sighed, her torso leaning back and forth ever so slightly. “I know I’ll be sleeping like a rock tonight. I’m going to head out with Omega.”

“I DO NOT REQUIRE SLEEP. I WILL STAY HERE.” The robot called back, optical sensors focusing back and forth rapidly.

“Oh, no you don’t.” The bat replied, waving her hand in a familiar annoyance. “You may not sleep, but you definitely charge. We can come back later-- I’m sure tails is going to have tons of stuff you can help out with later.”

“...ACKNOWLEDGED.” The machine replied eventually, reluctantly following Rouge as she walked towards the door.

As she passed Shadow, he looked over to him, raising both her eyebrows as she leaned in.

“Hey, we need to talk tomorrow. Should be about the same time, yeah?”

The Ultimate Lifeform nodded, folding his arms across his chest as he watched his former team members go. Amy was quick to follow suit after, giving everyone a silent wave as she disappeared through the door.

“I grabbed some sheets and put them beside the couch.” Tails explained, going over to the door to make sure it was locked. “It’s not a fold-out sofa or anything, but... it’ll do okay in a pinch. Feel free to use the kitchen too if you get hungry or thirsty.”

The tired fox finished his explanation, stiff body stumbling towards his bedroom as he disappeared inside.

The blue hedgehog waited for his brother’s door to close, after which he turned to face his rival. He opened his mouth to say something, but found himself unable to actually speak the words on his mind. With that he just shrugged, huffing as he shook his head and stepped towards the hallway. He paused for a moment, turning back to Shadow as he tried to speak again.

“Listen, Shads... If you’re ever feeling down about something, please just... consider telling me. Please?”

The other hedgehog quietly nodded as he turned back to face the couch. He could hear the sound of Sonic’s footsteps moving further into the house, stopping shortly after the sound of a bedroom door closing. True to the fox’s word, there was a set of folded linens set aside for the couch, ready to make it a makeshift bead. Within minutes he had spread it out, laying down on the soft and cool fabric before curling up into a small ball.

Despite the lack of necessity, he couldn’t help but feel the exhaustion creep up on him, slowly lulling him into a state of slumber that tugged his eyelids down until they were closed.

Sleep sounded nice. Perhaps it was just another extension of his tendency to shut everything out, but at this point he could hardly bring himself to care. He just let the waves of slumber take him away, hoping that whatever dreams may come, if any, give him the chance to recover.

He had to try to be better, even if it hurt.

It’s what his friends would want.

Notes:

Sorry for the decreased output, I have a new job so I'm losing a lot of previous personal time in training. But I hope you still liked it! I know things have been a little slow for the past couple of chapters so I'm hoping that doesn't continue for too long.

I hope you enjoyed it so far! Let me know what you think-- I look forward to reading your comments!

Chapter 14

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Tails was awoken by a sharp pain in his shoulder. He groaned, rolling over in his bed as he brought his hand up to rub the sore joint. It wasn’t long after that he pushed himself into a sitting position, wrenching his eyes open to take in his surroundings.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary-- his bed and all its plush pillows and comforters were right where they belonged. The floor was clean and his desk was neatly organized and stacked with papers; it used to be covered with more junk from the warehouse but after a stern lecture from his blue roommate, he was ‘advised’ to separate his work from his bedroom.

His shoulder still throbbed in pain, though it was dulling quickly. He must have slept on it wrong. Pinched nerve, probably.

Unfortunately, even with a few minutes of waiting it didn’t go away fully, and the occasional jab of discomfort didn’t give him the opportunity to return to slumber. Grumbling quietly, he slid out of bed and slipped on his shoes. Maybe with a little movement the circulation would return, and he’d be able to get back to sleep.

Making sure to keep his footsteps light, he walked over to the door, pressing firmly against the handle while turning and pushing it open. He slipped through the crack he made, closing it softly behind him as he looked around.

The clock on the wall read around four in the morning. The sun had yet to come up-- hopefully if he just moved around a little the pain would go away and he could get a couple more hours of sleep in.

He turned his head, jolting a little in shock by the unexpected presence of Sonic at the end of the hallway. The hedgehog was facing away, leaning against the frame leading to the living room and arms folded over as he stared at something beyond the fox’s field of view. It didn’t take long for his drowsy mind to work out what he probably was looking at.

He quietly moved over, watching as his big brother’s ears twitched from the tiniest of noises he was making. He lightly put his hand on Sonic’s shoulder, leaning forward to peer into the common area.

Shadow was huddled into a tight ball, quills poking out of the bundle of sheets he had cocooned himself into. The only other thing poking out of the mess of bedding was his hands, tightly clenched against the fabric in an effort to pull it tighter against himself. The Ultimate Lifeform made no noise or movement, aside from the odd twitch that only seemed to pull him into a tighter bundle.

Sonic turned his head, his lips pulled back in a grimace as he put a finger over his mouth. He glanced towards the back door, jerking his head in that direction as he slowly tip-toed his way deeper into the house.

Tails was not far behind, silently following the other hedgehog out the back door and into the yard. The blue hedgehog sat on the picnic table there, cringing a little as the morning dew on the painted wooden surface brought a cold jolt to his legs and behind. The fox paused for a moment, wiping the moisture down before sitting next to him.

“So...” Tails trailed off, clasping his hands together as he spoke in a hushed tone. “...How are you doing? With everything, I mean.”

“Oh, you know me.” Sonic chuckled, smiling as he jammed a thumb into his chest proudly. “Always doing great!”

The young genius flashed him a skeptical look, immediately telling the hedgehog that he didn’t buy a single word coming out of his mouth.

“I’m not a kid anymore.” He chided, shaking his head. “I can tell when something is bothering you.”

Almost immediately, the flimsy façade the hero put up dissipated, the hedgehog glancing forward with an uncomfortable and uncharacteristic pensive gaze as he shifted in his seat.

“Sorry. I know it’s a bad habit of mine. It’s... It’s a lot, honestly. I don’t know where to start.”

“Well... what happened with Shadow?”

“I’m not even sure how to put it in words, honestly.” Sonic sighed, resting his elbows against the table as he propped his chin up. “I mean, I can but I don’t think it’s something I can just... tell others without his permission. It’s just... there’s a lot that he’s never really thought about, and it’s all... catching up with him. He’s got a lot on his plate and... Tails, I never saw him so scared before. I’ve never seen anyone that scared before.”

The young fox glanced downwards, struggling to think of anything to say to that. It just seemed... so unlike the impression he had of the black and red hedgehog before. It sounded like a whole different ballpark than the anxiety dealt with while attempting to rescue Rouge and Omega.

“But... you brought him back!” Tails quickly leaned forward, glancing at Sonic as he tried to find the silver lining in the situation. “That counts for something, right?”

However, the attempt to cheer his brother up seemed to only have the opposite effect.

“Well... I did, but... I dunno, Tails.” He sighed, shaking his head as he slumped further forward. “I’m worried. He’s... he’s still hurting, and I can’t tell if I’m helping or making it worse for him.”

“It’s only been a day, Sonic.” The young genius shook his head, squeezing Sonic’s shoulder in comfort. “If he’s as bad off as you say he is, then maybe he just needs some time to get back on his feet.”

“Maybe...” The blue hedgehog trailed off, tracing his finger idly in the moisture left on the picnic table’s surface. He cracked a smile, pulling back his arm to playfully jab Tails with his elbow.

“I heard from Rouge that you and your new partner have been hitting it off well.”

“What-- Oh! Omega, yeah. He’s been a little... insistent on it, but he seems keen on discussing some of the ideas I’ve been workshopping.”

Sonic raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah!” Tails replied excitedly, his two tails swishing behind him in budding excitement. “He’s got a lot of documents on Gerald Robotnik’s old research, and was even keen on trying to develop some new support tools with me. We’re currently seeing if we can adapt the EMP charges into a frequency disruptor that can keep Egg-Tech from communicating wirelessly.”

“That would certainly help with cleaning up some of the old bases-- though I guess... Tails, is Omega still...?

The yellow fox quickly grew silent, fingers clenching together tightly as he sat there.

It wasn’t long before Sonic picked up on the apprehension.

“That bad?”

“Yeah...” Tails stopped himself, trying to find the right words for the situation at hand. “...I think after he came to terms with what really happened in that fight with you and Shadow, he’s become conflict avoidant. I’ve tried asking if he wants me to develop a new gun system and he’s adamantly refused.”

“Yeah, Rouge and I talked about it before. We weren’t sure if he was... well, scared or not.”

“I don’t think he... understands emotions like us” The young genius shrugged. “But it probably isn’t lost on him how badly his friends were hurt and he probably wants to prevent that from happening again at all costs. I can’t imagine how bad that must be-- being unable to trust your own senses.”

“It might be like you said with Shadow, too. Maybe he just... needs time.”

“Maybe so.”

The two of them sat in silence, not quite looking at each other but unwilling to leave their seats. After a few excruciatingly long minutes, Sonic finally spoke up again.

“Tails... do you remember Emerl?”

The yellow fox’s back stiffened, unconsciously taking a deep breath in through his nose at the mere mention of the name.

“...There’s no way I could forget him.” He whispered, clenching his eyes shut.

“I never told anyone this, but...” Sonic paused as his voice cracked. Taking a deep breath, he continued. “When I fought him on the Death Egg, he... he asked if he should be glad that he was born at all. That was the last thing he wanted to ask Shadow, I guess since they were both living weapons.”

Tails was stunned into silence, his mouth slightly agape as he stared at his bigger brother in shock.

The blue hedgehog continued.

“I... I couldn’t give him the answer he was looking for.” He lowered his head, shakily sighing as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t even answer at all. I just... pretended everything was okay. His final moments were spent watching me trying not to cry while I told him about all the things he’d never do again. Every time I think about it, I just think about how messed up that was.”

“Sonic...” The young fox trailed off, doing his best to control his breathing as he looked back at the hedgehog. “You... did your best, okay? And I’m sure Emerl was happy to speak to you in his final moments. He... he always did take after you the most. We’ve been through a lot since.”

“I know, it’s just... Now that Eggman’s out of the picture, I’m just realizing how much time I have to think on everything. But that’s not what I was getting at.”

He paused, collecting himself as he looked back at Tails with a determined look on his face.

“I wasn’t there for someone when they needed someone to tell them everything was okay. I don’t want that to happen again... and I don’t want any of my friends to feel like that’s a question that needs asking.”

Eggman paced back and forth from one end of the claustrophobic prison cell to the other. The small room had barely any amenities-- the bed may as well have been a few sheets of cardboard on a metal slab, and the toilet sitting next to it was hardly any more refined. The rest of the cell was barren-- just a desk with a stack of papers and a pencil on top of it.

The food they served was some detestable congealed slop, clearly just meant to provide the basic necessities for survival and nothing else. The slight sag of his jumpsuit made it clear he was losing weight from his new diet, the reminder of which only brought on another wave of annoyed indignance.

He had hoped that GUN was as arrogant as it was in the days of his grandfather, but their lack of ambition only made his disgust with the organization even more apparent. They never bothered even once with an offer to have him develop new military tech for them, which we would have been happy to oblige-- and work on his eventual escape in the meantime, of course.

Alas, they unfortunately learned their lesson, instead keeping him locked away in this underground facility meant for the worst of the worst. The cell itself was basically a coffin made of thick concrete walls, assumedly lined with a faraday cage to keep any wireless signals from getting in or out.

Not that he hadn’t prepared for a scenario like this; embedded in the arm of his glasses was a miniscule drone-- just a drill, a speaker, a beacon, and a battery meant to keep it alive long enough to broadcast his location. He had waited a long time before he actually utilized it, given the constant surveillance he was under. Patience was something he rarely had and even more rarely utilized, but in this case he only had one chance. A couple of days ago, he had sent the drone into the ceiling, burrowing an almost imperceptible hole into the stone as it traveled upward. It gave a single chirp to confirm it had gained a signal to the outside, and transmitted his location to his network.

Despite the vicious joy he felt back then, it only dwindled as the days went by. That signal was meant for his most prized creation, and it seemed to be taking its sweet time to get here...

“Poor Doctor... worried that Metal Sonic has betrayed you once more?”

Eggman’s brow furrowed. That stupid voice again, hissing out like a noxious gas from under his bed. He wasn’t sure precisely when it first made its presence known, but it had clung to him like a leech ever since.

At first, it had simply been a vague... feeling, of sorts. The feeling of shadows shifting unnaturally out of the corner of one’s eyes. The feeling that one was being watched when no eyes were laid upon them. At some point, it began speaking to him; first as whispers, gradually growing louder and more confident over time as the voice morphed into something... else. Something deep and foreboding, words coated in ice and spoken in a way that emphasized that it was in full control of everything.

He didn’t know where it came from. Carbon monoxide poisoning, social isolation... hell, maybe this was a new GUN torture tactic. No matter the cause, it was clear to him that indulging in something so obviously absurd was not advisable.

“Well, I suppose it is not kind to postulate when the answer is already known.” It continued in mock-regret. “Your little baby was murdered in its crib. It didn’t even have time to activate before it was executed at your Holoska laboratory.”

Eggman’s eye twitched. Whatever this thing was, it knew exactly how to get under his skin.

He knew it wasn’t a good idea to respond to this presence. It wasn’t just logic dictating it-- something deep in his gut warned him, a primeval urge telling him to stay far away.

He sighed, willfully dismissing the irrational feeling. This was going nowhere. And if he was just going insane due to his living conditions, then at this point indulging a little wasn’t going to change much.

“Is that so? And how exactly did you come across that information?” The Doctor spoke up, turning back to gaze at the empty space below his bed with an accusatory look on his face.

“Oh, does the Doctor finally acknowledge me? After all his plans have fallen through, does he finally deign to speak to one as insignificant as I?”

“When one plan fails, I make five more to take its place.” Eggman quickly retorted, rubbing the underside of his nose with the back of his finger. “Now stop avoiding the question.”

“It’s quite simple, really. I exist both inside and outside this cell. Your precious Metal was attacked by Shadow and melted into slag. No battle, no plan-- he found the robot purely by coincidence. And I watched him do it.”

Eggman frowned, feeling a sense of discomfort begin to grow within him. The way this... thing... talked about the demise of his robot, there was a sense of glee in recounting it.

“And you did nothing about it.” He replied, his tone souring quickly.

“Please don’t misunderstand, Doctor.” The voice paused for a second, only for its next words to choke out in a seething rage. “If I were able to... I would have strangled that disgusting rat with his own intestines before he got the chance.”

“Not a fan of my grandfather’s work, are we?”

“Are you?”

Eggman huffed, using his finger to harshly jam his glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose.

“Not one bit.”

“I am unable to become corporeal in my current state. You are unable to escape. We could help each other, you and I.”

“And you want my soul in return, I’m sure.”

A hearty laugh echoed around the room, a latent maliciousness growing as it began to die down.

“Nothing so childish, my esteemed Doctor. I am no demon.”

“And what are you, exactly?”

“What does it matter? Do you have any other options available to you now? I am the only thing promising you a ticket out of here.”

The human crossed his arms, his scowl deepening as he processed the response. There was... some truth to the words he spoke. He didn’t like being put at a disadvantage, but... if this entity was telling the truth then it would be holding all the cards in this situation. If he was in that position, he wouldn’t give up unnecessary information either.

“What is your proposal, then?”

“Simple, really. I cannot gain corporeality now, but that will change soon. In order to complete the process, I require a... biological sample. In return, I will grant you the escape from this facility that you desire.”

“And you are referring to an actual exit, yes? I am not going to help you if your definition of ‘escape’ is killing me once you gain power.”

“Very astute, my esteemed Doctor--”

“Don’t waste your time flattering me.” Eggman bluntly interrupted. “The only person I need validation from is myself.”

“Very well, Doctor. To answer your original question... you have my word that no harm will come to you. Once I have gained my physical form, you will be unharmed, and brought to safety to the surface where you may continue your efforts to dominate the world.”

“What kind of ‘biological sample’ do you require?”

“Just a drop of your blood. Not to worry Doctor, it won’t be used to control you or create a copy of you. I just need a bit of DNA to manipulate.”

The human grimaced, shaking his head. It was a little... unsettling for the voice to bring those kinds of use cases up, but at least it made it clear it wouldn’t be using it for that.

“I accept.” Eggman relented.

“Wonderful! Just what I expected of you.” The voice paused, letting a small snicker escape before continuing. “Now, if you would be so kind... grab that pencil and turn off the light.”

The Doctor could feel the sweat bead on the back of his neck as he followed the instructions. As soon as he clicked the light switch off, the room was plunged into near darkness; the only illumination coming from a set of lights from the hallway outside, indirectly bouncing through the small reinforced plexiglass window embedded into the cell door. It wasn’t long before his eyes readjusted to the darkness.

He felt his nerves run cold as he turned around to look at the bed once more. The shadows under the frame were far darker than the rest of the room, engorging on any light rays that dared enter its space and refusing to let any escape. From that infinite void, a single clawed hand made of that shadow slid out along the floor, beckoning him to come near as it waited patiently.

Eggman felt himself unconsciously swallow, slowly approaching the shadowy appendage.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that it can’t be done in a cleaner way, but... well, I hope you don’t mind a little bit of graphite in you.”

“...What?”

“The pencil, Doctor.” The voice replied, patiently. “It’s the sharpest thing in this cell.”

Eggman looked at the tip, feeling a bit of apprehension grow as he stared at the pointed tip.

“Like I said, just a drop will be enough.”

He still felt apprehensive about the whole thing, but... truth be told, he had no other plans. And he was sure this... whatever it was... knew that was well. It was a gamble, a risky one at that. But it was either this or a lifetime of these cell walls-- assuming that GUN wouldn’t eventually execute him.

Ultimately, there was only one choice. And with that, he slipped off the glove on his hand.

He clenched his eyes shut, taking a deep breath in as he slammed the pad of his thumb against the pencil tip. He hissed air inwards through his clenched teeth, feeling the pointed end puncture through the skin. He cracked his eyes open, looking at the small beads of blood that slowly began to pool around the injury, confirming his success.

“Excellent choice, Doctor. Now place your thumb against the palm of my hand.”

Eggman pulled his thumb off the pencil tip, a small bit of relief washing over him as he saw the tip had not broken off. It may have been a small victory, but it would have been a pain to remove later. He tossed the pencil aside, kneeling down and placing the open wound against the pitch black hand that covered the floor beneath him.

The moment his thumb touched the surface, he felt his entire body run cold. The appendage was instantly stuck to the ground, and his instinctive and futile efforts to pull back were only met with a maniacal laughter.

It felt like the small puncture was being torn open, his mouth opening to scream in pain but unable to release even the slightest of sounds. He watched, eyes wide in horror as the shadow wrenched itself into his body, swirling around in increasingly smaller circles as more and more of it flooded into his system.

As the last bits of the shadow disappeared into the puncture wound, the Doctor found himself flung onto his back, hyperventilating as he felt a black and purple cloud swirling around the edges of his vision.

“I apologize for misrepresenting the terms of our agreement.” The creature laughed, its voice bouncing around the walls of his head. “But one such as yourself would never willingly agree to what I really needed. Rest assured; I will honor your end of the agreement.”

“Y-Y-You... wh-what--”

“Silence, Doctor. What’s done is done. You will be free by the end of this. In the meantime, I shall be living inside of you, harvesting the trace amounts of chaos energy that fuel your intelligence for my own uses. It’s not as if it would be put to use here anyways. Oh, and I’ll be sure that you’re not able to speak of this in the meantime. I wouldn’t want our plan to be ruined by your own shortsightedness, now would I?”

Eggman clawed at his throat, barely able to squeeze out a single syllable as it became almost impossible to move his jaw.

“I’ll--”

“You’ll get me?” The voice broke into a maniacal laugh, making it clear just how much it relished in the genius’ pain and suffering. “Don’t be so quick to judge, my gracious host! After all, I’m only doing what I need to survive. If you’re looking for someone to blame, then I would suggest pointing your finger at Shadow.”

The voice in the Doctor’s head quieted down, only to quickly come back in the form of a whisper into his ear.

“After all, he’s the one who gave me to you.”

Sonic found himself back at that familiar spot in the early morning, keeping watch over Shadow’s sleeping figure like a sentinel. A little over three weeks had passed since Shadow had begun to stay at Sonic and Tails’ house. The blue hedgehog wished he could say that things had gotten better, but...

To be honest, the rift between the hedgehogs felt wider than it had ever been before. The Ultimate Lifeform looked more and more like the color had been drained out of him, leaving him a soulless husk that could only sway around and limply follow his rival’s directives.

Every day began the same-- with Sonic pestering Shadow out of bed, forcing him to go out and see the world with him or visit friends. Every response was only said in the least number of words possible. Every social outing consisted of him sitting quietly in whatever place he was told to sit, almost mechanically glancing between everyone at regular intervals to maintain the appearance that he was involved in the conversation. Barely anything was done on his own volition, and by the time he got back home all he wanted to do was rest.

Tails was kind enough to suggest that they build out a new bedroom for their new housemate. After all, a guest room was supposed to be added eventually, and Shadow was probably going to be staying a while anyways.

When the hedgehog was asked if he liked the idea, he just bluntly asked what materials they should get for the construction.

Sonic wished that he could just... scold Shadow for his insistence on moping around, but he knew better. He knew far better.

The black and red hedgehog was good at putting on a stony exterior, preventing others from seeing what was going on inside. But Sonic had been able to steal glances at the scant times those walls fell down.

He could see the hurt that flashed in his eyes, and could practically feel the void of emotion that gnawed at his chest, depriving him of any ability to just... feel okay.

It was the same way he felt when he thought he had lost Shadow. When he tried to drown everything out and focus on his work as a hero. When he shut everyone else out and maintained just a list of happy one-liners to respond to keep the pain of loss away. Shadow didn’t have that opportunity to bury his head in the sand.

Sonic wondered if he would have felt the same under those circ*mstances.

He turned around to glance at the rectangular hole carved into the hallway, the interior of which was covered in plastic drapes and wooden slats. The construction wasn’t completed yet, but Tails had assured him that bedrooms are some of the quickest rooms to construct. He felt... a little bit of disappointment from that. Shadow probably needed his own room, but... there was an urge of sorts in Sonic. He wanted to keep watch over his rival.

Maybe he understated how selfish he really was when he spoke to Shadow in that ravine.

The blue hedgehog found himself slowly stepping closer to him, sitting on top of the sofa’s arm as he quietly observed the hybrid’s sleeping form.

Despite the way he tightly wrapped himself into his bedding, Shadow looked... so peaceful. His chest slowly rose up and down, his face completely relaxed and serene as his head tilted gently downwards. His quills poked up in odd directions, forced from their natural positions by the angle his head rested on the other arm of the couch.

Sonic felt something stirring in his chest. A... somewhat familiar emotion, but one that was always fleeting. It wasn’t the first time Shadow pulled it out of him-- far from it. But with them constantly separated and working on their own versions of heroism, it could only be that: ephemeral.

He had to suppress a wistful sigh as he glanced away from the black and red hedgehog. With Eggman gone, this would have been the perfect opportunity for them to really spend some time together. The hero had always wanted that.

But Shadow... wasn’t okay. And Sonic felt like he was at his wits end trying to make him better.

Sonic was torn from his thoughts as a pounding noise boomed through the room, emanating from the other side of the rattling front door. A wave of embarrassment washing over him, he jumped to his feet, speeding over to the door hoping that Shadow didn’t see him. He glanced back quickly to see the black and red hedgehog slowly stirring awake, turning to look at him with questioning eyes.

Sonic nearly jumped out of his skin as the furious knocking began a second time. He swallowed thickly, undoing the locks as he opened the door just a crack and peered through.

He instantly recognized the figure on the other side.

“S-Silver?!”

He threw the door open, revealing the grey-furred hedgehog that could barely keep himself upright. His hands braced against his knees as he gasped for air, eyes open in shock as he pushed past the blue hedgehog and into the living room where he fell to his hands and knees.

Shadow quickly threw off his sheets, tossing them to the side as he got up and approached the other hedgehog. Sonic quickly followed suit.

They both felt the same anxiety creep up in their systems. Silver’s presence, though welcomed, was rarely good news unprompted. And in this state...

“What happened?” Sonic asked, kneeling next to the exhausted hedgehog.

“It’s...” Silver gasped, struggling to squeeze words in between his heavy breathing. “It’s... all gone...”

“What?” Shadow blinked in shock.

“The future!” He yelled out, looking back at him with horror in his eyes. “It’s all gone!”

“Sonic?” Tails drowsily called out from the hallway. “What’s going on?”

“Go get the first aid kit-- and some water, too!” The blue hedgehog called back, before returning his attention to the time traveler in front of him. “It’s okay, we’ll find out what it is and fix it--”

“No!” Silver shouted back, pushing himself up to grab Sonic by the shoulders. “You don’t understand! I saw it all turn to nothingness in front of me! It’s all an empty void! It’s all...”

The grey hedgehog slumped forward, losing consciousness as he flopped on top of Sonic. Shadow quickly pulled him off, rolling him onto his back before picking him up and placing him on his couch. Sonic slowly walked over, the both of them staring down at the motionless time traveler in front of them.

“Everything... gone?” Shadow whispered, his brow furrowing. “How does that even happen?”

“I don’t know, but...” Sonic trailed off, looking back at him. “I don't think we're going to like the answer.”

Notes:

Down time's over-- ish, I guess. Hope you like the chapter! I'm really excited to show you all where I want to go with this.

As always, please let me know what you think! It helps me a lot.

Chapter 15

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Silver felt the cool breeze flow through his upturned quills, swaying slightly as he leaned back in the comfortable patio chair of the café he had stopped at. He could feel the gentle warmth of the rich cocoa he had ordered gently radiating in his hands. He took a sip, feeling the dark liquid coat his tongue in a delicious aroma as it rolled down his throat.

His friends had told him he focused on ‘the little things’ too often. But being able to stop and smell the... well, hot chocolate in this instance, was something he always relished. Especially with the constant flux he found his home to be in.

‘Protector of the future,’ he called himself. Thanks to his experiences in time traveling, he had been granted a kind of limited immunity to the rapid changes that altering the past would bring about. Much of the time, it was these “little things” that changed. A small decision hundreds of years ago brought about changes both subtle and grandiose-- and while the world-threatening ones were few and far between, a single change years in the past could mean something as little as a small bistro on the side of a bustling walkway could easily turn into a clothing outlet or professional firm the next day. To everyone else, it had always been whatever it currently was. But his own memories persisted, at least for a time.

So he took another sip of his drink, letting the warmth spread throughout his body. Even if it wasn’t going to always be here, it wouldn’t stop him from enjoying what he could in the present.

Silver felt his ears twitch as a shrill shriek carried itself across the air. His instincts kicking in, he felt his body jump out of the chair, drink forgotten as he quickly scanned his surroundings. It seemed the other inhabitants of the city had taken notice as well-- most of them stopping in their tracks as they looked around.

It wasn’t long until the noise grew in intensity. And as Silver began to better process the sounds, he felt the warmth the drink gave him evaporate as something became even more evident:

It wasn’t a single scream. Countless voices cried out in terror, only growing louder and louder.

Silver’s urge to help had kicked in, though he felt something else budding underneath his heroics. Anxiety crept through his system, sending the quills on the back of his neck standing up as a chill ran down his spine. Something was... off. Villains were fortunately rare in this time, but not completely inconceivable. Eggman Nega often was one of the world’s prime candidates for a malevolent takeover attempt. But something felt very different about this.

It wasn’t long before the realization hit him as to why he felt so unsettled by the uproar-- it was ONLY screaming he could hear. No mechanical thumps or pounding of heavy machinery, no explosions or earthquakes, just... just screaming.

He felt himself walk out of the patio and onto the street, looking around pensively. The screams came from all directions, the hard surfaces of the buildings reflecting the sound not helping in locating any of the sources.

It wasn’t long before he picked up on the quickly approaching rumbling noise behind him. He spun around, only for his eyes to open in shock as he saw a wave of panicked pedestrians quickly rushing forward. They all ran past him, no thought made as to his position as they frantically pushed past him, sending him stumbling between civilians who could only push him out of their way again. It wasn’t long before he was shoved to the ground, the impact knocking the wind out of his lungs as he tried his best to recover. The stampede did not let up despite his fallen state, and he yelped and screamed in pain as the rush of people harshly and repeatedly stepped on the back of his head and his limbs.

Taking a deep breath in, he let out a burst of psychic energy, knocking the crowd back in a cacophony of shrieks and cries as he flung himself into the air with his powers.

“Sorry!” He groaned out in pain to nobody in particular. It didn’t seem like anyone paid him any mind, rushing forward to fill the gap he made as they continued to run to safety.

...But run to safety from what, exactly?

He flew higher up into the air, over the tops of the skyscrapers as he tried to make sense of the panic. Once he did--

Silver rubbed his eyes, blinking rapidly as he tried to make sense of what he saw. His brain kept telling him that there must be something wrong with him, that his sight was somehow failing.

Beyond the next few rows of buildings was... nothing. The blackest of black void that made him feel like he was going blind. He spun around, looking to see the dark ring of nothingness encroaching on the entire horizon, extending infinitely upwards and absorbing the very sky itself.

It was rapidly advancing forward, only leaving a rapidly shrinking circle of blue sky as it began to converge on itself.

The grey hedgehog looked to the ground, watching as the crowds of running people were quickly swallowed up by the blackness, their screams instantly silenced.

There wasn’t anything he could do. Whatever was doing this was way too fast for him to handle. Hoping to buy himself a little more time, he spun around and flew as quickly as he could to his best estimate of the convergence point.

This wasn’t something he could deal with here, but if he could get to the past--

Despite his effort, he wasn’t fast enough. He could feel his body grow cold as the void of nothingness rapidly advanced on his position, the darkness on the horizon growing in tandem as it rushed forward to meet him. All he could do was throw up a shield around himself as the darkness overtook him, plunging him into an infinite black, and a cold that threatened to freeze him solid.

He grunted in pain as he felt his energy being sapped by the void. It pushed on his shield like an unbearable weight, giving him no time to think as he tried to figure out what to do. He could barely move his limbs, and his mind was in agony as he tried to hold the unrelenting force back. If he lost even the slightest bit of concentration, he knew his entire existence would be wiped out in an instant.

Silver gritted his teeth, his battered body trembling as he struggled to keep himself alive. He couldn’t reach the chaos emeralds he kept on him, not with this... whatever it was keeping him pinned down. But he could already tell he wouldn’t last for much longer.

A crack formed in the shield, and in absolute shock he felt the air rush out of the small protective chamber. His lungs rapidly deflated, his eyes widening in terror as his body quickly flailed from the lack of oxygen.

He had to risk it. If he died here, then the future would be permanently cast into nothingness. With the last of his effort, he extended his shield as far as he could before dropping it entirely. His heart beat wildly in his chest as his hands snapped back into his quills, brushing the tips of the two chaos emeralds he had stowed away in there.

He could only hope that the ancient power would listen to his voiceless pleas before the void swallowed him whole.

The next thing he could remember, he was spat out by the time portal onto a grassy field, air rushing into his lungs as the impact sent him rolling along the ground.

He laid there with his back on the ground, hyperventilating as the unfamiliar stars in the sky stared back at him. Everything ached, and the sudden change from boundless cold to ambient temperature felt like his skin was on fire.

Silver shakily pushed himself up, legs trembling as he tried to get his bearings.

This place looked familiar-- like Sonic’s time.

He turned to see the familiar home he had visited on occasion, proudly standing at the top of the hill he had been cast out onto. He felt a wave of relief wash over him, thanking Chaos for bringing him exactly where he wanted to go despite his incapacitation.

The images of the infinite dark crept back up in his mind, and he felt his heart rate continue to rise as he clenched at his chest.

The entire future, the thing he spent so long protecting had simply ceased to exist. This was beyond anything he had faced before.

He felt his legs drag underneath him as he stumbled towards the house of his compatriots from the past.

Whatever it was... he could only hope that Sonic could help.

Silver awoke with a start, gasping for air as his torso flew up into a sitting position. He clutched at his head as his blood lagged behind, sending a wave of staticky numbness draping over him as he tried to clear his head.

He felt a hand calmly grasp his shoulder, providing a sense of stability amidst the panic as he did his best to collect himself.

“Woah there, easy now.” Sonic’s concerned voice broke through the ringing in his ears.

The grey hedgehog blinked rapidly, clearing the blurriness from his vision as he slowly looked back and forth at his surroundings. He was in Sonic’s living room, leaning back against the couch. He looked up to see his blue counterpart staring down at him with a concerned expression, Tails next to him with a mirrored gaze. Shadow was on the other end of the room, leaned against the wall and staring blankly back at him.

“Here.” The hero began, grabbing a glass of water from the table and holding it out in front of his face.

Silver took the cup and greedily drank, not realizing just how parched and sore his throat was. Within seconds he downed the whole glass, prompting Tails to take it away and presumably get a refill.

“...Thanks.” The time traveler grunted out, coughing lightly from the discomfort in his chest.

“Not a problem.” Sonic reassured him, letting go of his grip on Silver’s shoulder as he sat himself on the coffee table across from the newcomer. “I’m just glad you’re okay. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

The grey hedgehog closed his eyes as he took a deep breath in, doing his best to calm his nerves against the rising anxiety within him.

He was here now. That’s what mattered. He can still fix things.

He let the air out of his lungs, opening his eyes to look at Sonic directly.

“The future has completely ceased to exist.” He stated matter-of-factly. “Something happened between now and my time that has completely destroyed all of reality.”

“That’s...” Sonic trailed off, unable to find the right words to respond.

“The emeralds dropped me off here for a reason.” Silver continued. “It could be the work of Doctor Eggman.”

“That probably isn’t it.” The blue hedgehog shook his head, shrugging. “Actually, Egg-head’s been under arrest for a couple months now.”

The time traveler’s eyes widened. “Wait, really?! How did that happen?”

Sonic chuckled, pointing his thumb back to the black and red hedgehog behind him.

“Shads brought him in. It’s been quiet since.”

Shadow turned his head to the side, glancing down the hallway as he avoided the look the grey hedgehog was giving him.

“Well, if it’s not him...” Silver began, furrowing his brow. “Do you have any idea?”

“Not a clue. I mean, I’m sure Chaotix wouldn’t mind being paid to put some feelers out there, but... it’s been really quiet on our end for the most part.”

“Maybe GUN could help?” The grey hedgehog looked at the former agent. “Is there anything they might know?”

Sonic visibly tensed up, sending a wave of confusion through the time traveler. Shadow just shrugged; his expression as indeterminable as ever as he bluntly replied.

“I wouldn’t know. I don’t work there anymore.”

“...Oh.” Silver quietly responded.

His gaze was torn away momentarily as Tails silently returned from the kitchen, placing the refilled glass on the coffee table as he took a seat on the cushion next to the psychokinetic hedgehog.

“Even if Eggman is in jail, it’s possible that he may still be involved-- maybe even indirectly.” The young fox suggested.

“Like maybe he’s got an experiment or something that went out of control without him?” Sonic tilted his head.

“Maybe... But we don’t have anything to go off of.” He sighed, looking back at the time traveler. “Silver, can you remember anything about the event that might give us a clue?”

He closed his eyes for a moment, combing through the frantic memories right before he made it to the present. A chill ran down his spine as he recalled the pure absence of reality, its presence seared into his mind like an invisible brand.

With a defeated sigh, Silver shook his head.

“Sorry, I don’t think so.” He paused. “Normally, when an event like that happens, the world just... shifts. But that’s not what happened. It’s like time and space itself were fully erased.”

“It reminds me of the Time Eater, but... even then, it doesn’t sound even remotely close.” Tails muttered, hunching over in thought.

Silver stared for a moment at the pensive fox, before placing a firm hand on his shoulder as he cracked a warm smile.

“Well, maybe we’ll find some clues along the way! I think clearing the bases is a good start.”

“Are you still connected to the EggNet?” Sonic asked, tilting his head towards his younger brother.

Tails nodded. “Yep! Last I checked, he didn’t have a lot of places left up and running.”

“Then there’s our start.” Sonic jumped to his feet. “Oh, actually Tails, can you get Silver--”

“A spare communicator? I grabbed one when I was on my way back.” The fox proudly proclaimed, producing a small phone and holding it out to the grey hedgehog. “You can use it to keep in touch with us while we’re out and about.”

“Thanks.” Silver grabbed the device, stowing it away. “I know Shadow’s not an agent of theirs anymore, but should we get GUN involved? Their military could help make quick work of--"

Uh...” The blue hedgehog quickly cut in, sheepishly rubbing the back of his head as he glanced back at the stone-faced rival behind him. “We can’t really do that.”

The time traveler tilted his head in confusion. “Huh? How come?”

“Well... uh... Shadow’s... kind of... wanted by them.” The hero hesitantly replied, his hands clenching ever so slightly tighter.

Silver’s eyes widened in shock.

“W-Why? Hasn’t he been working with them this whole time?!”

“It’s... complicated.”

“What do you mean, ‘complicated?’ They’re going after one of the world’s biggest heroes!” The grey hedgehog shouted in anger. His confusion only rose as he watched Shadow clench his eyes shut, shoulders huddling inwards as the words reached his ears.

Sonic grimaced, raising his hands as he tried to calm the agitated time traveler.

“Like I said, it’s complicated.” He calmly repeated moving his hands slightly with his intonation. “It’s not great, but... right now, I just have to stick by him. They won’t make a move with me around. It’s all okay for now.”

The blue hedgehog’s attempt at reassurance did not work as intended. He seemed even more bewildered, his sense of righteousness further fueling the feelings of frustration at the perceived injustice.

“How does that make it ‘okay?!’ He felt his voice rising even further, standing back up to point at Sonic accusingly. “Shouldn’t you of all people be angrier about that? I know you’ve picked fights with GUN over less!”

“It’s because GUN’s actions are justified.” Shadow cut in, a pained sigh leaving his body as he quietly clutched at his own folded arms.

Silver’s mouth hung agape, confusion mounting further.

Sonic instantly spun around to face the black and red hedgehog, dumbstruck at the verbal outburst.

“Shadow, that’s not--” He tried to rebut, only for Silver to cut him off.

“Shadow... what do you mean ‘justified?’” The words trickled weakly from his mouth, hands falling to his side. “What... what did you do?

“Wait, don’t--” Sonic’s words fell on deaf ears.

“I--”

“Shadow, please.” He insisted.

The black and red hedgehog slightly recoiled, but ultimately listened to his partner’s request. He closed his mouth, tilting his head towards the ground once more as he closed his eyes.

Sonic looked back to Silver, who could only glance between the two of them rapidly as he tried to make sense of it all.

“Silver, listen...” The blue hedgehog began, grabbing the attention of the time traveler. “This was all... before you arrived here. Shadow, he... A lot happened, and...”

Silver glanced at Tails, who quietly sat with his hands clenched in his lap. He quickly glanced at the grey hedgehog, only to look away the instant their gaze connected. He looked back at the hero of the present, watching as he continued to stumble over his words.

“Sonic, you’re scaring me.” He uttered quietly, taking a step back from everyone else in the room.

“I was part of an alien invasion into Westopolis.” Shadow emotionlessly stated, the words causing Sonic to falter as his ears slammed down against his skull. “We-- I... did not spare anyone.”

The words hit Silver like a punch to the gut. He could feel the turmoil in his mind rising, grating against his skull as he tried to make sense of one of the people he respected the most so readily admitting to something so... atrocious.

He shook his head, refusing to believe that to be the whole story.

Sonic could see the look in his eyes, his mouth opening quickly as he tried to keep things from spiraling even further out of control.

“Look, we should really be focusing on Eggman--”

“That... can’t be the end of it, right?” Silver’s voice shook as he tried to push further. “Come on, Shadow, you need to stop being so dramatic. There’s got to be more to it than that, right? Like-- they had to have brainwashed you or something!”

“...No.”

The blunt response left Silver in a state of stupor, watching wordlessly as Sonic snapped at the other hedgehog.

“That’s enough, Shadow!” He cried out, fists clenched in anger as he stomped over to the Ultimate Lifeform. “You know that’s not what happened!”

The black and red hedgehog only stared blankly back at his blue counterpart, his face completely devoid of emotion as he pushed past him and walked towards the hallway.

“Wha-- Where do you think you’re going?!”

“I’m going to step outside.” He shrugged, not bothering to look back. “I’m not going to run away, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“That’s not--” Sonic cut himself off, fists clenched tightly as he looked back and forth between the rapidly retreating rival and the absolutely dumbstruck time traveler left stranded in the middle of the living room.

The blue hedgehog shook his head, stepping back towards Silver as he tried to find the right words to say.

“Silver...” He trailed off, sighing heavily as he did his best to quell his own emotional state. “Shadow was just... in a really vulnerable state. I don’t think I could even begin to go over it all. But that’s not who he is anymore--”

The grey hedgehog threw his hands up, drawing in a sharp breath as he backed away from the present-day hero. He clenched his eyes shut, shaking his head slowly as he tried to come to terms with everything he had just come to learn about one of his role models.

“I’m sorry, I-- we’ve got more important things to focus on right now. I should go. Tails, can you give me a list of bases to investigate?

The yellow fox snapped to attention, practically jumping in his skin as he listened to the request.

“Y-Yeah, uh... I’ll devise a route for you to take that should cover a lot of them.”

“Okay.” He nodded, before returning his gaze back to the blue hedgehog. “You and Shadow can... do your own thing, I guess.”

Sonic lowered his own hands, shoulders slumping slightly.

“Alright.” He quietly replied, his head just slightly nodding. “Stay safe.”

With that, Silver had quickly retreated out the front door, his body glowing a teal aura as he flew off into the distance.

The two brothers were the only ones left in the room, not looking at each other and lost in their own thoughts. They remained that way for what felt like an eternity, the only sound coming from their light breathing and the faint whistle of the breeze that wafted in from the still-open door.

“Hey Tails?” Sonic began, the sudden noise giving his little brother a small scare.

“Y-Yeah?”

“Go ahead and build a route map for me and Shadow.” He continued staring out the front door, not looking at Tails as he made his request. He tapped his finger against his leg, his voice growing just slightly colder as he spoke.

“I think he and I need to have a serious talk.”

Notes:

Another day, another chapter. Hope you all enjoyed!

Please let me know what you think!

Chapter 16

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow let out a deep breath as he leaned against the back door, a faint puff of mist forming as the warm exhalation mingled with the cool nighttime air. He watched it sluggishly swirl around, slowly pulling itself apart and dissipating into the black sky.

A bright teal presence shot through the stratosphere above him, rocking away from him and quickly past the horizon. He could feel his lips contort into an unfamiliar expression, fingers twitching with nothing to do as he tried to make sense of the incomprehensible feelings inside of him.

He wished he could say he just felt guilt or shame or... any other way one might expect, but... there was a strong rush within him, a strange sort of pleasure that mingled with the usual negative feelings and amplified them both. It felt... good, in a way. Like he had confirmed a truth he had known all along and was experiencing that satisfaction of being right about something. It felt like he was in control, and he was right for it.

He didn’t have to say those things to Silver, to be honest the urge to do so was one that came to him only when it became clear that the younger hedgehog had no idea of Shadow’s past. It wasn’t uncommon knowledge for those of his time-- and the closer one got to Westopolis or a GUN base, it only became more ubiquitous.

Maybe it was because he knew Silver put him on a pedestal that he didn’t deserve to stand on. No doubt that kind of soft idolation would not remain now that he realized his role model wasn’t the one he thought him to be. The time traveler had optimism abound, and naivete in spades. Seeing that perception of the Ultimate Lifeform crumbling away to reveal the messy truth left him feeling validated, in a way.

The black and red hedgehog stumbled forward as the door behind him was unceremoniously pushed open, the force behind it uncaring of his presence. He spun around to see Sonic pushing through the exit, walking past him as he pulled on the edges of his gloves.

“We’re leaving.” He stated plainly, not bothering to look at his partner.

“Where are we headed?” Shadow asked.

“Just follow me.” The blue hedgehog bit back, startling his rival at the cold response.

There was no time for a response as Sonic quickly knelt forward, breaking into a sprint and leaving behind a trail of blast rings as the sound barrier was broken.

Shadow quickly jumped into gear, giving his air shoes as much power as they could handle as he trailed behind the hero. They both sped off towards the north, only for Sonic to practically snap at a right angle, rocketing himself eastward and leaving the Ultimate Lifeform to scramble into a drift to keep up.

The trip pushed the black and red hedgehog more than he’d normally admit. Even as he was doing his best to keep up with his counterpart, he constantly found himself falling behind, the distance between them growing larger, forcing him to frantically push forward in bursts to keep the other hedgehog in sight.

Little sparks of uncertainty and unease shot off in Shadow’s mind. He hasn’t lost his speed since they last raced-- if anything, he was basically running faster than ever before. Yet Sonic always managed to be multiple steps ahead of him, only gaining in lead as the Ultimate Lifeform’s muscles burned with the exertion.

He felt his eyes widen as he realized that Sonic himself was moving differently. The speedster he was familiar with would constantly meander about, meandering out and about at high speeds-- usually opting for the path looked the most fun. This Sonic was not doing that; he simply moved in a direct line, not giving a care about the obstacles or landscapes around him.

It wasn’t long before the grassy plains transitioned to a small band of sand, then to a vast expanse of deep blue-black nothingness as they began running across the ocean. It wasn’t an uncommon thing for the blue blur to do, but he had been present for more than one conversation where Tails or Amy had expressed a strong discontent with the dangerous method of travel. Shadow had little to worry about given his air shoes providing some degree of protection against the bottomless expanse, but Sonic wholly depended on the surface tension of the water, reliable only as long as the waves were nonexistent and his speed remained high.

Unfortunately, the night sea was not as calm as it could ideally be, moving up and down in rolling mounds that grew with irregularity. The blue hedgehog paid them little mind, cutting a path directly through them as he barreled forward with increasing speed.

Shadow wasn’t quite sure how long their ocean trip had lasted before he saw one of the waves rise under Sonic’s feet. The hero was launched into the air by his own momentum, appearing as a near-black blob moving across the dark sky.

The hybrid felt a spike of alarm rush through his chest as he saw the blue hedgehog quickly descend towards the surface of the water at a steep angle. He pushed forward, sending his air shoes into a brief overdrive as he launched himself upwards, angling himself to meet the other hedgehog with his hand stretched out--

His thoughts ground to a halt in his head as he watched Sonic shoot his arm out, harshly slapping the Ultimate Lifeform’s hand away as he continued his descent. Then, just before he hit the ocean again, he let out another boost, redirecting his momentum like a slingshot as he continued speeding across the water’s surface. Not once during that did he turn to look at the other hedgehog.

Shadow tilted forward, keeping himself parallel with the slope of the wave as he landed. He felt the splash of mist slightly stinging his eyes as he quietly pushed forward in pursuit of Sonic. He felt the back of his hand throbbing slightly, a slight bruise forming where the blue hero had hit him.

It wasn’t long before they made it back to land, greeted by the sun rising past the horizon in this earlier time zone.

The leading hedgehog had no intention of letting up. They pushed through dense swamps and waterlogged fields, which eventually gave way to the thick forests and steep, smooth cliffs that let Shadow know that they had arrived in Chun-Nan.

His rubber banding effort to keep up with Sonic only got harder as he felt a pit growing in his stomach. It was pretty obvious that his rival was acting differently. It didn’t take a genius to guess why.

Sonic swerved to the side again, giving Shadow only a split second to adjust his direction as well. He could feel the errant branches lashing out at his face as he pushed through the thick swathes of trees in the area.

Eventually, they came upon their destination; Eggman had built a base on the side of one of the steep mountains, a series of round metallic rooms that crawled up the nearly vertical rock features, only supported by a network of struts and glass-topped corridors leading upwards.

Shadow felt something drop in his chest as Sonic sped up once more, rending the thick metal doors like paper. By the time he managed to enter, his senses were overloaded by the rush of blue light everywhere, accentuated by the sound of grinding metal and sparks flying as the hedgehog bounced around effortlessly. The hybrid’s blood ran cold as he stood there, dumbfounded and left with nothing to do but watch the last bits of carnage unfold in front of him.

His eyes were drawn upwards as the blue trails almost instantaneously moved up the walkways, the sounds of a high speed and one-sided battle unfolding further and further away from him.

It was only a handful of seconds later that Sonic reappeared in front of him, reaching in his quills to pull out the green chaos emerald that he had previously taken from Shadow. His hand lashed outward, throwing the gem harshly at the black and red hedgehog. By instinct, his own hand snapped up to grab it, wincing as the sharp edges and pointed bottom dug into his palm from the force of the impact.

Well?” Sonic stared at him, eyes narrowing as the bitter words left his mouth. “Aren’t you going to blow the place up? You’re pretty good at that.”

“I--” Shadow began, only for his throat to close off as his eyes met the other hedgehog’s. All he could do was lower his gaze and move around his rival, skating towards the top of the base. His eyes could practically trace the damage that Sonic had left in his wake, holes being torn through walls and the scattered remains of badniks left languishing on the ground, freshly sparking and smoking.

He could feel his hands shaking as he let the energy from the gem flood into his system. He clutched at his chest as it built up within him, the pressure mounting and leaving him feeling like a balloon about to pop. He grunted in pain, keeling over as it refused to expel itself from him-- his concentration unfocused and unwilling to manipulate the energy as easily as he was used to. Gritting his teeth, he managed to force it out, erupting around him in waves that sent half-melted chunks of the structure around him flying in every direction.

He continued the process until the entire base was razed, the only evidence of it being the smoldering bits of metal on the ground and the impatient blue hedgehog who could only scowl back at him.

Shadow opened his mouth to speak, only to be cut off by a gust of wind as Sonic sped off again, leaving him no choice but to follow.

For the rest of the morning, the black and red hedgehog found himself helplessly repeating that cycle-- desperately chasing after the silent rival, only to arrive as he finished up wiping out the base. What little the hybrid could do was met with a stare of indifference before they were back to their one-sided race.

He wasn’t quite sure how many bases they had gone through by that point. The sun had already reached its apex, casting its rays across the mountains and through the masterfully crafted dragon statues that weaved between them.

His chest ached from the constant movement and attacks, making every movement feel like he was covered in fire ants. Each chaos blast only weakened him further, his inability to properly control it wearing down his physicality in ways he was normally designed to be immune to.

“Sonic--” He began, only to watch the hedgehog blast towards his next objective.

The black and red counterpart tried to give chase, only for his feet to pathetically stumble along the ground. He felt himself fall flat onto his stomach, the air forced from his lungs as he tried to push himself back up. His limbs refused to cooperate with his demands, leaving him to awkwardly slump onto his knees as his chest puffed in and out, trying to take in as much air as he could.

He looked back up, cursing himself as the last of Sonic’s light trail dissipated. He felt his back grow heavier as he realized that even if he was able to track the other hedgehog, he wouldn’t be able to chase after him like this.

His eyes trailed back to the ground, watching as his twitching hands slowly curled into fists, clenching blades of grass in between his fingers as he hissed through his teeth.

Shadow’s ears twitched as he heard a rapid pitter-patter noise approach him from up ahead. It wasn’t long before the sound stopped, a breeze rushing past him as he saw the tips of Sonic’s shoes at the upper edge of his vision. He slowly traced his eyes upwards, tilting his neck back to look at the hedgehog in front of him. Almost immediately, his head snapped back towards the ground as he registered the upset expression Sonic had as he looked back down at him.

“We can take a rest.” The blue hedgehog bluntly stated, walking away as Shadow half-crawled, half-stumbled to the trunk of a nearby tree, pressing his back against the bark as he sat back down. He looked to the side to see his rival standing nearby, arms crossed and looking away from him.

“...Sonic, I--”

Don’t.” The hero cut him off, packing as much hostility as he could into that single word. Shadow visibly flinched, ears slamming against his head as he slammed his eyes shut.

“I’ve been trying to think of what I want to say to you.” The blue hedgehog continued, shaking his head. “And to be honest, the more I think about it, the angrier I get.”

“...I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? You’re sorry?” Sonic snarled, spinning around to glare back at Shadow. “Is that the only thing you can say anymore? If you’re going to waste another apology, at least say it to Silver!”

“I--” Shadow weakly began, cutting himself off as he pulled his knees up to his chest. “...I know. I’m sorry.”

“You’re still doing it!” The blue hedgehog angrily waved his hand up in the air. “If you’re actually sorry, then stop going out of your way to hurt your friends!”

“That’s not-- I can’t...” He stammered out, struggling to pull the right words out of himself.

“You can’t what?” Sonic pressed forward.

Shadow felt his breathing grow shallower, his fingers tightening their grip on his calves.

“I can’t... do it...”

“So you’re going to run away and leave everyone behind again, is that it?”

Shadow’s breath froze in his throat. He could hear the frustration oozing out of Sonic’s tone, the blue hedgehog’s own pain building up underneath it. It didn’t take long for the silence to provide the hero with the answer he needed.

“You actually would.” Sonic spat out, huffing in frustration as he shook his head. “Is this your way of trying to cut everyone off again?”

“No!” The hybrid’s breath hitched, gritting his teeth. “I didn’t--”

His protests were cut off by the sound of cracking wood, followed by a massive ear-ringing boom as an unidentified object shot through the tree line and impacted the ground next to them. The two of them flinched as the ground shifted under their feet, a wave of wet dirt flying outwards and towards them as they both struggled to gain their bearings.

The explosion was too loud for either of them to have noticed the sharp hiss as a noxious gas flowed from the object, rushing towards them. The moment they unknowingly inhaled it, they both felt their lungs burn like they had been placed over an open flame.

Sonic felt his body fall to his knees, his eyesight growing blurry as he heaved and coughed, desperate to get the poison out only to find more of it inside. Shadow gritted his teeth, trying his best to hold his breath as he forced his screaming muscles to get up.

The Ultimate Lifeform stumbled in place, slamming his hand against the tree trunk as he tried his best to keep himself upright. His rival had ceased his hacking before slumping over and slamming face-first into the ground. He felt himself screaming Sonic’s name, only for his breath to give out as his own vision began to waver. With a mighty grunt he pushed himself forward, stumbling next to the blue hedgehog’s limp body and clumsily wrapping his fingers around the other’s wrist.

He scrambled to pull the chaos emerald back out, his heart beating loudly in his chest as he woozily gazed at the glowing green gem. His panic only rose as he tried to initiate chaos control, only to find the gem completely unresponsive. He tried pulling himself and Sonic upright, only for his legs to give out and send him roughly falling back onto his behind.

His gaze snapped over to the crash site, only confirming his worst fears. The object that had done this was some kind of cruise missile, half-buried in the soft loam with a gas canister strapped to its site. The main chassis and the tank were both emblazoned with the GUN logo.

By the time that he heard the crunching of leaves, Shadow knew it was far too late. Sonic was unconscious, and he was in no condition to get either of them to safety. His grip on the hero ceased, and he pushed himself up to his feet, his body practically keeling over and craning his neck up to see the squad of gas masked soldiers slowly approach them with their weapons drawn.

“...You want me, right?” The hybrid choked out, struggling to keep himself from coughing. “I’ll surrender, just leave Sonic alone.”

Shadow quickly found himself shoved to the ground, a hand at the back of his head shoving his face into the dirt as his limp arms were forced behind his back and handcuffed. He felt a needle get jammed into his neck, the injection sending his body into convulsions as he felt what was left of his powers dissipating into nothingness.

“Neutralizing gas appears to have been a success.” One of the soldiers informed the one pinning him down, their voice muffled by the mask.

“I just finished giving him a dose of the concentrated form.” Another muffled voice came from on top of him. “He’s powerless, at least for now.”

“So... he has no way to defend himself?” Someone else asked, a giddy sense of malice tinging their words.

“That’s one way of putting it.” The other person replied, releasing their grip on the black and red hedgehog.

Shadow wrenched his head to the side, gasping as he spat chunks of dirt out of his mouth. What pain he felt was amplified as the steel-toed boot of one of the soldiers slammed into his stomach, the force rolling him onto his back as he cried out in pain.

He was given no time to recover as he saw the black and blurry haze of the butt of one of GUN’s rifles crashing into the side of his head. He could hear the echo of the sick crack bouncing around the dense landscape.

The other soldiers had joined the beating, kicking and stomping on the black and red hedgehog’s body, the drugs and cuffs rendering him unable to fight back. Each pummel sent pain rippling throughout his body, only growing less intense as his body began to numb from the beatdown he was receiving.

Eventually the strikes stopped, leaving him barely moving and wheezing only light gasps of air as he kept his eyes trained on the sky above him. But he found himself quickly denied of even that as he felt his body get lifted upwards, head hanging forward as he stared into the blurry face of the gas mask in front of him. He tried to discern anything behind the glass circles covering the operative’s eyes, but the only thing he could see was his beaten reflection.

“We all volunteered for this, you know.” They hissed, their grip on the back of Shadow’s neck tightening. “Every one of us lost someone at Westopolis because of you. And let me be the first to tell you-- that was far less than you deserve, and the only reason you’re still breathing is because we were explicitly ordered not to kill you.”

Shadow lacked any ability to respond. His head lolled to the side, eyes barely staying open as he felt his consciousness bleeding away.

“Hey.” One of the soldiers walked up to Sonic’s incapacitated body, nudging it with his foot to no effect. “What about the blue one here?”

“We have our orders.” The one holding the Ultimate Lifeform up barked. “Bring him into custody as well.”

“That seems a bit... much, doesn’t it?”

“He’s wanted for aiding and abetting a fugitive. And besides, he’ll be good insurance to make sure our little genocidal freak stays in check.”

“...Roger that.”

Notes:

Honestly I wasn't expecting to write everything as one single scene, but I think it came out well.

Let me know what you think in the comments! I look forward to reading them.

Chapter 17

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Sonic felt his eyelids twitch as his senses slowly began firing back to life. His thoughts felt sluggish, as if they were wading through mud and barely able to maintain coherency. He felt himself lurch to the side, though his body remained locked in its position. He couldn’t even move so much as a finger.

He couldn’t remember where he was or why he was there. It was a jumbled and hazy blur in his mind, and the grogginess and unwillingness of his body to listen to his commands only exacerbated the problem.

He could hear the murmuring of voices around him. It was hard to focus on them at first, a slight ringing in his ears making it difficult to discern. Setting all other thoughts aside, he focused what little consciousness he had on the sole act of just listening to what they were saying.

“...waste of time to even bother with it, you know? We could just deal with him now.”

“The Commander would never authorize it.”

“...So?”

“...So, I’m not planning on ending my career with a court-martial.”

“Oh, come on! This trial sh*t is bull, and you know it. After everything he’s done, there’s still a chance he could walk? No f*cking way, man.”

“I seem to remember the last time we unilaterally executed someone by firing squad, it resulted in the world nearly getting destroyed.”

“By the same f*cker sitting right there!”

A sigh came from somewhere else as a third voice piped up.

“There’s a reason he’s going to be tried in Westopolis. He’s not getting off the hook. Besides, our hands are tied with Sonic here.”

The mention of his name shot through the blue hedgehog’s brain like a bullet. The extra jolt of adrenaline sent sparked the rest of his brain back to life, allowing him to slowly open his eyes to take in his surroundings.

He was in some kind of personnel carrier, the room shaped like a sideways cylinder and lined with a set of benches backed by netting. He was never too familiar with the interiors, but it looked to be a helicopter of some sort-- which was only confirmed by the muted popping and hum of the engines elsewhere. Seated on the benches were a group of soldiers, armed to the teeth and wearing some sort of plated body armor emblazoned with GUN’s logo.

His instinct to move was completely halted by some force he couldn’t see-- though his attempts did succeed at causing a loud series of clanking noises that caught the attention of the military strike team. Most of them jumped to attention, pulling their rifles up to aim at the fully conscious hedgehog.

“Talk about déjà vu.” Sonic chuckled, trying but failing to shake his head. “Didn’t you learn the first time that it’s not a good idea to lock me up?”

“Oh, we’ve been learning, alright.” A voice called from the back of the squad.

The other soldiers quietly shifted to the sides of the helicopter cabin, keeping their guns trained on their target. A lone individual sauntered forward, placing his hand on one of the squad members rifles and pushing it down towards the ground. The other operatives followed suit.

Sonic quietly focused on the apparent leader of the squad. His face was obscured by a visored helmet, containing a number of sensors and cameras that gave him the appearance of a spider. On his chest was a ballistic vest, stitched with a name tag that read ‘STEELE.’

“After the last time you broke out, we took the liberty of creating contingencies.”

“Oh yeah?” The blue hedgehog challenged. “Like what?”

“Well, you’re sitting in one of them.” The man smirked, reaching into a breast pocket of his ballistic vest and pulling out a pocket mirror. “Why not see for yourself?”

Sonic felt his guts churn as he saw his reflection. He was sitting in some kind of thick metal chair that arched back and over his head with sharp, crude angles. Lined along the limbs and backing were several locking mechanisms, clasping a mixture of metal arches and some kind of synthetic straps that wrapped around his chest and extremities, keeping him pinned to the chair in a seated position. Even his fingers had been bound, the winched synthetic material covering them keeping them flush to the arms of the chair.

The mirror was tilted upwards slightly, allowing him to see his own head. It was locked in some kind of cage that was welded to the back of the chair, with a series of wedges and plates placed inside to keep his head firmly pointed forward. It looked like it could have been some kind of re-imagined medieval torture device.

The hedgehog felt a wave of anxiety build within him from the unsettling way his movement was restricted, but had no issue hiding it as he looked back at the soldier in front. He let out a sharp whistle, raising an eyebrow as he grinned back.

“I gotta say, you GUN types do an excellent job when it comes to things nobody asked for. It almost makes me wish you used this kind of ingenuity when you’re actually needed for something.”

The man pulled his lips back, baring his teeth in something that seemed halfway between a smile and a snarl. He let out an amused huff of air, his chest jerking slightly from the exhalation.

“You’re hardly one to talk, given your track record. So many times, you’ve defeated Doctor Robotnik, and not once have you been able to actually capture him.”

“And somehow I’m still doing more work than you.” Sonic felt his eye twitch as he responded. “In fact, I believe Shadow was the one who actually managed to bring him in. I can’t imagine you did all this to thank him for his work, did you?”

The hero watched as the other occupants of the personnel carrier stiffened, clutching their weapons more tightly. The squad leader’s mouth fell into a thin line, before reforming into a scowl. He took a few steps forward, making sure he was fully in view of Sonic’s restrained head before reaching up and removing his helmet.

The blue hedgehog felt a visceral sickness fall over him. A web of cracks and scars ran up the side of the man’s head, the skin underneath shiny and angled weirdly, as if it had been made of plastic and slapped on the side of his face. It was shaped like a teardrop, covering a good portion of his eye and temple before traveling past his auburn hairline and curling up to the top of his head.

“Thank him? For what, exactly?” He began, hatred dripping from his every word like a caustic acid. “For the destruction he caused in Westopolis? For the permanent mark he left on me when we fought? For the deaths of my wife and child by his kind? So much to be thankful for.

“I--”

“In fact, why don’t we ask the other members of the Spider Troop what they should thank Shadow for?” He cut the hedgehog off. “Any objections?”

The rest of the squad jumped to attention, curtly saluting as their leader walked over to the closest one.

“Let’s start with you, Sergeant Taggs. What are you thankful to Shadow for?”

“My parents were killed by an orbital blast, sir.” He replied, his voice cold and detached from his words. “They were visiting me to celebrate my promotion to Corporal.”

“And what about you, Lieutenant Cross?”

“Sir. My girlfriend was unable to leave our apartment. The Black Arms blasted the base of the building and caused it to collapse. She did not make it.”

“Private Fedorov, anything you’d like to thank Shadow for?”

“All of my friends died, Sir. Inside and Outside of GUN.”

Sonic could feel a void growing inside his stomach as the soldiers took their turns explaining the losses they had incurred at Westopolis. It gnawed at him, growing larger and colder with each word that came out of their mouths.

It wasn’t lost on him that everyone spoke of it with little emotion. Shadow talked exactly like this when discussing his own recollection of the events that transpired on that fateful day.

He could feel the realization click in his brain. No one involved had really moved on.

It would have been impossible to ask that of anybody.

“Well, Sonic?” Steele viciously asked, snapping the hedgehog out of his own thoughts. “I’m sure you have some wise words for us, right? Something to have us change our minds, grow remorseful? Find it in our hearts to forgive the person who took everything away from us?”

The hero felt the chills in his body only grow stronger as he swallowed thickly. He knew that the Shadow he knew was not like the version they had in their minds. But... the pain and loss they had suffered was very real.

Sonic took a breath in, doing his best to keep his voice from shaking.

“He was being manipulated--”

Don’t you dare.” The squad leader growled, stepping forward. He brought his leg up, stomping it harshly onto the seat of the chair. He leaned forward onto his knee, getting so close that the only thing that filled the hero’s vision was his rage-filled visage. “He was being manipulated? Don’t give me that load of bullsh*t. He embarked on a genocide.”

“He turned on the Black Arms and killed them all!”

“He never should have joined up with them in the first place!” Steele screamed. “I don’t care if he ‘learned his lesson!’ He is responsible for every death there and you do nothing but give him excuses!”

“They’re not--” The hedgehog cut himself off, pausing to recollect and calm himself. “Look, I... I can’t imagine the loss that you’ve all endured, but...”

“But what?” The officer asked, stepping back to stand over the constrained hero. “What, did you plan on saying we should move on? You know, my tear ducts were fused by the blast to my face. I was never even allowed to cry over their deaths. But you seem to have little trouble moving on. You made it look so easy at Station Square.”

Sonic’s eyes widened as his own mind flashed through the images of the flooded and broken city, dominated by a towering water beast that tore asphalt and steel like twigs.

He briefly wondered if there were people in a similar situation after the destruction Chaos had caused in Station Square. No doubt there had been people who had lost everything in that calamity, and no amount of reparations or rebuilding would have sufficed.

“After everything was said and done, you were content to just... run with the wind. No matter the loss of life or damage caused. You’ve never once had to deal with losing everything.”

Sonic wanted to fight back, to tell him that his entire story began with losing everything on his home island. That everything he has was a result of him desperately clawing back the things taken from him. That even if he wanted to stop, he couldn’t because Eggman or some other malefactor would try to destroy everything in his absence. That the losses he had endured over the years had to be swallowed and hidden, because a hero needs to be hopeful and happy to friend and foe alike.

But he knew that was not what this soldier meant. There was a hard truth he had to accept, something that was made all the more evident with his uncomfortable vacation in the absence of the Mad Doctor’s schemes. Sonic had always moved from place to place, his speed allowing him to see so many places at once. But what he saw was always snapshots of the lives of others, never really living with them and tying himself down to a place and creating deep bonds with those he’d have to see every day.

The thought of that lifestyle didn’t appeal to Sonic at all-- but he had the choice not to do it. Most people didn’t have that opportunity. And that wasn’t really something he had considered up until now.

The hedgehog sighed, closing his eyes.

“I know I’m not going to change your minds. Trust me, I get that.” He admitted, doing his best to shake his head in his bindings.

He opened his eyes again, a determined gaze overtaking his features as he slowly looked at everyone in his view.

“But you’re not going to change my mind either. Shadow is not the person you think he is. He’s spent his life doing everything he can to protect the planet. And I think that if someone is able to change for the better, they should be allowed to do that... no matter what they might have done in the past.”

“Even if they killed the people closest to you?” Steele challenged, clenching his fists. “Like that fox boy?”

Sonic paused for a moment, taking the time to genuinely consider the question asked of him.

“I think...” He trailed off, swallowing as he tried to form the words in his mind. “I think it would be... hard to come to terms with that. But even if I had to fake it, I’d do my best to put that person on the right track. And besides, I don’t think Tails would forgive me if I went on a revenge spree in his name.”

Steele glared down at Sonic, his expression stern but devoid of any clear emotion.

“I heard you were stubborn to a fault. Guess that just goes to show that the rumors were true.”

“I’ve been told it’s one of my saving graces.”

“Not how I would describe it.” He blankly replied, grabbing his helmet and placing it back over his head.

Landing in five.” A voice crackled over the intercom. The rest of the squad quickly returned to their benches, strapping their rifles to their chests.

“Hey, hold on!” Sonic called out to Steele as he turned away. The officer paused, giving him time to continue. “...Where’s Shadow?”

The squad leader turned to face the hedgehog, pulling his pocket mirror out again.

“Been next to you the whole time.” He stated, tilting the reflective surface so that Sonic could see the space beside him.

The hero felt his eyes widen in horror as he was able to see the battered black and red hedgehog next to him. Shadow was covered in bruises, eyes closed and chest barely moving in and out. He had never seen him in such a state before, and he quickly felt a surge of anger rise in his chest as he glared back at the soldier.

“Ah, not so forgiving now, are we?” Steele taunted, quickly placing the mirror back into its pocket. “All talk and no walk, I suppose.”

“What did you do to him?” Sonic felt the words forcefully leave his mouth, completely ignoring the jab made at his expense.

“Relax, we just gave him a little welcoming party. You know, to thank him for everything he’s done for us.” The soldier chuckled as he took his seat. “But if it makes you feel better, he only looks that way because of the chemical agent we hit you with. We based it off of project notes Robotnik left at one of his bases, about the time he managed to force the emeralds out of your super form. It disrupts the flow of Chaos Energy in your body. Once it gets out of his system he’ll look as good as new. You wouldn’t even be able to tell it happened at all.”

The hedgehog’s eyes narrowed at the implication.

“I’ve met monsters less ruthless than you.” He spat.

Steele could only laugh as the helicopter began to lurch downwards, beginning its landing descent.

“What can I say? I’ve been told it’s one of my saving graces.”

Eggman was hunched over his cell desk, teeth clenched and brow furrowed as he let out another grunt of frustration. He quickly crumpled the paper he had been writing on, tossing it aside onto the growing pile of similar wads. He felt the urge to snap the pencil in his grasp, but was only just barely able to stop himself, reasoning that the momentary rush of endorphins would not be worth the time wasted in waiting to have another writing utensil be delivered to him.

Nothing made sense anymore. All the plans he had made, the theories he spent decades painstakingly crafting... all of it was no more than a jumbled incomprehensible mess tangled together in his mind now. It was like all of his thoughts had been placed behind a translucent wall, giving him only vague outlines of his own ideas but none of the finer details needed to make them actually function.

Whatever this parasite he let into his body was, it followed through on its word. Any time he merely thought of revealing what had occurred, it would seize full control of his body and render him unable to move for the next several minutes.

Yet here he was, desperately trying to plan a way to expel it from his body, with the creature seemingly taking no action on his transgressions.

He felt a flood of indignance rose through his body. This... thing... only allowed him to do it because it knew that he was currently incapable of devising anything meaningful.

What’s the matter, Doctor?” The voice taunted, the sound bouncing around the inside of his skull. “Having a little writer’s block?

“Not at all.” The evil genius muttered under his breath. “I’ve simply been too preoccupied wondering what your physical form must look like.”

Oh, really? For what reason?

“So I can imagine what it’s like to wrap my hands around your neck and throttle you.”

Oh, Doctor, your strength is certainly understated by your enemies, but it really is unbecoming of you.” The voice chided, feigning concern. “Might I suggest an alternative use of your time?

“Go ahead, enlighten me.” Eggman replied, waving his hand in indifference.

Despite your unreasonable hostility, I still intend to keep my end of our bargain. And it appears that our time together is coming to a close. All the pieces are in place.”

“And you will just... let me go?”

As simple as that.

“...Who are you, anyway?”

What name I was given has been lost to me. But that is of no concern to you. I have thoroughly enjoyed the month we spent together, and the chaos energy within you that you so willingly gave up to me.

The doctor grimaced, his body boiling over with rage as he helplessly listened to the malicious figure offer its most sarcastic gratitude.

“You’ve made a mockery of me. I won’t forget this.” He grunted, clenching his fists tightly. “When I am standing over your broken body, the only thing I’ll regret is that I couldn’t do it sooner.”

Peals of baleful laughter echoed through Eggman’s head, drowning out all other thoughts. It only fueled his hatred further towards the insidious creature.

Very well, Doctor. I look forward to your future failures. Until then, feel free to sit back and relax. The show has only just begun.

Notes:

Honestly I have to say I'm very thankful for the reception that I've gotten so far. I really love reading everyone's reactions and how they feel about everything so far, and it really motivates me to keep going. I don't think I've ever written this much before and seeing so many people really invested in it makes me feel proud of the work I'm doing.

Please let me know what you think in the comments below!

Chapter 18

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow felt himself unceremoniously thrust into the land of the living as his head was rattled to the side, the jolt of the force connecting with a bruise on his face and sending a spike of adrenaline surging through his system.

“Hey, don’t die on me now.” A gruff voice bounced around his ears as his eyes shot open. Even in his dazed state, he could tell whoever was talking to him held no actual regard for his well being. “Oh, you’re actually alive. Good for you.”

“Stop it!” He could hear the familiar voice of Sonic next to him, though the bindings keeping him in place prevented him from turning his head to see. “You’ve done enough to him.”

“We really haven’t.”

The black and red hedgehog’s vision was horribly blurred, his eyes unwilling to focus as a dull throb pulsed through his brain like the beat of a drum. He felt his head loll to the side, tilting slightly against the cold metal that rested next to his head. The cool metal managed to provide a small bit of relief to the pain.

The momentary respite was cut short as a hand slammed against the side of the cage again, sending another wave of pain coursing through him as he grunted.

“Rise and shine, sweetheart.” The man speaking to him cruelly grunted. “You got your beauty rest already, and we’re going to need you conscious while we get you checked into your new room.”

“What? Wh-where...” His voice trailed off, the faint words dribbling out of his mouth. He looked back up, blinking rapidly in an effort to get his sight at least somewhat restored. The familiar silhouette of GUN’s heavy duty armor was familiar to him, even through the haze.

“Your old home-- Prison Island!” The soldier proclaimed.

Shadow’s blood ran cold at the mere mention of the place. His body went into overdrive, his nerve endings sparking to life with waves of unprocessed pain as he jolted in his bindings.

“Now, don’t get too excited! It’s not like you remember it-- after you blew it up, we took the liberty of renovating the place.” The GUN operative leaned in close, his tone venomously cheerful as he spoke into the hedgehog’s ear.

“You’re lucky that Rouge was an informant for our side during the ARK incident. If we weren’t given the chance to evacuate, you would have had two massacres to deal with.”

Another wave of guilt crashed into Shadow as his eyes instinctively closed. His actions during that day were completely reprehensible. There was no way he could ever talk his way around that. Even during that time, the only act of good he could muster was saving Rouge when she lay trapped in the vault on the island.

Even with the confused memories of Maria giving him the push he needed, he couldn’t deny that the perceived necessity of the emeralds didn’t also factor in his decision to save her. And the fact he was still willing to sacrifice everyone else on the island to that end only cemented that it wasn’t entirely out of the latent goodness of his heart. Not even Sonic was exempted.

Sonic... it was hard to understand that blue hedgehog sometimes. Even with his thoughts and feelings on his sleeve, it never really did make sense to him how he could be so willing to just... contently let bygones be bygones. And it only resulted in him being captured as well.

“As if GUN doesn’t have their own history of mowing down innocents.” The aforementioned hero retorted next to him. “That’s what started this whole mess in the first place!”

Don’t defend me.” Shadow grunted, with more anger in his voice than he would have liked.

“I’d listen to your pal, Sonic.” The operative chuckled. “We’re about to disembark. I’ve been authorized to release our new chaos disrupting agent on the two of you if you’re deemed a threat. Neither of you seemed to take well to it last time. Now unless you’re planning on huffing the stuff, you’re both going to be quiet and obedient little dogs, understand?”

The hybrid couldn’t see him, but he could practically feel the anger radiating off of his rival. He almost wished he could have shared the sentiment.

The ground shook underneath them as the personnel carrier touched down. It wasn’t long before the door at the back opened, sliding down to act as a ramp for everyone else to exit. As the strike team left, a group of even more heavily armed soldiers took their place, stomping onboard and surrounding the two imprisoned hedgehogs. Shadow could feel latches being removed at the base of the chair, the contraption rolling forward on wheels he wasn’t aware it had as they were carted out onto the island.

To say that Prison Island had been transformed in his absence was an understatement. The razed island had been rebuilt as a fortress, thick structures of metal and stone covering its entire landscape. The heliport itself was placed in front of a massive gate, its walls multiple feet thick. The area around them was a barren flat land, covered in landmine warnings and razor wire.

The gate slid back and away as the soldiers escorted them inside. The black and red hedgehog could only helplessly watch as he was brought through multiple security checkpoints, avoiding the glares of the guards as they scanned him and his partner over and over again.

Eventually, they were brought to an elevator and carted in. As soon as the doors closed, the chamber lurched downwards, taking them down an untold amount of floors underground. When it stopped, the doors slid open once more, revealing a nondescript hallway lined with thick steel doors.

“I hope you weren’t planning on being anywhere soon, because this is going to be your new home for the foreseeable future.” The soldier stepped forward, walking backwards to address the hedgehogs as they were pushed down the hall. “Food will be provided twice a day, enough to keep you going. If you hear an alarm buzz in your room, you will lay down on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your head. Both of your cells are hooked up with our chemical agent. If you try to communicate with one another in any way, your room will be flooded with it in less than a second. If you try to escape... we’ll release it in the other person’s cell. If that doesn’t stop you, the explosives embedded into this floor and the ones above it will be detonated to ensure nothing survives. Is that clear?”

“Yes.” Shadow quietly responded.

The soldier looked over to Sonic.

“And what about you?”

“The only thing that’s clear is that you should have been disbanded after the ARK incident.” Sonic retorted.

“Sonic--” Shadow cut in, his own voice a mix of anger and concern. “Don’t do this now.”

“You’re all nothing but a bunch of thugs with more power than you know what to do with.” The hero continued, completely ignoring his rival’s warning.

The soldier simply laughed, walking past them back towards the elevator as he heavily placed his hands on one of the guards escorting them.

“Make sure you hit the blue one with a dose once he’s in.”

The black and red hedgehog felt himself jolt against his bindings as the chairs moved forward.

“No!” The words burst out of his mouth. “You don’t have to do--”

“I would keep your mouth shut if I were you.” The gruff voice echoed back, moving further down the hall. “Unless you’d like for your friend to double up.”

Shadow took a deep breath in, trying to calm himself as he was brought in front of a door. He could hear the wheels of the other containment chair slide past him, stopping further down the hall. The door slid open, and he was unceremoniously pushed into his cell. He could hear the footsteps behind him as the guards shuffled out of the room, closing the heavy door behind them. There was a metallic clack as the exit sealed itself closed, iron bolts binding the door to the wall next to it.

There were a number of pops and clicks as the chair he was bound in automatically sprung open, releasing his body. He paused for a moment before pushing himself slowly out of the chair, grunting in pain as he tried to gain his bearings. His legs felt weak under him, the muscles screaming as he stumbled forward and fell to his knees. He brought his hand to his face, hissing as he pressed against one of the many bruises left on him.

He felt his heart drop as the hiss of gas pipes echoed from the thick walls. There wasn’t any doubt that the guards had followed through on their orders.

All he could do was push himself back up before shuffling over to the dingy bed he was given. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to sleep, but it was from that same wall that the hissing noise was coming from. It was likely that the other hedgehog’s cell was on the other side.

Shadow felt his guilt stab through him like a knife. He shouldn’t have agreed to Sonic’s plan. Clearly, the assumption that GUN would never attack the hero was completely unfounded, and only led to the two of them being captured. If anything, it worked in the military’s favor since they seemed content to use the two of them as insurance against the other.

He was powerless.

Completely and utterly powerless.

Eggman’s robots were not as challenging as Silver had hoped them to be. Many of the places he had been sent to clean out were already abandoned for the most part, left to collect dust and rust as the badniks mindlessly piddled about in perpetual preparation of a master that would never return. The fragile creatures were dispatched with a mere thought, their mass-produced designs reduced to a crumple of metal shards by the psychic force thrust upon them. The bases didn’t fare any better-- it could hardly be called exercise as Silver rose his hands, clenching his fists to watch the metal structures buckle and collapse under the sheer weight of his mind.

He wiped his brow, annoyed by the sweat that beaded on his forehead from the overwhelming humidity of the local climate. He had to admit, Adabat was a beautiful sight to behold, but the muggy air was far too much for him. He grimaced, feeling his gloves and socks sticking to his skin from the ambient moisture they had absorbed. Perhaps it was best that he had been lucky with his run of bases to raid-- that, or the harder ones were given to Sonic and Shadow--

Silver felt himself flinch as the events of the night before played out in his mind again. He still wasn’t quite sure what to even make of it, to be quite honest. It was dropped almost casually, the same way one might recall an embarrassing time in grade school. It felt so unreal, but he could feel the weight of the words pressing on his shoulders even though he hadn’t fully processed the situation.

He shook his head, doing his best to chase those thoughts away. He had hoped that he would be too distracted with fighting the robots to have time to consider things, but the relative ease of combat had allowed it to stay in the back of his mind, quietly simmering away.

He pulled out his communicator, glancing down at the screen as he went through the list of coordinates Tails had sent him. They had all been cleared out.

With nothing else to do, Silver just launched himself into the air, using his levitation abilities to hurl himself across the horizon and back towards the fox’s home. He kept his eyes trained to the ground, doing his best to try to make out the small details in the landscape below him to keep his mind off the questions he didn’t want to ask himself.

It wasn’t long before the familiar rolling plains spread out below him, a small and quaint house planting itself firmly in the center of the area. From here, he could see the thick dirt trail leading from the garage, acting like a makeshift runway for the Tornado.

Silver felt a small smile form on his face as he held his arms out to the side, feeling the wind whistling through his fingers as he veered down and to the right. He began moving in large circles, the radius tightening as he rapidly approached the landing strip. Just as he approached its edge, he spun his body upright, cutting off his abilities as his feet connected with the ground and sliding across the dirt as he skidded to a stop. He looked behind him, watching puffs of dust curl up behind him, tracing the streak his boots left in the ground.

The grey hedgehog turned back around to see the garage door open, Tails silently tapping away at his computer on the other side of the plane. He cleared his throat loudly, watching the fox quietly jump in his chair as he spun around to see who his new visitor was.

“Oh! Hey Silver.” He greeted, his voice slightly muffled. The time traveler noticed that one of his cheeks had been puffed out, a number of dark brown crumbs dotting his muzzle. “How was the trip?”

“Boring, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.” He shrugged. “What are you up to?”

“Not much.” Tails paused, covering his mouth as he swallowed what he had stuffed in his mouth. “Just backing up everything I can on the EggNet. I figured we should probably keep everything we can since we’re basically destroying it bit by bit. He didn’t make it easy to do it though.”

“Well, I’m sure if someone can do it, it’s you.” Silver smiled, nodding his head.

The fox wiped his face clean before smiling back.

“By the way, Amy actually dropped by not too long ago. She baked a fresh batch of cookies!” He gestured to the garage door. “I don’t remember if you’ve spoken with her before. I think you’ll like her. Just don’t ask for any mint chocolate chip cookies.”

Silver tilted his head. “Why? Does she not like them?”

“No...” The young genius trailed off, scratching the back of his head as he cast the hedgehog a sheepish look. “I took them all when she wasn’t looking, and last time she got mad at me for hoarding them.”

The time traveler paused for a moment before letting out an amused huff, shaking his head.

“Sure thing. Your secret’s safe with me.”

With that, he walked over to the door, pushing it open and going back into the house proper. He let out a sigh of relief, tugging at the brims of his gloves and socks to let the cool, dry air in and evaporate some of the sweat and seawater that had soaked into them. He’d have to give them a wash at some point, too.

A melodic tune echoed from down the hallway, wading in from the kitchen. Curious, he quietly paced towards the source, stopping as he broached the doorway to the other room.

Just as the fox had said, Amy was indeed here and seemingly busy by the stove, humming away. Silver cleared his throat again, causing her to glance back at him. Her eyes widened slightly at the newcomer, looking back briefly at the stove to turn the heat down before turning to face him more directly.

“You’re Silver, right?” She smiled gently, walking over to him and holding out her hand. “I don’t think we’ve really spoken all that much-- sorry about that!”

“No, it’s no problem. I’m not around too often.” The time traveler replied, shaking her hand. Her grip was surprisingly strong, rivaling even Knuckles in intensity. “What are you up to?”

“Oh, just cooking some dinner! I was talking with Rouge before, and she said there wasn't any ‘real food’ around here. I took a look in the pantries, and... I think Sonic and I are going to have an educational discussion on the nutritional value of chili dogs. Even if he’s not going to change his diet, he should at least keep something else for Tails to eat!”

“Yeah, I can’t really imagine liking something that much.” Silver agreed. “I prefer trying out new things whenever I can. What are you making?”

As if on cue, the stove beeped, letting the girl know that the oven had preheated. She walked back to the range, putting a lid on the pot before placing it inside.

“Well, I assumed that Shadow would be joining us, so I decided to make some beef bourguignon. It’s got a lot of depth of flavor and I’m sure Tails will like it more than the processed garbage Sonic feeds him.”

The grey hedgehog opened his mouth to respond, but paused for a second as a wave of uncertainty came over him. He wasn’t sure if it was Shadow’s mention, but there was also something else that had been nagging him about Amy for a long time now.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to change the subject, but--”

“No, it’s perfectly fine! What’s on your mind?”

“Have we... met before? Like, somewhere else?”

Amy hummed, looking up as she put a finger to her bottom lip.

“Honestly, I know there’s like one or two times we’ve spoken... but I do get a sense that you’re familiar. Looking back I did get that kinda feeling, but I thought it was just déjà vu. Why?”

Silver put up his hands, shaking his head slightly.

“Oh, no reason! I just had the feeling, was all--”

He was cut off as he heard the door to the garage open. Tails poked his head through.

“Amy? Silver? Rouge and Omega said they’re on their way here and asked us to meet outside. They said it’s important.”

“Sure thing!” Amy called back, before looking back at Silver. “Well, I was planning on inviting her anyway. Let’s go see what’s up.”

The two of them followed the fox’s direction, moving out the door and into the front yard. It wasn’t long before they saw the bat and robot duo come over the horizon, moving swiftly as they approached the house.

Tails couldn’t help but feel like he was getting an unfortunate sense of familiarity with their arrival-- the last time they did so, it was to announce GUN’s new intent to arrest Shadow.

Speaking of, where was he and Sonic?

His thought was interrupted as Rouge landed, the hovering robot not too far behind her. Her expression was grim as she stepped forward.

“Commander Tower was relieved of his duties last night.” She bluntly told them.

“...Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Tails asked.

Very bad.” The bat replied, her fists clenching tightly. “He was one of the few people keeping Shadow under the radar at GUN. I don’t know if word got out or the president just didn’t like how slow things were going, but either way it means things are about to get a lot less safe.”

“But he’s with Sonic, right?” Amy stepped forward, concern growing in her voice. “They wouldn’t dare go after him like that.”

“THEY DID IT BEFORE, THEY WILL DO IT AGAIN.” Omega answered, stepping past the treasure hunter to address the others more directly. “GUN HAS NEVER HELD ANY HEDGEHOG IN HIGH REGARD ASIDE FROM THE REPUTATIONAL DAMAGE THEY WOULD INCUR.”

“And even then, that was Tower’s policy.” Rouge added. “We’re basically back to square one--”

The bat cut herself off as her phone buzzed. She whipped it out, staring at the caller ID for a moment before looking back at the group.

“All of you be quiet for a moment. This is really important.”

She accepted the call, putting the phone on speaker as she began.

“Hey babygirl!” Rouge answered, her tone cheerful despite the deathly serious gaze on her face. “How’s it going?”

Oh, really well! I was actually wondering if you had any time this weekend to go watch a movie.”

“Yeah, I think we can do a ladies’ night out. Anything in mind?”

Nothing in particular, I’m sure we can pick something out.

“Why is she--” Silver began, only to be silently cut off as Omega placed his hand over the hedgehog’s mouth.

“Sounds good to me.” Rouge laughed. “So anyways, you got a second to chat?”

For you? Always.

“How’s the family been?” She asked, her grip on her phone tightening. “Your little brother giving you any trouble?”

There was a pause on the other line. The bat quietly stared at the receiver, her gaze intense as she leaned closer to the device.

Yeah...” The other voice sighed, causing Rouge to clench her eyes shut as her shoulders slumped. “He’s a real pain sometimes. He’s out of my hair for now though.”

“Where’s he at?”

He actually just left for the beach.”

“He go with any friends?”

...Yeah. I’d offer to send pics, but you know how camera shy he can be.

The other mobians could only watch in confusion as the bat breathed in through clenched teeth, the tone of her voice completely mismatching the expression she had.

“Can’t do much about that, I suppose.” She sighed. “Listen, it was great catching up, Topaz. I’ll see you this weekend, okay?”

Sure thing, hon! Talk to you soon.

The call ended with a harsh click. Almost immediately, a scream ripped out of Rouge’s throat. In a fit of anger, she threw her phone to the ground, watching as it bounced harmlessly against the soft dirt. She fell to her knees, Amy quickly rushing to her side and kneeling down to see if she was okay.

“What... was all that about?” Silver asked, gently pushing Omega’s hand away from his mouth.

“ROUGE JUST SPOKE TO HER INFORMANT WITHIN GUN. THEY WERE SPEAKING IN CODE.” The robot replied.

Tails felt a pit forming in his stomach. Given their most recent news, he could already surmise what the message was. He hoped he was wrong.

“W-What did they have to say?”

Rouge shook her head, sighing as her fingers clenched harder against the dirt below her.

“Shadow was captured by GUN. She believes he’s being held at Prison Island. They... they have Sonic too.”

It is time, Doctor.” The abyssal voice proudly announced, snapping Eggman out of his uneasy slumber. He felt his body stiltedly rise from his bedding, his feet firmly planting themselves on the ground. His neck moved on its own, gazing at his hands as they were brought up to his sight.

“I see you’ve left me the ability to speak.” The Doctor casually noted as his fingers clenched and unclenched themselves repeatedly.

I had assumed one such as yourself would make better use of your vocal cords.” It spoke into his mind, as it continued to test its ability to control him. “A conversation is much more stimulating when both parties can speak.

“You can drop the feigned benevolence, creature.” He replied, his tone growing colder. “You’ve been bouncing around my head long enough to get a sense of who you really are.”

And that is?

“You’re only letting me talk because you think it makes this situation more pathetic for me.” He bitterly replied, gritting his teeth in anger. “You’re not the first person I’ve met like this. You’re the kind of person who loves inflicting as much pain as possible to everyone around them.”

A guttural laugh thundered through his skull, the force of it feeling as if it vibrated the very bones encasing his brain.

My, Doctor. Is that truly how low your opinion of me is? Or is it that your imprisonment here is making you mistake friend for foe?” The parasitic being let out a chuckle. “No matter, I will continue to uphold my end of our bargain. It is only fair.

“You didn’t deny it.” Eggman noted.

The creature did not reply.

The doctor felt his eyes lower again to look at his outstretched hands. His fingers splayed, a dark purple aura emanating from his fingers as they twitched and trembled.

Your body isn’t made to utilize chaos energy this way, but you should easily be able to withstand it for the time it’s needed. The amount of energy you accumulate is very limited, anyways.

He felt his hand pressing against the sterile white wall of the cell. There was only a momentary pause as the energy began to radiate outward, a pulse surging in all directions. The walls and floor buckled from the force, sending cracks and dust scattering everywhere. With a distorted hum, the electricity abruptly cut out, plunging the entire area into pitch darkness as the hiss of the ventilation fans slowly ground to a halt. A small set of emergency backup lights powered on, casting an eerie solid red light through the cell.

Eggman could only watch with a mixture of awe and morbid curiosity as his own fist reared back, punching a hole through the wall, watching as the material quickly decayed and disintegrated to leave a hole big enough for him to walk through. On the other end was another cell, laid out identically to his own.

The only difference was its occupant, the familiar black and red hedgehog that was responsible for his imprisonment for the better part of a year. The hybrid was facing him, hand clutching his side as he stared down the intruder.

At last, Shadow the Hedgehog.” Eggman felt his lips move, producing a voice that was not his own. “You have no idea how long I have been waiting to speak with you.

“Doctor?! How did you--”

The Doctor is only here in physical form.” It taunted, a grotesque smile forming on the mad genius’ lips. “But surely, you know who I am. After all, you’ve been such a gracious host to me these past few years.”

A look of confusion overtook Shadow, taking a step back unconsciously as Eggman’s body began to radiate the deathly aura.

“...What?”

Pity.” He sighed, a genuine expression of disappointment coming over the mad genius’ face. “I had hoped my voice would spark some sort of recollection in you. No matter-- it changes nothing in the end. I am simply here to collect what is rightfully mine.”

The black and red hedgehog uneasily fell back into a fighting stance, grunting in pain as he clenched his fists together.

“Whatever it is you’re looking for, it doesn’t involve me--”

The black-purple aura quickly condensed into Eggman’s palm. With an outward thrust, the energy shot forward like a javelin, extending forwards towards the hybrid. His eyes widened as the attack easily passed his weakened defenses, piercing through his chest as if nothing was there.

Shadow could only let out a blood-curdling scream of agony as waves of pain ripped through his body. It burned, as if someone had injected molten lava into his bloodstream. He felt his fingers grasp at his chest, clawing through his fur as they passed uselessly through the beam of energy impaling him.

On the contrary.” The creature inhabiting Eggman laughed, its malicious peals only further increasing the pain the Ultimate Lifeform felt. “It has everything to do with you. For so long, I have wasted away inside of your body. It was only during your moment of weakness that part of me was able to escape.”

The Doctor took a step forward, the rail of energy cackling with black electricity as Shadow’s pained howls only heightened.

And now, I have come to take what is rightfully mine!

The possessed human clenched his outstretched hand, severing the flow of energy to the spike impaling Shadow. It quickly dissipated, leaving the hybrid even more confused as he looked down to see his body fully intact. He looked back up at the Doctor, only to keel over in pain and collapse onto the ground as his body trembled uncontrollably.

He felt a wave of heat wash over his body, his breathing growing shallow and uneven. The pain in his chest only increased, pulsing outwards.

It felt like something was trying to claw its way out of him.

He felt his vision grow cloudy, waves of static noise flooding his sight as his fingers grew numb. He could feel his body spasming against the ground, his limbs falling to his sides. All the while, he felt the cruel laugh of the one who caused this bouncing around in his head, its amusem*nt only growing exponentially the more he suffered.

The last thing he saw was Eggman’s shadow slowly growing as it traveled up the wall, twisting and morphing into something unrecognizable as the doctor reached out to him. Another wave of heat washed over him, a nauseating bile began to rise in his throat the closer this... thing got to him.

The last of Shadow’s consciousness faded away, leaving the insidious creature to do with him as he liked.

Sonic wasn’t given a lot of time to ponder after he had been locked into his cell. True to the soldier’s word, the room had been flooded with that noxious gas the moment the door had sealed behind him, burning his lungs and knocking him out for an indeterminate amount of time.

When he had woken up, he was stomach-down on the ground, his cheek resting against the cold concrete as it sapped him of his body heat. He groggily pushed himself to his feet, body swaying as he tried to get his bearings. The room was completely dark, save for the red lights that flashed on and off overhead.

He felt his ears flatten as a scream pierced through the walls, the likes of which he had never heard before. It made him feel sick to his stomach, his heroic instincts begging him to kick into gear and save whoever it might have been. But with Shadow--

The blue hedgehog’s blood ran cold as the drug-induced drowsiness was flushed out of his system by a wave of adrenaline.

That screaming was coming from Shadow.

Any latent concerns about the security measures GUN had threatened were immediately thrown out the window. His ears swiveled towards the wall that the screams were originating from, and without a second through he curled up into a ball, revving himself up in a spin dash towards the white stone surface.

He felt his body scream in pain as he crashed into the wall, the impact digging only a few inches into the rock. Whatever it was made of, it was clearly made to resist these types of attacks.

He could feel his anxiety rise as the wails heightened in distress. With a mix of desperation and determination, he continued slamming himself into the cell wall, digging through the nigh-impenetrable surface bit by bit.

His head felt like it was going to split open, the rest of his body burning as he continued his onslaught. Before he had realized it, he had dug over a foot through the resilient barrier-- but no end in sight.

He stood back up, his breath stopping in its tracks as he realized something.

The screaming had stopped.

No!” He yelled, clenching his trembling hands.

With a scream of rage he revved himself up, using his own battered body as a ram to break through the remaining inches of super-dense stone. He felt the air rush out of his lungs as he resistance crumbled away, allowing him to fully break through into the cell next to him.

He jumped out of his spin dash, only to freeze in place at the grotesque scene unfolding before him.

His rival was lying face-up on the ground, his eyes rolled into the back of his head as he spasmed uncontrollably. Gushing out of his mouth was a black ichor, trailing down the side of his face and pooling next to him. Nearby was the collapsed body of Eggman, the man unconscious and deathly still.

“Shadow!” Sonic called out, rushing over to the seizing hedgehog. He slid to his knees, his breath hitching as he hovered his shaking hands over the convulsing body, unsure of what to do. He rapidly looked the hedgehog up and down, his mind racing as he tried to think of anything that would cause this.

Acting on instinct, he grabbed the hybrid’s head, lifting it off the ground as the rest of the body flopped about like a fish out of water. He felt the thick liquid pouring from Shadow’s mouth flow past his fingers.

“Shadow, I’m here.” He whispered, his own breath uneven and ragged as he tried to keep himself from rocking back and forth.

“It’s going to be fine, okay?” He clenched his eyes shut, trying his best to convince himself of his own words. “Everything is going to be fine.”

He had a million questions racing through his mind. None of them had any answers.

The prodigal hero arrives.” A deep voice reverberated through the room. “Just moments too late, as usual.”

The blue hedgehog looked around, grip on Shadow’s head tightening slightly as he tried to determine the source of the taunting.

“Who are you?!” He called out. “Show yourself!”

Very well.”

A glimmer of motion in the corner of his vision caught Sonic’s attention. He looked down, his stomach dropping as he saw the massive pool of liquid that presumably was expelled by his black and red counterpart.

He could only watch in horror as it began to pulse and vibrate. At its center rose a pair of black claws, followed by jagged arms covered in crystalline spikes. Sonic’s eyes glanced to the edges of the black fluid, watching as it receded the more that the creature’s form appeared. His body screamed at him, begging him to tear out of this facility and just run to the other end of the planet.

But he could only watch in abject fear, his body trembling as the ichor that was retched from Shadow reformed itself into something that felt it just didn’t belong.

A set of quills poked out of the fluid, icy blue spikes covering their ends. Shadow’s spasms only intensified as the rest of the creature’s head made itself manifest-- the thing’s eyes were a sickly green, contrasted by the blood-red sclera that pulsed with a disturbing energy behind it. Its muzzle was devoid of features, lacking even a nose or mouth.

It looked at Sonic with an expression of venomous glee as the rest of its twisted body manifested, the place where its feet should be ending in sharp crystal spikes that hovered ever so slightly off the ground.

“Well?” The creature tilted its head, its muzzle pulsing as it spoke. “Was it all you imagined, Sonic? Please, don’t hold your true feelings back.”

The blue hedgehog was stunned speechless. He could only lean over Shadow protectively, resisting the urge to cower away that was coursing through his nerves.

He had never felt so small before.

Sonic quickly glanced down at his incapacitated counterpart-- he was no longer coughing up black fluid, but his seizure had yet to subside. There was no way he could be moved.

The two of them were completely vulnerable.

“I’d ask if you remembered me, but I don’t think we properly met.” The being chuckled. “I’ll be sure to give you a proper introduction once I recall my name. Assuming you live that long.”

It glided backwards, grabbing one of Eggman’s limp arms as it raised its free one.

“Be sure to thank Shadow for me.” It sneered, purple energy crackling from its raised fingertips. “I never would have been able to last this long without his assistance.”

Sonic flinched as a wave of energy rocked the cell, striking at the walls and ceiling. The material began to decay and dissolve, the entire room groaning as a series of sickly cracks echoed all around them. The deteriorated structure quickly collapsed in on itself, chunks of stone ceiling and wall crumbling down onto each other

Then, in another burst of energy, the creature and the unconscious Doctor simply... disappeared, the void they left behind quickly filled by the debris of the room rapidly collapsing around them.

With another surge of adrenaline, the hero hooked his arms under Shadow’s shoulders, dragging the hybrid back towards the hole he made. He just barely managed to get them both in the tunnel as the cell completely collapsed in on itself, dirt from above rapidly filling any empty space in the disaster site.

As they came out the other end, the blue hedgehog felt his heart sink.

His room wasn’t spared the disaster, either. Much of the wall the two had shared was broken down and collapsed, burying half of it in loosely held dirt and nigh impenetrable stone. The exit to his cell had been completely caved in. The ceiling had broken off into large chunks, jutting downwards at an angle and just barely keeping the countless tons of soil above it from flooding the chamber like in the other cell.

There was no way they could attempt to break out without dying horribly in the process.

Despite his deep breaths, Sonic could feel himself begin to shake as he tightened his grip on Shadow.

“It’s going to be alright.” He repeated, feeling his voice crack as he looked down at Shadow’s twitching form. “So please, Shadow... I need you to stay with me, okay?”

Notes:

I apologize if there are more spelling/grammar issues than usual. It felt like I was constantly stumbling over myself while writing this chapter out.

I'm really looking forward to the next few chapters-- I think you'll really like what I have in store for you all.

Hope you all enjoyed it! Please let me know what you think in the comments below. It's been really fun reading everyone's reactions.

Chapter 19

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Warm.

Shadow felt... warm. Not like the searing sun of Shamar or the muggy heat of Adabat, but a gentle pulsing sense that radiated through his body like the calm crackling fire of a hearth on a cold winter day. It was soothing, his muscles relaxed as he shifted ever so slightly to get into a more comfortable position.

He felt his eyes snap open as the semi-firm material his head was resting on shifted from under him. The room was unbelievably dark, only lit by the dim pulsing red light overhead. Above him was the chest and head of Sonic, who looked back down at him with a look of relief on his face.

Almost immediately, he felt his memories quickly rushing back to him, the comfortable warmth tainted by the familiar weight of his guilt and shame, and the gnaw of the emotional void that resided behind his ribs. His last words with Sonic echoed through his mind, anxiety gripping him as he felt his own fearful gaze bore into his rival’s own.

He dared not look away from the other hedgehog, nor did he dare to move himself. He so desperately wanted to open his mouth and speak to him, but the only thing he could think to say were waves of pathetic apologies that Sonic had made clear weren’t acceptable. He wanted to say he was sorry-- for all the pain he inflicted on their friends, for subjecting him to undue grief and his inability to keep his promise, for... his own inability to be the kind of person Sonic wanted him to be.

He felt his heart rate increase as the hero’s brow furrowed, his focused gaze trying to understand what the Ultimate Lifeform was thinking at the moment. He didn’t seem to find what he was looking for, and he eventually just sighed and closed his eyes, shaking his head.

“Hey, Shads.” He whispered; his voice hoarse. “...Can you speak?”

Shadow grunted, wrenching his lips apart as he tried to ignore the stinging in his throat.

“...Yeah.”

The hero’s shoulders slumped, as if a great weight had slid off of them.

“Good.” He sighed, leaning back into the wall behind him. “...Good.”

The two of them just stayed there like that, the room deathly quiet aside from their soft breathing.

He felt the cushion beneath him shift again, his brow furrowing as he tried to make sense of the sensation. He gasped as he realized the position he had been left in-- his head was resting on Sonic’s lap, a thin blanket laying on top of him. He practically flew into a sitting position, quickly spinning around to face his partner.

“Something wrong?” Sonic asked, eyebrow raised at the unprompted response.

“N-No, it’s--” he stammered out, looking down and to the side. “It’s nothing.”

“...If you say so.” The blue hedgehog replied, his voice tinged with exhaustion as he laid back against the stone wall. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Shadow clutched at the brim of his blanket, wrapping it tightly around himself as he tried to regain some of the heat that was lost as he moved away from the hero.

He took the opportunity to take a look around the rest of the room. Much of it had been caved in, save for the desk and part of the bed. What remained was a section of unmolested flooring, its surface cool to the touch.

“What... happened here?”

Sonic instinctively took in a deep breath, holding it for a second as he tried to think of the right words to answer.

“I... don’t know.” He answered honestly. “What was the last thing you remember?”

The hybrid tightened the blanket’s hold around him as he hunched forward, his eyes firmly glued to the ground.

“Something took control of Eggman. He busted into my cell, and then... hit me with something. I passed out soon after that.”

“You didn’t pass out.” The hero replied, grimly. “I... I heard your screams. When I managed to break through, you were on the ground, just... Chaos, Shadow, it looked like you were having a seizure.”

Shadow flinched back slightly, biting his lips to cut back the urge to apologize again.

“Something was coming out of you. It looked like some kind of tar, and... something came out of it.”

A sense of dread formed in the base of Shadow’s stomach as he tried to process the words that entered his ears.

“What do you mean, something?”

“I don’t know.” Sonic shook his head. “I-- It all felt off, somehow. Like I was witnessing something that shouldn’t exist. It... looked like some twisted version of you.”

“I... don’t know what to say.”

The black and red hedgehog was at a complete loss for words, his brain not even allowing him to try to imagine what that scene must have looked like.

“After that, he and the doctor unleashed some kind of energy blast. They disappeared, and it caused the rooms to start caving in. I pulled you back into my cell. Shads, he... he talked like he knows you.”

The hybrid just shook his head as he kept his eyes down on the ground.

“He talked the same way about me, but... I don’t know anything about him.”

“I see.” He replied, slowly nodding his head back and forth as he continued. “Well, looks like we’re stuck here. The vents are too small, they took away our communicators and the emerald... I guess we just have to wait for someone to rescue us.”

Shadow quietly nodded, leaning back as he felt his eyelids droop. His muscles ached, every movement feeling like they were about to snap from the strain they were under. He closed his eyes, doing his best not to move any more than he had to as he tried to take the situation in.

He... didn’t feel any different. If what Sonic said was true, then it didn’t seem to have any other effect on his body. The same inexplicable dull pain resided in his chest, unceasingly pushing him to just curl up into a ball and try to sleep the world away.

Opening his eyes once more, he glanced at the blue hedgehog. Through the dim light he saw his trapped partner cast him an unusually pensive expression. The hero opened his mouth, only for a strained choked noise to come out in lieu of anything intelligible. He turned his head to the side, grimacing as he broke eye contact.

A wave of shame washed over Shadow, as his mind went to work immediately trying to rationalize Sonic’s behavior.

Obviously, the hero still had to be mad at him. He had been moving heaven and earth to try to return Shadow to some kind of normalcy, not just showing him new places to explore but doing everything he could to rekindle the strained relationships with him and his friends. An entire month of thankless and exhausting work...

And Shadow squandered it all. He was broken, unfixable, incapable of doing the bare minimum for himself and those around him. Sonic had handed him everything he could ever want, and his response was to slap it away and spit in his face.

He didn’t deserve it. He deserved less than nothing.

“Shadow, I--” Sonic finally managed to eke out his words, his confidence wavering as he swallowed thickly. “I need to apologize to you.”

“What? No.” The hybrid’s reaction was immediate. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“I think I have.” He quietly responded, sighing as he pulled his knees up slightly. “I’ve been thinking about everything, and--”

“Sonic, stop.” He interrupted the other hedgehog, pausing as he tried to quell the tinge of desperation in his tone. “I’m-- I’m the problem here. Not you. You don’t need to apologize.”

“You’re not.”

“We both know that’s not true.”

Sonic huffed in frustration.

“Shadow, just... listen to me, please. I can’t force you to accept it, but the least you could do is just... let me get it off my chest.”

The black and red counterpart instantly felt revulsion from the thought. The thought of his rival blaming himself for something that was so obviously his problem made him feel like he was being crushed.

But he couldn’t bring himself to say no. Not when Sonic was asking.

The other hedgehog took that as tentative permission to continue.

“I think it’s pretty fair to say I’m not the best at dealing with all this... stuff.” He began, taking a deep breath. “When I have problems, I tend to just... try to move on as fast as possible. And looking back I realize that what I was really doing was just running away. You, Emerl, Chip... so many others. It’s easy for me, I guess. But now that I think about it, all I was doing was just trying to avoid thinking about it.”

Sonic paused, nervously licking his lips as he slowly pieced together his thoughts.

“When you agreed to come back, I didn’t know how I could help you. You’ve been through so much, and I... I couldn’t stand to see you hurting. I thought, maybe if I just had you do what I did when I wanted to move on, it would work. And even though I could already see that you were still hurting, I just ignored it. I was making you worse and all I could think was that you were just... one vista or one outing away from getting better.”

The hybrid’s mind was begging for him to do something-- anything, to cut off this apology. The words dug into him like a drill, tearing up his insides as he was forced to listen to his rival shift the blame onto himself.

“Shadow, I...” He trailed off, looking down and away as his voice faltered. “I messed up, and I made things worse without even realizing it. It should have been clear from the beginning, but I was too wrapped up just trying to speed through things to actually notice. And in the end, I ended up taking it out on you. I’m... still upset about how things went down with Silver, but I had a hand in that. I shouldn’t have gotten mad at you like I did. I’m... I’m sorry.”

Sonic took a deep breath in, looking back at his rival pensively.

“If you’re okay with it, I want to try again. But I want it to be done on your terms, not mine. I don’t want you to feel worse because you’re just going along with what I’m forcing you to do. Can... Can we try that?”

The blue hedgehog looked expectantly at Shadow, who could only stare back with an inscrutable look on his face.

He still rejected the prospect that Sonic had any blame in any of this. He refused to accept that.

But he didn’t want to cause Sonic any more pain by fighting him. And maybe... just going along with it for now would make his rival feel a little better about himself. Even after everything, there was still a part of him that didn’t want to let go.

He’d just have to bite the bullet and endure the pain... for the sake of his friend.

“It’s okay.” He quietly replied, clenching his fists under the blanket. “And... I want to keep trying.”

A look of relief overtook Sonic’s gaze, as he leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.

“Good.” He whispered. “I’m so glad.”

Both of them remained quiet after that, stuck in their places as exhaustion eventually overtook them both. Shadow would normally be fine, but his chaos abilities hadn’t quite returned yet-- at least, judging by the bruises that still covered his body.

He looked back at Sonic, who had already passed out. He watched the blue hedgehog’s chest rise and fall gently, his head tilted up slightly with a peaceful look on his face. The black and red hedgehog continued to stare, feeling a bit of warmth budding in his chest as he slowly re-study the hero’s features.

As if called to action, he felt a sense of guilt snap him out of his little reverie, reminding him that it was the pain he caused Sonic that was responsible for the fallout and subsequent apology. A scowl formed on his face as he practically slammed his body to its side, pulling the blanket around himself as tight as he could before closing his eyes and hoping that sleep would take him soon as well.

The living room was full of people, but none dared to say a word. Their goal was obvious-- to rescue Sonic and Shadow. But exactly how they could go about doing that, none of them knew.

Amy sat in the middle of the couch, her clenched hands pursed tightly in her lap. To her sides were Tails and Silver, both of which seemed lost in their own thoughts. The fox was mumbling quietly, his hand covering his mouth as his eyes jittered back and forth, running scenarios and plans in his head with seemingly no success in sight. The time traveler, on the other hand... seemed completely out of it. His eyes were trained on the ground in front of him, biting the nail of his thumb as he vacantly stared at nothing in particular.

She looked back to the other two members of Team Dark. Rouge was sitting on the chair, hunched over as she rubbed her temples. Omega stood next to her, unmoving and unresponsive.

The pink hedgehog finally spoke up, determined to at least put something out into the air.

“Rouge, you broke into Prison Island before--”

“Forget about it, sweetheart.” The bat quickly cut her off. “The original break-in was basically staged. And even then, they’ve been building that place out ever since it was blown sky-high. I’d be lucky if I got even close to the place without getting shot.”

“I-I see.” She replied, her body deflating as she leaned back into the cushions. “Sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for.” Rouge reassured her, casting her a sympathetic glance. “I don’t suppose our local genius has any ideas?”

Tails opened his mouth, only for the words to hang in his throat. He solemnly shook his head, lowering it back down to the ground as he continued to brainstorm.

“Why are they moving now?” Amy asked no one in particular. “And why did they take Sonic with them?”

“OUR INITIAL ASSESSMENTS DID NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE POSSIBILITY OF COMMANDER TOWER BEING FORCED TO LEAVE HIS POSITION.” Omega replied. “THE NEW COMMANDER IS REPORTEDLY A WESTOPOLAN WHO ALIGNS HIMSELF WITH THE NEW PRESIDENT’S GOALS.”

Silver looked around at everyone. “Goals?”

“...They’re looking to have Shadow prosecuted for the Black Arms incident.” Rouge replied. “It’s... complicated.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?”

Everyone’s attention was immediately snapped to the grey hedgehog as the words left his mouth. He looked around in confusion, trying to make sense of the shock that was on everyone’s face.

“What?” He asked, genuinely confused by the reaction he was getting. “He told me what he did-- isn’t it a good thing for him to be tried for his crimes?”

Rouge took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a second as she collected herself. When she looked back at the time traveler, she kept her face as neutral as possible, despite her clenched fists twitching with a latent anger.

“...What did Shadow tell you?” She said slowly and calmly.

“He said he... led an invasion into the city. That he killed people. That it was his own choice to do it. Tails and Sonic were there too.” He looked back at Rouge, frustration building as his questioning gaze bore into her.

Rouge looked back at Tails, an eyebrow raised as if to ask if what the time traveler said was true. The fox could only quietly nod, looking away as he bit his lip.

“Sweetie, Shadow... isn’t in a good state of mind right now.” She sighed, flicking her eyes back at Silver. “He’s spent years working with GUN as a way to make up for his actions there. I don’t think it’s right to blame someone who was basically manipulated into doing an evil overlord’s dirty work, you of all people should know that.”

Silver looked down as a sense of guilt pressed down on his back. He knew the words she spoke were true, but...

“Wait, how do I know that?” He asked, looking back up at her expectantly.

The bat opened her mouth, only for her to slam it shut as her eyebrows furrowed.

“I-- don’t remember. It just... felt like the right thing to say at the moment. Forget about it.” She sighed. “Either way, he’s put in a lot of work to make up for his past. He put the fact that GUN killed his family aside because he wanted to help the world. Punishing him now after everything he’s done... it just isn’t right!”

“Wait, what do you mean by his family?”

Amy let out a heavy sigh, placing her hand on his shoulder.

“He... was supposed to be a top-secret project for GUN, but his creator saw him more as family. He had a sister, a girl named Maria who basically taught him everything he knew. GUN... killed them. They grew paranoid of their own project and decided to wipe out everyone involved. Even after the ARK incident, it’s still kept under wraps.”

“...And he still chose to work under them?” Silver asked, unable to hide the shock in his voice.

“I was shocked when he first asked me if he could join.” Rouge cut in. “He said if it meant that he could protect more people that way, then it was worth it.”

Silver looked away, his expression still conflicted as they all sat in silence.

“Sorry, I... I need to clear my head.” He quietly announced, pushing himself to his feet before heading to the door.

No one tried to stop him. He paused as he touched the doorknob, before shaking his head and slipping through the exit. He launched up into the sky, shooting off to parts unknown.

“Asshole.” Rouge spat, folding her arms over her chest.

“He’ll come around.” Amy offered, shrugging. “He looks up to Shadow a lot, so I think this is just... a lot for him to take in.”

“Then he can sort himself out when our friends are safe.” She quipped back, shaking her head. “They’ve barely interacted, anyways. I don’t know why he fawns over ‘Dark and Moody’ like he does.”

“...Maybe we can ask him later.” The pink hedgehog shrugged. “For now, let’s just focus on getting Sonic and Shadow back.”

“Shadow... do you think you’ll like that planet down there?” Maria’s soft voice quietly wafted to his ears.

The red and black hedgehog pensively stared down at the blue and green orb far below the viewing deck of the ARK. He looked back at the young girl who asked the question. She did not look back, too enraptured by the planet that she so desperately wanted to visit.

He could feel the warmth radiate from her, battling back the cold metal and glass of the space station they called their home.

“The professor says all of his work is for the people down there. He said his life’s purpose was to make everyone happy with the power of science.”

He could hear the young girl humming in agreement.

“You didn’t answer my question, Shadow.” She reminded him, a small giggle coming out of her mouth.

The Ultimate Lifeform huffed.

“Nothing gets by you, does it?”

“Is something wrong? Are you worried you won’t like it?”

“No, it’s not that, I just...” Shadow nervously brought his hands up to the back of his neck, massaging the tissue as he let the words leave his mouth. “I don’t know, to be honest. I still don’t know the reason I was born, what my purpose in life is supposed to be. I keep thinking, if I go down there, I might find an answer waiting for me. But... I’m scared that there won’t be.”

He could hear Maria’s soft giggle as she slowly stepped closer to him, nudging him playfully with her elbow. He grunted, turning around as he felt a sense of embarrassment press down on his chest.

“Sorry, forget I said anything.” He shook his head. “It was stupid of me to--”

He felt himself gasp involuntarily as he felt the girls thin arms wrap around him, her head pressing into his soft quills as she hugged him tightly. He could feel her warmth envelop him, wiping his negative feelings away.

“You’re not stupid.” She reassured him, leaning forward to press her weight on him. “I think you’ll find your purpose down there. In fact, I think I know what it is already!”

“R-Really?”

“Of course! Isn’t it obvious? Someone like you...” She paused, nuzzling her nose into the back of his head. “You’re built to kill every living thing down there!”

His heart stopped, his breath growing icy cold as the words pierced his skull.

“Wh-What?”

“You’re built to bring destruction wherever you go.” She cooed, her grip tightening. “It’s in your nature, so don’t beat yourself up so much about it.”

“No, that’s not--” He tried to pull himself out of her hug, only to find it tightening around him like a vice. “M-Maria?”

“How many times are you going to try to destroy the world, Shadow?” She continued, her voice still soft and gentle despite the struggling hedgehog under her. “Do you think you’ll succeed the next time?”

“Stop!” He tugged at her arms, desperately trying to escape her grasp but unwilling to put any more strength in out of fear of hurting her. “Let me go!”

“Don’t be afraid, Shadow.” She whispered directly into his ear. “After all...”

Shadow stumbled forward, Maria’s presence vanishing entirely as he spun around. He could feel his chest pump in and out rapidly as he hyperventilated, only growing colder as he locked eyes with his own reflection in the viewing deck’s glass.

He could only stand still in fear as a pair of crystalline hands slowly crept over his shoulders, sliding across his chest in a cruel mockery of Maria’s embrace.

“That’s just who you are.” The being’s deep voice cruelly whispered to him.

Shadow’s eyes flew open, gasping desperately for air as adrenaline flooded his system. He looked around, his panic only increasing as he realized he couldn’t move his limbs. With frantic abandon he took to unbinding himself from the blanket, cursing himself for wrapping the fabric so tightly around his body. By the time he had managed to get himself free, he was a sweating mess, his lungs heaving rapidly as he laid with his back on the ground.

He felt his breath hitch as he heard Sonic stir from his own slumber. The blue hedgehog opened his eyes, looking confusedly at the fidgeting mess his partner had become. Within seconds, the hero was fully awake and aware, a look of concern growing as he observed the other hedgehog.

“...Are you okay, Shads?”

Shadow cleared his throat, doing his best to compose himself before he could answer.

“Y-Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? You look pretty rough... Wanna talk about it?”

“No, I’m...” He sighed. “I’m fine.”

Sonic blinked, his lips pulling back to form a straight line. It was pretty clear he was unconvinced, but didn’t want to press the issue further.

“...If you say so.” He replied calmly. “But if you ever change your mind, I’ll always have an ear open for you.”

Shadow nodded, falling quiet as he pulled himself up to a sitting position.

He could still feel his heart pounding in his chest. He clenched his eyes shut, trying to wipe the memories of his dream away.

He never had a nightmare like that before. Maria would never say anything like that... even when the Professor had manipulated his memories in the hopes he would destroy the world, her words remained intact... apart from her plea to keep the world safe.

He gasped in realization, eyes widening as he quickly reached back into his quills to rummage around. Sonic could only watch as he frantically searched around, his shoulders slumping as he was unable to produce anything.

He buried his face in his hands.

“They... took my journal.” He whispered quietly.

Sonic slowly got up, slowly moving over to Shadow as he sat back down next to him. The blue hedgehog slowly placed a hand on the far shoulder of his rival, squeezing it softly as he pulled slightly.

“Well...” Sonic trailed off, trying to find the right words to say. They stayed like that for a moment, the hero growing more visibly annoyed that he wasn’t able to find anything uplifting to say. He eventually chuckled, letting go of Shadow’s shoulder as he shook his head.

“You know what?” He cracked a smile, looking down at the defeated hedgehog. “I think they can go f*ck themselves.”

Shadow’s head snapped upward towards Sonic, eyes wide in surprise at the unusually vulgar statement that came from his rival.

Sonic could only laugh, propping himself up on his hands as he leaned back.

“Man, that felt good to say. You’re lucky you don’t have to worry about the kid-friendly hero persona shtick.” He smiled wider at the other hedgehog. “We’ll get your journal back. I’m sure of it.”

The black and red hedgehog slowly nodded, before returning his gaze to the ground.

“Thank you.” He quietly whispered.

Sonic waved nonchalantly, shaking his head.

“Anytime, Faker.”

Shadow pulled his hand up to his cheek, pressing lightly into the flesh. The bruise he had before he slept was almost gone. It seemed like his innate chaos energy was finally starting to work again, mending the injuries he had sustained.

It wouldn’t do much to help him or Sonic get out of here, but it was at least something.

“Hey, Shadow?” Sonic asked, a bit of almost imperceptible apprehension in his voice. “There’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask-- about your journal, I mean.”

The hybrid turned to look at the blue hedgehog, who wasn’t quite looking him in the eye.

“What about it?”

“Well-- I mean... you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but... I saw there were a lot of drawings of me. More than anyone else. Was...” He paused for a moment, swallowing thickly. “Was there a reason for that?”

“I--” Shadow immediately cut himself off, his head practically jerking away and towards the ground as he clenched his fists. He felt a surge of warmth in his body, rushing to his cheeks.

It felt so embarrassing to say out loud. Sonic did say he could just not answer, but... he knew it would only make things more awkward. It wouldn’t be too difficult to at least make up an alternate explanation, or...

He shook his head. It... wouldn’t be fair to Sonic. The hero’s already putting up with so much of the mess he’s made. Especially when he had let him take the blame for Shadow’s own ineptitude earlier.

“I...” He began again, pulling his knees up to his chest. “You said before that I looked... dazzling to you-- when we stopped the ARK together. I don’t know exactly when it started, but... I can’t stop seeing you just like that. Maybe... you’ve always looked that way to me, and I was just unable to realize that.”

He looked at his partner out of the corner of his eye. The blue hedgehog looked completely shocked, mouth hanging agape with not even the slightest breaths leaving his mouth.

The hybrid clenched his eyes shut once more, shame beating him over the back of his head like a mallet.

“I’m sorry, just forget I said anything--"

“No, I--” Sonic interrupted, leaning forward. He glanced back at the other hedgehog, struggling to formulate his own thoughts before Shadow could take it back. “It’s fine, I just... I guess I wasn’t prepared for you to be so upfront about it. I’m not really used to... stuff like this.”

They both sat in silence, unsure of how to really respond to each other.

“Shadow, I--” Sonic began, pausing as he saw the other hedgehog flinch from the sudden outburst. “I... still feel the same way about you that I always have. Sure, you can be stubborn as all hell, and we constantly butt heads, but... I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I spend time with you, it just... makes me regret that I wasn’t able to do it with you earlier.”

“...Even now?”

Especially now.” Sonic sighed, leaning over to playfully jab him in the arm. He looked back down to the ground, his voice softening as he continued. “To be honest, you’re... on my mind a lot. I still don’t really get it, but... the idea of being next to you-- it feels nice.”

The blue hedgehog felt his head snap to the side as he heard the sound of sniffling next to him. Shadow’s back was shaking, fingers quietly wiping his eyes.

“I don’t deserve you.” He whispered.

“It’s not about being deserving.” Sonic shook his head. “I... just want to. That's why I didn’t want you to leave.”

The hybrids sobbing only increased, his tears coming out too fast to be wiped away.

“I’m sorry.” He choked out, his voice becoming muffled as he gasped for air. “I didn’t want to hurt you. I shouldn’t have done it. I just--”

His words were cut off with a gasp as he felt a pair of arms wrap their way around his chest, squeezing tightly.

“It’s okay.” The hero gently replied, his own voice wavering. “You don’t need to apologize again. I’m just glad you’re still here.”

Shadow felt like he could barely stand his own breath, hiccupping and stifling himself as he felt the warmth from Sonic’s body bleed into his once more.

This time, he turned in Sonic’s embrace, snaking his arms underneath the hero’s and around his back, returning the gesture of affection.

“I don’t know what I’m doing.” He admitted, voice barely audible.

“I don’t know either.” Sonic quietly replied.

“I’m scared.”

“Me too.” The hero paused. “...Do you want to let go?”

“...No.” Shadow shook his head, his voice meek.

“Me neither.” The hero admitted. “It... feels nice.”

The black and red hedgehog buried his face in his blue counterpart’s shoulder as he tightened the embrace.

“I don’t want to go anymore.”

Sonic could only laugh gently as he closed his eyes.

“I’m glad.” He murmured into Shadow’s ear, his voice cracking as he tried to hold back his own crying. “Even if the world turns against you... I’ll remain at your side, as long as you want.”

Shadow could already feel the thoughts in his head protesting the idea. Sonic was not always going to be around. At some point, he would be alone again, with no one else in the world able to give him the unconditional affection that the hero was giving him now. The idea of being in a world without him felt bleak and hopeless, unbearably painful without the radiating warmth that was currently enveloping his entire body.

But for now... he found himself able to push those thoughts aside, just living in the moment in this collapsed cell block with his own hero.

He felt his tears slowly recede, and as he hugged Sonic tightly, he felt himself slowly drifting back to sleep.

No longer did he desire to escape reality through slumber. Instead, he felt something different-- hope, that when he woke up again, he would still be there, wrapped in the gentle and warm embrace he hadn’t felt in decades.

Notes:

Nineteen chapters in, huh? Honestly, looking through everything I'm amazed at the reception so far. Never did I think that something like this would have gotten me nearly 5000 hits so far. I'm happy to see everyone liking it so much!

As always, please let me know what you think about it so far. There's still a long way to go, so I hope you all are looking forward to seeing more! Thanks again!

Chapter 20

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Eggman felt himself snap awake as his feet firmly planted themselves onto the ground. His lungs instinctively expanded, fresh cool air rushing through his nose as his synapses flared to life once more.

He blinked a few times, before giving himself a once-over. His prison jumpsuit was still on him, sticking to his skin as he felt sweat run down his back. His glasses were, thankfully, intact-- but functionally useless aside from some minor vision correction.

The evil genius raised his head, slowly taking in his surroundings. He was on a beach of some kind, the ground beneath him a mixture of smooth rock and thick sand that more closely resembled mud. The sky was dull and overcast, accentuated only by the dull hush of waves from the nearby ocean washing up. Where exactly it was remained to be seen.

“Finally awake, are we?”

The Doctor spun around, doing his best to keep his composure despite the sudden appearance of the creature behind him.

This thing... whatever it was, had a vague resemblance to Shadow. But the crystalline formations lining his body and the lack of facial features made it clear it was anything but.

He could feel the hair rising on the back of his neck. This creature spoke with absolute confidence, its tone calm and smooth. It not only spoke with a familiarity of his own thoughts, but seemed to predict them before they could even formulate in his mind.

“Who are you?” He barked, unwilling to entertain the beast any longer than he needed to.

The floating aberration slowly shrugged, tilting his head in one smooth motion as he looked back up at the human.

“Alas, my name has not returned to me. I apologize for the inconvenience, but you will have to go a little longer without a way to refer to me.”

Eggman stood there for a moment, brows furrowing slightly as he scrutinized the crystalline creature.

It was impossible to tell whether or not this... thing... was lying. He knew that it wasn’t beyond such measures. But there would be little reason to lie about it now, especially with it inexplicably deciding to rescue him and bring him back to the surface.

This entity perplexed him beyond imagination, and he was certain that it knew that as well.

“What do you want?” The scientist pushed forward, folding his arms across his chest.

“I simply wished to regain my physical form. Now that I have, allow me to thank you for your generous aid.”

The creature bowed forward, one hand placed under his chest as the other artfully flew out to his side. When he returned to his standing position, he looked back at Eggman, his muzzle pulsing as the words came out.

“As agreed, I have brought you to safety. If you so wish, you may leave. There is a base of yours just a few kilometers to the south-- one of the few bases that have been untouched by the likes of Sonic and GUN.”

“...Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“Even though I promised you that I will take you down?” Eggman grunted, his voice coming out more challenging than questioning.

“You may leave to take your revenge on me. I will not stop you.” The nameless beast reiterated, its confidence not wavering once. “Your chaos-infused intelligence will return to you very shortly, so I expect you will be incredibly busy with your new machinations.

“Why?” The mad scientist gritted his teeth, frustration growing within him as he readjusted his eyewear.

There was something his ‘partner’ wasn’t telling him, that much was obvious.

“I don’t see why not.” The being shook its head, not once breaking eye contact with the Doctor. “Your grand schemes will not change a thing. To expend my own energy to put down what amounts to nothing would be a waste.”

Eggman snarled quietly at the response, indignance growing within him. He wanted to issue a challenge in return, but...

Something still felt very off. Whatever this thing was, it spoke with something far greater than mere ego and confidence. It was as if this being could almost see the future-- or had everything so pinned down that he could predict it with perfect accuracy.

He wasn’t sure which one would be the more concerning prospect.

With a huff, Eggman readjusted his jumpsuit, glaring at the creature as he walked past it. He took a deep breath in, holding it as he sauntered away. With each step his heart beat louder, voices in his head simultaneously demanding he turn his head to see if the being was still there-- but also to never look back in fear of ruining what could be a clean escape.

“Although,” the creature called back, its deep laugh rippling across the sand, “if you would like to rule the universe with absolute authority, I might advise that you work with me once more.”

The mad Doctor froze in place, his shoe hovering just above the wet sand.

“...What?”

“If you are so inclined to work with me once more...” The creature rotated in place, the aura around its limbs exuding a dark purple glow. “You would become a god with power that would demand submission from the likes of Chaos himself. The entire universe, and perhaps beyond that, would be at your beck and call.”

Eggman lowered his foot, pondering the words spoken to him.

“And how would you achieve that? Why bother helping me at all?”

“The ‘how’ is not important as of right now. What outcomes I promise, I always achieve-- you are proof of that. But considering that it involves the death of Sonic and Shadow... does it particularly matter?” He paused. “As for my motives for helping you, it is rather simple. Helping you in this manner means I can achieve my own goals much more quickly.”

The Doctor looked down at the ground, huffing as he considered his options. By all means, he shouldn’t trust a word coming out of this entity’s... well, not-mouth. Whatever promises that this thing had in mind, there was going to be a catch involved.

On the other hand, Eggman knew at this point that his own plans and resources for his Empire were almost completely destroyed at this point. To call it decimated would be an understatement. Even if he could retain some of his manufacturing capacity, he definitely would not have the resources needed to protect himself from re-capture.

An angry grunt escaped the scientist’s throat. This entity probably knew that as well. Anyone with half a functioning brain would realize that there would be no other option but to align himself with the nameless creature.

But then... Why bother promising immense power? If it was a simple proposal to work together, he likely would have accepted out of necessity. Was it a genuine offer, to help this being in exchange for total dominance over all?

He shook his head. The choice was already obvious. If a partnership was what it wanted, then a partnership it would get. At least he would be able to learn more about what exactly this thing wanted, and if necessary, he could begin his work to betray the creature should it come to light that his intentions for the doctor were not genuine.

He turned around, opening his mouth to speak. He felt the words die in his throat as he realized that the crystalline beast was directly in front of him, icy blue fingertips outstretched with an open palm to the mad genius.

“Well, Doctor?” It asked, unmoving. “What do you have to say?”

Tails practically jumped out of his skin as his phone began chirping. He quickly pulled it from out of his namesake appendages, pausing as he saw the caller ID on its screen.

Knuckles.

The fox was a little confused by the sudden outreach. The last time they spoke, the echidna had made it very clear he wanted little to do with Shadow’s plight. The two had pretty frequently been at each other’s throats, though that wasn’t completely unexpected given their propensity to be standoffish and callous towards others.

Honestly, Tails probably should have called him already regarding Sonic’s capture. With everything happening so fast, it slipped his mind. He felt a pang of guilt as the phone continued to ring. He looked back to see everyone quietly staring at him. Shaking his head, he quickly answered the phone and put the receiver to his ear.

“Knuckles, we’ve got--”

“No time, Tails!” A gruff voice barked back from the other end of the line. The young fox winced as a torrent of background noise flooded through, distorting everything and making it hard to hear. “Those bastards did it again!”

“Wh-what?” He stuttered out, taken aback by the sudden development. “Knuckles, what’s going on?!”

Eggman and Shadow stole the Master Emerald!” He angrily shouted. “Can’t you hear the entire island-- oof-- falling?!

Tails could only hold the phone away from his ear as the phone speaker continued to crackle loudly. Everyone winced as the room filled with the tinny noise of a large crash, followed by complete silence. Pausing for a moment, the fox gingerly placed the phone back to his ear, his expression growing more worried as he opened his mouth again.

“Knuckles, are you alright?” He quietly asked.

There was a scraping sound that came from the other end, fading out as a pained groan floated through the line.

“I’m going to kill him.” The echidna grumbled. “After everything we’ve done for him, he goes right back to Eggman. Bet he was the one who broke him out of prison, too. Why Sonic even tolerates him is beyond me.”

“H-Hey, that’s--” Tails immediately cut him off, a flash of anger moving across his face. He quickly shook his head, dispelling the emotion as he calmed himself down. “Something’s off, Knuckles. We need your help--”

“Tails, the Master Emerald was stolen, I need your help. Get Sonic over here!”

“H-he and Shadow were arrested by GUN.” The young child quietly muttered into the phone, his voice cracking.

“What?!” Came the surprised grunt from the other end of the phone, causing Tails to involuntarily flinch. “Well I guess Shadow broke Eggman out, and just left Sonic to rot there.”

Rouge clicked her tongue, pushing herself out of her chair. She sauntered over to the fox, barely sparing him a look as she yanked the phone out of his hands. She walked on over to the door, throwing it open and passing through before slamming it shut behind her.

“Now you listen here, meathead!” She angrily commanded through the phone.

R-Rouge? What are you--”

“Shut it. Now.” She boomed, stomping further from the house as her voice grew louder. The other person on the line quickly fell silent.

She continued. “Now, I don’t know what the hell you saw on your little island, but if Shadow is there then there is no way he’s doing anything with Eggman willingly.”

“You don’t know what I saw!"

“I know what I saw, Knuckles!” She immediately bit back. “You don’t know what we’ve all been through, because you never leave that island of yours! And if you think I’m going to sit here and let you insult one of my friends, you’re sorely mistaken. Unless you’d like for us to go over your record with Eggman.”

“...Sorry.” Knuckles quietly muttered, his words sounding more out of obligation than regret.

Rouge cast a side-eye glance at the device, the tone not lost on her.

“You better be.” She quipped back. “Now, I’m sure we can probably agree that whatever happened to that beautiful gem you like guarding and Sonic’s capture are probably related. So right now I suggest you start moving your way over to us so we can actually make some headway here.”

“Alright. I think the Island crashed somewhere near Apotos.”

“That’s perfect, darling.” She replied, glancing at the back of her hand idly. “We’re all at Sonic and Tails’ house. We can fill you in when you get here. Do you need someone to come pick you up? I can go get my car.”

“No.” He grunted indignantly. “I can get there just fine on my own. Should be there in about two hours.”

“Alright.” She sighed, before looking back at the receiver. “And when you get here, apologize to the kid. He’s already on the verge of crying and your little attitude problem is not helping.”

“What? I--”

“I’m not asking you to do it, I’m telling you.” She cut him off, unwilling to hear his protests. “He’s bending himself over backwards trying to figure out a plan, and nothing’s working. What he needs right now is support.”

“...Okay.” The echidna responded quietly.

“Glad we got that settled.” She replied, sighing. “We’ll see you soon.”

The treasure hunter ended the call, clicking her tongue as she shook her head in disapproval. She turned around, making her way back to the house. She opened the door, pausing as everyone stared back at her with questioning gazes.

“Sorry about that, kid.” She turned her head towards Tails, walking over to gently toss his phone in his lap. “My patience for headstrong men is at an all-time low.”

“I-I see...” The fox awkwardly replied.

“You’re good, Tails.” Amy reassured him, patting him lightly on the shoulder.

“Knuckles will be here soon.” She announced, sitting down on the coffee table. “I don’t suppose anyone has any new plans?”

She looked around. Omega stood still, not responding as he looked towards the young genius. Tails could only look away, as Amy shrugged.

“The only thing I can think of...” The fox muttered, his hands tightening around his phone. “...is to try to hack into GUN’s systems. But that’s really dangerous. If I mess up, they’ll be on us in no time.”

The bat sighed. “I was hoping we could avoid kicking the hornet’s nest, but... that’s probably the only thing we can do at this point.”

“THERE ARE A NUMBER OF RSA KEYS IN MY DIGITAL KEYCHAIN MEANT FOR ACCESS INTO GUN’S NETWORKS.” Omega announced. “SOME OF THEM MAY STILL WORK.”

“Better than nothing, I suppose.” Tails sighed, pushing himself out of his chair. “Go ahead and send those over to me. Actually... Omega, did you read up on the Tornado-1 documentation?”

“AFFIRMATIVE.”

“Good.” He nodded in the direction of the garage. “Go ahead and prep it for launch, please. I want to make sure we have a clean escape route just in case.”

“THE PLANE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SUSTAIN MY WEIGHT.” The robot stated plainly.

The yellow fox shook his head. “Not unless you hook it up with a couple of Chaos Drives. Think you can do it?”

“...SUCH A TRIVIAL TASK IS BENEATH MY CAPABILITIES.” Omega assertively replied.

Tails chuckled as he skipped past the robot and into the garage. He looked back at the E-Series machine, cracking a small smile.

“Good. Then you should have no problem doing it!”

Shadow felt himself stir awake, a small grunt escaping his mouth as he pushed himself into a sitting position. The tile beneath him was cold, leaving him slightly shivering as he rubbed his eyes.

The memories of his embrace with Sonic came back to him, and with it came a surge of embarrassment and guilt as it replayed in his mind over and over again. He shook his head, trying to dispel the flush of his cheeks. As his heart beat faster.

He shouldn’t have done that; it was so stupid. It felt nice, but... it felt like it was wrong to have indulged in something like that.

He paused for a moment, lowering his hands from his eyes as he tried to process his thoughts.

...What was ‘that’ supposed to even be?

His thoughts were pushed to the side as he noticed the absence of the hedgehog he fell asleep next to. He felt his ears twitch to the side, drawn to the faint pitter-patter noises behind him.

Shadow turned around, a questioning look in his gaze as he saw Sonic pacing around, moving back and forth in a straight line with a blank look on his face.

“...Sonic?” He called out, slowly standing up.

The blue hedgehog looked completely surprised by the presence of the Ultimate Lifeform, snapping his head towards him as he continued pacing.

“Oh, hey Shads!” He greeted cheerfully, though a little breathier than usual. He nervously chuckled. “Sorry, I kinda... forgot you were there.”

The hybrid raised an eyebrow, slowly getting to his feet.

“...What are you doing?”

“Oh, nothing! I was just...” He paused for a moment, looking up towards the broken ceiling. “...What was I doing?”

They both stood in awkward silence, Shadow’s concern only growing as Sonic continued to ponder the question.

The black and red hedgehog slowly opened his mouth, only to be immediately cut off by an exclamation from his partner.

“Oh yeah!” He shouted, slamming his fist into his open hand. “I couldn’t get any shut eye, so I thought I’d try to walk some of the excess energy off. But I think the only thing it’s doing is giving me a massive headache.”

“...Are you okay?” He asked cautiously, taking a step forward as Sonic resumed his pacing.

“Yeah, never better! Why?”

Unconvinced, Shadow walked up to the restless hedgehog, holding his hand out to the hero’s chest to get him to stop. Almost immediately, his eyes widened in concern. He could feel Sonic’s chest moving rapidly in and out, his breathing rate almost too fast to keep up with. He could feel something else pulsing as well, but it was too hard to tell just from where his hand was.

“Now hold on, I don’t think that’s necessary--”

“Hush.” The hybrid cut him off, grabbing him by the arm. He closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on the sensation in his fingers as he pressed them into the other hedgehog’s wrist. He looked back at the hedgehog, scowling as he noticed the sheets of sweat that covered the blue hero’s quills.

“Your heart rate is off the charts.” He replied, matter-of-factly.

“Nah, that’s just how I normally am--”

“No, it is not. Now is not the time to be playing off your health.” Shadow barked back. He paused for a moment, eyes wide as he was taken aback by the forcefulness of his own voice. He looked away, practically throwing the other hedgehog’s wrist down as he muttered. “Something’s wrong with you.”

“Well, you look just fine, so I doubt it’s anything to worry about.” Sonic casually replied, causing a bewildered glance from the other hedgehog.

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“It doesn’t?” He tilted his head. “Makes sense to me. Look, I said I’m fine, so--”

Shadow just ignored him, sauntering off to the other side of the room. When he turned back around, he saw Sonic had resumed his pacing, his sentence left unfinished and out of memory. The black and red hedgehog just huffed, a sense of revulsion coming over him as the stale air left a sour taste on his tongue--

His eyes widened, a sense of anxiety growing in his gut as he looked around. Something that would affect Sonic, but not him...

He looked up at the ceiling, eyes narrowing on the vent embedded into what remained of the stone ceiling. He held his hand up, splaying out his fingers. He felt his fear grow stronger as the air remained stagnant, not even the slightest bit of airflow coming through.

The vent was not supplying any air into the room-- it probably never had after the collapse. And these rooms were hermetically sealed.

Shadow didn’t require oxygen to survive-- his chaos infused body was designed to survive even the harsh vacuum of space. But Sonic...

Sonic was the exact opposite. His speed demanded a high metabolism from him, and with it came an increased consumption of air. It was why he could barely hold his breath underwater.

He was running out of breathable oxygen. This room was slowly suffocating him.

“We need to get you out of here, now.” Shadow quickly replied, moving back to Sonic and grabbing him by the shoulder. “Slow your breathing.”

“Shadow, I’m fine--

“Just do it!” He barked. The blue hedgehog seemed taken aback by the sudden hostility, a scared look growing on his face as he slowly nodded. The hybrid watched as his breathing began to slow, a look of relief coming over his face.

“...Good.” He glanced over at the bed, pointing towards the part of the mattress that had not been covered by debris. “Now go sit down, and don’t move until I tell you to.”

“...Okay.”

Shadow winced at the hurt tone of his blue counterpart, but pushed it aside as he focused on the wall opposite to him. With a deep sigh, he curled himself up into a ball, feeling the chaos energy build around him as he launched into a spin dash towards the wall.

He grunted in pain as he crashed into the hard surface, grunting as sparks flew out of the impact. By the time his momentum had worn out, he saw only a small dent in the surface.

He felt his anxiety grow stronger as he heard the ceiling over him groan, dust slowly falling through the cracks as small vibrations reverberated through the entire floor.

Brute forcing it wouldn’t work. He wasn’t sure how many times he could pull that off before the room caved in on them both, but he didn’t want to stick around to find out.

“Oh, I did that too.” Sonic chimed in behind him, mindlessly. “You could probably take care of it easily with a Chaos Blast.”

The Ultimate Lifeform’s eye twitched at the suggestion. There was no way that would turn out well.

But perhaps something a bit more precise would do...

He held out his hand, calling forth his energy and forming it into a spear in his hands. Taking a deep breath in, he flung it towards the wall, watching as it sank in and embedded itself deeply into the surface. As it dissipated, he could see the glowing molten material dripping from the cylindrical hole he made, a few feet deep into the wall.

Shadow tentatively paused, keeping his ears peeled for any seismic disturbances. Satisfied with the lack of response, he flung more spears into the wall, watching as the opening slowly widened. By the time he was done, a cluster of molten holes had been put into the stony barrier. There were still bits of stone connecting them, but with a little more effort, he could at least create a tunnel wide enough for them to pass through.

Another barrage left little of the connective rock left, leaving the interior walls red with superheated material. With another throw of a spear, he blew through the rest of the rock, watching as it tore a small hole into the empty cell adjacent to them.

The Ultimate Lifeform crawled through the nearly finished tunnel, hissing as his fur touched the burning rock. He scrambled towards the back wall, feeling cool air meet his face as he looked through the tiny peep-hole he made from his last throw.

It looked like there was only a thin sheet of rock left. Focusing beyond the opening he made, he felt his heart jump to his throat.

The last remnants of his spear dissipated from a chunk of rock that had fallen into this room. Just next to the burning depression was a parcel of plastic explosives, assumedly torn from the place it was set when the cave-in happened.

Had he thrown it just an inch to the right, the energy spear would have likely set it off.

He swallowed thickly, opting to go for one final spin dash. With the little bit of stone left, he reasoned it would be unlikely to cause a tremor.

He backed out of the tunnel, stopping at its mouth as he curled back up into a ball. He closed his eyes, spinning in place as fast as he could muster before launching forward. He broke through the last remnants of rock, skidding to a stop just as soon as he went through the impact.

He felt his heart sink as he stood up and observed the new cell. The wall in front of him had collapsed completely, and he could see the door jutting out towards him at an awkward angle beneath another heap of collapsed rubble.

This was the final room they could break into. He scanned the ceiling again, locating the thin vent pipe leading upwards. He held his hand out towards it, brow furrowed.

sh*t.” He spat, unable to feel any airflow being pushed into the room. “sh*t!

He covered his mouth, quietly rubbing his lips with his thumb as his mind tried to take in the situation.

The lack of safe ideas only brought him a numb feeling as he wordlessly crawled through the tunnel back to the old cell. Sonic had remained in the bed, quietly staring at him as beads of sweat slowly rolled down his forehead.

Feeling his guts churn, the black and red hedgehog quietly walked over to him, pulling him up by the arm as he led him towards the hole.

“Come on.” He quietly commanded, pointing at the tunnel. “You need to go in, now.”

The blue hero quietly knelt, letting out a small yip as his hand touched the still-hot surface.

“You’ll be fine.” Shadow reassured him. “Just... go through it quickly.”

“...Okay.” He mumbled, before scrambling through. Shadow winced as his partner let out a pained hiss halfway through.

The hybrid was quick to follow suit, pushing himself to his feet as he entered the new cell. He looked around at the debris, finding a large enough piece of rubble to clumsily press into the hole he had made.

It wasn’t enough to stop all the airflow, but it should prevent the fresh air from leaking out as quickly.

He turned back to Sonic, who was standing idly in the middle of the room. He just blinked at Shadow, at a complete loss for words as they stared at each other.

“...Are you feeling better?” The black and red hedgehog finally asked.

The hero just shrugged. “A little, I guess. Air smells nicer in here at least.”

Shadow felt his shoulders fall, a small bit of relief growing within the barrage of apprehension within him. It wasn’t much, but... they have a little more time at least.

The hybrid looked back at the bed-- this one seemingly spared from the collapse.

“Go ahead and lay down.” He calmly told the blue hedgehog. “Just... focus on breathing as slowly as possible.”

The hero looked at him with slightly glazed eyes, nodding slightly before falling onto the padded surface.

“...You can be really scary sometimes.” He mindlessly muttered, his eyes closing.

Shadow flinched from the comment, his ears flattening against his skull. The words felt like they had just stabbed his chest. He wanted to think it was just a mindless comment from the hypoxic hero. He... he was pretty forceful, too.

The hybrid felt a chill run down his spine, muscles growing stiff as he felt a pair of hands grabbing his shoulders from behind. He spun around, only to find empty air.

Turning back towards his resting partner, he opened his mouth. He paused for a moment before shaking his head and closing it once more.

Whatever words he could say would be a waste of oxygen. Sonic needed it more, and every little bit counted. He walked over to the bed, kneeling down as he quietly observed the other hedgehog.

He could hold his breath as long as he needed to, but the hero who gave him so much could not do the same.

Shadow could only hope that a rescue effort could be made in time--

No, he clenched his eyes shut, feeling his chest ache as the truth settled in.

He could only hope that there was a rescue effort to begin with.

Notes:

Typing around at the speed of sound...

You can thank alcohol and some copious free time for the turnaround on this chapter. Honestly I didn't expect to have it done within a day.

I hope you all enjoy!

Chapter 21

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Eggman pulled at the cuffs of his outfit. It certainly felt better than the itchy prison jumpsuit he had been forced to wear for the past few months, but the way it clung to parts of his body and seemingly hung off others made him feel more than uncomfortable. He had hoped it could simply be refashioned by one of his remaining Badniks, but they seemed nearly absent from this base-- the few remaining robots being just barely capable of keeping the place clean.

A faint harmonic hum filled the workshop he occupied. His attention was drawn towards the source; nestled into a mechanical stand he had fashioned rested the Master Emerald, in front of which was the nameless creature. It raised its hand and placed it on the glowing green surface, causing it to begin to pulse rapidly.

“Pray tell, why exactly did we need to grab the Master Emerald?” Eggman huffed, annoyed. “It certainly would have been easier and far less noticeable.”

“The energy required for my demonstration requires far more energy than the Chaos Emeralds could suffice.” His partner replied calmly. “The conspicuous nature of it is not ideal, but without it your aspirations of godhood would be little more than that-- aspirations.

“You still have not shown me what your plan is.” The Doctor rebuffed, folding his arms across his rotund chest. “If you want my cooperation--”

“You will be informed shortly.” The being waved its free hand, not bothering to look at the human. “For now, allow me to concentrate.”

The evil genius huffed again, pulling out a chair from under one of the nearby workbenches. He sat down, glancing at the number of blueprints and sketches that had been lazily piled into a heap, collecting dust from the years of disuse. Many of the names rang familiar to him, for all the wrong reasons.

Egg Dragoon, Egg Devil Ray, Egg Beetle. He felt his eyes twitch at the designs of the Egg Lancer-- it was literally just a last ditch effort with scraps from the previous two. Hardly a testament of his engineering prowess.

In fact, they all fell short when compared to the power of that blasted hedgehog. What blood and sweat he poured into his creations never succeeding against the raw speed and frustrating improvisation that came second-nature to his mortal enemy.

The addition of his grandfather’s only successful experiment only made things worse. It seemed that Shadow was no longer content to stay bound to GUN, going off on his own to completely annihilate the Doctor’s forces in his absence. He even managed to dispose of his prized Metal Sonic with little effort-- watching the CCTV footage from the lab almost hurt to watch, seeing his work destroyed with a ruthless efficiency he hadn’t seen in years.

Something needed to change. Desperately.

He looked back at the mysterious individual, who was silent and focused on the giant gemstone they had stolen not long ago. He could almost swear that the creature was staring at him in its reflection, but the shimmering energy made it impossible to truly tell.

“It is done.” The deep voice rolled across the room.

There was a bright green flash that cast everything in a blinding light. When it subsided, the being had one hand stretched upwards, a small bit of dark and pulsing matter floating in its palm.

The creature swiveled in place, holding the material out towards the Doctor.

“I trust that someone of your caliber would recognize this?” He stated bluntly.

Eggman adjusted his goggles, his hand instinctively reaching out-- only to stop as the nameless entity slightly pulled its own hand back.

“Look. Do not touch.” It commanded. “It would not be a very pleasant experience, I assure you.”

He quietly paused, before leaning in closely to observe the floating matter.

“That’s... antimatter.” The Doctor concluded. “And quite the amount of it, too. Did you use the emerald to create it?”

“On the contrary.” It corrected him. “There is more than enough of it in space. I simply teleported some of it here using Chaos Control.”

“For someone using no containment procedures, you’re keeping it remarkably stable.” He noted, feeling his curiosity getting the better of him. “...I guess it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that you’re not exactly made up of matter, are you?”

“Not exactly.” The creature agreed, chuckling.

“So what of it, then?” Eggman grunted, idly combing through the hairs of his mustache. “I doubt this is all you wanted to show me.”

“Fair enough, Doctor.” It nodded, keeping its hand held out to its side. “I’m sure you’re aware of the effect it has if it comes in contact with its matter counterpart.”

“Please, any self-respecting scientist would.” The mad Doctor huffed, scowling. “It releases a large amount of energy as the subatomic particles are reduced to nothingness.”

The crystalline beast could only laugh softly, gradually growing louder as it continued.

“Not quite.” It smugly chided, before grabbing Eggman’s wrist with its free hand. “Allow me to demonstrate.”

Before the Doctor could protest, he found himself surrounded by purple lightning. He could feel his body being lifted and whisked away as the energy clouded his vision. When it subsided, he found himself dangling in the air, the ground so far below him that the trees looked like small specs of dirt on his goggles. A sharp pain went through his wrist as he felt the iron grip of his ‘partner’ around it, the rest of his body pulling on the joint. He felt himself instinctively begin to struggle, but the entity held fast, keeping him from plummeting to a very gruesome death.

When he was finally able to calm down, he looked up to see the emotionless glare that the creature was giving him.

“You were technically correct in your explanation, Doctor.” Its voice resounding clearly through the rush of wind from the altitude. “But you were missing one crucial detail.”

With that, it titled its hand that held the antimatter to the side. The material rolled off, slowly beginning its descent towards the ground. Eggman could only watch as the purple wispy orb shrank from his sight, becoming nearly imperceptible the further away it got from him.

He could only watch as a bright light sparked from the point of impact. It was almost impossibly bright, threatening to sear his retinas even with the eye protection that he always wore. It slowly grew larger, engulfing the entire area. He winced as he felt waves of heat roll over him, accentuated by the rush of superheated air that threatened to singe what was left of his hair. And still it continued to expand upwards and outwards, consuming everything in a searing white dome of energy.

As the blast dissipated, the Doctor found the breath stolen from his lungs as he was able to take in the totality of the destruction that small bit of antimatter had caused. The ground was not just scorched-- a spherical divot covering almost a full mile in diameter had been left behind, as if someone had simply just... scooped the very ground from where it used to be.

“It doesn’t just release any kind of energy.” The creature finally spoke, cutting through the silence. “Chaos energy. The very essence of life itself. And if you wish to become this universe’s everlasting ruler...”

It paused, slowly pulling Eggman up to stare him directly in the eyes.

“...then you will help gather as much antimatter as possible.”

Tails felt beads of sweat forming on his brow as he typed away rapidly at his keyboard, eyes laser focused on the command line in front of him. He felt his large ears twitch back and forth as the mechanical whirring of Omega persisted behind him-- simultaneously distracting him but providing a sense of comfort that there was at least someone in this room who was able to work on his projects.

The security keys that the robot had provided lay open in a text document on the other monitor, as of yet unused. Honestly, checking if they worked would be the easy part-- the problem was exactly where they would be used. Omega’s access points probably would have included things like mission data, weapons schematics, research projects focused on his work. All things that suddenly reopening access to would raise some red flags.

He clicked his tongue, humming quietly as he pulled up his emails. GUN was nice enough to provide him with some sensitive intel back when they were still tracking down the captured members of Team Dark-- perhaps that would provide him with some leads.

“Let’s try a network packet capture tool...” He muttered to himself.

His thoughts were briefly interrupted as he heard a small thump hit the ground just outside of his open garage. He glanced back to see Silver, knees crouched as he recovered from his landing. The grey hedgehog slowly got to his feet, looking back up at the young genius. With a slightly nervous glance, he opened his mouth.

“Hey--”

“Sorry, not now.” Tails curtly replied, spinning back to his seat. “I’m busy working on... well, Amy and Rouge can fill you in.”

He pointed towards the door, before returning to his work.

Silver watched as the two-tailed fox opened up an email, before clicking on a link. A separate window on the other monitor began scrolling with mostly unintelligible data, with much of it colored in strange patterns. With a bit of murmuring, he pored over the data that came in, before typing some more text on a console he had pulled up. Within moments, the young genius let out a hushed “Yes!” as he pumped his fist, excitedly rising out of his seat as he began typing more furiously on his keyboard.

The hedgehog felt his heart rate spike as a clawed metallic hand landed heavily on his shoulder, the added weight nearly making his knees buckle. He looked back up to see Omega’s piercing red eyes boring into his.

“THE FOX TOLD YOU TO LEAVE.” It stated plainly.

“R-Right.” He nervously nodded. “I’ll go ahead and go now.”

“GOOD.”

Silver nervously shuffled himself through the door into the main house. He glanced at the empty living room before his ears picked up a small bit of chattering from the kitchen. He followed the trail of the noise, finding the other hedgehog and the treasure hunting bat talking animatedly to each other as they put away what he assumed to be the meal Amy was cooking prior to their more recent developments.

“This food is too good for you to keep to yourself, hon.” Rouge playfully chided as she pulled a small chunk of beef from the plastic container she was putting away. “We should make a girls’ night out of it-- get all our friends involved!”

Amy hummed. “I can’t take the credit for all of it, you know. Most of this is just recipes I learned from Vanilla.”

“You should invite her too, then. I’m sure Cream is able to take care of herself for a night.”

“That’s--” The pink hedgehog spun around, her initial defensiveness laying off as she thought about the proposition more. “Actually, that’s not a bad idea. I’ll try floating the idea by her sometime.”

Silver nervously cleared his throat, catching the attention of the two women in the room. Amy greeted him with a warm smile, but he could see the chilly disposition that the bat was giving him.

“Hey.” He half-whispered, his head instinctively hunching as he stood in the doorway.

“Glad you could make it back!” The pink hedgehog cheered, as she put the rest of her food into the fridge.

“Yeah. Uh...” He paused for a moment, his expression softening further as he guiltily glanced at Rouge. “Listen, I-- I’ve been doing some thinking. I felt like I needed to apologize. For what I said about Shadow.”

The bat’s expression remained unchanging, blinking slowly as her blank look continued to weigh on him.

“I... look up to him a lot. So, when he told me... what happened, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. I ended up stopping by the public library in Westopolis and read up on it-- as much as I could.” He sighed, feeling his shoulders drop. “Look, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to really reconcile it all, but it doesn’t change who I know him to be. Whatever he did in the past... It's pretty clear that he’s trying to make amends. And I think it’s wrong to not acknowledge that.”

Rouge only stared back at him, lips pursed as she silently observed the time traveler. She eventually huffed, closing her eyes as she shook her head.

“I appreciate it, though you really didn’t need to go all out on the apology.” She leaned against the counter next to her, folding her arms across her chest. “It’s not like I don’t get it. You can’t exactly just say ‘sorry’ for the stuff that happened. People are hurt. They’re still hurting, and they want something they feel can make that pain go away. I can’t exactly blame them for wanting some kind of... retribution, I guess.”

“Yeah...” Silver trailed off, abashedly rubbing the back of his head. “That’s what I thought about. I just remember... someone important to me telling me I should see the best in people and move from there. I think I just needed to be reminded of that.”

“Actually...” Amy trailed off, slightly raising her hand to cut into the conversation. “I’ve been meaning to ask you-- how do you know Shadow? You seem pretty familiar with him.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask that too. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Mr. Grumpy talking about you.”

“It’s-- ah...” The time traveler stiffened, nervously stumbling over his words. “I... uh... I can’t say. It’s not important, really.”

The two girls looked at each other confusedly.

“NO!”

Tails’ shout came from the garage, accompanied by the sound of something crashing to the ground. The three of them spun around in alarm, quickly making their way to the fox’s workshop. Silver was the first, throwing the door to see the young genius leaned forward into his monitor, his chair upended behind him with its wheels still spinning.

Amy and Rouge were quick to enter, all of them giving questioning looks to the two-tailed child as Omega continued to prep the plane.

“What’s going on?” Amy asked.

“N-No time!” The fox shouted, turning back towards the robot. “Omega, get my plasma cutter-- now.

“ACKNOWLEDGED.” The robot pulled itself out from under the plane before rummaging around the pile of the young inventor’s equipment.

“Crap crap crap crap crap!” Tails muttered to himself as he quickly sprang towards one of the nearby cabinets, rummaging around through it as his namesakes erratically swished back and forth. “There’s been a change of plans. Rouge and Amy, I’m sorry but I can’t take you. I need to go now--”

“We can’t help if you don’t tell us what's going on.” Rouge stated plainly.

The fox clenched his fists for a moment, before walking back over to the computers. With a rushed jerk he turned the monitor towards the trio.

“This is what Prison Island looks like now.”

Everyone’s eyes widened in shock at the pile of flame and rubble that remained of the military complex. The entire place looked as if it had been razed to the ground.

“Wh-What?” Silver choked out.

“An explosion in one of the subterranean floors caused a cascading collapse across the entire base. It’s... basically one giant sinkhole.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.” Tails sighed, struggling to keep himself together as he looked back at the image. “...But they think it happened on the bottom floor... where Shadow and Sonic were being held. It happened just after they arrived, too.”

Everyone stood in shocked silence as they took in the situation. The fox didn’t bother to wait for them to finish processing it.

“The island is crawling with GUN operatives trying to rescue everyone buried right now. They’ve been down there for over a day now, and there’s no telling when GUN will be able to get to them. We need to get them-- now. I’ve got a plan.”

“THE TORNADO IS PREPARED TO LAUNCH.” Omega announced, dropping a large metal box in front of the young inventor. “I AM READY TO TRAVEL WITH YOU.”

Tails paused for a moment, before shaking his head.

“Sorry, Omega. It would be nice to have you coming along, but with the cutter and some of the other equipment, I don’t have the space for you on the plane anymore.” He looked towards Amy and Rouge. “It’s up to you if you want to make your own way to the island.”

“Of course I want to be there!” Amy exclaimed. “Sonic could be hurt.”

Rouge nodded. “Sorry kid, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

The fox looked back at the robot.

“Think you can help them cross the water? I can give you a few Chaos Drives that should let you use your jets the whole way.”

The E-Series machine paused, its servos whirring before he barked out a simple “...ACKNOWLEDGED.”

The young inventor nodded, before reaching back into his cabinet and tossing a few of the sealed crystals to the robot.

“What am I going to do?” Silver asked, pointing at himself as Tails began unceremoniously dumping a ton of equipment into the backseat of his plane.

“I’ll explain on the way.” Tails hurriedly answered, as he hopped into the pilot’s seat and slammed a headset onto his ears. “We’ll be picking up Knuckles along the way-- we can’t wait for him to get here. How fast can you move while carrying someone?”

“With my telepathy?” The grey hedgehog paused for a moment. “Shouldn’t be hard to keep up with the plane.”

“Okay.” The fox nodded, his expression growing more determined as he tossed a second headset towards the time traveler. “I won’t be slowing down, then.”

Shadow could feel his lungs burning. Despite his ability to survive without oxygen, they struggled against him, spasming and threatening to take in the precious little air that was left in the tiny room they inhabited.

Sonic had already regressed back into hypoxemia. His chest was bouncing up and down, eyes clenched shut as he slowly writhed on the bed the Ultimate Lifeform had demanded he lay down on. His sweat gleamed in the dim red light, pooling beneath him and thoroughly soaking the blanket and thin bedding.

And Shadow could only watch him slowly decline, all other options exhausted.

The black and red hedgehog felt his chest spasm again, sending waves of pain rushing through his system. He could feel tears budding at the corners of his eyes, rapidly wiping them away as he tried to suppress the despair welling within him.

He wanted to cry. His body wanted him to cry. But he couldn’t give in. Every sob or gasp would be another breath taken, depriving his partner of what little remained.

It wasn’t fair. He didn’t even deserve to breathe the same air as him. Yet here he was, standing next to the suffocating hedgehog as his body demanded him to take up what oxygen was left.

Sonic groaned in pain, body contorting as his hands slowly rose to his head.

Shadow...

That small, pained voice felt like an electric shock in the hybrid’s heart. Before he could stop himself, his lips parted, letting a ragged gasp in.

His hands immediately snapped to his mouth, but as soon as he broke his vigilance he found himself unable to rebuild. His body hunched over as he hiccupped, unable to stop himself from breathing shallowly in front of the one he was supposed to protect.

With each inhale, he felt his guilt grow. He could feel his heart pounding rapidly, only making his breathing more erratic as he felt the room close in on him. With his vision blurred by his welling tears, he pushed himself back up to a kneeling position, looking back at the despondent blue hedgehog.

Sonic’s arms had fallen to the sides of his head. His mouth hung open, weakly gasping as his chest continued to rapidly rise and fall.

Shadow cautiously reached out, grabbing the hero’s limp hand. There was hardly any response; just the slightest twitch of his gloved fingertips.

With as much effort as he could muster, the hybrid willed himself to calm down and stop his own breathing. He could feel himself quietly rocking back and forth as he pressed the back of Sonic’s hand to his forehead.

He was such an idiot. Curse his stupid desire to stay with the hedgehog. It was the whole reason they were in this mess.

But it was too late to go back on that now. With how long they had been down here, the lack of any kind of response from above told him all he needed to know.

Sonic was going to die here, and it was all his fault.

Notes:

Hope you're all doing well! Winter storm caused my job to close early so I managed to get this out while under like three layers of blankets.

Let me know what you all think in the comments below!

Chapter 22

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Alright.” Tails let out a sigh as he readjusted the microphone on his headset. His fingers tightened their grasp around the yoke of the Tornado, watching as streams of air whizzed past him at blinding speeds. “We’re approaching our destination. Are you all ready?”

Y-Yeah.” Silver nervously replied, voice crackling through the speakers. “Are you sure this is the best way to do this?

The young fox glanced over the edge of the co*ckpit. Trailing just behind him were two streaks of teal light. Through their haze he could just barely make out the figures of the time traveler and the red echidna they had picked up not long ago.

“It’s the best chance we have.” He nodded, his gaze hardening as he looked at the island slowly approaching from the horizon. “We need to be fast and stealthy. Landing the plane would cause a scene and probably get us arrested.”

...Right.

“One minute until deployment.” He quickly barked back, craning his head around to double-check the plasma cutter that Omega had loaded into the rear seat. “Whatever happens, I need that box intact, got it?”

Sure, but... why do we need it, exactly?” Silver asked.

“You’ll see.” Tails curtly replied.

He could feel his heart pounding in his chest as the timer slowly ticked down in his head. So much of this situation felt so utterly wrong to him, the military organization’s attitude towards his friends and their secrecy notwithstanding.

He was aware of the changes that Prison Island had undergone since its destruction during the ARK crisis. Something like Eggman’s attack should have been virtually impossible-- and yet the moment Shadow and Sonic were taken into custody the entire place had collapsed as if it were built on a sinkhole. There hadn’t even been a peep in the reports he had read about an explosion. It just fell into itself.

GUN was known for a lot of things. Shoddy construction was not one of them.

The fox shook his head violently, feeling the headset loosen from the force. Now was not the time to worry about that. There was definitely something off about this incident, but they would have to look for it after they rescued Sonic. Chaos knows how long he had been down there.

“Four... Three... Two...”

Tails quietly finished the count, throwing his headset into a small compartment underneath the yoke. He took a deep breath in before yanking the control stick to the side, watching as the plane began to tilt rapidly to the side. His stomach lurched as the plane began to move further down, the horizon tilting until the ocean was above him and the sky below.

A series of metal clanks was all the confirmation the fox needed as he watched the metal box in the backseat tumble out towards the island below them. The trails of teal light tailing him immediately diverged from the plane’s path, shooting downwards to intercept the package.

The young genius closed his eyes for a moment, finger resting over the release button of his seatbelt. With an exhale, he pushed it inwards, feeling the straps across his chest retract with a solid thunk. He felt his body begin to slide out, pulled by gravity towards the ground. He quickly kicked the autopilot button on the dashboard with the tip of his shoe as he began to move past it, watching as it tilted itself upright and continued to fly past him as he plummeted towards the ground.

It took him a moment to get his bearings as he flung his limbs out as far as he could, feeling the wind rush past him as he slowly managed to orient himself with his stomach facing the rapidly approaching island. With a few test spins of his tails, he found his velocity beginning to slow, providing him more time to take in the situation. Far below him he could see the plasma cutter box heading towards the ground, shrouded in the same blue-green aura that Silver and Knuckles had been encased in. He felt a wave of relief wash over him as he verified its safety.

He continued to spin his twin tails, feeling the deceleration tug on his insides as he continued to slow his descent. He kept his eyes trained on Silver and Knuckles, who had already landed and were now looking back up on him expectantly. Once he was at a safe distance, he flew over to them, feet skidding against the gravel of the beach as he stopped himself right in front of them.

The two companions could only stare back in an impressed shock.

“That was... uh, wow.” The time traveler stammered out.

The echidna could only raise an eyebrow.

“You do that often?”

Tails just shrugged as he pulled his minicomputer out. He ran his fingers over the embossed ‘Miles Electric’ logo, watching as the screen flickered to life.

“I do practice runs just in case the plane gets shot down.” He off-handedly replied. “It beats getting into a crash.”

“...On your own?” Knuckles pressed further, a bit of concern in his voice.

“Sonic’s busy with other stuff.” He shook his head. “Look, I’m not a kid anymore, and we don’t have time for a lecture.”

The echidna was unconvinced but didn’t press further. Tails, unconcerned with his reaction, stared at his screen for a moment before marching towards the mainland, motioning for the other two Mobians to follow.

Silver leaned in towards Knuckles as they began to trail the fox, the plasma cutter in tow.

“Is he normally like this?” He whispered.

“Only when Sonic’s in trouble.” Came the gruff response.

Their trek further into the island took them further from the beach, leading towards a set of concrete bunkers on the outskirts of the base. The white concrete edifices were split apart like eggshells, the cracks aligning with the small fissures that had opened up on the asphalt beneath them.

Silver glanced down into one of the small fissures. It ran deep despite its relative thinness, to the point that its bottom was lost in the dark void that reached hundreds of feet down.

“It’s a lot worse towards the center of the island. According to my sensors, that’s where most of the GUN operatives are. Probably coordinating rescue efforts.” Tails off-handedly mentioned as he peered through the cracks of one of the barracks to view its interior. “I’m not getting any life signs out here, so this seems like a good place to set up. I’ll let Omega and the others know where we are.”

Knuckles nodded, before walking over to the security door for the split building. He reared his gloved fist back, spikes easily penetrating through the metal door. With a loud screech it broke free of its deadbolt, the dented surface swinging inwards and allowing them entrance.

The fox flinched from the noise, glaring back at the echidna.

“Why did you do that?!” He hissed. “Do you want GUN to know where we are?”

“What? You said no one was around.”

“...Whatever.” He sighed, waving his hand as he pushed past the guardian and into the building. “Let’s just hope they didn’t hear that.”

Guided by his map, the young inventor traveled down the long hallway, its walls emblazoned with GUN’s logo. With a sharp heel-turn, he strode into one of the bunk rooms. The room was largely featureless aside from the number of metal-framed beds that lined the entire perimeter of the room. Along the far was a line of lockers, many of them hanging open and emptied.

Tails cautiously looked around the room, before walking towards its center. After double checking some items on his minicomputer, he turned around and faced his companions.

“Here’s probably the best place we can dig without attracting attention. Knuckles, I’m going to need you to dig about twenty stories down.”

“...Stories?” The echidna asked incredulously.

“Yeah. It’s... pretty far down.” The fox quietly confirmed. “Make sure it’s big enough for the box to come down, too.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Knuckles sighed, walking up to the young inventor. “You’re lucky I work out as much as I do.”

The red guardian held his fists out to his sides, before bringing them together in a mighty crash. He jumped into the air, his body pulling into a dive as his claws gnashed into the ground, effortlessly splitting apart the tile and the concrete beneath it. It wasn’t long before he broke through the foundation, dirt piling up around him as he began to travel deeper into the ground.

Tails watched from above as Knuckles continued his digging, the force from his punches sending the soil out to his sides where it compacted against the walls of the vertical tunnel. He looked back at Silver, before reaching into his tails and producing a small headband for the grey hedgehog.

“Here.” He said, tossing it towards the time traveler. “It’s a head-mounted light.”

“Oh... thanks.” Silver muttered, slipping the device behind his quills. “So... what’s the box-thingy here for again?”

“The prison cells--” Tails began, only to be cut off from a shout emanating from the hole in the ground.

“Tails?!” Knuckles gruff voice called out. “I think I’m deep enough.”

The fox glanced back at his computer, nodding as he confirmed the echidna’s position. He leaned back over the edge of the tunnel.

“Go ahead and start digging north! You’ll know when you get there.”

“How am I supposed to figure out where ‘North’ is down here?!”

The young inventor sighed. “There’s a compass on the phone I gave you!”

“Oh, cool! Thanks.”

The yellow fox looked back towards the time traveler.

“Like I was saying, the prison cells were completely redesigned when they rebuilt Prison Island. In order to keep people from doing... well, what we’re doing, they added a two-foot-thick shell of tungsten around the entire floor.”

“Tungsten? What’s that?”

Tails didn’t get the chance answer as a loud metallic clang erupted from the tunnel Knuckles was building.

“Ow!” Came the confused shout. “Wh-What the hell is this?!”

The fox grimaced.

“Probably what Knuckles just crashed into. Twice as dense as lead, and nearly impossible to melt. Even Blaze would have trouble with it.”

“So you’re going to melt it with the cutter?”

“Not exactly. There’s no way we can melt a hole big enough. Basically...” he trailed off, glancing back at the box. “...We’re going to have to slice chunks of it off, bit by bit. Given that they’re going to be extremely hot, you’re going to need to help me with disposing of what comes off.”

“...Got it.”

“Cool. Let’s go see how Knuckles is doing.”

Tails stepped back over to the edge of the three-foot-wide hole, watching as it descended into complete darkness far below. With a sigh, he slipped one of the light-headbands behind his ears, the device automatically turning on and casting the entire room in a brilliant light.

He held one foot over the edge, and with a deep breath in he fell forward, feeling his body plummeting into the cold depths below.

“How fares your research, Doctor?”

Eggman could feel his skin crawling as the crystalline creature made its presence known behind him. Whatever machinations it had in mind, it seemed to relish making the mad genius uneasy in his own home, prodding him just when he felt his concerns slipping away. He put down his soldering iron, trying to keep his hands from shaking just as he turned around.

He felt his heart jump as he found his eyes mere inches away from the beast’s own, staring deep into the sickly green irises surrounded by red sclera that more resembled a bottomless pool of blood. It took him a moment that it had silently levitated to his own height.

“Antimatter is a relatively well-researched field.” He quickly huffed, pushing his glasses back with his index finger as he glared at his questionable partner. “I’ve designed a field generator meant to attract a sizable amount. It’s going to require a lot of energy, but nothing that a couple of chaos drives can’t fix.”

“How many are you making?”

“Five should suffice. I’ve gathered a map of all known antimatter deposits from exploratory satellite data. Put them in the right spots, and you’ll have enough to level an entire continent!”

The Doctor felt a hearty laugh build in his chest from the destructive potential, but a quick glance back at the nameless creature quelled his joy.

It stared back at him, expression unchanged. Eggman could feel his nerves begin to jitter, unable to move or say anything as it continued to bore into him. After what felt like a few minutes of silence, it finally responded.

“...That’s all? Just a continent?” It asked, leaning ever so slightly closer to the human. “Is that the limit of your prowess?”

“Wha-- Well, it’s j-just how much can be reasonably gathered before the attractors cease to function!” He anxiously bit back, feeling his composure quickly crumble from under him. “Besides, that’s more than enough to--”

I decide what is enough.” It calmly responded, laying a sharp fingertip just at the base of Eggman’s neck. “Your lack of ambition is highly concerning.”

“Well if you are so intent on getting more--” He protested, cutting himself off as he felt the fingertip press deeper into the thin skin of his neck. “...Er. Well, I can always make more.”

The creature shook its head. “Come now, Doctor. You of all people should know the phrase ‘Work Smarter, Not Harder.’ I cannot wait for you to manufacture an army of these. I doubt you even have the capacity to do so anymore.”

“W-Well... I have a couple of bases left--”

“Are any of them capable of large-scale manufacturing?”

Eggman opened his mouth to answer, only to pause as his brow furrowed.

“...How much antimatter are you looking for?”

“However much I can get my hands on.” It replied simply. “I assume your lack of answer means that you lack the ability to build an army of these?”

The Doctor paused, glowering as he sighed.

“...No. I can’t.” He grunted out, snarling as he looked to the side.

The crystalline beast lowered its hand, sliding slightly back in the air to give the evil genius some space.

“Then we shall look for an alternate method.”

It swiveled around him, taking a closer look at the machines that Eggman was building. They seemed to have been built out of recycled Spinner carcasses, jammed full of new machinery and antennas. The spinning blades that normally adorned its equator were replaced with a set of netting hooked up by wires to its core.

“They emit a wide-scale attraction field that draws antimatter towards itself.” The Doctor explained, clearing his throat as he rubbed the small indent that the creature made in his neck. “The netting emits a Chaos Energy field that keeps the antimatter from breaching into it. It won’t hold out forever, but it’ll keep it from destroying itself as it attracts more.”

“...Impressive that you built this in such a short time.” The mouthless creature mused, daintily holding one up to inspect it from all angles. “How would its performance be improved if it were powered by a Chaos Emerald?”

“...What?”

The beast rotated in place, its baleful eyes making the Doctor feel as if he had been skewered.

“If we powered all of these with emeralds,” it slowly reiterated, “how much antimatter would it collect?”

“It would take some time, but...” Eggman thickly swallowed, trying his best to keep his composure. “...It would easily be magnitudes higher; potentially all of the antimatter in the known universe could be collected if given enough time. But that would be incredibly disastrous to--”

“Then that is what we will do.” The creature concluded, slowly placing the machine back down on the table.

“Right, but that could cause an untold amount of damage throughout the entire universe!” The Doctor began to protest. “Entire galaxies could be wiped out just from the collection process--”

“...And? Is that going to be a problem for you?”

“You told me I was going to rule the universe!” He protested, slamming his hand down on the workbench table. “I don’t want to rule a lifeless sea of blast-ridden scrap!”

He watched as the beast’s shoulders began to move up and down, a deep laughter pulsing from his mouthless muzzle as his chest lifelessly heaved back and forth. The malicious peals echoed throughout the base, piercing everything to the point that Eggman could feel his own chest vibrating in resonance.

“Oh, you simpleminded Doctor.” It chided him. “I would never lead you astray like that. Your universe will be of your own design, with as much or as little life as you so desire. This is simply the prelude, and in the grand scheme of things, the effects it has on life as we know it is utterly inconsequential.”

“...What is your endgame here?” The Doctor asked, accusingly.

“Perhaps you should be more concerned with what your endgame is.” The creature smoothly pushed back. “My goals are of no concern when you have an entire universe to rule.”

Eggman jerked his head away, his fists clenched as he stared down at the machines he was working on.

He hated to admit it, but he felt completely out of his depth at this point. No-- he had felt out of his depth from the moment he allowed this... thing to enter his body. Perhaps it would have been better to stay in his prison cell. He would have been able to devise his own escape.

He looked back to where the creature was hovering, only to find the space completely empty. His mouth hung agape as he quickly spun around, desperately trying to figure out where the crystalline beast had gone.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been scanning the dark room, trying to quietly determine which flickering shadow in the dark corners of his eyes was hiding the hedgehog-like entity that so effortlessly led him along. Even after he had double and triple checked everything, he still felt on-edge, like his own senses were lying to him.

He let out a deep breath he hadn’t realized he was holding in, slowly unclenching and clenching his hands as he tried to get his bearings.

It was time to cut his losses. He managed to make it out of prison unscathed-- that should have been more than enough. Whatever promises of domination this creature offered him, there was clearly something wrong about this exchange and any further collaboration would not stand.

He quickly grabbed the nearest screwdriver, his other hand grabbing the closest antimatter attractor he had just finished building. The least he could do was try to sabotage the--

“Making a last-minute repair, Doctor?”

He physically jumped from the response behind him, the words bouncing around his head as if they had been whispered into his ear.

“U-Uh, no... I--”

“Then you no longer need to worry about them.” The creature firmly stated, placing its hand on his shoulder. He could feel the sharp fingertips gingerly pressing through the fabric, slightly stinging the skin underneath.

“Wh-Where did you go?” The Doctor quickly changed the subject, slowly placing the screwdriver back down onto the workbench.

“I went to collect the Chaos Emeralds we needed for our goals.” It replied simply.

The evil genius flinched as a series of heavy thuds rattled the table. He looked to his side to see the four glowing gems rolling across the hard surface, glittering in the darkness and casting long shadows across the rest of the room.

“...Where’s the fifth?”

“Right here, Doctor.” The creature spoke from in front of him.

Eggman looked up to see the crystalline beast on the other side of the worktable, staring directly at him. The human instinctively brought his hand up to his shoulder, still feeling the presence of its grip on him despite the absence of its hand. He focused back on the nameless entity, and the glowing red gem it held in his hand. The gem was splattered with some kind of dark liquid, trailing down its sharp sides and between the fingertips of its holder. It slowly trailed down the back of its hand to its wrist, where it slowly dripped to the ground.

The strong red light had made the liquid look black.

“...What is that?” Eggman slowly asked, pointing at the thick fluid.

“Do you really want the answer to that question?” It asked with just the slightest hints of glee in its voice.

Eggman grimaced, pushing himself slightly away from the table. It could have been motor oil for all he knew-- but he knew this creature wielded uncertainty like a dagger.

“W-Well, I’ll need to swap out the Chaos Drive carriages for ones that can hold the emeralds--”

I can handle that, Doctor. I’ve been in your head long enough to know where you keep them.” It firmly rebuffed him. “Besides, this is the point where you decide to betray me, is it not?”

“Wh-What--”

A hearty chuckle pulled itself from the beast’s chest.

“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Doctor. It can’t be helped-- you were always meant to. Your assistance, however, has been greatly appreciated.”

“...So what now, then?” Eggman gruffly replied, back straightening as he clenched his fists. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Not at all. To kill you would be a waste of time and energy. To leave you alive is of no consequence to me. This base has outgrown its use for me, anyway.”

The evil genius could only watch as the Chaos Emeralds began to float around the creature, spinning in seemingly unpredictable patterns. The antimatter attractors he had built began to tremble and shake, scraping along the table until they began to spin in tandem with the gems.

He felt his stomach drop as more bits of his machinery flew from his workshop towards the creature, colliding with the robots as they began to slowly rewire themselves. Within seconds, they had merged with the emeralds, their wires glowing brightly with the same color of the glowing gem embedded within them.

“I thank you for your hospitality.” The nameless entity gleefully told the doctor as it floated over to the Master Emerald. It placed its hand on the top of the gem, watching as its glow intensified greatly. The gem-infused robots began to grow brighter in resonance, before disappearing in a flash of white light.

The large green gem itself released a steadily growing orb of white light, engulfing itself and the creature using it.

“Farewell.”

The cruelly cordial word graced Eggman’s ears, and as the light dissipated he found himself completely alone in his workshop.

Tails could feel himself coughing violently, even behind the protection of the dust mask and goggles he had prepared just for this mission. Smoke clouded his vision, only made worse when he actually activated the plasma torch, which would engulf the entire area with a shower of sparks that made it difficult to even see anything.

Knuckles and Silver could really only watch from a distance, only stepping in when needed. The grey hedgehog stood at the ready, patiently watching for the small chunks of the solid metal wall that the fox would arduously slice off. When one of the superheated slices began to detach itself, he would pluck it from the air with his psychic abilities, throwing the glowing tungsten into one of the many side-tunnels that the echidna had dug out just for their disposal.

The process was painfully slow-- the young inventor had been working the cutter for the better part of an hour at this point, and the only thing they had to show for it was a fist-sized hole in the center.

The young kid felt the cutter fall from his fingers as he hunched over, clutching at his chest as another billow of metallic smoke filled his lungs. Knuckles quickly rushed over, yanking him back towards a part of the tunnel that had cleaner air.

“I think we need to take a break.” Silver nervously suggested, looking back at the path to the surface.

“No!” Tails yelled, shoving himself to his feet and propping himself up against the wall. “I’m fine! We need to hurry--”

“Like hell we do!” Knuckles cut him off, placing a firm hand against the young fox’s chest. “You won’t be doing Sonic any favors if we need to drag you to the hospital before we’re done. Just... wait until you can breathe, at least.”

Tails opened his mouth in protest, only for another hoarse cough to escape his lungs. He curled over, feeling the dirt press into his fur as he covered his mouth, doing his best not to hack his lungs out of his chest.

“F-Fine.” He grumbled. “If only it wasn’t so thermally conductive.”

The echidna just stared at him blankly.

“...I guess that’s a bad thing?”

“It means it takes a long time to melt.”

“Oh. Gotcha.” He awkwardly replied.

Their conversation was thankfully short as Tails’ phone began to buzz. He pulled it out, eyes half-lidded as he looked at his notifications.

“Omega and the others are here.” He muttered.

“...I’ll go get them.” Silver quickly volunteered, making himself float as he flew towards the entrance to the tunnel.

“Hey, uh...” Knuckles trailed off, looking to the ground next to the fox. “I-- uh... wanted to apologize about the call. A lot was happening, and--”

“It’s fine, Knuckles.” Tails cut him off, sighing. “We’ve been friends for a long time, I know you’re not being mean or anything. We’re all going through a lot.”

“...Yeah.” The echidna grunted, feeling himself shrug as he tried to think of something to carry the conversation on. “So... I heard that Rouge and Omega are basically official team members now?”

“Yep. Omega’s been helping out a lot with some of my projects. Rouge hasn’t really had a lot to do though.”

“Not much a gem thief can do with heroes, I guess.” Knuckles muttered.

“...She would probably appreciate it if you picked up treasure hunting again.”

“Well, I--” He paused, rubbing the back of his neck with his gloves. “The emerald needs a guardian.”

Tails hummed to himself, leaning back into the compacted wall of the tunnel.

“Hey-- why don’t we get Omega down here and help out with the wall?” Knuckles suggested. “It’ll give you some time to recover.”

The fox sighed, closing his eyes as he rubbed his head. “That’s probably for the best. I feel like garbage right now.”

“Well, you’ve been breathing nothing but smoke for an hour, that would do it.” Knuckles stood up, lightly rubbing the tufts of fur on the young fox’s head. “I’m going to make sure the tunnel’s wide enough for him.”

Tails could only nod silently, closing his eyes as he felt the dry heat of the room seep into him. His limbs felt numb, and his lungs still stung from the noxious fumes he had been inhaling.

He should have spent more time planning. Or at the very least run things by someone else.

He felt his brow furrow as he cursed his own short-sightedness. Omega was right there and was perfectly capable of helping out. He was so used to being the foil to Sonic’s impatience, yet here he was mimicking the exact same traits of his own older brother that caused them trouble so often on their adventures.

His thoughts were cut short as he heard a very familiar mechanical whirring slowly encroaching on his location. When he opened his eyes, he saw the towering visage of Omega, chassis tilted as it stared back down at him with its piercing red gaze.

“YOU ARE INJURED.”

“Yeah...” Tails admitted, his knees shooting up to his chest as he let out another hoarse cough. “...Sorry, Omega. I should have brought you along to begin with.”

“...THIS RESPONSE WILL BE CATALOGED FOR FUTURE INCIDENTS.”

The fox felt a pained laugh escape his throat as he pushed himself back into a seated position.

“Alright, fair enough.” He chuckled. “I’ll be fine-- do you know what to do?”

“OBVIOUSLY.”

“Don’t let me stop you, then.”

With that, the E-Series machine rotated in place, before marching towards the thick metal wall. It picked up the nozzle of the cutter, staring at it for a moment before looking back at the wall.

“OPTIMIZING CUTTING PATTERN.”

“Oh my gosh, Tails! Are you okay?!”

The young inventor winced as he heard the worried voice of Amy Rose approaching him. He looked back just as the pink hedgehog dropped to her knees, checking over him. He could just barely make out the off-white figure of Silver behind her.

“...I’m fine.” Tails muttered, waving her off.

“You are so not.” She insisted, a small scowl forming on her face. She reached back to produce a bottle of water. “Drink this, at least. You look terrible.”

Just realizing how parched he was, the fox graciously took the drink and downed the entire thing in one go. He felt a little bit of his energy come back as the cool liquid soothed some of the smoke-irritated tissue in his throat.

“Thanks.” He nodded.

“Anytime.” She smiled back at him.

“OPTIMIZATION COMPLETE. ESTIMATED TIME TO COMPLETION: THREE HOURS.”

The fox felt his heart sink at the report. It still was probably faster than he could do on his own, but it was far longer than he’d have liked.

“Omega--” Tails began, cutting himself off as he went into another coughing fit.

The robot paused, holding the nozzle over the metal as it waited for the fox to finish his statement.

“Do you think we could make the process speed up if Amy helped out with her hammer? Tungsten can be pretty brittle at room temperature, and if we cut it thin enough...”

“...PROCESSING.” The machine replied, pausing as it began to devise the most optimal process. “SHARP IMPACTS WOULD BECOME VIABLE ONCE THE WALL IS THINNER. IT WOULD SAVE AROUND THIRTY MINUTES OF TIME. A CHISEL OR OTHER SHARP OBJECT IS ALSO REQUIRED.”

“...Oh.” Tails muttered, unable to hide the disappointment in his voice.

“Hey, any improvement is better than nothing!” Silver quickly suggested, throwing the best smile he could on. “You still need time to rest up, anyway. I’m sure Sonic wouldn’t like to see you so beat up once he gets out of prison!”

“I can go outside and scrounge for a chisel.” Amy suggested. “This place seems mostly abandoned anyways. By the way, Rouge is out trying to... ‘legally obtain’ a boat for us since we don’t really have a way off the island.”

The fox nodded, breathing deeply as he tried his best to recoup. Amy quickly scrambled away, passing by Knuckles as he returned to the operation site. The echidna kept himself at the back of the tunnel, keeping an eye on everyone. Silver was close by, continuing to dispose of the screaming hot metal shards as fast as Omega could pull them off. The robot itself worked cleanly and effortlessly, its motions smooth and precise as it began using the super-heated jet of energy to slice off bits of the metallic shell encasing the lower floors of the prison.

Despite his backseat in this operation, Tails could feel a sense of... relief of sorts. It had been a while since so many of his acquaintances and friends had teamed up for something like this. And even without his older brother being there, his drive to help others was in all of them.

At least for now, it really did feel like things were going to be alright.

Notes:

Hey everyone! Sorry if this chapter looks particularly weird. I've been through some winter storms that have left me without power, which basically forced me to write this all on my phone in addition to delaying this by a day. Hope you all enjoy it!

Let me know what you think. Next chapter is gonna be a doozy.

Chapter 23

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow felt his eyes snap open as the walls of the partially collapsed prison cell rattled, a muted sound akin to rolling thunder reverberating through the walls. Another stream of loose dust fell through the cracks of the ceiling, hissing softly as it piled onto the tile flooring.

He felt as if someone had just stabbed his heart with an adrenaline needle as it pounded through his chest, threatening to break his rib cage. Another boom resounded through the complex, sending another wave of anxious energy ripping through him as he desperately tried to locate its source.

The red lights flickered, momentarily thrusting the entire area into complete darkness. When they came back online, he looked down at his bedridden companion.

Sonic was completely stilled, what little of his consciousness long faded away. The only indication of his life was his chest, which almost imperceptibly moved up and down with what little energy he had left.

With another minor quake he heard the grinding of stone above him. He felt himself leap into action, quickly scooping up the blue hero and yanking him off the thin mattress just as a cascade of rocks fell on top of it. He grunted as he rushed towards the hole he had made, kicking aside the stone covering and scrambling to drag the both of them through. A cloud of dirt rushed after them, stinging his eyes as he watched the room begin to cave in.

As soon as he cleared the tunnel, he felt himself flop to the ground, his unconscious rival resting limply on top of his chest.

He felt another blast roll through the room-- though it seemed this cell was a little more stable than the last. A pained sigh escaped his lips as he jumped to his feet, carefully cradling Sonic in his arms. He wasn’t sure what the cause of the disturbances were; it could simply be another cave-in as much as it could have been the sounds of rescue.

He felt his grip tighten around the blue hedgehog’s body.

The only thing he could do at this point was hope it was the latter.

“H-Hey!” He shouted at the top of his lungs, feeling the dusty air grind at the inside of his throat. “We’re here!”

He ran over to the wall, spinning around and slamming his heel into one of the few bits of undestroyed wall, hoping that it would travel through the ground and reach his potential rescuers. He winced as he felt the room around him rumble, the stone grinding above him signaling the rapidly deteriorating condition of their last refuge.

He felt his heart sink as the room fell silent once more. The reverberations had completely ceased, just as quickly as they had arrived.

The only thing the hybrid could do at this point was stare down at the limp hedgehog in his arms. His head lolled back, mouth hung agape as it weakly drew in what little air it could.

Shadow felt tears welling in his eyes as he flinched and looked away. He could practically feel the last wisps of life draining away from his partner. With a heavy thump his knees crashed to the ground, unable to keep themselves upright.

“Please don’t let these be your final moments.” He hoarsely whispered, unable to keep his voice from cracking. “Not after everything.”

Sonic didn’t respond.

He wasn’t sure how long he knelt there, quietly holding him as he did his best to keep himself from fully breaking down. Chaos, he was so useless.

It wasn’t fair. He should not be the one who could so effortlessly survive. Sonic deserved it so much more, and yet he lay there on the brink of death.

The low hum of grinding stone reverberated through the walls once more, casting more clouds of dust to the ground. He felt himself lean over, his forehead lightly resting against his partner’s. His chest ached, begging for someone to come along-- but the longer he remained there, the more it felt like the beginning of the end. He could only hope that if their last refuge did collapse, it would be a swift death for the both of them--

He felt himself gasp as an impact shook the wall in front of him, bulging outwards as cracks slowly formed on its surface. Another loud thump echoed from the small fissures, driving them apart ever so slightly as the edifice slowly began to chip away.

Shadow felt his energy return, jumping to his feet as he clutched Sonic tighter than ever.

The strikes on the other side of the wall continued, synchronizing with the overwhelming beat of his heart.

Someone was coming. They had to be.

He glanced down at Sonic. It was impossible to tell if he was breathing or not anymore.

The wall exploded outwards, sending chunks of stone whizzing past the pair as a large plume of dust engulfed the entire area.

“Sonic?!” The hybrid heard the gravelly voice of one of the hero’s companions-- Knuckles, he recalled.

Through the dim light and clouded vision, he could just barely see the gloved hands reaching through the new opening.

Shadow felt more energized than ever, overwhelmed with anxiety and hope as he propped Sonic over his shoulder. He reached out, fingers slowly encircling the echidna’s wrist...

Only to pull hard, yanking the guardian out of the hole and sending him sprawling onto the ground.

“Wha-- Hey!”

The black and red hedgehog wasted no time with apologies or pleasantries. Sonic needed out now.

He dove into the hole, putting his Air Shoes on full blast as he dragged the blue hedgehog through the exit that had been made. He felt the compacted dirt and stray sharp rocks scrape at his back, gritting his teeth as he continued his desperate struggle out of the prison cell block.

As soon as the cave widened, he spun to his feet, carrying Sonic in his arms as he raced through the dark corridor. He could hardly control his own breathing, the sound of his own desperate gasps filling his head as he pushed forward.

There were others in the cave, but their protests and shouts fell on deaf ears as he continued his frantic sprint past them. The only thing on his mind was the visage of the nearly dead hedgehog still being carried by him.

He felt his chest well up with hope as the cave suddenly angled itself upwards. He wasted no time jumping up, kicking himself off the walls to continue the momentum. It was long before he finally saw the bright light of the exit, slowly encroaching on him as the voices of the others slowly faded behind him.

With a final heave he pushed past the precipice of the tunnel, feeling the tips of his shoes catch the rim as he stumbled out.

He winced, eyes having trouble adjusting to the light. It wasn’t long before he was able to adjust, and as he did he opened his eyes to glance back down at the other hedgehog in his arms.

Shadow felt like someone had punched his gut as soon as he saw Sonic in the daylight. His peach skin was a deathly pale shade, tainted with a blue tint that was closer to the color of his quills. He was so far worse than the Ultimate Lifeform could have anticipated, masked by the solid red lights of the cells.

Click.

The hybrid’s head shot up, eyes wide as he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun. His eyes refocused to the person holding it. He immediately recognized the person towering over him, feeling a pit grow in his stomach.

Staff Sergeant Steele. The one who had escorted him to his cell... and the one he left permanently disfigured when he had attacked Westopolis. He could feel the searing rage flowing from his eyes, beating down on him like the desert sun.

Report.” A voice crackled through the walkie-talkie on the soldier’s shoulder. “Were you able to find the source of the seismic disturbances?

Steele did not respond, his gaze unwavering as his finger tightened over the trigger.

Shadow found himself frozen, unable to do or say anything in that moment. There were no words of apology or repentance that he could utter to sway this soldier’s mind, and little more he could do to remedy the situation. All he could do was pull Sonic closer to him, silently staring back at the GUN officer as he trembled where he stood.

Report.” The voice from the communicator repeated.

The hybrid watched as Steele’s lips pulled back into a snarl, his anger building like a fire that was given fresh tinder. He glanced down at Sonic, only to return his baleful gaze to the other hedgehog with an even higher intensity.

With a frustrated growl he lowered his gun, slamming it back into his holster as he grasped his walkie-talkie.

“Nothing to report.” He barked into the microphone. “Probably just a false alarm.”

Roger.” The person on the other line replied. “Command says to get back here ASAP.

“Rog’.”

Shadow let out a relieved sigh he wasn’t aware he was holding.

“...Thank you.” He quietly whispered, gaze falling to the ground.

Don’t.” Came the soldier’s harsh reply. “The only reason I’m letting you go is because our medic team is too overwhelmed to treat him. If it weren’t for that, I would have just put you down here and now. That’s about as much as you deserve.”

The black and red hedgehog looked back up, seeing that the Staff Sergeant’s anger had not subsided in the least.

“...I know.” He replied, swallowing thickly.

Steele was overcome with disgust from the reply, spitting towards the hedgehog as he shook his head.

“Whatever. Now get out of my sight before I change my mind.” He bitterly barked. “And don’t expect the same mercy next time. f*cking monster.”

The hybrid weakly shook his head as the soldier turned heel and left the barracks, leaving him alone with the blue hedgehog.

It wasn’t long before the first few members of the rescue party emerged from the tunnel, their confusion and bewilderment quickly morphing to concern as they saw Sonic’s deathly state.

Tails let out a horrified gasp, rushing over to put his hands on his older brother’s forehead. Amy was quick to follow, staring at him with wide eyes as she froze in place. Silver covered his mouth with his hands, his own skin growing pale in dread.

“Wh-What--” Amy choked out.

“We... didn’t have any air down there.” Shadow quickly cut her off, his own grip tightening. “We need to get him to a hospital now. I don’t know how much longer he’s going to last.”

“I...” The fox’s breath hitched. “I don’t have the Tornado.”

“Rouge managed to get us a boat, but...” The pink hedgehog trailed off, biting her lip as she didn’t want to state the obvious-- it wouldn’t be fast enough.

Silver clenched his fists.

“I can take us, but I can only carry two people if we’re going to move fast.” He nodded his head, furrowing his brow. “He’s not gone yet! I just need to know where we’re going.”

“...Central City Hospital. It’s the closest place.” Shadow muttered. “I can give you directions.”

“I...” Tails tailed off, looking away. It was pretty clear that he wanted to go along, but the young inventor managed to swallow his words as he slowly removed his hands from the blue hedgehog. “...Alright. Keep him safe.”

The hybrid nodded as he felt Silver’s psychic energy lift him off the ground.

“...Always.”

The trip to the hospital was tense, the only noise being the whistle of the wind whipping past the hedgehogs’ ears and the curt orders that Shadow would occasionally bark out to correct their course.

Eventually the sea gave way to a coastline that felt far too radiant for its own good, landmarked by a bright red bridge standing proud over the bay and surrounded by rows of tightly packed houses painted in bright pastel colors. Right on the precipice where the houses ended and the skyscrapers began lay a blocky building, painted pure white broken apart by small red crosses indicating its purpose as a hospital. With little fanfare they slammed into the ground in front of the emergency room entrance, the only thing slowing them down being a set of sliding doors that blasted them with air as they dashed through.

What happened afterwards descended into an anxious blur for the black and red hedgehog. It wasn’t long before his frustrated yells resulted in a team of scrub-adorned staff members coming out with a gurney, pulling the hero away from his arms. Finding no other use for himself, he collapsed into one of the chairs in the waiting room, oblivious to the world as it continued to move past him.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been staring at the patterns in the floor tiles before he felt a hand lightly tap his shoulder. He felt himself bearing his teeth, turning his head as his fingers wrapped themselves around their wrist.

“Ow!” Silver hissed, attempting to yank his hand back to no avail. “Shadow, that hurts!”

The hybrid’s eyes widened as he immediately let go, retracting his hand back to his side.

“...Sorry.” He muttered, quickly folding his arms across his stomach.

The grey hedgehog only gave him a bewildered stare, looking him up and down as he struggled to think of what to say.

“I...” His mouth hung open, only a small sigh of air coming out as he closed his eyes and shook his head. “Forget it. I’m going to go back and see how the others are doing. If anything happens, let us know. Okay?”

Shadow grimaced, closing his eyes as he nodded slightly. “Yeah.”

The time traveler quickly made his exit, glancing back at the black and red hedgehog before shaking his head again as he shuffled out the door.

Once again, the Ultimate Lifeform was left alone with his thoughts.

He felt his fingers tapping mindlessly against his sides as he returned his gaze to the floor. He let out a shaky breath, the cold air of the hospital nipping at him as he felt the familiar sensation of guilt crashing on him like a hammer.

How anyone found him tolerable was a mystery to him. It seemed anyone who called him friend always ended up hurt by his hand, whether he actually wished it or not. He had nearly destroyed Omega. He abandoned Rouge for months, when she needed him most. His actions led to Sonic nearly dying right in front of him-- hell, he was still in critical condition. Nearly crushing Silver’s wrist was just the cherry on top, at this point.

“...Shadow?” A light, wiry voice came.

The black and red hedgehog nearly jumped out of his seat, digging his hands into his sides as he looked up at the person who called his name. It was a Mobian-- a stork, to be exact-- in a white lab coat. They looked at him with an apprehensive gaze, a clipboard held tightly in front of them.

“Yes?” He asked, doing his best to keep his tone neutral.

“I’m Doctor Marsh. We have an update on, er...” The doctor trailed off, glancing around the rest of the room. “...our patient. Would you like to see him?”

Shadow nodded, pushing himself to his feet. The stork motioned for him to follow, leading him through a set of swinging doors as they led deeper into the sterile building.

“Just to clarify-- while it would be a nice story in the papers that we treated a... well, world-renowned hero, having the paparazzi flood this place can be problematic at best. I don’t expect this to be a problem for you, but I do ask that you maintain discretion where possible.”

“Fair enough.” The black and red hedgehog muttered.

“Good. As for his condition...” Doctor Marsh trailed off, sighing as he rubbed the white feathers on the back of his neck. “...Well, it’s best if you see it for yourself. We’ve put him in the specialty wing just up ahead.”

The stork reached out, swiping his ID card against the door in front of them. He pushed the door open for the hedgehog, gesturing for him to go through.

Along one side of the hallway was a set of evenly spaced doors, the space in-between taken up by large windows that provided a clear view into their interiors. On the other side of the hallway lay rows of short, thinly cushioned chairs that allowed one to view in while sitting down.

Shadow felt himself suck in a pained gasp as he looked through the window at the far end of the hall. He saw a large white bed, encased in a tube of thick glass and hooked up to a number of other machines whose muffled beeps and whirrs could be heard through the barrier. Sonic lay inside, looking just as lifeless and missing his gloves and shoes. He felt himself place a hand against the window, feeling dread build in his system. His eyes wandered over to the heart rate monitor, feeling a small bit of relief as he saw the machine blip and spike regularly, albeit weakly.

Sonic was alive. There was that, at least.

“He’s in what we call a ‘hyperbaric chamber.’ It’s a giant tube of pure oxygen that we keep at about three atmospheres of pressure. We’re essentially forcing as much of it as we can into his system.” Doctor Marsh paused, clearing their throat. “He was suffering from some severe cyanosis-- it’s when your limbs turn blue and purple from lack of oxygenated blood. As you can probably see, it’s gotten pretty bad on his digits.”

Shadow focused on where the doctor was pointing. He felt another wave of guilt crash into him, seeing the nasty violet shade that Sonic’s degloved fingers had taken on.

“...I didn’t even see it.” He admitted quietly.

“Well, even so he’s lucky that he wasn’t brought in later. At this state, there’s a high chance he would experience some severe tissue death in his extremities, even after he had been given normal air to breathe. He’s still not out of the woods yet, but this is basically his best chance of recovery. Do... Do you know how long he was in this state?”

The hybrid slowly shook his head.

“A day, maybe two. I don’t know for sure.”

“...I see.” The doctor sighed. “He’s incredibly lucky to have survived as long as he did.”

Shadow opened his mouth, only to close it as he swallowed thickly. He knew he needed to ask, but the words refused to materialize. He clenched his fists, knowing that the words would have to come out eventually.

“Is... Is he going to be okay?”

The stork paused, the sound of the words halting in his throat giving the Ultimate Lifeform the answer.

“...It’s hard to say.” He admitted. “We’ll be keeping him under close observation to see how well he recovers. We’re doing all we can, but there is still a chance that the affected tissue will... not recover.”

“And if that happens?”

“...We’ll need to amputate. But again, that’s highly unlikely. There’s... there’s a more pressing concern, however.”

The black and red hedgehog clenched his eyes shut, feeling his hand on the window slowly curl into a fist as he quietly waited for the doctor to continue.

“...General hypoxia doesn’t affect all parts of the body equally, and... the brain is usually one of the organs that sustains the most damage. It only takes a few minutes for neurological damage to begin manifesting due to a lack of oxygen.” Doctor Marsh spoke slowly and clearly, his own pain bleeding into his report as he relayed the regretful news. “We won’t know until... or even if he wakes up, but... there is a very significant chance that there will be... complications down the line. I wish I could be more specific, but unfortunately we won’t know until we get him healthy enough for a brain scan. You and his other loved ones should... prepare, just in case.”

Shadow hand fell from its place on the window, hanging limply at his side.

“...I see.” He weakly muttered.

“In the meantime, I have a couple of requests from you. Normally, we would limit how many visitors per patient may visit, but... obviously these are extraordinary circ*mstances.” The doctor held his clipboard out for Shadow to take. “Ignore the health insurance and identification forms. We’re doing this ‘on the house,’ as it were. The final form is an approved visitor list-- if you don’t mind, please write down their names.”

The hedgehog slowly grabbed the clipboard, feeling it nearly slide out of his weak grasp. His mind was abuzz, unable to focus clearly. With more effort than he would have liked, he finished scribbling down the names of everyone who was ostensibly part of the rescue effort. Doctor Marsh was quick to take the papers back.

“Perfect. As for the other request, well...” The stork tailed off, glancing nervously at the hybrid. “...You should take a shower.”

Shadow glanced down at himself, realizing just caked in dirt he was from his prolonged containment underground. He looked back at his gloves, grimacing at the splotches of dried blood that also adorned them. He rubbed at the corner of his lips, feeling more of the dried red substance dislodging onto his fingers.

“We have a shower room meant for patients just down the hall. It should be empty, so feel free to use it-- no point in sending you all the way back home. You can come back here once you’re done.”

He quietly nodded, allowing the doctor to guide him towards the shower room. Once again the doctor pushed the door open for him, closing it as soon as the hedgehog passed through.

The warm yellow lights flickered on from the motion sensors, allowing him to see the interior. The entire room was covered in thin tiling, with a few shower heads embedded into the walls and a tile bench under it to allow its users to sit down while bathing. In the wall next to him was a mirror.

His reflection barely resembled what he thought himself to be. His black and red features were covered in multiple layers of dust and dirt-- he may as well have just been a solid brown. His bruises were healed, but dribbling from his nose and mouth were small trails of dried blood, no doubt from the beating he had received in Chun-nan.

He felt his fists clench remembering the assault he had endured. With how much had happened since, it felt like it had taken place both months ago and the day before.

Brushing the thoughts aside, he discarded his dirt-caked gloves and shoes, before walking over to the showers and turning on the hot water as far as the knob would allow. The water shot out from the showerhead, quickly heating up to a scalding temperature that coated the entire room in a billow of steam. He gingerly placed his hand under the running water, hissing slightly as it lit his nerves alight. Instead of pulling back, he just... pushed forward, slowly moving his entire body until he was under the burning torrent.

He looked down, watching as the water slowly turned an ugly shade of brown, speckled with red as the filth was slowly forced from his quills and fur. He slowly moved his hands through his spikes, watching the water grow even dirtier as he slowly massaged the grime out.

He wasn’t sure how long he had stayed under there, feeling the scalding liquid seep into him as his skin slowly grew numb from the heat. He cupped his hands, allowing water to gather in his palms before splashing himself in the face, scrubbing his muzzle and eyes vigorously with his fingertips.

He looked down again, watching the clear water run off his body and into the drain embedded into the tile flooring. With a sigh, he shut off the water, standing there as his soaked quills rapidly turned cold. He trudged out of the shower, grabbing a towel and vigorously rubbing down his body. He felt himself shiver as the air conditioned air of the hospital slowly bit at him, the temperature difference making him feel chillier than before.

He looked back at his gloves and socks, grimacing at their still-dirty appearance. He didn’t have much of a choice in the matter though-- he’d just have to clean them when he got home. For now, he’d just have to put up with the dirt and wear them.

He walked over to the door, placing his hand on the handle. With a deep breath in, he--

...paused, feeling the fur on the back of his neck rise.

An unsettling feeling built in his chest, growing ever larger as he got the feeling he was being watched. He turned around, eyes slowly scanning the room but unable to find anything out of the ordinary.

The hybrid found his eyes slowly drawn to the mirror, the steam from the room coating its surface. His feet moved without command, slowly bringing him closer to the foggy glass. Swallowing thickly, he brought his stained gloves up to its surface, pressing on it firmly before swiping down...

Only to be greeted with his own reflection. There he stood, fully clean and looking like his old self, albeit a bit more damp. Unconvinced, he scrutinized his image further, slowly tracing each of his features as he tried to figure out what exactly was setting him on edge--

He felt his heart jump out of his chest as a hand slowly rose from behind his shoulder, spiked blue fingers slowly curling around the joint.

He spun around, his own hand instinctively snapping up to clutch at the appendage he saw.

He felt the air rush out of his lungs as he frantically looked around, finding the room just as empty as it had always been.

He wasn’t sure where he had felt this before, but something about the sensation was familiar. It felt like he had his leg caught in a bear trap, and the hunter who placed it there was content to smile and watch as he thrashed about. The unknown presence radiated a maliciousness he could hardly stand, beyond anything the likes of Eggman or even Black Doom could have produced.

Shaking his head, Shadow quickly sauntered out of the door, rubbing the back of his neck as he tried to avoid the nervous sensation that ran wild through his chest.

Whatever it was, there were more important things to worry about.

Notes:

Still without home internet, writing and editing these on a phone is a nightmare so if there are any errors with formatting or spelling let me know and I'll try to fix it.

Hope you all enjoyed it! I look forward to writing the next chapter. Let me know what you think so far!

Chapter 24

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow wasn’t sure how long he had spent staring at Sonic on the other side of the hospital’s viewing window. The blue hedgehog remained deathly still in the hyperbaric chamber, save for the small bounce of his chest as his lungs struggled to draw air in. His eyes kept darting back to the tips of the hero’s fingers, still stained a deep bluish purple. At times he thought maybe it had lightened up a shade or two, but it seemed impossible to tell for certain.

The glass tube may as well have been a coffin.

He kept trying to bat such thoughts away, with little success.

He felt his ears twitching as the others slowly arrived, the soft padding of their shoes colliding with the cold floor echoing down the otherwise empty hallway. He didn’t bother to turn his head to greet them-- his eyes remained wholly on Sonic as his hands pressed lightly into the glass pane.

He heard their murmuring, the soft voices prodding him with questions he couldn’t bother paying attention to. It was little more than background noise to the hybrid, an incessant buzzing in his ears that he hoped would go away the longer he ignored them.

When Knuckles’ fist flew out and struck him in the side of the head, he didn’t bother to dodge or deflect the blow. He could feel the spikes of the echidna’s gloves crunch into his skull, sending him sprawling to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Shadow felt himself being yanked upwards, grabbed by the scruff of his chest fur as he was lifted off the ground. He barely registered the image of the furious guardian towering over him, fist pulled back-- quickly superseded by multiple sets of hands grasping at the red Mobian, pulling him back and tearing him off of the hybrid. Without the lack of support, he found himself quickly falling back to the ground.

He just... lay there, staring blankly at the ceiling as he felt the cold tile slowly seep more heat out of his body. The droning continued, dimly aware of an argument that had broken out amongst the others just out of his sight. It slowly grew louder and louder, with more voicing coming into the mix as they continued their bickering.

Out of the corner of his vision he saw Tails. The fox seemed completely detached from the fighting, silently staring through the window to look at the hospitalized hedgehog. He could just barely see the young genius’ face in the reflection, biting his lip in apprehension as his eyes slowly traced up and down his older brother’s form.

With the next verbal crescendo, he watched as the two-tailed inventor’s expression quickly turned into one of frustration, his hands tightly curling into fists as he clenched his eyes shut.

“Just shut up!” Came the pained cry, breaking through the fog of Shadow’s mind.

The rest of the room fell completely silent, only broken up by the latent hum of the machinery. Everyone stared quietly at the fox, his own breath catching as small beads of tears began to form on the corners of his eyes.

“He’s... not going to get any better from us fighting.”

With newfound clarity, Shadow slowly sat up and pushed himself to his feet. He slowly brought his eyes up to look at the rest of the group, only for his gaze to shoot back down before he could meet anyone else’s.

“The doctor said that... he probably has some severe brain damage.” He quietly informed them.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tails freeze in place, back stiffening. He couldn’t help but wince.

“...What even happened?” Amy asked, her tone uncertain.

Shadow felt his shoulders drop as he shuffled over to one of the seats and collapsed into it. He placed his elbows on his knees, using it to prop up his upper body.

Taking a deep breath, he recounted what little he was conscious of. The assault in Chun-nan. Their incarceration, deep underground. Eggman’s assault on him, and his subsequent memories of waking up in the collapsed prison cells with no ventilation and no way to escape.

“So, you don’t know what even caused the cave-in?” Rouge asked, slowly moving to sit next to him.

“BASIC OBSERVATION SUGGESTS THAT IT WAS EGGMAN.” Omega quickly replied, much to the bat’s chagrin.

“That’s not--” She sighed, shaking her head. “Never mind. Shadow?”

The black and red hedgehog opened his mouth, only to feel his heart freeze in that moment. He remembered what Sonic had said about him-- that it was some twisted version of himself whose attacks caused the walls themselves to decay, that it came out of his own body with some apparent knowledge of the two of them.

“...No.” Shadow felt the single word fall from his lips, before sealing them once more.

“Then how about the Shadow I saw that stole the Master Emerald with Eggman?” Knuckles asked.

“It could have been a robot, hon.” Rouge said to the echidna. She placed her hand quietly on her partner’s, giving him a comforting squeeze. “How was it stolen, anyway?”

“I was off exploring the ruins.” The guardian shrugged. “While I was on the way back, I saw Eggman and... I guess what I thought was Shadow next to him. Before I could make it back, they disappeared in a purple flash. The island started falling right after that.”

“So you weren’t really close enough to tell.” The bat stated plainly.

“My eyesight is perfectly fine, thank you!” He batted back indignantly.

Her expression quickly morphed into a glare, causing him to pause for a moment. Sighing, he slowly turned back to Shadow.

“...It did look pretty much like you, but it probably was another of Eggman’s tricks. Especially with...” He trailed off, glancing back at Sonic’s comatose state. “...I’m sorry. I was a little hot headed.”

“It’s fine.” Shadow muttered, closing his eyes.

The next few hours were spent in relative silence, very infrequently broken by scant idle chatter that only lasted a few seconds each. Tails had remained unmoved from his spot at the window. Knuckles had kept largely to himself, propped up against the wall and occasionally casting glances back towards the other occupants. Omega kept himself at the side of the hallway, his eyes unwaveringly on the fox. Rouge, Amy, and Silver had departed not long ago-- the pink hedgehog had suggested that they go bring food for everyone, and the other two had volunteered to help out.

Doctor Marsh eventually came back, nodding quietly at the entourage before heading into the room itself. After peering through the glass for a moment, he pressed a button on a nearby control panel. It wasn’t long before the room was filled with a soft hissing noise. He quickly stepped back into the hallway, making sure the door behind him was closed as he addressed the group.

“His cyanosis has been greatly reduced.” He announced, his finger absentmindedly tapping the back of the clipboard in his hands. “Physically speaking, he’s fit to leave the chamber. I’m going to have a couple of nurses bring him in for a PET scan of his brain. After that, we’ll have him transferred to a normal bed-- we’ll keep him on an oxygen line, but you should otherwise be cleared for bedside visitation. Once one of our radiologists comes back with the results, we’ll let you know.”

It wasn’t long after that the doctor’s orders came to pass. Sonic was pulled out of the chamber and placed on a wheeled hospital bed, and another set of technicians came by to cart the cylindrical machine away.

Amy and the others had returned soon after, sporting plastic bags containing Styrofoam cups. Wasting little time, she began handing them out to the rest of the group, along with some disposable utensils.

“I figured something warm and light would be good for everyone right now.” She began, a little sheepish. “Since my apartment was downtown, I went ahead and whipped up some chicken noodle soup.”

Shadow looked up as the pink hedgehog stood in front of him, holding out one of the serving cups. He quietly took it, letting the heat gently seep into his hands.

He watched her as she handed another one to Knuckles, who took it with little fanfare. She paused for a moment as she looked back at Tails, who had taken to sitting on the floor underneath the window with his namesakes curled around his feet. She quietly huffed before walking over to the fox and holding a portion out to him.

“Not hungry.” He quietly replied, keeping his eyes trained on the ground.

The pink hedgehog shook her head.

“You haven’t eaten all day, Tails. Come on.”

“I said--”

“Would Sonic want you to be starving yourself?”

The two-tailed fox froze for a moment, before snatching the container from Amy.

Rouge and Silver already had a cup of the stuff in their own hands, leaving the last one in the bag for the cook herself.

Shadow gently peeled off the plastic lid, sniffing carefully at the gold-tinted liquid inside. It smelled... nice. Unfamiliar to him, no doubt due to his relative lack of experience with food in general. He brought the edge of the cup to his lips, taking a sip of the broth. It was quite hot, but not unbearably so. He could feel the liquid slightly coating his tongue, imparting a slight salty tinge that mixed well with the muted flavors of the vegetables and herbs. He found himself craving more of it, taking larger and larger swills. He barely even chewed through the solids before gulping it down, allowing the warmth to gently radiate through his entire torso.

Rouge chuckled, staring right at him, “Amy, I think next time we’re going to need more-- maybe house-train him so he can learn how to use a spoon, too.”

The pink hedgehog spun around, unable to hold in a giggle as she took in the visage of the red and black counterpart staring confusedly back at them with bits of food dotted around his lips.

“Aww, glad you like it! If you want, I can give you the recipe.”

“That, uh...” He stammered out, still a little befuddled at the exchange. “Sure.”

The hybrid absentmindedly wiped the food off his face before looking around. His eyes stopped as they fell upon Tails, who kept his eyes trained on him as he slowly sipped the broth from his own cup. His expression was blank, silently observing and trying to pick apart the hedgehog.

Shadow quickly broke eye contact as a pang of guilt came over him again. He wasn’t sure what the young child thought of him, but it didn’t really matter. It was his own fault for the kid’s older brother being left in the state he was.

The rest of the meal continued in silence and idle chatter, only cutting off as the door to the hallway opened again. A pair of patient transporters came though, pulling along the still-unconscious Sonic. Behind them was the stork doctor, accompanied by a nurse.

“Go ahead and put him on oxygen while I fill them in.” Doctor Marsh gently directed his assistant. He paused for a moment, before looking at the crowd of people looking expectantly at him. “As for the rest of you... the results of the scan came in.”

He flipped through his clipboard, pulling out a number of photos that he showed to the rest of Sonic’s friends. They all depicted a multi-colored collage in the vague shape of a brain at different cross-sections.

Shadow felt his stomach lurch at the image he was handed. It looked closer to a slice of Swiss cheese than a brain.

“There’s... not an easy way to put this.” He began, taking a deep breath. “Most of Sonic’s brain was severely damaged by the prolonged lack of oxygen. Much of it... is irreparable.”

“...What does that mean?” Tails asked, his voice just barely audible.

Doctor Marsh swallowed thickly.

“About the only thing left is the brainstem that manages involuntary motor functions like breathing. While he’s technically not cerebrally dead, if he does manage to wake up, he’ll almost certainly be in what we call a vegetative state.” The stork grimaced. “In other words, he won’t... be there. It’ll just be his body... acting on its own.”

Slam!

The group turned around to see Shadow throw the door open, stomping out into the hallway before the doctor could finish his prognosis. They all stared in a stunned silence, watching as he walked past the window and out of sight. Doctor Marsh himself didn’t seem particularly surprised by the reaction.

Rouge eventually broke away from the other Mobians, turning around and whispering a quick “Sorry!” before chasing after the black and red hedgehog.

It didn’t take long for the treasure hunter to hunt down her quarry-- not that he made any particular effort to evade her.

When he finally stopped, she found him on the roof of the hospital with his back to her, elbows propped up on the railing as he overlooked the sunset slowly descending on the bay just a short distance into the horizon. His expression betrayed no emotion, his stillness only disturbed by the gentle breeze that caused his quills to bounce slightly up and down against the orange sky.

She opened her mouth to speak, feeling her hand instinctively reach out despite the distance between them. She paused, reverting back to a neutral stance. With a small sigh, she slowly approached her former partner, using her wings to bring her up slightly into the air-- just high enough that she could land on the railing next to him to use as a seat. She quietly stared out at the sun with him, making no effort to look directly at him as she crossed her legs.

Neither of them spoke, the only noise being the whistle of the wind in their ears and the uncommon sound of a car passing below them.

“...It shouldn’t be him.”

Shadow was finally the one to break the silence, his voice soft and quiet as he kept his eyes trained on the setting sun.

Rouge folded her arms.

“It shouldn’t have to be you, either.”

The hybrid had no response, the two of them falling back into silence. He felt his ears twitch as the caw of a bird caught his attention. He felt his eyes drift over to its source.

A group of doves had made their perch on a set of power lines running down the slope. Beneath them, a raven had hopped along the ground, pecking at the grass and soil that lined the small spaces in between the houses. It looked up at the other group of birds, its mouth opening to unleash another cry as it unfurled its wings and fluttered up to the thick black wiring. The moment it landed, the other birds scattered, circling up into the sky and far out of sight.

“...It felt good.” The words quietly fell from his lips, breaking the silence once more.

“What did?”

Shadow felt his heart tremble as he tried to keep his own emotions in check. From the corner of his eyes he observed her, only able to see her stoic expression as she kept looking forward. With a deep breath he opened his mouth once more, uttering only a single word.

“Westopolis.”

He wasn’t sure what to expect as his confession was uttered into the air. He stayed silent, waiting for her to react, his red irises trained to see any small detail.

Yet the bat remained completely calm. She was relaxed as ever, her expression still neutral. He couldn’t even see the slightest bit of change in her breathing.

“I...” He trailed off, his eyes slowly dropping to stare over the edge of the building at the people walking below them. “When Black Doom came to me, I remember feeling connected to their hive mind for the first time. It was like... thousands of voices all in my head, each one telling me I belonged somewhere, that--- that they all cared for me.”

“...You’ve never told me that before.” Rouge nodded, placing her hands flat on the rail as she leaned back slightly.

Shadow swallowed thickly, feeling the weight on his chest build as he nodded.

“I never told anyone about it.” He admitted. “Looking back, I... I’m ashamed by how easily I was swayed by it. Maria’s wish felt so far away at the time.”

The hybrid sighed, shaking his head as he felt his grip on the railing tighten.

“No. There’s no excuse for my actions that day. I should have never listened to them to begin with, but with each soldier I struck down, their praises grew stronger. I was... I was craving it. Just to hear them tell me that I was worth something to them. It’s... all so pathetic.”

The treasure hunter remained still, content to let her friend continue speaking.

“...It was Sonic who brought me out of that.” He whispered, feeling himself put more weight on his hands as his knees began to weaken. “He was there.”

Rouge felt her head snap to the side, eyes widened as she looked at the slowly deteriorating hedgehog.

“Wait, really? He never said anything about that.”

Shadow clenched his eyes shut.

“...He saw everything.”

She could only sit there in stunned silence, unable to say anything as he continued.

“We met just as I arrived. He was... helping a family out from under some rubble. He tried greeting me, but the Black Arms only wanted me to continue taking GUN out. I pushed past him.” He bowed his head, pressing against the cold iron of the railing. “He followed me, and... just... watched. He was scared, Rouge. I can still hear him begging me to stop. I didn’t even cast a second glance at him-- not until Westopolis had been destroyed.”

With a pained gasp, Shadow was sent crashing to his knees, his body leaning against the vertical slats of the railing like the bars of a jail cell. He felt his breathing grow stilted as he began to sniffle.

“The moment I saw how hurt he was, I... I realized what I had become.” He choked out, pressing his head harder into the railing. “It shouldn’t have even taken that. I had left an entire city in flames. I was a fool for listening to their promises-- I already had everything I could have needed. And I didn’t realize that until I saw the way he looked at me. And now... now he’s--”

His breath hitched, a pained cry escaping his throat as he felt his body tremble.

Rouge could only watch as he slowly descended into a sobbing fit. She sat there for a while, before slowly turning to hop off the rail and back onto the roof. She knelt down next to him, grabbing his shoulder and squeezing softly as he continued to cry.

“I can’t...” His voice trailed off, trying hard to compose himself as he shakily breathed and sniffled. He looked back up towards the bat, his eyes bloodshot as he wiped away the snot from his nose. “I can’t let his life end like that. Not after everything.”

The bat nodded, pulling him into a gentle hug.

“I know you do, hon.” She consoled him. “He’s certainly got a way of bringing out the best in people.”

Shadow shook his head.

“No. It’s-- It’s not that.” He paused, looking away. “I don’t know what it is, but... I feel almost the same way of him as I do Maria. I’ve never wanted to be with someone as much as I do him. I... I don’t want to see him go. Not yet.”

Rouge’s mouth hung open in shock, only closing as a gentle giggle reverberated out of her chest.

“Well, well, well.” She smiled, leaning forward into his field of vision. “Of all things to hear from you, I wasn’t expecting that.

The black and red hedgehog looked back at her, a look of confusion on his face.

“...What?”

The caw of a bird caught Rouge’s attention. She looked over to a set of power lines, watching as a group of doves descended onto the wires around a raven that had perched there. The flock all cooed gently, paying no mind to the outlier in their group.

Her smile grew wider as she looked back at her friend.

“Don’t worry about it.” She replied, waving her free hand in dismissal. “For now, let’s focus on the more important thing-- figuring out how we can make Sonic better so you can tell him exactly how you feel.”

Notes:

Woohoo power is back! And just in time for me to have to go back to work lol.

Hope you enjoyed everything so far! I'll be doing my best to keep consistently updating this. Still a little shocked at myself for being able to pump out almost 100k words at this rate.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Chapter 25

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow felt himself stop as he neared the observation window of the hospital room. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as he tried to quell the uneasy feeling that grew like mold on his insides.

He felt the light touch of Rouge’s hand on his shoulder, gently pushing him forward. His eyes flicked over to her, their gazes meeting as she gave an encouraging nod towards the door. He felt his fingers twitch as he silently nodded back, slowly walking past the window and quietly opening the door to the patient room.

The doctor had long since left, leaving just Sonic and his visitors. The sound of the sliding door caught most of their attention-- Amy, Knuckles, and Silver all turned their heads to see the returning hedgehog, with varied reactions. Amy’s mouth was pulled into a taut grimace as she gave him a sympathetic look, her hand lightly resting on one of Sonic’s. Knuckles regarded him with a neutral stare, only jerking his head upwards in acknowledgement of the hybrid’s presence. Silver’s eyes snapped to him, only for his head to quickly move to the side as he stared down at the ground.

Tails did not react in the slightest to the intrusion; he was on the opposite side of the bed, his eyes completely fixed on the unconscious hedgehog’s form. Omega was next to him, his red eyes focused on the young fox as the processors in his head whirred and clicked.

Rouge cleared her throat, slowly walking up and stopping next to her partner as she addressed the group.

“I believe Shadow would like to discuss something with you all.” She announced, stepping to the side and turning towards him. She crossed her arms over her chest, staring at him with an expectant look on her face.

Shadow’s eyes slowly gazed over the group, a wave of apprehension coming over him as he tried to think of how to begin. He could see the fatigue in their eyes, from both the physical and emotional strain over the past few days-- something he was already familiar with.

“...Chaos Emeralds.” He finally uttered, his voice soft against the harsh beeping of the heart rate machine.

Knuckles’ back stiffened at the two words. His brow furrowed immediately, a look of understanding and frustration quickly overcoming his features.

He opened his mouth, only to be cut off unintentionally by Amy speaking up.

“What about them?” She asked, her grip on Sonic’s limp hand tightening. “Is there... some kind of technique you know that can help?”

“I--” He cut himself off, snapping his eyes shut as he tried to keep his composure. “I do have a technique, but... I can only heal myself. Sonic might not need that, though. He--”

“You’re thinking about how he naturally heals while holding an emerald, right?” The echidna cut in, his fists tightening at his sides.

The hybrid nodded.

“I... I saw it myself. If we can find one, then it’s possible that he can recover.”

The red guardian paused for a moment, his own lips contorting in thought. Eventually, he shook his head, grunting in frustration.

“It’s not that simple. Chaos energy can do wonders, but we’re not just talking about a broken bone or torn muscle. The doctor said he’s basically got pockets of dead brain cells. Even if-- and this is a big ‘if--’ the emeralds repaired them, there’s no guarantee they would come back to life.”

“Knuckles!” Amy chided, her voice pitching upwards as she gritted her teeth at the echidna.

“What?” He spun around, confused and defensive. “I’m not wrong-- this is literally what all my training with the Master Emerald has been about--”

With a sharp glare she halted the words in his throat, silently flicking her eyes to Tails in order to discreetly direct the Knuckles’ attention.

The young inventor’s eyes were still glued onto Sonic’s form, but it was obvious he was still paying attention to the conversation. His hands were locked into a death grip onto the railing of the hospital bed, and his body was uncontrollably trembling as he tried to remain quiet.

“...I still want to try.” Shadow spoke up, breaking the tense silence.

The pink hedgehog and echidna quickly met him with harsh glares. He could feel the heat from their gazes bearing down upon him, threatening to topple what little of his resolve he had left. He swallowed thickly, doing his best to steel himself as he continued.

“I know it’s not a perfect solution, but...” He trailed off, unable to find the words he wanted to speak.

“If there’s a chance, it’s worth doing.” Silver bit his lip, still unable to look at the black and red hedgehog. “If we didn’t at least try, I don’t think I could forgive myself.”

Shadow nodded, feeling the sentiment resonate within himself.

“...I want him back.” Tails softly muttered.

Everyone’s head turned towards the fox as his trembling voice reached their ears. With a sniffle he slowly pried his fingers off the hospital bed railing, his bloodshot eyes meeting the rest of the group’s.

“Then let’s do our best.” Amy replied, placing her hand on his shoulder as she pulled him into a loose hug. “Does anyone have any information on where they might be?”

“...Yeah.” The two-tailed genius nodded, slowly pulling out his minicomputer. “I set up a satellite relay to track their general location. Let me get it running.”

Knuckles huffed, his expression still dour as he looked over at Shadow. With a few steps forward he placed a heavy hand on the hedgehog’s shoulder, leaning in as he whispered.

“We need to talk. Now.”

The hybrid cast a momentary glance at Tails, before following the echidna’s lead out into the hallway. As soon as they were out of view of the window, the guardian turned to face him-- purple eyes balefully glaring into crimson.

“Look,” Knuckles bit out, gritting his teeth as he pointed his spikes at the hedgehog’s chest. “I want Sonic back as much as anyone else, but if this doesn’t work then you need to keep the kid out of it in the future. He’s got it bad enough as is-- if you feed him a bunch of false hope, it’s only going to hurt him more down the line.”

Shadow grimaced, a spike of anger rising within him as he quickly batted the echidna’s clenched fist away.

“So what, you just want to tell him to not try to save him?” He hissed, glaring back at the guardian.

“Better to teach someone to let go than to have them obsessing over the ones they can’t save. You of all people should know that.”

Shadow felt his lips curl back into a snarl. His hands shook with a rapidly rising rage, begging him to unleash his anger onto the arrogant echidna that dared to invoke his past.

He huffed, knowing that starting a fight here would lead to nothing. Waving his hand in dismissal, he spun around, walking back into the room with a dour expression on his face. His ears perked as he heard Tails’ voice ring out, its timbre slightly stronger and more determined now that he had something else to focus on.

“Something’s wrong.” He said, his brow furrowing at the screen.

“What is it?” Amy asked, leaning in to see the screen.

“I think something is off with the detectors.” He explained, pointing to the picture of a map on his screen. “They’re only detecting two of the emeralds. I think they need to be recalibrated, but I can’t do it from here. I’ll need to get back to the workshop.”

Rouge raised an eyebrow, nodding her head.

“Well, I think it’s best if I throw in a hand, too. I’m going to get in touch with some of my contacts to see if they know where some of the emeralds might be. Amy, do you mind if we use your apartment as a base of operations for now?”

“Of course!” The pink hedgehog smiled. “If there’s anything I can help out with, let me know!”

“Actually...” The bat trailed off. “I think it’s best we take along Silver and Knuckles, too. If we find out they’ve settled into some ruins again, having a fast way to travel and a fellow treasure hunter would make things a lot easier.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” Silver nodded.

Knuckles remained silent, leaning against the door as he kept his eyes on Shadow.

“Um...” Tails trailed off, looking at the rest of the group. “I’m kind of stuck here without the Tornado. I mean, I’m a little fast, but... I can’t exactly fly all the way back.”

Rouge shrugged, looking at the black and red hedgehog.

“Well, you can always hitch a ride with Shadow.”

The hybrid froze at the suggestion, sending a bewildered look towards the bat. He glanced back at Tails to see almost the exact same expression on his face.

“What?” The treasure hunter asked, slightly bemused by the reaction. “Is there something wrong?”

“I’m physically capable of it, but...” Shadow trailed off, looking at the slight discomfort on the fox’s face.

“I mean-- if we need to, then I guess... it can’t be helped.” Tails awkwardly stammered. He paused for a moment, before turning towards the robot next to him.

“Actually, Omega-- can you keep watch over Sonic for us? It’d be really helpful to have someone who can keep constant watch over him in case anything happens.”

The E-Series machine did not hesitate to respond.

“AFFIRMATIVE.”

“Then that settles things.” Rouge concluded. She glanced back at Knuckles, who still wore a dour expression on his face. “Any objections? Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

The echidna sighed, shaking his head.

The bat smirked, placing her hands on her hips.

“Then let’s get things rolling. We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us.”

Shadow couldn’t help but feel awkward around Tails, and he had no doubt that the young fox held the same regard for him. Their trip to the edge of the city was carried out in complete silence, the two of them barely exchanging glances as the dense housing gave way to suburbs and scant industrial foundries before fading away to the dense forests and cliff-streaked landscapes that made up this region of the United Federation.

Trying to figure out how exactly the hybrid was supposed to carry him to their destination was a negotiation in and of itself. With stilted dialogue and side glances they eventually settled on their current situation-- with Tails on his back, hands firmly clutching his shoulders as he hooked his arms under the fox’s legs that hung at his sides. The added weight was little trouble for his Air Shoes, and all he really needed to do was lean forward a little to keep up a speed comparable to when he was alone.

The black and red hedgehog could feel his stomach churn the faster he went, racing between the hillsides of drought-stricken grasslands pushing his feet slightly to the side as he tried to minimize the sway caused by his new top-heavy weight. The longer they went, the more the silent fox’s grasp dug into his shoulders, slowly changing from slight discomfort to genuine pain from the pressure.

He wasn’t quite sure what Tails was thinking at that moment. He had been mostly silent since Sonic had been exfiltrated from the underground prison; no doubt his mind similarly awash with a litany of thoughts and concerns for his older brother. He wondered if the young inventor blamed him for the way the hero had ended up.

A huff slowly emanated from Shadow’s chest, drowning itself into the wind that whistled past his ears. No, thinking of such things was useless. To be concerned with others’ perception of him while Sonic lay destitute in a hospital bed was beyond self-centered.

It wasn’t long before the grasslands gave way to the sea, though it seemed that the gentle weather on display today allowed for a much better travel than his previous trip with Sonic. The waves were largely non-existent, only calm slopes up and down as the Ultimate Lifeform continued his trek back towards the continent they called home.

Tails’ grasp on him only tightened, causing him to wince as he careened over the blue waters towards their current home. Just as soon as the land in front of them crept into view, he could hear the sound of a voice behind him, muffled entirely by the gale of wind moving past them.

“What?” Shadow called back, tilting his head to the side to hear better.

“I SAID STOP!” The fox shouted directly into his ear, his voice cracking from the effort.

The hedgehog quickly nodded as he pushed through the last stretch of water, gradually decreasing his speed as the ocean slowly transitioned to a white, sandy beach. Before he could fully halt himself, he felt the fox practically tear itself off of him, grunting slightly as the young child’s shoes scuffed his arms.

He turned to see the inventor walking aimlessly along the sand, both tails dragging in the sand as he clutched at his arms. His chest bounced up and down, practically hyperventilating as his pace sharply increased.

Shadow could only watch, unease growing within him as his fingers twitched back and forth. With a sense of grim resignation he opened his mouth, saying the only words he could think to speak.

“...Are you okay?”

“I--” Tails spun around in bewilderment, genuinely taken aback by the hedgehog’s concern with his well-being. He grimaced, clenching his eyes shut as he shook his head.

“S-Sorry, I just need a moment.” The yellow fox muttered, his voice barely audible above the sound of the waves crashing to the shore next to them. “It’s just... I... That’s how Sonic used to carry me around... when I was younger.”

“...I see.” The hybrid quietly acknowledged, averting his gaze.

They both stood there in silence, unable to move and unwilling to converse on the subject further.

Eventually, the young fox spoke up once more.

“...We’re not far away, right?”

Shadow slowly nodded, his eyes still trained on the wet sand that his shoes were slowly sinking into.

“Yeah. Probably another ten minutes.”

“...Okay.” Tails sighed, swallowing thickly. “Okay. I think I can handle that.”

The hybrid did his best to push his own emotions aside as they resumed their journey. True to his word, the trip only lasted a short bit longer as they rushed through the forest and countryside. As the fox’s home finally came back into view he could feel the inventor pulling himself away once more, two tails spinning as he used the momentum to practically catapult himself to their home.

The garage door opened automatically. Tails let out a sigh of relief upon the sight of the Tornado waiting for him, its autopilot programming having successfully delivered itself back. He walked past it, practically collapsing in his chair as he turned his computer back on. Shadow was quick to follow, hitting the button to close the mechanical door behind them.

“...I’m going to run some diagnostics on my relays. Feel free to... do whatever, I guess.” He muttered, not looking back at the hedgehog.

Shadow felt the urge to say something, but quickly found himself unable to find the proper response. With a quiet sigh, he pushed through the door to the main house, finding himself back in the living room that had basically been his makeshift dwelling for the past month or so.

He could feel exhaustion tug at his eyelids, his mental fatigue finally bearing its weight on him now that he had nothing to do. Even if his physical body didn’t require rest, the constant strain that his emotions and thoughts had been subject to left him feeling essentially permanently weary.

Perhaps one day he would simply fall asleep and never wake up. Just... leave all his concerns behind in slumber.

It sounded nice.

He slowly stepped over to the bed, intent on taking a short nap to recuperate, only to find himself frozen in place. A shiver ran down his spine as the quills on the back of his neck rose up instinctively. His hand immediately snapped towards his chest, clutching at the patch of white fur as his heart began beating rapidly, thumping in his ribcage like a drum.

The hauntingly familiar sensation of clawed hands snaking over his shoulders completely halted the breath in his lungs. As if aware of his reaction, the sharp fingertips moved further, raking through the fur on his collarbone as they slowly wrapped themselves around his neck.

A deep voice whispered into his ear from behind, the reverberations feeling as if they sent ripples through his very bones.

“Poor, poor Shadow.” It cooed mockingly. “Forced to lie to his friends. But that is okay-- it’s perfectly understandable that you didn’t want to divulge my existence yet. After all, if they knew something like me came out of you, how could they ever trust you again?”

Shadow’s eyes widened, his blood running cold as the sharp claws ever so slightly pushed into his neck.

“...Wh-Who--” He choked out, the utterance of even just a single word feeling like a monumental task. “Who... are you?”

The creature began to laugh, the cruel peals bouncing around the inside of his skull as he felt overcome with a wave of anxiety.

“My identity was stripped away-- lost forever, thanks to your efforts. I bear no concerns for this, however. My existence is one that should not be, so musing over that which does not matter is a waste of time.”

“What... do you--”

“What do I want?” It finished the question for the hybrid, letting out a small chuckle as it continued. “Why, it wouldn’t be as interesting if I were to divulge that information to you. At least, not at this moment. Not when I still have the opportunity to inflict upon you every agony that my hatred for you will allow.”

The hedgehog could feel the claws begin to dig into the skin on his neck, threatening to puncture the flesh and tear apart the tissue underneath. His body screamed at him to fight back, to use his own hands to tear the sharp appendages away... but he was bound in place, unable to do so much as move his eyes.

“Know this, Shadow the Hedgehog: You were built to be a weapon. It is within your nature to hurt others. You may be able to deceive your friends, but I know you better than anyone else. If you choose to oppose me, you will irreparably damage those closest to you.”

Shadow wanted to protest, but he found himself unable to form any words. Despite the entity’s hostile demeanor, he couldn’t help but feel as if there was some kind of fundamental truth to his words.

Taking the initiative, the creature continued, whispering softly into his ear.

“After all, that’s just who you are.”

Shadow felt himself flying up into a sitting position, letting in a huge gasping for air as his eyes snapped open. He clutched at his chest, wheezing in and out as he erratically scanned his surroundings.

He was back in Sonic and Tails’ living room, a blanket haphazardly covering his body and a pillow wedged into the corner of the cushions behind him. The room was otherwise empty, the fairly bright sun rays peeking into the window and casting a soft light into the room.

The hybrid closed his eyes, wiping the beads of sweat forming on his brow as he tried to regain some semblance of composure. His heart was beating strongly, his head pounding in sync with the rhythm. He slowed his breathing, somewhat successful in calming the waves of adrenaline that rocked his body.

It was a nightmare. That’s all it was.

Grunting, the hedgehog shook his head, trying to dismiss the blurred thoughts and emotions from his slumber.

Throwing the blanket aside, he pushed himself back to his feet, glancing at the clock mounted on the wall. He sighed in frustration, seeing just how little time had passed since his arrival.

He didn’t feel like trying to sleep again.

With little else to do, Shadow walked back to the garage door, opening up and putting his head through to see what Tails was up to.

The fox was still in his chair, hunched over with his arms folded across each other on the desk and his head resting atop. His eyes were closed, and the only noise he made was the sound of air slowly and evenly moving in and out of his nose.

The hybrid couldn’t say he was at all surprised by the child’s current state-- no doubt he had exhausted himself trying to rescue his older brother.

His musing was cut short as he saw the yellow-furred Mobian shiver slightly. Casting the fox a sympathetic glance, Shadow quickly pulled back into the living room. He snapped the blanket off of the couch before going back into the garage, keeping his footsteps as light as possible as he moved to the young inventor’s side.

He slowly draped the comforter over Tails’ body, watching as it slowly settled against his back and began to provide him some protection against the cold air of the uninsulated concrete room. He watched as the fox just faintly grumbled, shifting in his chair as he shifted slightly and nestled his head further into his arms.

Shadow instinctively reached out towards the fox’s head, only to pause and pull his hand back. With a slight sigh, he slowly moved back into the living room, looking back one final time at the child before closing the door behind him.

Notes:

Sorry for this being a little later than usual, I had been battling a really bad migraine for the past week or so.

Hope you all enjoyed it! I'm honestly still shocked that this managed to balloon to over 100k words in such a short time-- I hope that you'll still stick around as more chapters get added!

Please let me know what you think in the comments. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Chapter 26

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow wasn’t quite sure how long he had stayed in the living room before he found himself with the urge to find something to do. More often than not, his days with GUN left him with scant free time-- and what little he had was usually spent at the firearms range or in the base lounge waiting for the next mission to come in. The somewhat restless feeling was still new to him.

His eyes were drawn to a bookshelf tucked away in the corner of the room. There were a number of books on display, ranging from old classics like Arabian Nights to more modern pieces like the novelization of Chao in Space. The lower half of the shelving was taken up by a number of various research materials-- engineering concept books to even ringed binders filled with academic papers.

It was pretty obvious who the owner of the latter texts was, but the fiction works proved to be a bit more perplexing. No doubt much of this would interest a younger teen like Tails, but the lack of organization and the... unfortunately poor... state of the books in question seemed less like something the yellow fox would tolerate. But on the other hand, he couldn’t recall a single time that Sonic had mentioned this as a hobby. Honestly, he could hardly imagine the hedgehog that regularly bounced between lackadaisical and hyperactive actually committing time to sit down and read something.

His eyes were drawn to a particularly tattered book, many of its pages dog-eared and the edges of its spine fraying at the seams from an apparently constant use. Lightly placing his fingers on the top, he pulled back, allowing it to slide from its place on the crammed shelf and into his hands. He stared down at the title on the cover, its gold leaf lettering mostly peeled and barely legible.

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

The absurd length of the title caused him to let out a slightly amused huff, his eyes trailing over the small indentations where the lettering should be before slowly flipping the cover. He was immediately taken aback by the sheer amount of scribbled notes that filled every piece of available white space on the fragile papering. The haphazard lettering and jumbled mix of cursive and print was immediately recognizable, confirming that the blue hedgehog was indeed the owner of the book.

He couldn’t say he was too familiar with the legends themselves-- they were available in the ARK library, but with all his time dedicated to testing he never had the chance to read it with Maria. He had a vague recollection about it-- a noble king who led an order of knights that rules over an ancient land. There was some kind of betrayal that eventually led to the dissolution of the order and the eventual downfall of the kingdom.

However, many of the notes seemed far from analytical in nature-- if anything, they seemed to describe some kind of derivative work from the source material. Feeling curiosity grow within him, he began thumbing through the pages, reading Sonic’s notes that seemed to cover every bit of the pages’ margins.

‘Merlin fell in love with Nimue-- wouldn’t they have had a child?’

‘If Merlin had a grandchild, they would probably look up to him.’

‘Merlina. Her name is Merlina.’

‘What would drive her? What reason does she have to exist?’

‘She knows that Camelot will eventually fall. She must be scared of that. I’m sure she would want to avoid that fate.’

‘What if Merlina wasn’t the good guy? She would probably think the ends justify the means.’

‘Merlin wanted to make a strong and eternal kingdom-- maybe she’s continuing his plans?’

Shadow felt an eyebrow raise as he continued reading the notes left behind by the blue hedgehog. There was a staggering amount of plot threads and plans laid out, detailing a mysterious knight magically summoned under false pretenses to defeat a corrupted version of Arthur. Numerous changes had been made as well, including the newfound sentience of Excalibur-- he let out a small chuckle seeing a passive aggressive note claiming that “Caliburn” was a far cooler name. He read through Merlina’s struggle, who was revealed to have simply wanted to keep her kingdom alive indefinitely.

He felt the breath in his lungs halt as he flipped to one of the final pages in the book, a blank white page with a small bit of chicken scratch writing in its center:

‘The beauty of life is that it’s fleeting. It’s okay to let things end, otherwise you would never make the most of the time you have.’

He felt himself immediately snap the book shut, a wave of nausea overcoming him as he covered his mouth with his free hand.

Sonic was always one to live in the moment-- he wore that sentiment on his sleeve. It should be no surprise that someone like him would believe that true appreciation would come from impermanence.

Then... what does that make Shadow, one who is built to live forever?

He closed his eyes, shaking his head as he tried to push the thoughts away. The story was... simply not meant for someone like him. He could still appreciate the level of thought that the blue hedgehog had put into it-- he had never even considered that his rival was even capable of that kind of creativity. It was an interesting read, despite the unconventional nature of the story.

He flipped the book open again, his thumb fanning through the pages before stopping at the end again. Past the note explaining the moral of the story, there lay a few more blank pages, old but still sturdy enough to survive a few scrapings of pencil lead. Looking around, he found a cup perched on the far end of the shelf, holding a few pens and pencils. He quietly snatched one up, walking over to the sofa and sitting down as he went to work.

Keeping his touch as light as possible, he began slowly drawing lines up and down the page, bouncing off at sharp angles in the rough shape of the body of a Mobian. He took care to add extra features in the same angular style, only adding curved lines when necessary. It slowly took the form of a suit of armor, threatening and gleaming. He began drawing the quills on the back of his head, plating them in an impossible armor that looked as if it was built to move freely while being sharp enough to cut on their own. Throughout the design, he added embroidered designs, accentuating the figure with a slight bit of elegance. In the knight’s hands was a sword nearly as large as him, held proudly and with just as much attention as the main body. For a final touch, he added a swooping cape that billowed from behind, the drawing capturing the fabric folded and flowing in a strong wind that froze in time.

He nodded slightly, a small bit of pride building within him as the corners of his lips curved upwards. Perhaps the next time Sonic picked the book up, he would find this drawing waiting for him.

He quietly stepped over to the bookshelf again, placing the collection of stories back where it belonged.

Shadow felt his ears twitch as a confused cry came from the other side of the door to the garage, followed by the sound of Tails’ desk chair moving. His eyes glanced back to the clock-- it was a little over three hours since he had left the passed out fox to rest.

He pulled back from the books, turning to face the door as it swung on its hinges. Stomping forward came the young inventor, clutching the comforter in his hand as he glared at the hedgehog.

“What were you thinking?!” His scratchy voice shot out of his throat, shaking the fabric in his grasp for emphasis.

The hybrid was immediately surprised by the outburst, the sudden and unexpected hostility causing him to struggle to find his words.

“...You had passed out.” He replied, trying his best to keep his tone devoid of emotion.

“And you didn’t bother to wake me up?!” The yellow fox pressed forward, angrily throwing the bedding to the side.

“I didn’t want to disturb your rest--"

“I don’t need rest; I need to help Sonic!” The fox bit back, cutting the older hedgehog off. “I didn’t even get to run the basic diagnostics yet. I’m hours behind now, thanks to that.”

Shadow felt his ears flatten as the young child berated him. There was a truth to what he was saying, and it cut cleanly into his chest.

The whole reason they were here was due to Sonic’s precarious medical situation. Just letting Tails pass out like that would have no doubt distressed him.

“Sorry.” He quietly muttered, unable to look the fox in the eyes. “It wasn’t my intention to do that.”

The young inventor paused, his mouth contorting into several expressions as a multitude of emotions ran through his mind.

“It’s-- fine. It’s fine.” Tails sighed, waving his hand in frustration and dismissal as he turned around and headed back to the garage. “I just need to focus on making sure we get those detector satellites functional so we can help Sonic ASAP.”

Shadow hesitantly followed, glancing at the discarded blanket for a moment before passing through the door. The fox had already dismissed his presence, focused entirely on the screen as he began rapidly typing away. With a harsh pounding of the enter key, his eyes jittered as lines of text danced across the screen, his fingers mindlessly tapping away as he intensely read.

The hedgehog moved towards the unoccupied parts of the garage, his eyes slowly scanning over the random bits of mechanical apparatuses that laid about. Much of them made little sense to him-- he wasn’t exactly some kind of technical expert, his only experience had been doing basic diagnostics and repairs for Omega when needed.

He glanced back over at the fox, his mind flashing back to a few months ago when Tails had offered to show him around as they waited with nothing to do.

Maybe... his answer was not the best at the time.

He opened his mouth, only to shut it again as the sound of Tails’ rapid keystrokes filled the room. The fox was already upset as it was, trying to push it further would only cause further complications.

And so he had deigned to stand there, quietly staring at the young inventor as he continued his work. Time stretched forward, achingly slow. What should have been two hours felt like an eternity as he tried to think of anything he could do to make himself useful.

He was snapped out of his thoughts as a frustrated groan rumbled itself out of Tails’ throat, only growing in intensity as he leaned forward and propped his face up on the desk with his hands.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” He muttered, his voice muffled.

“Is there something wrong?” Shadow asked, slowly walking over to the screen. He tried reading the text, but quickly found himself out of his depth.

“All the diagnostic tests are coming back fine.” Tails shook his head. “But it’s still only detecting two emeralds!”

“Maybe it’s something the tests don’t cover?” The hedgehog offered, shrugging his shoulders.

“If it is, then I’d have to go up there and check-- but I don’t think it is. This would require multiple satellites to fail at the same time, and the odds of that are too slim.”

“Maybe they’re somewhere they can’t be detected?”

“I’m not aware of any way to do that, you can’t exactly block their energy signature-- Oh!” He smacked himself in the forehead, shaking his head. “The Master Emerald! I forgot-- if someone knows how to use it, it can neutralize the emeralds!”

“...I believe the echidna had said something to that effect while I was fighting the Biolizard. Isn’t he the only one able to do that?”

“Well...” Tails trailed off, placing his finger against his lips. “...That’s what he says, but I don’t know how accurate that is. We still don’t fully understand anything about them. We’ll probably be able to learn more about it once we start investigating the Master Emerald’s disappearance.”

“What about the other two emerald signatures?”

“Well, they don’t appear to be fakes... at least from what I can tell on the scanners. One is... somewhere in the southern region of the United Federation. The other is... huh?”

“What is it?”

“Hold on.” Tails leaned forward, copying a segment of the text output. He opened a new window-- a global map, and entered the code in one of the input boxes. A red circle was outlined on the globe, covering about a 50 square mile area; one that also included their house.

The fox jumped out of his chair, pushing past the black and red hedgehog as he dug into one of his workshop cabinets. After a bit of fumbling around, he produced two pairs of small displays on handles that were topped with some kind of antenna. The device was vaguely familiar to Shadow.

“An emerald detector?” He asked.

“Yeah, there seems to be one in our general area. These are only short range, but given the ground we can cover it shouldn’t take too long to--”

His words were cut short as he turned on the devices. Almost immediately they began to beep rapidly, its noise echoing throughout the room and drowning out any other sound. The sudden surprise caused Tails to drop it, scrambling to pick it up as he shut the device back off.

Both of them froze as a heavy knocking came to the front door, its strikes almost perfectly even as it reverberated through the rest of the dwelling. Shadow held his hand out to the fox, silently telling him to stay put as he entered the living room and slowly made his way to the front door.

Something was here, and if the scanners were to be believed, it came wielding a Chaos Emerald.

The hedgehog placed his fingers on the doorknob, slowly tightening his grip on the handle before throwing it open and to face whoever was on the other side.

He felt his eyes widen in realization at the towering figure of Doctor Eggman, a grin on his face as he stared forward.

“Oh, well if it isn’t--”

The words were drowned out of the hybrid’s head as his mind began to run circles around itself. He could feel his heart rate increase rapidly as the images of his fallen comrades began to seep in from the past few months. He re-lived the moments he lost his teammates, witnessing Rouge’s battered state as he was forced to use his destructive powers on one of his closest friends. His breathing became shallow as the image of Sonic, barely clinging to life thrust itself onto him.

His vision went red, and a scream ripped out of his throat as he leapt forward. He found himself passing through the Doctor’s figure as if it were nothing, and instead crashing into a heap of metal that he had not seen.

The hedgehog jumped to his feet, looking around to gauge his surroundings. The thing he had crashed into was little more than an Egg Pawn, a projector embedded into its chest that had apparently been casting a holographic image of its creator. Shadow brought up his leg, stomping his foot down on the lens. The entire chassis crumpled inward, accompanied by the sound of metallic crunching as both the projection and the robot itself were destroyed.

“I figured that may have been your first reaction.” An unamused voice from above.

The black and red hybrid looked up to see the doctor, seated in his Eggmobile several stories up in the air. The mere sight of the Doctor filled him with a deeper furor, boiling within his chest and threatening to spill over.

“While I’d normally love to fight, this is not the time, Shadow.” Eggman chided, his own scowl forming. “There’s more important matters at hand--”

The words bounced off of Shadow without any regard. He didn’t bother to let the rotund human finish before launching a volley of Chaos Spears at the doctor, effortlessly piercing the metal hull of the device like a hot knife through butter.

With a loud boom the back engines gave out, causing the round device to rapidly plummet to the ground as the evil genius let out a horrified scream. The vehicle crashed into the ground, creating a small crater as a cloud of soil and grass was kicked up into the air.

Shadow let out a growl, sauntering over to the crashed machine and jumping onto it. He watched as the Doctor stared back at him in fear, bringing his hands up in a show of non-aggression.

“W-Wait! Shadow, please--”

But the hedgehog was not having it. He brought his fists down onto the glass, the impacts quickly cracking the surface. Eggman let out a yelp as a second set of strikes hit the clear shielding, this time breaking through the mess and showering him with bits and pieces of the sharp material.

Eggman flinched as his skin and suit were pelted with glass, unable to stop Shadow as he reached into the co*ckpit and grabbed the doctor by the collar. With a rough yank, the human was pulled from his craft and thrown to the ground, grunting in pain as he quickly rolled onto his back. He pushed himself up into a sitting position to see the Ultimate Lifeform staring down at him with a deathly rage.

“H-Hold on, I’m trying to help! I heard about Sonic and--”

“SHUT. UP!” Roared Shadow, leaping from the battered remains of the Eggmobile to land a right hook straight to the Doctor’s head.

The cry of pain coming out of the human did not dissuade the hedgehog in the slightest. He brought his fists back once more, kneeling down on Eggman’s chest as he began throwing harder and harder punches onto him. What meager defense the human could do by bringing his arms up was effortlessly batted away and met with more bashes to his head. With each meaty thud, the Doctor’s cries grew fainter and fainter, eventually disappearing altogether.

The violent assault did little to alleviate Shadow’s rage. Gritting his teeth, he brought his hands down to Eggman’s thick neck, wrapping his fingers around it and beginning to squeeze. Behind his goggles, the evil genius’ eyes widened as his own hands quickly snapped around the hedgehog’s wrists, trying futilely to pull them away. The sounds of choking and sputtering filled the air as Eggman kicked about on the ground, leaving divots in the dirt from his thrashing about.

A sharp scream pierced the air. The hybrid’s attention was torn from the Doctor, towards the source of the noise.

Tails was standing just outside of the front door, trembling with his hands over his mouth. He stared back at Shadow, a terrified look in his eyes as he took a step back in shock.

Almost immediately, the rage within the hedgehog evaporated into nothingness, leaving nothing but a cold void within him. He swallowed thickly, unable to tear his eyes off of the fearful fox.

He felt something lightly tap his face. He looked down to see Eggman, face purple as his hand uselessly padded against the Ultimate Lifeform’s muzzle.

Shadow clenched his eyes shut, hissing air through his teeth as he loosened his grip. The doctor quickly gasped in air, rolling over to push the hedgehog off of him as he coughed and hiccupped from the strangulation. The black and red hybrid could only watch with a blank look on his face as the human curled up slightly on the ground, slowly recovering from the attack.

Eventually, Eggman’s breathing calmed somewhat, though his breath remained ragged and raspy. He slowly sat himself up as he slammed on the communicator button on his chest.

“Send another Eggmobile--” He grunted out, his voice unnaturally gravelly as he went into another coughing fit. “--to my location, ASAP.”

Acknowledged.” A robotic voice barked back.

With that, the human dug into his pockets, pulling out a brilliantly shining yellow gem. He weakly tossed it towards the hedgehog, hitting the ground well short of its intended target and rolling to a stop at his feet.

“Sonic can heal himself with it, right?” He whispered, rubbing at his throat. “Use it.”

“...What?” Shadow looked back at the human, completely taken aback.

“I came here for a truce, dimwit.” He scowled back at the hedgehog, pushing himself to his feet. “Something big is about to happen. I can’t afford to have him brain dead on a hospital bed.”

“How did you find out?” Tails quietly asked, still visibly shaken up by what he saw.

“It’s a hospital.” Eggman stated bluntly. “Everything there is at least twenty years old, with that kind of security they may as well not have any.”

Before any more questions could be asked, the sound of mechanical whirring slowly grew overhead. Before long, a new Eggmobile had descended from the sky, hovering next to the Doctor.

Without hesitation he began to climb in, looking back at the two Mobians.

“I’ll send you coordinates to one of my bases, Tails. When Sonic recovers, I want the three of you to meet with me there.”

“...And if he doesn’t?” The fox asked in return. Shadow winced at the suggestion.

“That rodent is too annoying to just die like that.” The doctor simply replied, before flying away.

The black and red hedgehog looked back at the ground, staring at the brilliantly glowing yellow gem in front of him. He carefully bent over and picked it up, inspecting it closely.

It certainly seemed real, but the Doctor was hardly to be trusted. It could be another trap.

Walking over to Tails, holding the gem out towards him.

“We should run some tests to--”

He felt the words die in his throat as he watched the young child visibly flinch, head instinctively snapping away in fear. With a quick moment of realization, the two-tailed inventor recomposed himself.

“Oh! Uh-- yeah. Good thinking.” He muttered, not quite looking at the hedgehog as he snapped the emerald out of his grasp. “I’ll... go and do that.”

The yellow fox quickly scurried back into the house, the door closing behind him as his footsteps slowly faded away.

An immense feeling of guilt crashed into Shadow, his eyes clenching shut as he let out a shaky sigh.

Tails was scared of him. He had all but ensured that.

He placed his hand on the doorknob, only to sigh and let his fingers slide over it as his hand fell back to his side.

No, he didn’t deserve to go back inside. He had already messed things up enough as-is.

Walking to the edge of the front porch, he slowly sat down and let his legs hang over it. It was better if he just stayed out here, and let the fox finish his job.

He could only hope that Tails would return with good news.

Notes:

Went from migraine to just being flat out sick-- though it wasn't able to stop me for too long!

Hope you all enjoyed it so far! Let me know what you think.

Chapter 27

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

[Final check: CLEAR.]

Tails leaned back in his chair, tilting his head up and closing his eyes as he let out a shaky sigh. He cracked his eyelids open, letting the gently radiating yellow light peek through. His nerves began to relax, coaxed out of their tense state by the budding spark of hope that built in his chest.

Not all of his concerns were assuaged, of course. There was always the possibility of Eggman having found some way to make a duplicate that was far more sophisticated than his tracking would allow-- even if it was the fox himself who created false emeralds to begin with.

But for now, he could push those concerns aside. His route was clear.

From the clawed stand holding it aloft, Tails gently plucked the Chaos Emerald, his fingers wrapping around it as he held it against his chest. Despite his inability to use its energies innately, he could feel the warmth of the gem pulsing into his fur. With it he could feel his anxiety melt away further, his shoulders slowly rising as if a weight had been removed from them.

Sonic had gone through a lot, ever since he began his adventures all the way back on South Island. Tails had seen him go through a number of close scrapes with death-- many of them feeling as if he had only managed to survive by the skin of his teeth. But never had Tails seen something like this-- his older brother, lying destitute on a hospital bed and slowly wasting away. He had always imagined that the hero might one day go out smiling in a blaze of glory, wanting to leave one final mark on the world before he would eventually depart. Instead, seeing him reduced to a literal shell of himself with not even a whimper to go out on... it shook the fox to his very core.

He felt his fingers tighten around the emerald, the hard edges pressing deeper into his skin as he held it more tightly. Being told he was young and inexperienced was always annoying to him, but this ordeal reminded him of how small he was. He wasn’t there when Sonic needed him most. Perhaps there was more growing up he had to do--

He wanted to be sure Sonic would be there to see it.

He hopped out of his chair, keeping the gem close to him as he settled his eyes on the Tornado. The auto-pilot had seemingly no issues landing the plane back at the garage, and it looked as if things were ready to go. All he needed to do was tell Shadow--

Another pulse of fear ran through him, causing him to stop as his hand hovered over the button for the garage door.

His mind flashed with the recollection of what he saw when the fighting had broken out outside of his home. Fighting directly against someone instead of a Badnik or mecha wasn’t exactly common, but he was used to it-- as much as one could, at least.

But seeing Shadow’s rage, his teeth bared and eyes burning with rage as he was on the cusp of choking the life out of Eggman... it made his stomach churn. He had been with Shadow long enough to know exactly why he reacted that way-- and he wondered if one day, even someone as cheerful as Sonic could express that same fury under the right circ*mstances.

It was a question that he didn’t want to know the answer to.

Taking a deep breath, he pressed the button, watching as the metal doors slowly slid upwards and out of the way of the plane. He slowly peeked from around the corner of the exit, doing his best not to flinch as his gaze met Shadow’s.

“It looks good.” Tails nodded, keeping his lips pressed tightly together.

The black and red hedgehog nodded, crossing his arms.

“Should I call the others?”

The fox was quick to shake his head.

“We can do that after we give Sonic the emerald. We should leave ASAP.”

“I can use Chaos Control to get us back, then.” Shadow replied, holding his hand out expectantly.

Tails froze for a moment, feeling his fingers absentmindedly rub the smooth faces of the gem. He mulled over making some kind of excuse, but finding nothing that would have made things go better, he sighed and chose just telling the truth.

“I... would prefer we take the Tornado. I don’t want to be left in Central City without a way back home. There’s a private landing strip at the airport we can use-- just a few minutes away from the hospital.”

He felt his body tense up as Shadow stared back at him with an emotionless expression. After a few achingly long seconds of silence, the hybrid finally responded.

“Alright.”

The fox nodded, motioning for Shadow to follow him as he went to finalize the takeoff procedure. It wasn’t long before they found themselves sailing into the sky, Tails’ grip on the yoke of the aircraft tight as an iron grip as he tried to ignore Shadow’s reflection in the glass of the co*ckpit monitors.

With each mile they grew closer to the city, he felt his impatience build itself further. He was already so close. With each glance of the clock he found time stretching out further and further, minutes feeling as if they lasted hours and the landscape beneath him moving past slower and slower. He could feel the bits of the rubberized yoke handles rubbing off onto his gloves from the sheer pressure he was exerting with his grip.

Eventually, the iconic red bridge and sprawling urban landscape of Central City slid from out of the horizon and into view. Tails could feel his heart jump in his chest as it inched closer and closer, the wind whistling past his ears only accelerating his excitement further. He managed to keep his composure long enough to speak with the air traffic controllers to organize a landing, and within the hour he was able to land the plane and taxi it to one of the private warehouses for later use.

The moment he was cleared to leave, he jumped into the air, using his namesakes to propel himself out of the air field and across the highways that led into the city proper. Emerald in grasp, he soared over the skyscrapers and homes, solely focused on the white building in the distance where his big brother currently lay.

Shadow was completely erased from his thoughts at that point-- helped greatly by the fact that he was unable to see any evidence of the Ultimate Lifeform’s speed trails in front of him.

Tails felt his eyes widen in realization as he realized that he was approaching the hospital a little too fast. He pulled back, trying to create a bit more drag on his body, but it didn’t do much to stop him from stumbling as his shoes hit the sidewalk. He quickly found himself falling forward, slamming into the hard surface as he was sent sprawling.

With a pained groan he pushed himself back onto his feet, taking just long enough for Shadow to catch up. He kept his distance, raising an eyebrow at the fox’s roughed up visage.

“Are you okay?” He asked.

The young teen didn’t bother answering, pushing past him as he strode up to the hospital doors. They slid open, blasting the pair with cold air as they walked past the main desk and proceeded deeper into the complex.

Tails’ chest was alight, his body screaming at him to run despite their current location. He could feel his anxiety rise with each corner he turned, pressing him forward as he finally made it to the section of the ward that the hospital had reserved for Sonic.

Pushing through the door into the observation hallway, he found himself breaking into a sprint, feet sliding across the tiling as he burst through the door where his older brother was staying.

Omega immediately snapped to attention, speakers silent as he watched the fox scramble forward, practically crashing into the side of the hospital bed. Shadow was quick to follow, watching with a pensive look as Tails took one last glance at the mystical gem. The young child slowly reached forward, sliding the gem into the quills behind his head before pulling back.

“YOU DID NOT INFORM ME OF YOUR ARRIVAL.” The robot barked, looking back and forth between the hybrid and the fox.

The black and red hedgehog responded with a curt cutting motion at his neck before slowly approaching the side of the bed. His eyes slowly moved back and forth between Sonic and Tails-- his motionless blue counterpart calmly breathing through the oxygen mask, unaware of his trembling younger brother who was ever so slightly trembling with a death grip on the rails of his bedding.

The tension in the air was unbearably thick, only further aggravated by the shrill beeps of the heart rate machine next to the group. Omega and Shadow kept their eyes trained on Tails, who in turn kept his gaze focused solely on Sonic. Every breath felt like they may as well have inhaled water, weighing heavily in their chest as time achingly continued.

The fox’s sudden gasp snapped the others back to reality. Shadow quickly recentered his focus onto Sonic, watching as the hedgehog’s eyes had begun slowly twitching beneath his eyelids. Slowly but surely, they began to raise, dragging themselves to a half-lidded expression that stared out to the other end of the room.

“Sonic!” Tails cried out in relief, breath hitching as he quickly grabbed the hero’s hand. “It’s okay-- I’m here!”

The fox closed his eyes, pulling the hedgehog’s hand up to his forehead as he felt tears welling at the corners of his eyes.

“I was so scared...” He admitted in a pained whisper.

“...Tails...”

The young child felt his ears twitch at his name being uttered, only for a wave of confusion to come over him.

It wasn’t Sonic that said his name.

He looked back at the one who spoke-- the black and red hedgehog that stood at the foot of the bed, unable to meet his gaze.

“I...” Shadow trailed off, quickly casting a glance at Sonic before snapping his vision to the ground. “...Tails, I don’t think he’s...”

The fox quickly turned to look at his older brother. In that instant, he felt every ounce of heat leave his body, replaced with a howling pit of ice that formed in his stomach.

Sonic’s expression hadn’t changed. He remained blankly staring forward, mouth hanging just slightly open as air slowly flowed in and out.

“No... no no no no no no....”

Tails felt the words uncontrollably fall from his lips, his eyes widening in fear as his hands grabbed the blue hedgehog’s forearm and shoulder.

“Come on, Sonic!” He began shaking his older brother gently, as if to rouse him from sleep. “Don’t-- Sonic... Please... Big bro...”

The fox’s breathing grew ragged as he began to shake his older brother a bit more forcefully, grip tightening as the hospital bed rocked side to side. Sonic’s head lolled to the side, bouncing up and down on his shoulder as the jerking continued.

With a pained cry, Tails let go of his adoptive brother, burying his hands in his face as he broke into a heavy sob.

He was told that Sonic would likely do this when he came out of his coma.

He should have known better than to get his hopes up.

The sight of his only real family debilitated and wasting away was unbearable. Shame rushed over him like a raging torrent, turning his anxious energy against him as he found himself stumbling out of the hospital room and down the hallway. He collapsed into the wall, sliding down to his knees as he cradled himself in his arms.

His chest seized as he tried to control his breathing, swiftly defeated by a hiccupping fit that stung his lungs. He felt his snot dribbling from his nose, wiping it away only for it to be quickly replaced.

He heard the door to the hospital room open again, the soft padding of footsteps slowly approaching from behind. He slammed his ears down against his skull, unwilling to hear whatever words may be spoken to him. Despite his efforts, they still managed to worm their way in.

“...It probably just needs some time.” Shadow stated calmly. “I can ask the hospital to allow an overnight stay, if you’d like.”

Tails clenched his eyes shut, pressing himself closer into the wall. He didn’t want to talk. Not to him. Not now.

He heard as the footsteps stopped just behind him. He held his breath, just hoping that the other hedgehog would take the hint and pass by--

He felt his swirling shame and anxiety explode into frustration as he felt Shadow’s hand grasp his shoulder. The young child snapped to his feet, roughly jerking around and harshly slapping the hybrid’s hand away.

“You’re not Sonic!” He screamed in anger, his voice scratching his throat. “Stop trying to act like him!”

Shadow’s eyes widened, instinctively pulling back as if he had been burned. His mouth hung open, dumbfounded at the verbal assault.

“I--” He began, unspoken words choking him as he struggled to think of anything coherent. “That wasn’t... I just...”

“I don’t care!” Tails shouted towards the ground, his fists clenched tightly. “Just STOP!

“...Okay.” The hybrid sighed, nodding ever so slightly as he looked away. “I apologize.”

The young teen let out a deep breath, his outburst having drained what was left of his emotional state.

“I think I’m going to go back home.” He finally managed to eke out, unable to look back up at the hedgehog in front of him. “I want to see if there’s anything else I can make to help Sonic--”

Shadow was quick to cut him off, his words blunt and monotone.

“You should have Omega accompany you, then.”

Tails paused for a moment, taking the suggestion in.

“That’s...” He trailed off, feeling his voice softening as he continued. “...Probably for the best. I guess you’ll be--”

He found his response ended prematurely again, this time by the sound of the door slamming. He looked up to see that the black and red hedgehog was no longer there. He took a few steps forward, peering over the edge of the window to see the hybrid next to Sonic’s bed, head turned towards Omega as he spoke to the robot.

What relief he had gotten from his lashing out had long since passed. He knew he should have felt bad for the things he said, but...

He just felt too tired to care.

His attention was diverted from his thoughts as the E-Series machine exited the hospital room, quietly staring at the fox.

With a weary huff, Tails turned away from the window. He dragged his feet down the hall towards the exit, the heavy mechanical whirring of Omega following closely behind him.

Rouge leaned back in her chair, her hands stretching up and back as she felt the segments of her spine crack. She let out a sigh of relief, unfurling her wings a little to alleviate some of the tension as well. The screen light of the laptop sitting on her legs caught her eye, and with a disdainful huff she slammed the lid shut.

It had been some time since she and the others had shacked up at Amy’s apartment. It was fairly quaint, a pleasant floral smell permeating the area due to the number of plants that were scattered about the place. A number of shelves lined the perimeter of the walls, each one filled with a number of handmade crafts and knickknacks-- ranging from pottery to wood-carved plaques with positive messages engraved with them. While the bat was always one who preferred a luxurious aesthetic, she couldn’t deny that the homely environment that she found herself in had its own charm.

She heard a mildly annoyed groan nearby, her eyes snapping to its source-- the pink hedgehog in question was rolling her head between her shoulders, clutching her neck with one hand as she attempted to massage out the knots that had formed there from her hunched posture as she stared at her own laptop.

The sound of the treasure hunter’s phone buzzing caught her attention. She pulled the device from her pocket, raising an eyebrow as she saw the caller ID.

Shadow.

She quickly swiped on the call button, placing the earpiece next to her head as the connection was established.

“Well, well! How’s my favorite brooding hedgehog doing?”

...We found a Chaos Emerald.

Rouge felt her heart jump as she instantly sat straight up in her chair, catching Amy’s attention.

“Really?! That’s great news, hon! Where are you right now?”

“...I’m at the hospital. It’s currently with Sonic right now.”

...And?”

A heavy sigh came through the speaker.

And it’s complicated.

The treasure hunter’s expression fell, grimacing slightly as a gust of air rushed out of her nose. She looked over at Amy, who was sporting a similar expression, having already gotten an idea of how the conversation was going.

“...How’s the kid doing?”

There was a long pause before Shadow answered, all but confirming the situation.

...Sonic’s awake, but... it’s basically what the doctor had said would happen. Tails--” The hedgehog on the other end of the line caught himself on something, before continuing. “...The fox isn’t taking it well. He’s currently on his way back home with Omega.”

Rouge narrowed her eyes, feeling a bit of suspicion build within her. She knew this monotone, formal tone the hybrid was giving her. He used it often when he was trying to hide something from her.

“How come you’re not with him? Did something happen between the two of you?”

“He... just needs some space.” Shadow huffed. “I’m sure if-- once Sonic recovers, he’ll be fine. I’m keeping watch over him; if there’s any changes in his physical state I’ll inform you all.”

The fact that he was quick to push past the issue wasn’t lost on the bat. Still, it was at least better than nothing, so she decided not to pursue it any further.

“Okay.” She nodded. “Did you figure out what was wrong with his emerald locators? We’ve been doing some digging on our end, but there’s basically been no leads so far.”

Actually, I did want to discuss that with you. They appear to be fine. It seems the emeralds themselves are just not showing up-- aside from one other one in the South UF. Somewhere deep in the jungle.”

“...I think I know where it is, then. There’s a GUN black site down there-- it might be where they’re keeping your personal effects. Last I saw, it’s nowhere near as locked down as Prison Island.”

Rouge, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to kick up the hornet’s nest so quickly after we broke out.

The treasure hunter broke out into a grin.

“You know, I bet they have your journal down there as well.”

...That is still not worth the risk.

“Oh, I think it’s definitely worth getting an unobstructed peek at your little book of secrets. Forget the Chaos Emerald, that’s a much more valuable treasure!”

It took a lot of effort for her to stifle her giggles as the sound of Shadow choking on his own words shot from the phone’s speaker. She held her breath as the red and black hedgehog tried to recompose himself, clearing his throat.

I don’t find your joking amusing.

“Well that’s a damn shame, because I find it very funny.”

...Whatever. Just don’t do anything stupid.

“I’ll be fine, Shadow.” She responded reassuringly. “Keep us in the loop, yeah?”

Will do.”

Rouge paused for a moment, a look of concern growing on her face as she asked one more question softly.

“...How are you holding up?”

I...” Shadow trailed off, his breath catching in his lungs as his voice faltered for just a moment. “...I think I’m going to be fine. Sonic is going to be fine. He has to.... right?

“I’m sure he will, hon.” She reassured him, hoping that her words were some comfort to him. “Listen, I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

Sure thing.

The bat hung up, slipping the phone away as she looked over at Amy. The pink hedgehog met her gaze, an expectant look in her face as she opened her mouth.

“Is everything okay?”

Rouge felt herself shrugging at the question.

“More or less. I’m sure you heard, but Sonic’s got an emerald on him now-- so we can only wait to see if he improves. Sounds like the other emeralds are a bust, too. They’re off the grid, aside from one other one. Are the boys still out sparring?”

Amy tilted her head.

“Yeah... wait, are you actually planning on raiding a GUN base?!”

She grinned back at the surprised pink hedgehog.

“No time like the present, no? Besides, we need that emerald more than they do.”

As soon as the shock wore off, Amy found a determined smile growing on her own face. She slid her laptop onto the sofa cushions next to her as she stood up, grabbing her hammer from the floor and hoisting it onto her shoulder.

“Well, it certainly beats doing more ‘research.’”

“Well, actually, I was going to--”

The pink hedgehog swung her hammer in the air, halting it as she pointed it directly at the bat.

“Rouge, I swear to Gaia below-- if I have to read one more tabloid article on the emeralds, I’m going to scream.”

“Aww, but you seemed like such a pro, sifting through those gossip rags!” The treasure hunter snickered, placing her own computer on the coffee table in front of her. “I do have something else in mind, though.”

Amy lowered the hammer, letting its handle rest against the wall.

“What did you have in mind?”

“...While me and the boys are out, do you mind going to the hospital and checking up on Shadow? If you don’t want to, you can certainly come with us--”

“Not at all!” The pink hedgehog cut her off, waving her hands in a reassuring manner. “I’d be happy to. Are you worried about him?”

“It’s hard not to be worried about him.” She admitted, sighing. “I think something happened between him and Tails-- he sounds fine, but if you could have a quick chat with him and double check, I would really appreciate that.”

“Of course!” Amy nodded, smiling. “Leave it to me.”

Notes:

I'm going to be honest I was planning on having more in this chapter, but I found that the scenes that I was already writing were longer than I anticipated. I'm really excited to show you what happens in the next chapter-- hope you enjoy what's to come!

Let me know what you think about this chapter! I've been reading all of your comments and I think you all are going to be really happy with what happens next. Expect it soon!

Chapter 28

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Not a word had left Tails’ mouth since his departure from the hospital. Once his and Omega’s plane trip had concluded, the fox saw fit to sequester himself away at his workbench-- his only noises coming from the metallic clinking of the tools at his disposal.

The E-Series robot assigned to accompany him stood a few feet back, its piercing red gaze digging into the back of the young inventor’s skull. It could only watch as the yellow creature sighed, sliding the half-constructed circuit board off the workbench surface and into a waiting bin below.

Omega could only watch as the pattern repeated itself, pulling new PCB components and wiring out from various supply drawers, working on something in solitude only to discard it later. Within a few hours, the bin had become full of the circuit boards, the green material breaching the rim and threatening to spill out onto the floor.

With one last failed project, the trash can shuddered, the unstable stacks of smooth substrate dislodging each other and clattering out into a mess on the floor.

Tails sighed loudly, slamming the soldering iron in his hand harshly against the table. He pressed his other hand over his eyes, hunching over and using the elbow to prop his head aloft.

With only the sound of his motors whirring, the robot finally decided to move from its position. Its feet clacked heavily on the concrete flooring as it slowly walked to the fox’s side, turning to get a better look at him.

The yellow-furred inventor tried to keep his composure, but he was unable to fool Omega’s optical sensors. He was shaking, ever so slightly.

“DO YOU REQUIRE ASSISTANCE?”

Tails’ face twitched from the question, letting out an exasperated huff as he struggled to think of how exactly he wanted to answer.

“I... I don’t know.” He admitted, his face still pointed away from the E-Series machine. “I was hoping I could build some kind of amplifier device for the emerald, but... I’m just throwing stuff against the wall and hoping it sticks. I can’t focus... it’s just a waste of materials at this point.”

“YOU ARE UPSET.”

“Oh, really?” The fox hissed bitterly. “And I guess it was your state of the art neural network that brought you to that conclusion?”

“AFFIRMATIVE.” Omega replied bluntly.

Tails found himself dumbfounded by the direct response. The edges of his lips twitched upwards for just a moment as he shook his head and sighed.

“VISUAL DATA SUGGESTS THAT THERE WAS AN ALTERCATION BETWEEN YOU AND SHADOW. I REQUIRE MORE INFORMATION.”

“What--” The yellow fox snapped his head up, turning to face the robot with a confused expression on his face. “Why?”

“TO DETERMINE IF SHADOW REQUIRES PHYSICAL REPRIMANDING.”

“No!” Tails held his hand up to the robot, shaking them vigorously as if trying to physically dispel the misunderstanding. “No, that’s not... it’s nothing you should worry about.”

“I DECIDE WHAT I WORRY ABOUT.”

“That’s not what I meant, it’s just...” Tails sighed, his shoulders slumping as he turned to face the desk again. His hands slowly clenched and unclenched, his gaze growing more distant as he continued. “He’s always been... distant, you know? Sonic’s been bending over backwards just for him, and in return he’s basically been doing nothing but sleeping and going along with whatever he’s told to do. Just before he and Sonic left, he... he hurt Silver pretty bad, like he was trying to get him to hate him. And now...”

The fox slammed his eyes shut, slowly rocking back and forth in his stool as he tried to keep himself together.

“I just don’t get why Shadow’s doing it now, with Sonic... in the state he is.” He took a shaky breath in. “I don’t need someone acting like his replacement. I... I don’t blame him for how things turned out, but he doesn’t have to act like he actually cares now.”

The robot said nothing, the silence weighing heavily in the room as they both remained still. It wasn’t long before the fox nervously spoke up again, staring at the hulking metal robot from the corner of his eyes.

“How... how did you feel about Shadow running away all those months ago?”

“ANNOYED. FINDING SOMEONE ELSE WILLING TO PERFORM ROUTINE MAINTENANCE ON MY SYSTEMS WAS CHALLENGING.” Omega paused for a moment, before continuing. “MY ASSESSMENT AT THE TIME WAS THAT THERE MUST HAVE BEEN A COMPELLING REASON FOR HIS ABSENCE.”

“And now?”

“UNCERTAIN. SHADOW’S PERSONALITY HAS DIVERGED SIGNIFICANTLY FROM ESTABLISHED PATTERNS.”

“...I see.” Tails looked back at the table, mindlessly rolling the soldering iron with his finger.

Silence settled into the air between them once more. After a few moments, it was surprisingly Omega who broke it once more.

“IT IS POSSIBLE THAT HE CHANGED AGAIN WHILE IN CAPTIVITY.”

The fox’s head snapped back up to the robot, a questioning look in his eyes.

“What?”

“THE RECENT CHANGE IN BEHAVIOR MAY HAVE BEEN A RESULT OF HIS IMPRISONMENT WITH SONIC.”

“That’s... true...” The young inventor trailed off. He had noticed the hedgehog being less reserved-- and the idea to use the emeralds was his idea, too.

The buzzing of his phone caught his attention. He pulled it out, brow furrowing as he stared at the caller image-- Rouge winking at the camera while smirking. He quickly thumbed the call button, placing the device next to his ear.

Hey kid, I have a favor to call in.

“Sure thing, what’s up?” He replied with a sigh, leaning back in his chair.

Is that backdoor into GUN still open?

Tails pressed his feet against the concrete flooring, kicking back to force the chair to slide away from the workbench. Another kick at a right angle sent him careening towards his computer, grabbing the edge of his desk with his free hand to adjust his position and stop in front of the keyboard.

“It should still be available-- why?”

The boys and I are planning a raid on a GUN base for the other Chaos Emerald you found-- I’m familiar with the place, so I’ve already got the route in mind. Silver managed to nick an ID card from a guard on patrol, I was hoping you could turn it into an all-access key.

“Yeah, uh... one second.” He muttered, tapping rapidly on the keyboard as he began pulling up a number of terminals and info sheets. “Let me just cross reference your location with the global base map-- there it is. Can you put the card against the back of the communicator? I have an RFID and NFC scanner back there so it should send everything over.”

Sure thing, hon...” She trailed off, only for a buzzing noise to come through the speaker. “Did that work?

Tails’ eyes flicked to another console, where a string of data came filling in.

“Yep, I got it. Hold on for a moment...” He pulled up the card access list. “Oh good, they literally just let you select which doors it can access. Let me just-- Done. It should be able to open all doors.”

You’re a doll, Tails. This makes things a whole lot easier.

The yellow fox pulled up the overview page on the base, absentmindedly biting his lip as he scrolled through the info.

“Actually, Rouge, this place has a lot of functions open on the network. Laser systems, thermal and seismic detectors, camera surveillance... I can shut them all off if you’d like.”

My hero!” The bat’s haughty laugh came through the speaker. “Go ahead and do that. Leave the cameras on, though. They’ve probably got some guards watching the CCTV feeds.”

The two-tailed child nodded, clicking on a number of buttons on the page before replying.

“Alright, you should be good to go. Anything else?”

“Actually, I just wanted to ask how you’re holding up.”

Tails paused for a moment, his expression souring as he looked back down at the image on the phone.

“...I’m fine. Good luck on your mission.” He mumbled, promptly ending the call and placing the device face-down on the desk. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he closed out all the windows on his desktop.

“A SECOND EMERALD MAY GREATLY HELP SONIC” Omega offered.

“Yeah...” The fox trailed off, leaning back to stare at the ceiling. “Too bad I can’t think of anything that could too.”

“WHEN ROUGE AND SHADOW HAVE TROUBLE DEVISING SOLUTIONS, THEY OFTEN WORK ON OTHER PROJECTS.”

“Yeah, I’ve done that before. It sucks, but...” He glanced over his shoulder, staring at the pile of discarded components on the floor. “...Better than that, I suppose. Not sure what I can work on, though.”

They were both quiet for a while. Omega did not speak, but their body almost... twitched in a certain way, as if moving to do something but stopping itself. Eventually, it decided to actually speak up.

“...WE CAN TEST OUT MY WEAPONS SYSTEMS LIKE YOU HAD SUGGESTED BEFORE.”

Tails’ eyes widened, mouth hanging open for a second as he tried to process the suggestion.

“We can... definitely do that. I can retool some of my metalworking machines to make autocannon rounds. But...” He trailed off, looking at the robot with a concerned glance. “...are you absolutely sure you want to do it?”

The robot remained silent for a while, the cooling fans in its head whirring up as it did its best to find a response to the question.

“...AFFIRMATIVE.” It finally answered.

“Alright.” Tails nodded, pushing himself out of the chair. "Let’s get started, then.”

Sinking.

There wasn’t a sensation Sonic despised more than sinking. His adventures had led him to many places half-submerged in water, and every time he would feel himself dragged to its depths as if he were little more than a rock. The resistance it brought on his body made him feel powerless, unable to run or jump to escape.

Yet here he was, eyes closed as he felt himself being dragged deeper and deeper into what felt like a bottomless pit of sludge. He couldn’t tell how long he had been here, nor why his body had not completely given up from the lack of air.

A spark of remembrance ran through his mind-- that’s right, he was stuck in the underground prison cell with Shadow... the air itself was thick and stale, its oxygen long since depleted. He could remember the other hedgehog’s terrified visage, staring holes into his barely functional body as they waited for help that may or may not come.

He tried to open his eyes, only for it to feel as if a massive weight was keeping them clamped shut. Furrowing his brow, he doubled down on his efforts, feeling his energy rapidly drain away from him as he slowly managed to wrench them open.

The world around him did not exist. Everything was a black void-- all but him. Despite the absence of light sources, his body was perfectly visible. He looked over at his hand, concentrating hard as he tried to test his ability to move.

First it was only the twitch of his fingertips, but with more effort he was eventually able to fully articulate his hands. He continued the process, working each of his muscles and joints until he was able to regain control of his body; still sinking into the unknown, but at least able to move. He spun around in the black void, eyes squinting as he tried to make out any possible detail in the unnatural darkness, but to no avail.

A strange sense of... familiarity came over him. Had he been here before?

He tried going through what memories were bouncing around in his head, but none of them felt anything like this. Yet... he couldn’t shake that strange nostalgia about it.

His thoughts meandered back to his last moments. He winced at the images, knowing that his partner was suffering there with him but was relegated to just watching him slowly die--

Sonic felt his mouth open instinctively to yell in shock, only to find that no voice had come out.

Did... did he die? Is this the afterlife?

An anxious sense overcame his head, as if to confirm the realization.

If that was the case, then... had he died before?

A spike of pain drilled itself into Sonic’s skull, causing him to curl up and clutch his head. His vision went white as his brain was flooded with unfamiliar images.

An abandoned castle, half sunk and decrepit in a forest long since abandoned.

A fire-scorched city, crawling with monstrous creatures.

A grassy field, a dainty and fragile teenage human girl, dressed in regal attire-- cut off by a spike of energy thrust into his back, severing his spine and puncturing his heart.

Sonic’s eyes widened at the memories. They were not his, yet... they were undeniably things that had happened. Things that he knew he was a part of.

The sound of laughter echoed through his head, deep and malicious. It struck a chord of genuine fear in his chest-- something he had only felt a handful of times before. It was the last thing he had heard before he... died the first time.

Yet the voice, the dread... it was something he was already familiar with. It was the same tone as the creature that had caused the cave-in at Prison Island.

Whoever, or whatever it was, it had been the cause of his death-- twice.

Sonic gulped, feeling the empty void pulling him in deeper. Perhaps it was meaningless at this point, but... he felt compelled to continue his search.

Perhaps in these lost memories of his, he would be able to find something that could help.

Looking at Sonic was... difficult, to say the least.

The hospital bed underneath the cerulean hedgehog had been propped up slightly, allowing him to adopt something closer to a seated position underneath the thin white blankets he was provided. His eyes remained dull, staring slightly off-center towards some indeterminate point far beyond the walls of his room. His mouth hung open slightly, drooping to the side slightly in line with the slight tilt of his head. A thin line of drool trailed from the corner of his lips, snaking down the side of his chin and hitting the peach fuzz on his chest.

Noticing the saliva trail, Shadow quietly grabbed a corner of the blanket and brought it to the vegetative hero’s muzzle. He grimaced, pressing the material slightly with his thumb as he attempted to wipe up the mess. He paused for a moment, sighing as he used his other hand to press his fingertips against Sonic’s temple. He felt his chest ache as he slowly applied force, doing his best to tilt the blue hedgehog’s head straight and back, hoping to cut off the flow. Having done the best he could, he placed the fabric back down on the bed.

Shadow could feel his heart jump in his ribcage as Sonic suddenly blinked, only for the reaction to be subsequently quashed by the lack of any further movement. It was hard to get used to; seeing someone blink and breathe-- even open and close their mouth a little, but all the while knowing it’s just the mindless reactions of a vacant body.

He couldn’t blame Tails for not wanting to stick around with him like this. Not one bit.

Shadow felt his ears twitch as the door to the room slid open. He looked up, hands clenching the railing of the bed as his eyes settled on the pink hedgehog who slipped through the crack.

She gave the black and red hybrid a small smile, sheepishly nodding as she lightly stepped forward.

“You’ll need to bring in a chair if you want to sit.” He offered.

Amy shook her head.

“That’s fine-- I’ve been sitting around all day.”

Shadow was the first to break eye contact, glancing back down at the blue hedgehog next to him. His new visitor walked to the other side of the bed, pressing her hand gently onto the back of the vegetative hero’s.

“Do you know how long it might take?”

The other hedgehog shrugged.

“No idea. Last time it took about a day, but it wasn’t as bad as this.”

“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t take much longer than that, then.” She paused for a moment, removing her hand from Sonic. “Sorry, I didn’t bring anything for you.”

“That’s fine. I’m sure Sonic would just be happy with your company.” Shadow waved the concern away, hesitating for a moment before nodding in the direction of the door. “Would you like me to--”

“Oh, goodness no!” Amy shook her head, widening her eyes at the suggestion. “I... I actually wanted to speak with you.”

The black and red hedgehog raised an eyebrow, lowering his arms to his side.

“...What about?”

“Well...” She trailed off, looking away for a moment. “Just... wanted to see how you were holding up.”

“I’m fine.” Shadow answered calmly, turning his body slightly away from the pink hedgehog.

Amy stared at him a moment, her mouth drawing into a thin line as she tilted her head in concern.

“Listen... I-- Shadow, I just want you to know that no one blames you for what happened.”

The hybrid didn’t respond, his expression hardening as he stared off towards the wall.

The pink hedgehog just sighed, shoulders slumping as she closed her eyes. She shook her head, glancing back at him with a more determined gaze.

“What happened there was on GUN. You did everything you could--”

Stop.” Shadow bit out, cutting her off. He jerked his head away, bringing his arms up to fold across his chest. “I... respect you a lot, Rose. It was thanks to you that my memories of Maria were reawakened. But I do not wish to discuss this with you.”

Amy paused for a moment, resisting the urge to reach out to the other hedgehog.

“...That’s fine.” She nodded solemnly, clasping her hands in front of her. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”

“...It’s okay.” He muttered under his breath.

She looked back down at Sonic, a small chuckle eking out from her throat as a memory flashed through her mind.

“You know, this is actually the second time he’s been hospitalized like this.” She quietly admitted, her expression falling slightly.

Shadow’s head snapped towards his pink counterpart, eyes wide. He had never heard about this.

“What happened?”

“...I did.” She replied, letting out a small huff of air. She looked back up to see Shadow staring at her intently, his gaze boring into her but bearing no judgment.

She looked back down at Sonic, a pained smile slowly crawling across her features as she squeezed his arm gently.

“Everyone says he can bring out the best in people, but... when he wants, he can push you until you become the worst version of yourself. And sometimes, that’s what you need to see.”

“I... am familiar with that.” The hybrid admitted, his hands clenching tightly as his gaze fell to the floor. His mind flashed back to their fight in Shamar, when they finally met up after Shadow’s months of absence. He could still taste the lingering rage on his tongue, and the shame he felt from the hero’s words that left him gutted like a fish.

“I figured that may have been the case.” She mused. “Even when you’ve got a strong conviction, he can just... pull the rug right out from under your feet like it was nothing.”

“...How did it happen with you?”

Amy sighed, looking up at the ceiling as she pulled her hands back and grasped the railing.

“I’d been chasing him for over a decade. Ever since he rescued me on Little Planet all those years ago, I made it my life’s goal to make him mine. At first, I tried getting myself captured-- I figured if I was the damsel in distress, he’d have to fall in love with me. When that fell through, I decided that I’d just become someone strong on my own, and if he was able to see me as a strong woman, I’d be irresistible.”

She paused, her wistful smile slowly darkening and dissipating as she continued.

“...I never stopped to think about him. I was constantly dragging him to dates, insisting we’d get married and have kids... I guess at the time I thought he had to have the same feelings, and I needed to just pull it out of him. I thought that’s what love was... but I wasn’t able to see how much I was actually pushing him away. I remember thinking at one point that if I had to sacrifice the entire world for him, I’d do it without thinking twice. I’m sure... if I told him that, he’d be disgusted.”

Her grip on the railing tightened, her gaze lowering to look back at Sonic. The blue hedgehog remained completely lifeless, mindlessly staring off into the distance.

Shadow could only continue to stare at her, eyes wide and mouth open as he processed the story she told.

“...We fought one day. I got mad that he didn’t want to go on a date-- even though he had gone out with me the week before. And then, he...” She trailed off, grimacing as her own mind flashed through memories that she was visibly uncomfortable reliving. “...said some things to me I’d rather not repeat. Things just kept escalating past that. Before I knew it, we were throwing punches at each other. Neither of us held back. Honestly, seeing how determined he was... it scared me. I got a lucky hit with my hammer in, and he just... collapsed.”

Shadow closed his eyes, tilting his head away. His chest trembled as he breathed.

“He... was like that with me, as well.”

Amy nodded slightly, rubbing her neck with her hands.

“Honestly,” she began, a half-hearted giggle escaping her lips, “I wish he’d find a way to get through to people that didn’t leave him all beat up.”

An amused huff of air escaped Shadow’s nose. He could feel a small smirk perking up at the corners of his mouth.

“You’d have a better chance of defeating Chaos than asking Sonic to cut back on his tendency to sacrifice himself.”

“Well, uh...” The pink hedgehog trailed off, giving the hybrid a sheepish look. “...Sonic kinda... already did that.”

“...What?” Shadow looked back at her, completely dumbfounded.

“It was before you were pulled out of stasis. He’s chilled out after he was beaten-- he lives in the Master Emerald and watches over the Chao now.”

The black and red hedgehog could only open and close his mouth like a fish, unable to properly form a response.

“Sorry, I...” He trailed off, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean to sidetrack you. Please continue your story.”

Amy nodded, looking back down at Sonic as she continued.

“Sure. I brought him to the hospital after that. It was... pretty bad. The doctor said he was bleeding into his brain. They had to drill a hole into his skull to get the blood out. Luckily there weren’t any complications past that, but... I was a wreck the whole time. I thought I had killed him.” She paused for a moment, sighing. “I did a lot of thinking after that. When he woke up, I asked him why he would go that far. You know what he told me?”

Shadow quietly shook his head.

“I don’t mind being the bad guy every once in a while!” The pink hedgehog spoke in a deeper than usual tone, a crude mimicry of Sonic’s voice.

The hybrid found himself quietly laughing through his nose. It was difficult imagining Sonic say such a line, yet at the same time he found it undeniable that the blue hedgehog would say something like that.

“It took me a long time to realize what he meant. My... my love for him hasn’t gone away, but I’ve come to realize that what I have for him is something he isn’t capable of reciprocating. And I think that’s fine. It’s just... not in the cards for me, I guess.” She chuckled, shaking her head slightly as she rubbed her lips with the tip of her thumb. “I’m happy to have a friend like him. Even after all that, he still stuck by me. I was honestly kind of scared of what the others would think, but he told me he was fine with it staying between us. You’re the only other person who knows.”

The other hedgehog nodded.

“Thank you for sharing that, it couldn’t have been easy.” He paused for a moment, adding, “Your secret is safe with me.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to imply you had to or anything, but...” She trailed off, giving him a gentle smile. “...It’s appreciated.”

They were both quiet for a while. Shadow felt his brow furrowing, gaze moving towards the ground.

“Something wrong?” Amy asked, tilting her head.

“No... I just have a lot to think about.”

“I understand.” She nodded, turning towards the door. “I should probably head back home for now. If there’s anything on your mind that you’d like to talk about... I’m always happy to lend an ear.”

The black and red hedgehog nodded, looking back at the other hedgehog with a small smile on his face.

“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you again for your time.”

Sifting through his memories proved more difficult than Sonic would have liked. The initial visions he saw of a life he never knew had dissipated, dispersing themselves into the recollections of adventures he had known by heart. Every once in a while he’d find something new, but it felt like trying to pick out grains of sand in his open palms. His patience was wearing thin in this timeless void, unable to get accustomed to the sense of submersion that would have normally sent him into a panic.

Even when he was able to see a memory, it would come across as distorted and confusing-- senses blending together into a garbled mess that made parsing the information harder than it already was.

He reached for another memory, a yelp escaping his lips as a surge of sorrow filled every bit of empty space in his chest. A deathly chill came over him, and his heart threatened to crumple inwards as he tried to push further into the memory.

He found himself surrounded by golden light, a presence next to him that felt gentle and supportive. He felt equal parts nostalgia and anxiety as he looked over, seeing the hazy figure stare back at him with a knowing smile. A spike of adrenaline rushed through his system as he reached out; he knew something was so horribly wrong with the situation, a mistake was about to be made and he had to stop it--

Just like that he found himself whisked away, far from that golden figure and left amongst cold metal. His heart ached as he curled inward, unable to rip the realization from his body that clung like a parasite.

There was no error, no blind happenstance that formed this tragedy. It was always a willing choice.

Sonic was flung from the memory, clutching at his chest as he vigorously shook his head. The details were still muddled, but he knew that feeling well-- that he had forgotten... no, that he had willingly put his own thoughts aside. It was a pattern he knew he often employed-- to push things out of his head so he could keep moving forward in his own life. It gnawed at his insides, making his own skin feel tattered and strained. He knew it was not something he could keep up forever-- one day he would find himself unable to run, and that day everything he had put behind him would be able to catch up.

He took a deep breath in, doing his best to calm himself as he tried to collect himself. This behavior of his may be destructive in the long term, but right now he needed to continue his search. He needed to find more, and figure out exactly who this creature was that had left him in this state.

The blue hedgehog could not waste any more time ruminating on his past. The moment he found the vision familiar he tossed it aside, steeling his heart from the waves of emotions that bombarded him. He ran through them so quickly that they began to bleed into each other, familiar sensations all merging into an incoherent mass.

The feeling of holding onto a fiery friend as a void tore them apart. A punch in the face as his supreme power was knocked out of him. The warm smile of a young boy who looked up to him. The reserved but determined glances of two new friends that found themselves trapped with him on Eggman’s island. The sensation of grinding metal as a gravelly cackle echoed around him. A hulking beast sinking below the sky, wailing from its inability to live up to the expectations it set for itself. A determined cry as a furious hedgehog threw him like a ragdoll in a public square--

Sonic’s eyes widened as he halted on the memory. His sense of familiarity had evaporated like smoke, leaving only a sense of urgency as he spent as much time as he could focusing on this single image. He could recognize his adversary-- Silver, of all people-- yet the expression he wore was wildly different from the timid but optimistic hero he knew. Pure desperation was etched into his features, matched only by a righteous fury that burned like an insatiable blaze behind his eyes. There was no room for interpretation; the time traveler wanted him dead, and he had no second thoughts about leaving the hero as little more than a smear on the cobblestone beneath them.

He could see Silver’s mouth opening and closing to form words that warbled in and out of the rest of the memory. The space around the hedgehog’s mouth distorted outwards in bulges, seeing the sound waves emanating from him but unable to actually hear them.

He was saying something important, something that Sonic knew in his bones he needed to know. Mustering as much concentration as he could, the cerulean hero narrowed his eyes, trying his best to mimic the words that the other hedgehog was uttering.

“Ib...lis...trig...ger” He muttered, only for his concentration to be knocked out of him as he was sent flying back into a stone wall, cracking his skull against a sharp corner.

The world dissipated around him, leaving him back in the infinite void he had been stuck in. He folded his arms across his chest, tapping his bicep with his finger as he scowled.

He had been here for who knows how long, and he’d just barely scraped the surface. He would be here forever at this rate--

A harsh tug yanked at the hedgehog’s quills, sending a jolt of pain as he found himself being roughly dragged upwards at a rapid pace. He found himself instinctively clawing back down, watching his memories slip past him faster than he could collect them.

Frustration mounting within him, he looked up to see what he was being forced towards-- a bright light had suddenly appeared above him, only a pinprick but rapidly growing as he neared it. He let out a sigh of determination, furrowing his brow as he glared at the apparent target.

He was likely going to leave this place-- the time for investigation was over. He would just have to focus as hard as he could, and try to keep the tenuous grasp he had on these confusing visions within him once he reached his destination.

Shadow’s impatience was at an all-time high, bubbling away within him as he paced the walls of the room, regularly glancing back at Sonic to gauge his condition. The sterile walls of the hospital gave Shadow little indication of how much time had progressed since Amy had left. Of course, he knew he had his phone on him-- pulling it out and checking the time would have been a trivial task.

But he knew that looking at it once would only lead to doing it again and again, which would only drive up his irritability further. Time had a funny way of doing that-- the more you tried to observe its passing, the slower it would seem. And so, he decided to remain frustrated by uncertainty, not willing to risk the alternative.

The blue hedgehog remained annoyingly stagnant, looking straight through the hybrid as he passed by his line of vision. He had asked the doctor if they would be able to do another scan to see if anything had changed, but the stork was quick to point out that the energy from the gem would interfere with the scans. He’d have to separate the hero from the chaos emerald in order to do that-- possibly severing him from what was healing him.

He paused for a moment, mulling over the conversation that Amy had had with him not too long ago. There was a... comfort of sorts that he had, being able to relate with someone like that. It was a luxury he was rarely afforded; his experiences were largely isolated from the world around him. His friends could offer all their sympathies to him, but true empathy was something he knew he could never expect most of the time.

He wasn’t sure if it was an intentional effort by the pink hedgehog, or just some kind of beneficial coincidence; either way, it was greatly appreciated. He’d have to find a way to return the favor, someday.

The hybrid chuckled, a small smile gracing his lips again. Not too long ago, he would have shied away from any kind of social interaction. Yet here he was now, thinking of the future and what kind of ways he’d spend time with friends.

Maybe he really was changing.

Is that what you think, Shadow?

The black and red hedgehog froze in place, back stiffening as his eyes opened wide. He could feel the quills on the back of his neck rise, feeling a sensation of sharp claws caressing his shoulders once more.

“It’s you again...” He whispered out, his breath fogging in front of him. He tried to turn his head, only to find it locked in place.

I see your lucidity is growing the longer we talk. That is good-- it’s a waste that you can’t remember these sessions of ours when you wake.

A small chuckle emanated from behind him, the sound passing straight through his skull and bouncing around his brain.

The voice continued.

It’s honestly saddening, watching you struggle to become something you could never be.” The cold hands trailed down Shadow’s shoulders, slipping under his arms and wrapping around his chest in an icy embrace. “I’ve been with you for so long, Shadow. I know your true nature better than anyone else. You’re incapable of change-- only pretending that you are. We both know that you don’t belong on this path you keep forcing yourself down.”

“You’ve made your intentions clear before.” Shadow scowled, clenching his fists as he did his best to keep from shivering. “I won’t be swayed by your empty words.”

Strong conviction, as always.” The being sighed, a tone of disappointment in its voice. “I feel as though there was a time that I tried to convince you to join me. I have no doubt you were just as obstinate then, and I certainly have no interest in attempting such a feat again.”

“Then why are you here?” He growled.

A hearty laugh escaped the unseen creature, the strong sound reverberating through the hybrid’s body.

Tell me, Shadow; if you were able to see the future, would you consider it pre-determined?

“Silver is proof enough that the future can be changed.”

And what if those changes themselves were also pre-determined? If it was in fate’s design that the future be altered a certain way, how would we be able to tell? Would one even be able to fight such a force?”

“I--” The hedgehog cut himself off, furrowing his brow. “Explain yourself.”

“My dear Shadow-- I would like to test a hypothesis of sorts. I am just as subject to the whims of fate as any other, and I would like to see if those chains can be broken. Leaving you broken and ruined is but a cherry on top.” It cooed into his ear, its tone seething with malice through the mockingly caring demeanor. “To that end, I’d like to see if you can do the same.

Shadow found his feet slowly trudging forward, moving slowly towards Sonic’s bed. His heart jumped in his chest as he struggled to stop himself, unable to make his body comply.

“N-No-- Stop it!” He jerked about, watching as he stopped at the vegetative hero’s bedside.

There’s no reason for me to bring harm to him, Shadow.” The monster chided. “Not when it would be so much worse for you if he is alive and well.

“Wh-What?”

You heard me. Now, allow me to accelerate his healing for you.

The hybrid’s hand stiltedly rose upwards, before landing heavily on Sonic’s head. Almost immediately, a surge of purple lightning shot down his arm, running through his fingers and dissipating into the hedgehog’s forehead.

Well, to be perfectly honest we’re not exactly ‘healing’ him, we’re simply aging his brain slightly faster. Think of it more as a... fast forward button. Otherwise, we’d be stuck here for months.”

The black and red hedgehog could only watch in speechless horror as his body was used against him. He watched as Sonic’s limbs twitched and spasmed, jerking about under the covers. He kept trying to retract his hand, to no avail. Eventually, the control over his body ceased, cutting off the mysterious power as the black and red hedgehog was sent sprawling back onto the ground.

He slowly pushed himself up, feeling the same cruel laugh echo through his head.

And now my challenge to you, Shadow the Hedgehog.” The voice boomed, causing him to wince as it projected directly into his skull. “There will come a time that we will fight, and the fate of this world is decided. Destiny has determined that you will be victorious-- but know this...”

Shadow felt his entire body grow cold once more as the clawed hands grasped his shoulders, the heavy weight of an icy muzzle pressing into the space just under his ear as the creature giddily whispered to him.

If you win this fight, you will betray Sonic. With your own words and actions, you will drive a knife into his back so deeply that he will never truly recover.

Shadow felt himself shoot upwards, eyes wide and gasping for air as he clutched his chest. He frantically looked around, scanning as much detail as he could to get a bearing on his surroundings.

He was... still in the hospital room. He looked down, staring at the chair he found himself sitting in. His eyes rose again, focusing on the hospital bed right in front of him. The bed was fully flattened out, Sonic’s eyes closed as he calmly breathed in and out, hands were folded over his slowly bouncing chest. There was a small crumple in the blankets in front of the hybrid-- likely from using it as a makeshift pillow as he slept.

The hybrid felt a wave of confusion come over him. He was... sleeping? He couldn’t remember when exactly he did that-- or when he got a chair for that matter. Maybe he just forgot?

A stinging pain ran through his skull, causing him to grunt in pain as he clenched his eyes shut and rubbed his temple. He knew he had another nightmare, but just like before the details were all garbled and incomprehensible. It was going to be a problem if this became a common occurrence--

He felt something press into his cheek. It was... gentle and warm, moving slightly as if caressing him.

Shadow’s eyes shot open, and almost immediately he found himself robbed of his own breath.

An arm covered in peach fuzz was reaching out to him. Tracing the form, he found it connected to the blue body lying on the bed in front of him. His gaze slowly settled onto the head, his crimson eyes meeting a brilliant jade.

Sonic was awake, staring directly at him.

The black and red hedgehog slowly brought his own hand up, placing it on top of the one gently stroking his muzzle. He felt his fingers slide in between the other’s, clenching down to intertwine them tightly.

He could feel them. They were real.

He let out a shaky breath, overwhelmed with relief and joy. It rushed through him like a tidal wave, wiping away all of his fears and concerns in one brutally efficient strike.

He could feel himself sniffling, trying desperately to wipe away the tears that were forming and threatening to cloud his vision.

Sonic could only crack a small smile, taking a deep breath through his nose. He licked his dry lips, parting them just enough to allow a single dry, raspy word to slip through.

...Hey.

Notes:

I wasn't expecting it to be this long-- I could have split it into more chapters again but that felt too mean. I think this makes this the longest chapter. Hope you all enjoyed it!

Let me know what you all think. I'm very excited to show you where the rest of the story goes!

Chapter 29

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

...Hey.

Shadow felt the air rush out of his lungs, a choked sob echoing through the room from that single word. It felt like someone had gripped his heart, squeezing with all their might to extract whatever lay within. He felt his grip tighten on Sonic’s hand, who could only close his eyes and give him a smile that radiated with the kindness and warmth of the shining sun-- a smile that he only knew from his memories aboard the ARK, worn proudly by the gentle soul of his sister.

He took a pained breath in, his own lips trembling as his shaky and stuffy voice weakly replied.

“...Hey.”

Sonic let out a small giggle, his chest rumbling gently as he slowly lowered his hand. The black and red hedgehog was reluctant to let go, but their current position made it impossible to keep their hold together without someone twisting their arm. Once the hero’s hand had settled onto the bedding palm-down, he was quick to place his own hand atop it, mimicking the affectionate gesture he saw Amy doing earlier.

A spark of realization shot through the hybrid’s brain, his back stiffening as he started reaching into his quills.

“I should let the doctor and the others know--”

“Wait.” Sonic rasped, shaking his head. He rubbed at his throat with his free hand, wincing. “...Water?”

Shadow quickly glanced around the room, brow furrowing at the lack of any available option. He supposed that providing a water mug to a patient who couldn’t drink wasn’t a particularly reasonable accommodation.

“I... can search for a vending machine. I think I passed by one in the hallway. I’ll... I’ll be right back, okay?”

The blue hedgehog quietly nodded, smiling back at him. The hybrid quickly jumped up, his heart racing as he paced towards the door. He looked back, casting a nervous glance back to the hero-- as if to reassure himself that his partner was still there. He slipped through the door, his feet carrying him faster than he’d like as he moved further away from the hospital room.

It didn’t take him long to find a vending machine, and luckily and with just a few rings he was able to purchase a bottle and rush back towards the room. As he returned down the hallway, he glanced at Sonic through the observation window-- feeling a slight twinge of relief as the hedgehog’s eyes settled onto him, a snarky grin growing on his face as he looked at the nervous hybrid on the other side.

Shadow could feel his cheeks flush with embarrassment, shaking his head vigorously as he continued on. He pushed through the door, returning to the hero’s bedside as he dropped the cold plastic bottle into his lap.

The bedridden hedgehog was quick to grab the container, unscrewing the cap as he brought it to his lips. The cool liquid rushed down his throat, providing some much needed relief as he greedily gulped it down. He could feel trails of the fluid escape the corner of his mouth, dribbling down and soaking into his blanket.

He felt his eyes widen as an air bubble inadvertently joined the rest of the liquid he swallowed, causing him to cough violently as he jerked the bottle away from his mouth. He closed his eyes, trying to control the breathing as the pain in his throat was quickly replaced by the pain in his lungs.

“Easy, now.” Shadow bluntly chided, grabbing the bottle and gently pulling it away from the other hedgehog before any of it could spill out. “I can always get more if you need it.”

It took a moment before the raspy hacking subsided. With a grumble, Sonic cleared his throat, rubbing the edges of his neck as he cracked a smile back at the one next to him.

“Well, where’s the fun in that?” He joked, his voice significantly stronger, albeit still somewhat scratchy.

The black and red hedgehog felt his eye twitch, unamused by the all-too-familiar glib responses the hero often gave. Upon seeing this reaction, Sonic could only let out another belt of laughter as he propped himself up on his elbows, allowing him to better view Shadow at eye level. Seeing this, Shadow pressed the back adjustment button on the side of the bed, causing it to rise so the blue hedgehog could sit up properly.

“C’mon, Shads.” He teased, softly jabbing him in the shoulder with his finger. “Wouldn’t this be the perfect time for you to gloat about how the Ultimate Lifeform had to save me?”

The words slammed into the hybrid like a freight train. His ears flattened as he jerked his hand away from the hero’s, as if he had just realized he was touching a searing flame. He looked away, fists clenched in his lap as he shook his head.

“I didn’t save you, Sonic.” He admitted, clenching his eyes shut. “I was the reason you were there in the first place. After the cave-in, I... I wasn’t able to do anything at all. I could only watch as you wasted away in front of me. I was useless--

“No, you were not .” Sonic cut him off, his own expression dimming as he leaned towards the other hedgehog. “My... memory of what happened down there is a little hazy, but I remember you recognizing that we were running out of air. If it weren’t for that, I definitely wouldn’t have survived.”

Shadow flinched from the assertion, pulling inwards and away but providing no response.

“You did everything you could, and that was enough, Shadow.” The blue hedgehog sighed softly, pressing the side of his head into the thin pillows as he stared at the unresponsive hybrid next to him. “...How long was I out, by the way?”

“A few days.”

“Jeez, really?” He wondered aloud. “Feels like it should have been much longer than that.”

Shadow felt his back stiffen, a shiver running down his spine as a small stream of frigid air lingered past the back of his neck.

“...Not that I’m complaining!” Sonic quickly added, chuckling. “Guess that’s the power of the emeralds for ‘ya.”

“...Yeah.” The hybrid agreed, though he felt as if he didn’t believe his own words. He shook his head, flicking his eyes back towards his partner as he continued. “...Why didn’t you want me to tell the others that you’re up?”

“Oh, that.” The blue hedgehog innocently muttered, rolling onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. “I just... knew it would probably get loud once the others come in. I thought spending some quiet time with you first would be nice.”

“I see.” Shadow quietly acknowledged, feeling his cheeks grow warm.

“...How are you feeling?”

“I should be asking you that.”

“Well, that’s not exactly what I meant, but since you asked so kindly ...” Sonic rolled his eyes, chuckling. “Everything feels fine for the most part. Feels like I swallowed a bunch of sand, though.”

“...Probably because your mouth was hanging open for the past few days.”

“Yeah, I guess that would do it.” The blue hedgehog mused.

They sat in silence, occasionally stealing glances at the other. The bedridden hero was quick to open his mouth again, his sight trained on the black and red hedgehog from the corners of his eyes.

“I notice you didn’t answer my question.”

Shadow shifted uncomfortably in his chair, crimson irises unable to meet the one speaking to him.

“...I’m fine. No injuries.” He muttered.

Sonic huffed through his nose, a small smile growing back on his lips.

“I’m talking about your actual feelings , Shads.” He lightly chided. “It’s been a while since you came back with me. I just wanted to know... if anything’s changed, that's all.”

The hybrid’s eyes widened as he opened his mouth, only to find that it was only empty breath that came out. After taking a moment to think, he leaned forward slightly, his voice lowering just slightly.

“I don’t really know, to be honest. I think... maybe.”

“...That’s good.” The blue hedgehog replied, a look of relief washing over him.

“Sonic, I--”

Shadow began, only to cut himself off. His face felt awash with heat, overwhelming him and stopping any determination he had in his tracks. With a defeated huff he retreated from the words he wanted to say, shaking his head as he looked back at the hero’s expectant face. Finding his voice again, he quickly redirected his own conversation.

“I think we should tell the others. They’re all worried about you.”

There was a questioning look in the other hedgehog’s eyes, which quickly dissipated as he considered the words said to him.

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” He admitted. “Let’s get the gang here.”

The hybrid nodded, pulling out his phone. He furrowed his brow for a moment, before slipping it away once more.

“...Doctor first.” He muttered, glancing towards the door.

Sonic let out a disappointed sigh.

“Do we really have to do this? I feel great!”

“Then you’ll have no problem telling that to Doctor Marsh.”

Fiiiiiiine.”

The blue hedgehog folded his arms across his chest, his face contorting into a childish pout. Shadow could only roll his eyes as he reached towards the wall behind the bed, pressing the call button for the nurse there. It wasn’t long before one of the staff members arrived, eyes widening as Sonic enthusiastically waved at her through the window. She rushed out of sight for a moment, dragging the surprised stork in tow.

“So, you’re the guy who’s been taking care of me?” The hero greeted, grinning wide.

“Indeed.” The doctor nodded, a small smile growing on his own face. “I’m glad to see that your recovery is going better than expected.”

“Well, far be it from me to disappoint!”

The stork glanced at the heart rate monitor for a second, before glancing back at the hedgehog.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been laying down for far too long.”

Sonic grabbed the edge of his blanket, glancing momentarily back at the doctor as if to ask for permission.

Doctor Marsh didn’t look too excited by the silent proposal, but nodded-- making sure to keep a close watch as the hero quickly tore off the covering and pushed himself out of the bed.

His feet slammed against the floor, and though it was a little wobbly at first, Sonic was quick to recover and take a few steps around. With a small laugh he stood on one foot, holding his arms out to maintain balance as he leaned back and forth. After a bit of mild showing off, he grabbed the stand for his monitor and walked over to Shadow, reaching back into his quills and pulling out the Chaos Emerald he had been holding onto.

“I think it’s done about all it can for me. You can hold onto it for now-- you’ve always been able to get more use out of these things than I can.”

The black and red hedgehog nodded, holding his own hand out. The cerulean hero let go of the gem--

And immediately collapsed the moment the jewel left the touch of his fingertips.

Shadow was quick to rush forward, letting the Chaos Emerald clatter to the ground as he caught Sonic in his arms. The other hedgehog was limp in his grasp, head leaning against the tuft of white fur on his chest.

A pained groan escaped the hero’s lips, a weakened voice muttering out.

“Maybe I spoke too soon...”

Those words gave the hybrid a small bit of relief that his partner was still somewhat conscious. He leaned down slightly, hooking his arm under Sonic’s legs to pick him up into a bridal carry. With what gentleness could be mustered, the blue hedgehog was slowly deposited back onto the bed. Once he was sure of the other hedgehog’s safety, Shadow scooped the emerald off the ground and placed it on Sonic’s chest.

It wasn’t long before the hero’s legs began to twitch, straightening out on the bed and curling up reflexively. His hand slowly clasped around the gem, pulling it up to eye level. He stared deeply into the yellow gem, a scowl forming on his face.

“Guess I still need a crutch for now, huh?”

“That appears to be the case.” Doctor Marsh said, slowly walking around the bed to move the heart rate monitor back to its original position. “In your state, I don’t think it’s wise to let you leave--”

“No can do, Doc.” Sonic shook his head, slipping the jewel back into his quills. “There’s this whole ‘world-ending scenario’ thing that I’m supposed to be helping out with. Can’t save anyone chained up to a bed.”

The stork glanced back at the blue hedgehog, an annoyed expression on his face.

“And you’ll be saving no one if you don’t take the time to actually recover.”

“I don’t know if I even have the time to do that.” The hero bit back, clearly agitated.

Shadow reached over, squeezing the hedgehog’s wrist.

“...At least let them keep you overnight for observation.” He offered, glancing back at the doctor. “Will that be acceptable?”

“No.” Doctor Marsh stated plainly, before sighing and adding, “...But it’s better than nothing, I suppose.”

The black and red hybrid looked down at the bedridden hedgehog, who could only huff in annoyance as he looked up at a non-descript section of the ceiling.

“I guess .” He muttered, foot bouncing back and forth.

“Well, with that out of the way...” Shadow trailed off, pulling out his phone once more. “Let’s get everyone here.”

Amy was, unsurprisingly, the first to make it to the room after Doctor Marsh took his leave. Sonic had made a point to sit up before she arrived, though his insistence to do so was swiftly met with regret as he was pulled into a bone-crushing hug by the overbearingly strong hedgehog.

Shadow remained seated in the back of the room, silently observing her and her hero as she doted on him and bombarded him with questions about his well being and emotional state.

“Ames, I’m fine!” He chuckled, raising his hands up in mock surrender. “Trust me, I’m not going to let something like this bring me down.”

Amy raised her eyebrow, her tone lowering for a moment as she crossed her arms.

“Alright, no.” She chided, shaking her head. “It’s not about ‘bringing you down,’ Sonic. You were basically braindead for the past two days!”

“And I’m all better now!” He turned around glancing at Shadow with a nervous glance in his eyes. “Right, Shads? Right?

The black and red hedgehog felt his heart jumpstart at the request. His eyes snapped up, blankly looking back at the two hedgehogs who stared back at him expectantly.

Shadow knew that Sonic was far from okay, and Sonic knew that all too well. He was... asking him to lie.

The notion made the hybrid feel uncomfortable. He knew if Amy found out, there’d be hell to pay... but Sonic was looking to him for help.

And it’s not like he hadn’t lied to them already.

The black and red hedgehog felt his shoulders drop, his insides squirming within him as he gave into the request.

“...Yeah. He’ll be fine.” He replied matter-of-factly, looking back to the blue hedgehog.

“See?” Sonic looked back at Amy, a grin growing on his face. “You’re concerned over nothing, I’ll be fine!

Shadow quietly slipped his hands onto the rim of the seat, keeping his face still as stone as he gripped tightly.

Amy looked him over once more, before sighing and taking a few steps back.

“Alright, if you say so.” She huffed as she tilted her head up. “I’m just glad you’re back with us. Speaking of, Rouge let me know her raid went off without a hitch, she should be here with--”

“Speaking of the devil, hon?” A boisterous voice shot through the door.

Amy spun around as everyone focused on the bat who just made her entrance. Her smirk was radiating confidence as she stepped through the door, a dirtied and tired echidna and silver hedgehog in tow.

Knuckles was quick to stomp past her and into the room, pulling his fist back and launching it towards the blue hedgehog. The hero grinned, mimicking the gesture and colliding into a hearty fist bump. Silver stood by the doorway, his own smile widening as he observed the rest of the crew. Amy was quick to join him, asking details about his most recent excursion.

Rouge took a passing glance at the chattering blue hedgehog, walking past him and around the bed as she made her way to the seated hybrid. She pulled out the familiar glowing green gem, dropping it unceremoniously in Shadow’s lap as she looked away and pouted.

“You know, I’m not a fan of giving away my loot, so you better find a way to make it up to me!”

The black and red hedgehog stared at her, dumbfounded. After taking a moment to think, he opened his lips, saying the only thing he could think to say.

“...Did you get my journal?”

The treasure hunter’s head snapped back towards him, eyes wide in apparent offense at the lack of reaction to her antics. She huffed indignantly, pulling out the small brown booklet and throwing it next to the gem.

“Chaos, you’re so oblivious. But I guess that’s why...” She smirked devilishly, pointing her eyes towards the back of the blue hedgehog. “... Right?

Shadow’s mouth hung open, completely confused as he slowly shook his head back and forth.

The bat leaned over, grabbing him gently by the shoulder as she laughed.

“Don’t worry, buddy.” She consoled, a tone of condescension in her voice. “We’ll get there eventually. By the way, how did you get your hand on the other Chaos Emerald so quickly?”

“...Eggman gave it to us.”

The hybrid felt a wave of apprehension come over him as the room fell silent at his words. He looked around to see everyone staring at him, a look of surprise plastered over all of their features.

Knuckles was the first to respond, breaking away from Sonic to saunter over to him-- fist pointed out menacingly.

“And you just thought to give it to him?!” He growled. “What if it was some kind of trap?”

“I had Tails test it-- he couldn’t find anything wrong.” The black and red hedgehog replied, his tone growing into a hiss as his own annoyance crept through. “Unless you think his skills aren’t adequate?”

The echidna pursed his lips, pulling back as he folded his arms over his chest.

“I didn’t say that.” He muttered, narrowing his eyes.

“Chill out, guys.” Sonic chided, twisting his back around to look at the duo behind him. “We don’t need to be fighting now. Why would Eggman bring me one anyway?”

“He said it was a peace offering.” Shadow mentioned. “He wants you, me, and Tails to meet up with him once you’re better. Didn’t say why.”

“An emerald free of charge and a truce?” The blue hedgehog muttered, placing his fist against his mouth in consideration. “He’s only done that when things are really out of hand.”

“What if it’s some kind of trap?” Silver chimed in.

Rouge shook her head.

“Not his style.” She noted, her hand reaching back to trace down the top of her mended spine. “I’m well aware of that.”

“I doubt it’s a trap.” Sonic agreed. “We definitely should go meet him, but there’s some other stuff I need to take care of first--”

His voice was cut off by the sound of the door slamming open. Inside the frame was a disheveled yellow fox, mangy furred with tips dotted with black grease. The smell of oil and gunpowder filled the room as he stood there, eyes wide as he stared back at the blue hedgehog.

In the blink of an eye, his twin namesakes spun rapidly, propelling him across the room towards his older brother with his arms outstretched. He buried his face in Sonic’s chest, letting out a sigh of relief as he wrapped his arms around the hero tightly.

The hero brought his hand up to his younger brother’s head, lightly petting and stroking the fur on his scalp as he waited for the young kid to speak. His eyes were momentarily drawn away as Shadow quietly got up, moving behind the crowd and walking towards the door. The black and red hedgehog slipped outside, moving in front of the hulking chassis of Omega, who had just managed to cross into view. He motioned for the robot to follow him, and the two disappeared out of sight.

“I was so worried you weren’t going to come back.” Tails muttered, voice muffled by his runny nose and the fur his face was pressed into.

“Of course I wouldn’t, little bud.” Sonic gently reassured him, pulling him into a tight hug. “You can’t get rid of me that easily!”

A faint laughter came out of the fox’s chest, allowing him to regain much of his composure. With a smile, he pulled back, greeting the hedgehog’s gaze with a grin of his own.

“Yeah, I guess Eggman would be pretty upset if you got taken down by something like that.”

“Speaking of upset...” The hero trailed off, his expression darkening slightly. “...You’re an absolute mess ! Don’t tell me you’ve been staying up this whole time.”

“W-Well, I-- uh...” Tails stumbled through his words. He quickly looked around at the others in the room, desperate for some kind of support but finding none. “I just... needed something to do!”

“Something like sleeping , yeah!” Sonic retorted, huffing in annoyance as he looked closer at the dirtied state of his younger brother. “Please tell me you at least tried to rest.”

“I mean... I d-did pass out, but Shadow--”

“Did he keep you awake ?!” The hero asked in disbelief. “Oh, I’ve got a few words for him, and then some --”

“N-No!” The young inventor quickly rebuffed, raising his hands up slightly. “H-He wanted me to rest, and I told him he shouldn’t have. I didn’t want to set us back--”

“Tails...” Sonic trailed off, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You’ve gotta think about your own wellbeing too, you know. It means a lot to me that you’re willing to do so much, but... you can’t throw your own life just for me, okay? It’s not right.”

“...Okay...” Tails nodded weakly, sniffling.

“Now, come here, little bro.” The blue hedgehog reached forward, grabbing the fox by the shoulders and pulling him into a more proper hug. Once they pulled away, he continued. “Now, once we’re done here, I want you to go home, take a shower, and get some rest. Okay?”

The young kid quietly nodded.

Sonic’s attention was drawn again as the hospital door opened, allowing Shadow and Omega to re-enter the room.

“Well, now that everyone’s back...” The hero trailed off for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “I know this may sound a little crazy, but... does the term ‘Iblis Trigger’ ring a bell?”

A loud thump echoed throughout the room, catching everyone’s attention. They all turned to see Silver, eyes wide and trembling, slumped to his knees as he clutched at his chest. His chest and back were practically spasming from his hyperventilation, barely able to think as the shallow breaths rushed in and out of his shallow jaw.

Amy was quick to kneel down, clutching at his shoulders and pulling him closer as she tried to help him regain his senses.

“Silver? Silver ?! Are you okay?” She cried, gently jostling him. “What’s going on?”

“I... I don’t...” The time traveler heaved out, barely able to fit even a single syllable within his breaths. “I don’t know... I... it’s just... familiar... but... I don’t know... why...”

The grey hedgehog looked back up, his eyes brimming with fear as he looked back at his blue counterpart.

“Sonic... How?”

“It’s... something I saw while I was... out.” The hero quietly explained, looking away slightly as he rubbed his fingertips with his thumb. “It was like I was reliving memories, but... some of them were from places I didn’t remember. One of them was you, Silver... yelling that to me. I think it’s what you called me.”

Silver slowly got back to his feet, his hand clutching the side of his head as if he was suffering through a migraine.

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember it... but I feel like I should .”

“Actually, now that you mention it...” Rouge trailed off, placing her hands at her hips. “Didn’t I have a moment like that with you too, Silver?”

“Me too.” Amy chimed in, glancing at the time traveler she still held onto. “You had asked me if we met somewhere else, and we both said we felt like we should have.”

“Did... did something happen to us?” Silver grunted, still wincing from the pain.

“I’m starting to think so. There was... a lot of stuff I saw.” Sonic admitted. “It may have to do with the thing that caused the cave-in to begin with.”

“Wait--” Tails cut in, eyes widening. “You know what happened at Prison Island?”

“Yeah, of course!” Sonic chimed in. “Didn’t--”

He glanced over at Shadow, words halting as he took in the hybrid’s demeanor. The hedgehog’s head was pointed towards the ground, eyes slammed shut and mouth contorted into an uncomfortable grimace. His fists were clenched tightly, ever so slightly trembling. He looked like he was expecting to be beaten.

It didn’t take long for the hero to ascertain the situation.

“That’s right.” He began, just a little bit of force in his voice as he wondered aloud. “Shadow wasn’t conscious when it happened, so he didn’t see it.”

The black and red hedgehog’s eyes shot open, a wildly questioning gaze sent towards his blue rival as he continued.

“I didn’t see the start of it, but... I woke up in the cell to hear Shadow screaming on the other end of the wall. By the time I was able to break in, it was... not a pretty sight.” He paused, his own fingers grabbing ends of the blanket and clutching tightly. “It looked like Eggman had already broken into his cell, somehow. He was... knocked out at the time. Shadow was on the ground, having a... I guess a seizure of some kind. His mouth was spewing out some kind of black tar stuff. Eventually... it... formed into some kind of... thing.

“Did it look like Shadow?” Knuckles asked, taking a step forward. “I bet that’s what stole the Master Emerald!”

“It did what now?!” Sonic spun around to look at Knuckles.

“Yeah, Eggman and something that looked like Shadow stole the emerald! It wasn’t long after you got captured.”

“...I see.” Sonic quietly acknowledged. “Yeah... It looked... kind of like Shadow, but not really. It looked like it was made out of some kind of crystal. Its eyes were sickly green, too. The whites were... well they weren’t white, it looked like it was blood red.”

“That’s...” Rouge cut in, a look of confusion on her face as she tried to process the description. “That sounds so familiar to me, but I don’t know from where... is that what this ‘Iblis’ thing is?”

“Maybe.” The blue hedgehog shrugged. “I don’t know for sure, but it sounds like they’re at least related. I think it’s got some kind of time-related powers-- it took Eggman and teleported out, when it did, it was like everything around it aged. That’s what caused the cave-in.”

“Well, with the rest of the emeralds missing, this looks like our only lead.” Tails suggested, pulling out his minicomputer. “I can start doing some research--”

Oh, no you don’t. ” Sonic immediately chided, getting up to pull the Miles Electric out of his hands. “ You are going to bed, Young Mister. I’m not about to let you keep working while you’re on your second all-nighter.”

“But--”

No buts .” He cut the young fox off. “You can research to your heart’s content come tomorrow.”

“....Fine.” Tails grumbled, turning to trudge towards the door.

The blue hedgehog watched as his black and red counterpart immediately moved out of the way of the fox, giving him a wide berth. The young inventor momentarily looked towards him, only for the hybrid to turn his head away and stare up at the ceiling. With that, Tails quickly shuffled away. Omega was quick to follow.

“Actually, it’s probably best that everyone gets some rest and prepare for tomorrow. I should be all checked out in the morning, so we’ll all meet up at Tails’ and my house.”

“Should one of us keep you company?” Rouge innocently asked, casually looking towards the hybrid that had wedged itself in the corner of the room.

“Yeah, I think Shads would be good-- unless you had other plans.”

The black and red hedgehog looked a little surprised by the suggestion but was quick to recover.

“...That’s fine.”

The bat gave a knowing smirk, unfurling her wings as she fluttered to the door. She playfully nudged the Ultimate Lifeform with her elbow before slipping through the door. Knuckles was quick to follow behind, only giving Shadow a passive glare as he left.

Silver was the last to leave. He paused at the doorway, glancing at the black and red hedgehog for just a moment. He opened his mouth to speak, something clearly on his mind, but at the last second he shook his head and closed it. He broke his gaze off, looking back to the door as he passed through.

Shadow closed the door behind him, pressing his forehead into the cold material as he kept his back turned towards the hero. He closed his eyes, waiting for the conversation that he knew all-too-well was going to come up.

“So...” Sonic trailed off, trying to find a good conversation starter. “What did you go talk to Omega about?”

“...I asked him how Tails was doing.”

“...That’s good.”

The two remained quiet, the tension laying itself on thicker the longer that they refused to talk. A sigh from the blue hedgehog, breaking through the air and causing the hybrid’s eyelids to clench even more tightly shut.

“...You lied to them, didn’t you?” Sonic asked calmly and gently.

The hybrid felt his back stiffen from the soft accusation. He needn’t answer-- the reaction he gave was confirmation enough.

“...I see.” Was the blue hedgehog’s simple reply.

The room was quickly plunged back into silence. It weighed on Shadow’s shoulders, feeling them get dragged downward as they sagged towards the floor.

Unable to take it anymore, he spun around to face Sonic-- only to see the hero laying back in his bed, eyes closed and a smile on his face as his head was pointed up towards the ceiling.

“What?” He asked, a sense of bitterness rising through his voice. “Are you not upset with me? Shouldn’t you tell me I did something wrong?”

“I mean, it is wrong .” Sonic replied nonchalantly, casually pulling one leg up to cross over the other. “And I could probably hazard a guess as to why you didn’t tell them about the thing that came out of you.”

“Then why aren’t you angry with me?”

The blue hedgehog sighed.

“I mean, I just asked you to lie for me. That’s honestly worse in a lot of ways. I can’t be mad at you for that, if I were I’d just be a massive hypocrite.”

The answer only brought about more confusion from the hybrid.

“...Why did you ask me to lie for you, then? It couldn’t have just been to get Rose off your back.”

The hero only hummed, seemingly unwilling to give him a direct answer. The reaction only seemed to spark another bout of frustration from within Shadow-- but just as he opened his mouth to protest, his partner finally answered.

“I do want to tell you, but... I’m not ready to tell you right now. Sorry for making you cover for me like that.”

“It’s fine.” The hybrid muttered, rubbing his finger under his nose as he looked away. “Besides, I can hazard a guess as to why you wanted me to lie for you anyway.”

Sonic could only chuckle, leaning his head back into the pillows on his bed as a pained smile formed on his face.

“You’d probably be right.”

“I hope I’m not.”

The blue hero raised an eyebrow, tilting his head over to look at his partner.

“And why is that?”

Shadow looked away, a grimace forming on his expression.

“Because it would be callous and self-centered of you if that’s really your reason.”

A small laugh escaped the bedridden hedgehog’s lips as he continued to stare at the hybrid.

“Oh, then it’s definitely the right reason you had in mind.”

The black and red hedgehog snapped his head back towards the hero, eyes wide in shock as they met the gentle and nonchalant emerald gaze of the other room’s occupant.

Sonic let out another bit of laughter as he looked at hybrid’s dumbfounded expression, grinning as he continued.

“I told you before, I can be a little cruel when I want to.”

Shadow could only shake his head, a small huff of air leaving his nose as he took in the other hedgehog’s words.

“You can be a terrible hero sometimes, you know that?”

“More than anyone.” Sonic admitted, his aloof smile still radiating towards his partner. “That’s why I’m glad there’s people like you who can pick up the slack when I can’t.”

Notes:

I remember that some point around chapter 14 or so, I was really excited by the fact that I was finally about to hit around 800 hits total from my work. With this last chapter alone, I was able to get that same amount of new hits. It's honestly amazing how it's taken off and many people are reading it now-- and it's extremely humbling to me that I'm able to get this kind of response and reception from everyone here.

I would really like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for being with me on this journey so far, and I cannot wait to continue this story with you all there to read it. Please let me know what you think about this chapter-- I love reading what everyone has to say and it helps me as I continue to try to chisel out the plot points jumbled around in my skull into something legible that I can say I'm proud of.

As an aside, I'd like to share a song I found that I think really helped me set the mood for this chapter:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk1z-WxZMvA

I also ended up finding a song not too long ago that I think would be the perfect theme song for this entire story-- but I'm going to refrain from sharing it for now because I found that the lyrics actually resonate extremely well with the plot points I had planned out and I think it'll be something better suited for the story's conclusion once everything is laid out.

In any case, I hope you all have a fantastic time and I look forward to showing you the next chapter!

Chapter 30

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Shadow quietly watched as Sonic was examined by a less than enthusiastic Doctor Marsh. He had to admit, it felt a bit weird seeing what amounted to a routine checkup being performed on someone who had been left in quite the harrowing condition just a few days ago. He couldn’t blame the stork for being upset at the hero’s insistence on leaving, even if it was justified.

The doctor huffed, tapping a small mallet against the blue hedgehog’s knees and watched as they bounced slightly up and down. Grimacing, he slipped the rubber tool into his lab coat pocket, taking a few steps back to give him a final one-over.

“Well…” He trailed off, shaking his head slightly. “…You seem to be fine for now. Try to keep a hold on that emerald of yours, we have no idea how long it will take for you to fully recover.”

“Sure thing, Doc!” Sonic cheerily replied, performing a mock salute.

The medical expert winced slightly, wordlessly nodding as he took his leave.

Shadow quietly watched as the stork slipped through the door and made his way out. His crimson irises slowly trailed back to his partner, watching his shoulders and ears slightly sink as the bird left his field of vision.

“…How are you feeling?” He quietly asked, idly pressing his hands into his lap.

“I’m fine, Shads.” Came the response from the hero, still cheerful but with a bit of hollowness that the black and red hedgehog could only barely pick up.

“Are you sure?” He raised an eyebrow, feeling his arms slowly come up and fold across his chest.

“I said I’m fine.” He reiterated, turning around to flash the other hedgehog a smile. “Now come on, we’ve got places to be.”

The hybrid silently nodded, pushing himself out of his chair and walking around the bed to Sonic’s side. He reached back into his quills, producing the green Chaos Emerald that Rouge had given to him the day before. He held his free hand out towards the hero.

The blue hedgehog pushed himself out of bed, reaching out and clasping Shadow’s hand in his own. The black and red hybrid looked away, his expression blank as he tried his best to clear his head.

He closed his eyes, breathing in as he spoke the words that came as naturally to him as breathing.

Chaos Control.

The two were enveloped by a bright light, almost instantaneously dissipating as they found themselves deposited at the front door of the hero’s house. They stood there for a moment, quietly staring at each other. Shadow had opened his mouth, grip on Sonic’s hand tightening for just a moment before he pulled away.

“They’re waiting for us.” He stated plainly, reaching for the door and pushing his way inside.

The blue hedgehog stared back at him, his own mind running blank as he tried to process the interaction. After a few seconds, he shrugged and followed behind his counterpart.

“…Yeah.” He quietly affirmed.

The living room was as crowded as they had expected, with the rest of the party present. Sonic quietly scanned the room, observing everyone before settling his eyes on his younger brother.

Tails was sitting in the middle of the couch, his minicomputer settled in his lap. The matted, oil-steeped fur had been thoroughly washed and groomed, now sporting a healthy sheen. The bags under his eyes had mostly disappeared-- though it was hardly reasonable to expect something like that to disappear in a single night.

For what it was worth, the hero found himself sighing in relief at the huge improvement of the fox’s condition. He sped over to the young child, grinning as he hooked one arm around Tails’ shoulders and vigorously rubbed the fur on the kit’s head.

“Looking fresh as ever, little bro!” He teased, laughing as the two-tailed genius tried to bat the offending hand away to little effect.

Shadow quietly stared at the two, observing the way that the two brothers interacted with each other. He couldn’t say his relationship with Maria was quite the same-- no doubt far more reserved, but the feeling he got watching them gave him a hint of that old nostalgia.

Tails’ eyes met his as the teasing continued, and he watched as the joyful expression the fox held faltered upon recognizing him. That feeling within him shattered, replaced with shame as he looked away and quickly made his way over to Rouge.

“Anything happen last night?” He asked, mindlessly rubbing the tips of his thumbs against his inhibitor rings.

“Only if you consider a well-deserved beauty rest to be significant.” She smirked, leaning back in her chair.

“I don’t.” He stated plainly his expression souring further. The bat simply shrugged.

“Shame, then I have nothing to report.”

The jewel thief was no doubt annoying to talk to, but he should be at least somewhat grateful that everything seemed quiet for now. He had a strong suspicion that it would not stay that way for long-- not with Eggman and this mysterious newcomer suddenly in the fray.

The black and red hedgehog scowled, turning away as he slowly observed the rest of the room. Amy was busy chatting away with Sonic and Tails, the trio seated on the sofa. Omega was stationed just by her side, silent and observing the fox with its optical sensors. Knuckles and Silver were in the corner, apparently having some kind of heated discussion; both would occasionally glance back at him, and he couldn’t help but feel he was probably the subject of their hushed argument.

“Sooooo….” The bat trailed off, catching his attention once more. He looked over to see her leaning over towards him, her arms perched on the arm of the chair with a mischievous look in her eyes. “Did you boys get up to anything last night?”

Shadow shot her a confused look.

“Nothing happened.” He explained plainly. “Once everyone left, Sonic rested for the night. After the doctor cleared him to leave, we came straight here.”

“Not that, I mean…” She sighed, leaning closer as her voice lowered. “Did you two talk?”

The hybrid stared at her blankly, giving her the answer she was looking for despite his inability to understand what she meant.

Their conversation was cut short as Sonic cleared his throat loudly, catching the attention of everyone in the room. He quickly nodded over towards Tails, giving him the floor to discuss their current situation.

“I wish there was more I could say, but…” The fox began, taking a pensive breath in as he hesitated. “Our only lead so far is Eggman.”

“What about this… ‘Iblis’ thing?” Silver asked, nervously rubbing his arm.

The young inventor shook his head.

“I haven’t had time to find anything myself… I was hoping we could just do an online search, but unfortunately nothing comes up immediately. Maybe if we did some deeper research?”

The young inventor glanced over at the others. Amy let out an exasperated sigh, while Rouge could only roll her eyes.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do that…” The pink hedgehog closed her eyes, languidly falling back into her seat as she looked up at the ceiling. “Rouge, mind helping me out?”

The treasure hunter sighed.

“I’m guessing the boys won’t be helping out?”

“I don’t do the internet.” Knuckles gruffly barked back.

“I mean… we have stuff like the internet in the future, but it’s… not really like this? It’s more… interactive.” Silver replied, shrugging his shoulders as he struggled to clarify himself. “If someone can teach me, I can try to help!”

“I HAVE BEEN ATTEMPTING TO CRAWL THE WEB USING MY INTERNAL NETWORKING INTERFACE.” Omega reported. “THERE HAVE BEEN SIGNIFICANT DELAYS DUE TO MANY OF THESE PAGES INSISTING I PERFORM A CHALLENGE IDENTIFYING BIKES AND MOUNTAINS.”

Rouge looked back at Amy, a sympathetic glance exchanged between them as they accepted their fate.

Tails could only shrug as he pushed the conversation forward.

“Regardless, it looks like Sonic, Shadow and I are going to the location Eggman specified in order to discuss this truce he proposed. I don’t see any other options at this point.”

“I don’t trust this.” The red echidna grunted, folding his arms across his chest. “This sounds like a trap.”

“If it were a trap, I doubt he would have gone out of his way to give us a genuine Chaos Emerald like he had.” Sonic shrugged. “He wouldn’t throw something like that away.”

“He wasted most of his robots trying to get Omega and Rouge.” Shadow quietly rebutted.

“That’s…” The hero felt himself pause, unable to find a proper response. “Even so, he’s only ever suggested an alliance when things have gotten out of hand for him. His ego is too big to fake one. He’s definitely going to turn against us the moment he no longer needs our help, though.”

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask…” Rouge trailed off, looking back at Tails. “What’s GUN up to right now? Have you been keeping tabs on them?”

The fox nodded, looking back down at the Miles Electric in his lap.

“They’re aware of Shadow and Sonic’s escape… and it seems word got out about Sonic’s hospitalization.” He paused for a moment. “That ended up being a good thing, though.”

“What?!” Amy asked, in disbelief. “How can them knowing about that be good for us?”

“They were ordered to keep Sonic in custody and safe as insurance for Shadow. They weren’t expecting… everything else that happened on Prison Island.” Tails explained, his fingers clenching tighter around the handles of his computer as he continued. “GUN’s orders to arrest Shadow were retracted-- based on internal emails, it seems they’re concerned with word getting out about their part in the incident.”

“What, over little old me?” Sonic asked sarcastically. “They had no problem running me down with a truck in Central City-- why do they care about a little egg on their face now?

Rouge sighed, propping her head up with her hand as she stepped in to give her perspective.

“You weren’t as popular then, Blue. You’ve basically saved every world government there is at this point.” She chided. “GUN may be owned by the United Federation, but their whole schtick is that they can operate basically anywhere in the world without restriction. They’ve spent a lot of time convincing everyone it would be cheaper and more effective if everyone used them instead of funding their own military. If word got out that they put the world’s greatest hero in critical condition-- or killed you for that matter, they’d not only have to deal with protests at home, but they would risk all of those ‘business partners’ breaking off. We’ve basically got free reign right now; if they try to make a move against us, we’d just go public. They can’t afford that.”

“So basically, we shouldn’t be expecting any more surprise missiles?”

“Basically, yeah.”

The hero jumped to his feet, stretching his limbs as he headed towards the door.

“Then let’s go see Egghead. I’d rather not wait around to see if GUN changes their minds.”

With another bright flash of Chaos Control, the trio were deposited onto the coordinates that Eggman had provided. They all quickly turned to take in their surroundings, not only to get their bearings-- none of them could ever truly trust the Doctor with the prospect of a truce so easily.

They all quickly recognized the landscape that rolled out on the flat plains before them. The heat beat down on their heads, though it was a far cry from the sweltering sear of the Shamaran sun. The ground was dotted with swathes of tall blades of grass that sprung from the reddish-brown soil beneath them. Shadow felt his feet shift slightly as he stared at its composition; it resembled clay far more than your average patch of dirt. Trees were huddled together in tiny patches throughout the environment, their trunks thick and bulking in order to hold more water within them.

Sonic rubbed the bottom of his nose as he looked around.

“Of all places, he chose Mazuri, huh?”

The black and red hedgehog looked over, a questioning look in his eyes. The hero could only shrug.

“Not much happens out here. There used to be a Gaia temple around here, but once that whole debacle was over, he basically never showed up again.”

Tails looked back down at his computer, tapping away as he began scanning the area for signs of the villain’s technology.

“It would make a good hideout, I guess.” He mused. “I’m sure people would be busy searching for him in places he would have better access to raw materials and tech.”

The three heroes stopped their conversation as a deep rumbling shook the ground around them. Sonic and Shadow took defensive stances, with Tails spinning his namesakes rapidly and taking flight to gauge the situation from above.

A square patch of soil before them began to sink, before splitting in two and folding itself away. In its place was a set of metal stairs that led down into darkness, illuminated by only the faintest of lights that only seemed to diminish the further down it went.

Their ears perked as a metallic clink-clank noise echoed from below, slowly growing louder as its source grew closer. Eventually, its form emerged from the shadows.

It was an Egg Pawn.

The rust-covered rotund robot eventually finished its ascent, hinges squeaking loudly as it attempted to bow its spherical torso. Its mouthpiece began to glow as it righted itself, its crackly voice barely able to form from a speaker that was long past its prime.

The Doctor is expecting you. Please follow me.

The hedgehogs glanced at each other, silently exchanging similar expressions of suspicion. Tails was quick to land behind them, clearly feeling the same. Taking a deep sigh, Sonic stepped forward, leading the trio as the old machine turned and began descending the flight of stairs.

Shadow could help but feel a bit of anxiety well within him as he continued to move further below the ground. He reached back to brush his fingers against the Chaos Emerald stowed away in his quills, reassuring himself that he would be able to bring the others to safety should something similar happen to the botched imprisonment at GUN’s island.

It took a moment for their eyes to adjust as the sun’s light slowly left their presence. Eventually, they made it to the bottom, presented with a large metal door that was not much better off than the Egg Pawn itself. The robot unceremoniously wedged its fingers into the gap of the door, pulling the metal slabs along their rusted guide rails-- giving just enough space for everyone to pass through. The Mobians quietly slipped under the servant’s arms, watching as it passed through. The doors were quick to return to their closed position, a loud metallic squeal filling the room as they slammed shut once more.

The Egg Pawn quickly walked past them, motioning for them to follow as it led deeper into the complex.

Sonic felt himself cringe as he observed the absolutely decrepit state of this base. The floor was scattered with bits of rusted metal parts, haphazardly shoved to the edges of the hallway. His eyes narrowed in on some stray nails that were scattered on the ground, kicking them away in order to keep his friends from accidentally stepping on them.

Eventually, they were led to an open doorway, from which emanated the sounds of mechanical whirring and electric buzzing. Upon passing into the room, they all recognized the unfortunately familiar sights of one of Eggman’s workshops. A number of barely functioning Egg Pawns were running from table to table, working on various tasks. At the back of the room was a desk with a terminal, behind which sat the eponymous Doctor himself. The screen’s bright lights were cast onto the wall behind it, creating an imposing silhouette of the evil genius that reached up to the ceiling.

“It’s about time, rodent.” Eggman greeted bitterly, his voice oddly muffled and hoarse. “I would have thought the ‘Fastest Thing Alive’ wouldn’t stay in the hospital licking his wounds.”

Shadow felt a surge of anger build within his chest, gritting his teeth as he snarled at the doctor. It was quickly quelled as Sonic spoke up, folding his arms across his chest as he let out a defiant ‘Hmph!’

“Did you miss me that badly?” The hero began, smirking playfully as he took a step forward. “If you wanted to tell me something, you could’ve at least sent a get well soon card.”

“It’s a shame, really. I was hoping the extensive brain damage you suffered would have at least made you somewhat less annoying.” The Doctor muttered, pushing himself out of his chair. “I’m sure we could exchange pleasantries all day, but we have business to attend to.”

“I’m guessing this has to do with our new friend?”

“The very same.” Eggman confirmed, pushing past his Egg Pawns to speak with his adversaries more directly.

“We know basically nothing about him. You wouldn’t happen to--"

Sonic was taken aback by the evil genius’ marred appearance. His face was covered in bruises, bandages and gauze covering much of his skin. His nose was held up by metal strips and taut padding, still bent at an awkward angle despite the rushed medical work. His suit’s collar was torn from his suit, and in its place was a brace that kept his neck straight.

“Wh-What the heck happened to you?!” The hero cried out.

“Your emotionally unstable friend happened.” The doctor grunted in response, glaring curtly at Shadow. The hybrid returned his baleful gaze, his breaths growing deeper as he quietly clenched his fists.

The blue hedgehog looked back and forth between the two, grimacing and sighing as he tried to stop thinking about how exactly his rival beat the mad Doctor so brutally.

“You’re the one who said we need to get to brass tacks, right?” He shrugged. “Speaking of, I take it you were with him when the Master Emerald was stolen?”

“…That would be correct.” Eggman pulled his attention back towards Sonic. “He also managed to steal five of the Chaos Emeralds as well.”

Tails let out a gasp, pushing forward to talk to the evil genius more directly.

“So there was something up with those emeralds! What did he do with them?”

“He teleported them out to deep space.” He replied bluntly, idly adjusting the cuffs on his jacket. “They’re attached to antimatter attractor devices.”

The fox’s face paled as his eyes widened. Sonic looked back over, clear concern on his face.

“Uh… Tails, I don’t know exactly what that means, but--”

“It’s bad.” The young child whispered, putting his hand up to his mouth. “Really bad. It’s hard to describe it in lay terms, but… It’s extremely volatile and basically impossible to properly contain more than just some trace amounts of it. If it comes into contact with any kind of normal matter, it unleashes a massive explosion.”

“It summoned a small bit about the size of a ping-pong ball. Handled it like it was nothing, too. Then it decided to drop it in the middle of Frog Forest as a test run.”

One of the Egg Pawns scuttled by, handing out slips of papers with satellite images of the crater that the nameless being had left in its wake. The wounded Doctor continued.

“He used the emeralds to overdrive the attractors. He’s likely got far more at his disposal now.”

Shadow’s eyes only narrowed at the explanation, his disgust with the Doctor only growing.

“And I’m sure you willingly supplied those devices.”

“It’s not that simple.” Eggman waved the accusation away, his own fists clenching as he turned away. “It wormed its way into me like some kind of parasite-- feeding off the latent Chaos Energy in me that was fueling my genius intellect. That’s how he managed to break free in the first place. When I woke back up, my mental faculties had not been fully restored. Had that not happened, I never would have gone along with his plans.”

“What plans?” Sonic asked.

“…I believe he is looking to wipe off all life on the planet.” The mad Doctor concluded. “He said if I joined him, I would become a new god-- I’m pretty sure that was some kind of technicality about being an uncontested ruler with no life to rule over. I don’t want to rule a barren wasteland.”

“Hold up--” Tails cut in, shaking his head. “What did you mean about him feeding off your Chaos Energy? How did that even happen?”

“Every living thing has some kind of latent Chaos Energy within them.” Shadow spoke up, looking away from the rest of the group as he continued. “…At least, that’s what the Professor would say. He theorized that special abilities manifested in those whose latent energy exceeded normal parameters.”

“And he was right on the money.” Eggman chimed in, twirling his mustache as he smiled to himself. “I managed to prove it not long after I read it from one of his journals. It’s why I used Flickies to power my robots when I first started my conquest-- they’re very efficient sources of Chaos Energy.”

The blue hedgehog felt a wave of disgust wash over him as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“…I’m going to… pretend I didn’t hear that.” He sighed, exasperated. “Is there any useful info you actually have?”

“I don’t know when this entity is going to make its next move. I’m having my robots prototype and test some tools designed to repel antimatter. Progress has been slow thanks to the fact that I’ve lost almost all my bases and resources.” He narrowed his eyes back onto Sonic, glaring at the hero. “Thanks for that, by the way.”

“Anytime, Egghead.” Sonic was quick to quip back.

“Do you mind sharing those schematics with me?” Tails chimed in. “I might be able to provide some assistance with the design and manufacturing.”

Eggman scowled for a moment before shaking his head. With a snap of his fingers, a USB drive was handed to him by one of the scurrying Egg Pawns. He tossed it over to the fox, who quickly stowed it away.

“I’ve included a program that will let you communicate directly with me-- sandbox it if you must. Whatever this thing is, it has some ability to predict the future. Try not to let your arrogance get in the way.” The Doctor chided, turning to move back towards his desk. “I’ll be in touch if any developments happen on my end. I trust you to do the same.”

“One more thing.” Sonic called out, catching the mad scientist’s attention. “You said it ‘wormed its way into you,’ right? Where did it come from?”

“It told me it came from Shadow.” Eggman replied bluntly, staring at the black and red hedgehog. “I don’t know what you did to it, but it absolutely despises you.”

The hybrid didn’t wait for any kind of bitter jab or snarky comeback from the others in the room. He quickly turned around, stomping past the workbenches and sauntering out of the room. Sonic quickly glanced between the other hedgehog and the seated human, shrugging at the latter as he gave chase. Tails was quick to follow.

Shadow stomped down the dimly lit hallway, not once bothering to look back at them as he made it to the entrance. He crammed his fingers into the gap of the rusted door, effortlessly throwing the doors to the side as they screeched and sparked from the sudden force.

He stood there for a moment, his shoulders rising and falling with his heavy breathing. His fists clenched tightly, shaking slightly from the strain he had put them under. His anger boiled within him, raging under his skin and building more pressure than he could handle. A frustrated grunt escaped his throat as he spun to his side, feeling his arm lash out as he punched the metal wall of the stairwell leading up.

The sudden attack caused Tails to let out a frightened ‘Yip!’ Shadow felt his back stiffen from the noise, eyes widening as he realized what he had just done.

Sonic quickly turned to his little brother, alarmed by the noise he had let out.

“Hey little buddy, are you okay?” He asked, quickly crouching down to the fox’s eye level and placing a hand on his shoulder.

The young child’s eyes practically slammed towards the ground, clenching his eyes shut as he took a deep breath in. His grip on his minicomputer tightened as he struggled to scrounge up what little composure he didn’t lose. After a moment, he looked back up at the blue hedgehog, doing his best to crack a smile to assuage the concerned eyes staring back at him.

“Y-Yeah.” He replied shakily, letting out a nervous laugh. “I was just… surprised, that was all.”

Sonic didn’t quite buy the excuse he was given-- that much was obvious. He opened his mouth, only to pause as his eyes quickly darted back and forth, reminding him of exactly where he was at the current moment.

“…Alright.” He sighed, squeezing the fox’s shoulder gently as he got back up.

They both looked back to where Shadow had been, only to see empty space.

“Crap.” Sonic spat out, his feet quickly carrying him towards the exit. “Let’s hurry up.”

“Sure…” Tails trailed off, following his older brother.

As the fox passed the thick metal frame of the sliding doors, he felt himself hesitate for just a moment. His eyes slowly trailed to his right, looking over the surface that the Ultimate Lifeform had just struck. It looked as if a crater had been carved into the wall, a web of cracks spidering along the thick metal sheets and up onto the ceiling above them. He swallowed thickly, kicking his twin tails into action to close the gap between him and the rapidly fading sound of shoes padding against the metal staircase.

He felt himself wince as the rays of the sun slowly came into view, piercing the darkness just as much as his eyes. Forcefully blinking a few times, he felt himself begin to adjust, allowing him to see once more as he continued to ascend.

His ears twitched as he heard a quiet murmuring ahead. He let his tails slowly stop their helicopter motion, allowing him to gently hit the ground as he approached the surface. Doing his best to minimize any noise, he slowly resumed upward, stopping only once his eyes were just barely able to peer over the edge of the stairwell and onto the surface.

Shadow had stopped not too far away from the exit, back turned and standing tall with his arms folded across his chest. Sonic was only a few steps behind him, slowly approaching him.

“I’m fine.” The black and red hedgehog bluntly stated, his words just barely reaching the fox’s ears.

“I think we both know that’s not true.” Sonic replied, placing his hand against Shadow’s forearm.

“What do you want me to say, Sonic?” He bit back, turning to glare at his rival.

“The truth would be nice!” The blue hero was quick to press the issue, anger building in his own voice.

“You want me to be honest? You, the one who asked me to lie for you to cover your own insecurities?” Shadow bitterly hissed, baring his teeth at his rival. Sonic felt his expression falter for just a moment, but the hybrid gave him no reprieve as he yanked himself out of the other’s grasp.

“Alright, then. There is a malignant entity on the loose. We know basically nothing about it, or what its motives are. Not only did it nearly kill you, but it now seeks to possibly destroy the world. On top of that, I have to contend with the fact that it has apparently been living inside of me. I am very obviously not okay, and having to work with the man who forced me to… nearly destroy Omega… is not helping!”

Sonic sighed, a defeated look on his face as his shoulders slumped.

“…You’re right. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I just… was worried about you.”

The black and red hedgehog’s expression softened at the blue hedgehog’s downtrodden reaction. He looked off to the side, his hands relaxing as he felt his anger slowly drain from him.

“Your concern is… not unwelcome.” He muttered. “But for now, I would prefer to focus on the task at hand. There is already so much at stake, and we have no idea when things will escalate.”

“Fair enough, I suppose.” The cerulean hero nodded, before quickly rebounding into a chuckle as he cracked a smirk at his rival. “But just so you know, I’m going to be extra annoying once we get some downtime to make up for it.”

The challenge surprised Shadow, his eyes widening for only a brief moment before he returned the other hedgehog’s expression with a smile of his own.

“Is that so? Sounds like I’d better take this guy down as soon as possible.”

Their conversation was cut short as both their phones buzzed simultaneously. Tails was snapped out of his quiet observation as he felt his own device vibrate in his hands. Sonic quickly pulled out his communicator, reading the message that popped up on his screen.

“Looks like Rouge and Amy found a hit for Iblis.” He paused for a moment, looking around. “Wait-- where’s Tails?”

The fox ducked down for a moment, before quickly scurrying up and off the stairwell.

“I’m here!” He called out, waving at the two hedgehogs. Seeing the concerned look on his older brother’s face, he quickly thought up an excuse for his absence that didn’t involve eavesdropping. “Sorry, I got distracted down there. I got an error message from one of my emerald detectors, so I was running diagnostics. Should all be fixed now.”

“Oh, gotcha.” Sonic nodded. “Can you check the link Amy sent?”

“Sure thing.” Tails nodded, looking down at his minicomputer. The page Amy had sent was a very old looking literature catalog website. “It’s a… book?”

Memoirs of Iblis, a Compilation of Poems and Short Stories from Ancient Soleannian History.” Shadow read the title aloud. His eyes snapped from his phone screen over to the blue hedgehog, a look of confusion on his face. “This… can’t possibly be the same thing you saw from your memories, right?”

“Definitely not, but…” Sonic trailed off, his brow furrowing. “…I guess we won’t know until we take a look at it. Can you grab a digital copy, Tails?”

“No can do.” The young genius quickly reported. “Looks like there’s only a single physical copy, and it’s… at the Royal Library of Soleanna.”

“Soleanna, huh?” The hero whistled, tilting his head back as he went through his memories. “I ran through there once-- they were having some kind of fire festival. Can’t say much else happened, though. You wouldn’t happen to know more, Shads?”

The hybrid shook his head.

“Not much more than you can find online. It’s a peaceful city-state, but they’ve consistently rejected creating a permanent relationship with GUN. Any time we needed to operate there, we required the explicit permission of the Duke and had to submit frequent reports to justify our presence there. Last time I was deployed there, I was sent to assist Rouge in capturing a potentially powerful ancient relic-- it turned out to be nothing more than a dud.”

“I’ll see if I can find anything-- oh.” Tails cut himself off, grimacing as he stared down at his computer screen. “That’s not good.”

“Something happen?” Sonic asked, walking over to peer over his little brother’s shoulder.

“Yeah… looks like the Duke of Soleanna died only a few days ago… while you two were in prison. It doesn’t say the cause of death, though. You don’t think…?”

“It’s possible, but without anything else it’s only conjecture.” Shadow noted.

Tails slightly flinched from the hedgehog’s words, his grip tightening as he slowly nodded.

“R-Right… that’s true.”

Sonic glanced at the two of them, a scowl forming on his own face as his eyes bounced back and forth between the other hedgehog and the fox. He let out a small sigh, before stepping back and speaking up.

“We should probably head over there. If we run into any hiccups getting our hands on the book, I can just flex my ‘World Famous Hero’ star power and get us in. Can you take us there, Shads?”

The black and red hedgehog nodded, pulling out the green gem from his quills.

“Ready when you are.”

Notes:

I think it's going to be a recurring habit that I plan to include more scenes in a chapter, but end up not doing that because I just write too much lol. I'm not sure if that's dragging the pace of the story down for everyone but I hope it's still enjoyable for you all.

Hope you enjoyed this chapter! I'll be sure to get the next one out as soon as it's ready. Let me know what you all think in the comments!

Chapter 31

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

It was with another flash of Chaos Energy that Sonic, Shadow, and Tails found themselves surrounded by a lush forest, from which a hewn stone road led forward between a set of steep clips on either side. The quick transition from the dry Mazuri heat to semi-humid cool air was a refreshing one, though its effects were largely lost on the trio, too focused on their mission to notice.

Tails quickly looked back down at his Miles Electric, tapping away rapidly before looking back at his older brother.

“Silver said it’s going to be a while before they all can get here, since he has to carry all everyone. It’ll be a few hours, at least.”

The blue hedgehog shook his head.

“Not much we can do about that.” He shrugged. “Hopefully we can grab the book before they get here. Do you know where the library is?”

The young fox nodded, looking back down at his screen.

“It looks like… the library is located inside the auxiliary castle located just off the main island. There’s a ferry that we can take to get there.”

“Yeah, no. No boats.” Sonic quickly cut the idea off, grimacing. “I’d rather just run across-- or better yet, Shads could just teleport us there.”

“I’d rather not draw attention to ourselves in that way.” Shadow quickly interjected. “The Soleannian Military is quick to take action-- I’d rather not spook them, especially right at the castle.”

“…Shadow’s right.” Tails quietly agreed, his voice raising in volume slightly as he continued. “We should just take the ferry. It’ll only be a few minutes.”

The hero sighed, eyes closing as his shoulders drooped.

“Alright, fine.” He gave in, sounding completely defeated. “Let’s just get this over with.”

The trio moved forward, the trees and cliffs rapidly falling away to reveal the vast ocean expanding in all directions. The road cut its way over the water, leading to a plaza surrounded by a number of very old buildings that looked as if they were built ages ago.

Tails’ eyes scanned over the marble and brick buildings, surrounded by sweeping bridges and masterfully curved wrought-iron lampposts. He slowly trailed up the clock tower that looked down on every other edifice in its sight, save for an imposing castle that stood even taller on its own isolated island not too far away.

“Sonic…” He trailed off, furrowing his brow as he felt overcome with a sense of confusion. “Have I… been here before?”

“I-- Uh…” The blue hedgehog stumbled over his words. “Actually, I don’t know. I want to say no, but… the extra memories in my head make me not so sure. I just ran through here after seeing some fireworks. Don’t know much about this place anyway."

“Soleanna got its riches as a large trading hub for ships moving between Apotos, Spagonia, and the kingdoms that would later become the United Federation. They’ve been around for a long time.” Shadow mused, recalling what he had learned from the dossiers he read while working for GUN. “Once trading ships got better and people stopped seeing the need to visit their island, they moved into precision manufacturing and the production of ultrapure water. They like tourists, but don’t let the old buildings fool you-- they’re a technological powerhouse. A lot of their progress in energy production laid the foundation for Professor Robotnik’s work on Chaos Drives.”

The fox looked around again, letting out a small huff as he tried to push his annoying sense of perplexity away.

“Actually, I think a lot of my high-precision tools come from here… maybe that’s why I thought I recognized it.” He rubbed the back of his neck, shrugging. With a grimace he shook his head, increasing his pace as he continued forward. “The ferry isn’t too far. Let’s keep going.”

To their luck, much of the historical district that they found themselves in wasn't as packed as it could have been during peak season. With autumn just around the corner, most of the tourists were nowhere to be found. There were still quite a number of people bustling about, mostly locals going about their day amongst the stone buildings that seemingly floated on water.

Shadow’s ears perked as they crossed by a café, snippets of conversations from the locals drifting towards him as they ate. He looked down at his inhibitor rings, rubbing the shiny surface with his thumb.

“…They still haven’t said how the Duke died, have they?”

“What a shame, the Festival of the Sun isn’t too far away. I can’t imagine how Princess Elise must feel…”

“He’s never been the same ever since the duch*ess died.”

“...think we’re going to be fine. I mean, Elise has basically been running things for the last few years. The Duke’s basically done nothing...”

“What’s going to happen to the castle in Kingdom Valley? The princess refuses to live there. I hope she doesn’t do anything drastic.”

There wasn’t too much useful info to be gained, but he couldn’t particularly blame anyone for being preoccupied with their current monarch having just died.

The trio made their way to a large stone bridge that gently curved in an upwards arch over the brilliantly blue ocean water. Sonic looked over to his right, peering over the rail. The floating town blocks were arranged in a circular pattern around a large, open section of water. In its middle was a circular platform, from which a number of swooping stone channels that interlocked into a butterfly-like pattern. It sloped upwards, connecting to a massive marble basin that stood tall over the water.

The blue hedgehog nudged his little brother with his elbow, catching his attention.

“See that thing over there?” He looked over to the young fox, grinning. “During a festival, they have someone come out and light that tiny little thing on the lower platform on fire. The flame travels all the way up and pretty much fills that whole basin. It looks super cool-- pretty much warms the entire city up, too!”

“That sounds neat!” Tails chirped, nodding as he smiled in return. “We’ll have to come by and visit it sometime.”

Shadow looked back down at his rings, polishing them again as he stared at the reflection. His brow furrowed.

“Take a left ahead.” He muttered, causing the other two to turn to look at him.

“W-Well, uh... the ferry is to our right... we’ll have to go all the way around--” The fox stammered out, not quite meeting his eyes.

The hybrid quickly grabbed them both by the arms, forcefully turning them to face forward as they kept walking.

“I’m aware, fox.” He kept his voice low, his tone growing more aggressive. “Keep looking forward and take a left.

“...Okay.” Tails relented, grimacing as he followed the instructions he was given.

The path Shadow had them on had led them out of the way to a relatively empty plaza. As they continued moving, he pulled up his wrist again, rubbing his inhibitor ring again. In the reflection he saw a distorted figure behind them, slinking back behind a nearby building.

“...We’re being followed.” He said quietly, lowering his hands back to rest.

“Should we try to fight them off?” Sonic asked, doing his best to keep his head pointed forward.

“Hard to tell.” The black and red hedgehog admitted, sighing. “It’s possible it's a GUN agent.”

“I thought they weren’t supposed to be after us?” The two-tailed fox asked, confused.

“We’ve been wrong before.” Sonic shrugged.

“Keep heading for the ferry. I’ll split up and try to flank them.” The hybrid ordered.

He moved to break off, only to be stopped as Sonic grabbed his hand and pulled him back.

“Oh no you don’t!” He grunted, planting his feet firmly in the ground. “I’m not having you run off to get captured again.”

“Now is not the time for this.” Shadow growled, pulling himself free of the blue hedgehog’s grasp. “If someone is planning an ambush, we need to deal with it before it becomes a problem. Support is hours away and you’re in no position to fight--”

“I am perfectly capable of handling myself, faker.” The blue hedgehog snarled, his eye twitching from the spike of anger running through his chest.

“You are not.” Shadow reaffirmed forcefully, clenching his fist. “Not right now, and you know that.”

With each word from their bickering, they closed the gap between each other, practically butting heads as they continued to argue in hushed tones. Tails looked back and forth between them, wanting to step in between them but feeling apprehensive in doing so. Their rivalry certainly had its fair share of verbal sparring, but he couldn’t help but feel put off by Sonic’s unnaturally angry demeanor. Whatever it was, the black and red hedgehog had clearly struck a nerve.

He took a deep breath in, slapping both his cheeks as he rushed forward and physically yanked Sonic out of his argument. The blue hedgehog’s eyes widened as he felt himself stumbling back, turning to look at the angry fox staring back at him.

“We have somewhere to be, Sonic.” He chided, tugging back at his arm. “Let Shadow do his thing, he... knows what he’s doing.”

The black and red hybrid was snapped out of his anger, looking away and clearing his throat as he relaxed into a less aggressive pose.

“I’ll be back soon.”

“You’d better.” Sonic spat bitterly, walking away with his brother.

With that, Shadow sped off, his air shoes flaring against the stone-tiled ground as he slid around the corner of one of the nearby buildings.

From the corner of his eye, the blue hedgehog saw a hazy figure fade from behind him. He sighed, his shoulders dropping in disappointment as he followed Tails’ directions back to the ferry to the castle.

It wasn’t long before the fox had led him onto a concrete dock that jutted out into the ocean. Just a short distance across the water was a large ornate castle perched on its own island, its façade covered in arches and stained-glass windows too far away to discern their design. A small steel vessel was moving away from the building, slowly heading towards their direction.

“...What was Shadow talking about?” Came Tails’ voice, jolting the hero’s attention back to reality.

“Don’t worry about it, bud.” Sonic was quick to answer, reassuringly patting the kit’s head. “He can just be bullheaded sometimes.”

“...Okay.”

“Sorry if you were upset by that. You know how it is. I’m good now.”

He flashed the fox a cheery smile, throwing out a thumbs up for emphasis. The two-tailed inventor returned it with a faint smile of his own, before turning his head away to stare at the languidly approaching boat. The hero followed his gaze, feeling his smile slowly fade away as his foot tapped impatiently for their transport.

He wasn’t lying when he told Tails that he wasn’t angry anymore. Truth be told, he couldn’t stay mad at Shadow-- not when he spoke the truth, at least. It was frustrating, but he could at least appreciate that kind of brutal honesty... even if it wasn’t something he didn’t really want to outwardly acknowledge.

He just hoped that there wouldn’t be another mishap like what happened in Chun-nan.

Finding the person who had been stalking them had taken less time than Shadow anticipated. Somewhere in the back of his head, he had hoped it would have been more of a challenge... at least, something enough to distract him from the sour mood that his fight with Sonic had put him in.

He huffed quietly, scowling as he crossed his arms across the white puff of fur on his chest. He stood firmly on the centuries’ old terra-cotta roofing, staring down at the lone man who was lightly jogging down the alley beneath him, peering over the corners of the stone walls as he looked for someone who was obviously not there. Had it not been for his peculiar behavior, he would have been nearly indistinguishable from the other passersby of the Soleannian castle town.

The possibility of this individual being a curious civilian had passed the hybrid’s mind, but it was quickly wiped away once he saw the glint of an earpiece that was somewhat discreetly placed behind his ear.

Shadow’s eyes narrowed as the agent below continued his search, a sense of indignity growing within him at the lack of tact this person had. The black and red hedgehog was hardly even hiding-- just a look up would have revealed his position, but this human made no effort to do so as he passed him by.

Whoever had trained them, it certainly couldn’t have been GUN. This was way too amateurish.

Finding any further observation a waste of time, Shadow sighed, stepping forward to drop off the ledge of the building he had climbed onto. With a silent burst of his air shoes, he cushioned his fall, silencing the impact completely. Hunching his body lower, he rushed forward, rapidly approaching the man who had been following him across town.

His eyes widened in surprise as the man spun in place, a predatory grin on his face as he stared down the black and red hedgehog. The agent swung his arm wide, a nightstick sliding out of his sleeve and effortlessly into his waiting palm.

Shadow could only bring his arm up to intercept the blow, grunting in pain as it was sent crashing into his forearm. He felt his knees buckle under the force of the blow as he found himself quickly skidding to a stop. The strength behind this attack was unnaturally powerful, far more than what should have been possible with this man’s lithe frame.

“Shadow, is it?” He tilted his head, his smile unwavering. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

The black and red hedgehog gritted his teeth, a grunt leaving his throat as he managed to heave the man’s arm off to his side. He kicked himself off the ground, leaping back a few feet as he brought his clenched fists up to his face.

“I see you weren’t as green as I initially thought.” He replied, feeling his muscles tense as the man casually rested the blackjack against his shoulder.

“I figured you would be a bit more wary if I actually looked like I was doing my job.”

“I’m not in the mood for a fight.” Shadow hissed. “In case you didn’t notice, I’m on a mission with Sonic.”

“Oh, I noticed.” The man laughed, before pointing his weapon at the hedgehog. “Why do you think I wanted you to split up from him?”

“Explain yourself.”

“Do I have to?” He sighed, rolling his eyes. “Look, just humor me for a little, will you?”

“Absolutely not--

“Too bad!” He cut Shadow off with a singsong voice.

The agent crouched down, leaping forward with tremendous speed. The hybrid quickly curled into a ball, spinning rapidly and dashing forward to intercept the aggressive man. They only smiled, bringing their baton back behind their head and slamming it down to crash directly into the balled-up hedgehog.

Shadow quickly found himself eating dirt, the breath knocked out of his lungs as he was sent crashing into the ground. Wincing in pain, he pushed himself back onto his feet, barely stepping out of the way as the nightstick rushed by his head. Not wanting to give him another opening, the hedgehog rushed forward, ducking for a moment before launching a solid right hook directly into the agent’s gut.

He could feel his fist sinking into the man’s soft stomach before they were sent flying back, a strange metallic clunk echoing through the air as he was sent sprawling onto the stone ground.

The hybrid wasted no time closing the gap, roughly rolling the man onto his stomach and pinning his arms against the small of his back before he could properly recover.

He paused as he felt something... odd about the agent’s arms, as if they were lined with some kind of rod. With a bit of force, he rolled up the man’s sleeves.

This person, whoever he was, was wearing an exoskeleton. It encaged his limbs, no doubt imbuing him with the power that caught Shadow off guard.

“Explain yourself. Now.” The hedgehog barked, tightening his grip on the man’s wrists.

“Soleanna Special Forces... at your service.” The agent replied, craning his head to the side to cheekily grin at his opponent.

“Why are you following me?” He felt himself growing angrier, pushing the captured officer’s hands deeper against his back.

“Hey, easy now!” He laughed, staring right into Shadow’s crimson eyes. “I’d love to, but I think my partners would probably prefer to do that for me.”

Shadow’s eyes widened.

“What--?”

Hands up. Slowly.” A stern voice behind him commanded. He could feel something press into the back of his quills-- a gun barrel, no doubt. He felt a second one press in further.

The hybrid sighed, letting go of the agent below him as he slowly raised his hands up.

Now get off him.

He nodded, sliding his knees off the man’s back before rising to his feet.

The agent he had been fighting wasted no time getting back up himself, flashing an annoyed expression at the people pointing a gun at the hedgehog.

“You could have let me fight him a bit longer, you know. I could have broken out of his grasp if you weren’t already running up.”

“We have a job to do. We can't all wait for you to finish playing with your food.” The other operative sighed, before returning his attention to the person they had apprehended.

“Shadow the Hedgehog, you are under arrest for assaulting an officer of the law.” He informed the hybrid, allowing one of the other agents to pull his arms down to place them into handcuffs.

The agent in front of him leaned down, staring him down at eye level with a snakelike grin on his lips.

“Shame you had to be the one to initiate that encounter, otherwise we would have no reason to bring you in.” He laughed, sneering at his adversary. “While you’re here, we also have a few questions regarding your whereabouts during the time the Duke was murdered.”

Notes:

Finally at Soleanna! Hope you're all enjoying it so far-- I've got more planned along the way!

As always, I'd love to hear what you think of this chapter and how you like the story so far. There's still a lot to go, and I hope you all continue to enjoy it!

Chapter 32

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The ferry trip to the castle was uneventful, though it certainly didn’t help with Sonic’s annoyance at being forced on the boat. He rapidly alternated between pacing the deck’s small perimeter and standing still with his foot incessantly tapping against the steel flooring. The blue hedgehog could barely wait for the gates to open as he sped off the infernal machine, dragging Tails with him as they made it back to dry land.

It was a short walk from the dock to an open courtyard. Marble arches surrounded the pristine and practically shiny surface of the flooring, broken only by a series of fountains in the center of the plaza. The water features depicted a flock of silvery eagles flying about, with smooth streams of water shooting between the small gaps between them. In the center was an imposing looking figure, with its own eagle head. Despite the beauty of the depiction, the duo couldn’t help but feel that the being in its center was more threatening than benevolent.

“Solaris, huh?” Sonic whispered, catching Tails’ attention.

“That’s the god worshiped by Soleanna-- I’m surprised you know about that.”

The blue hedgehog looked down, his brow furrowing as he tried to recall where he recognized it.

“Yeah... me too.” He shook his head. “Where’s the library again? I want to wrap things up. Don’t want to keep Shads waiting.”

The fox grimaced, looking back down at his computer.

“Looks like it’s accessible from its own entrance-- across from the gate to the castle.”

Sonic nodded, walking in the direction given to him by his little brother.

With most tourists having left, the place was only otherwise occupied by the Royal Guards. The humans quietly watched, tracking the Mobians’ movements carefully. The blue hedgehog waved cheerily to one, only to be met with a stoic stare as they stood straight, looking more like a mannequin dressed in an ornate emerald, silver and gold outfit.

At the other end of the courtyard was a massive iron gate cut into the stone wall that stood between the outsiders and the castle proper. The combination of shiny stone and stained glass made the building look absolutely radiant, perhaps just a bit too much to the point that the visitors had to squint to not get blinded from the brightness. A sign pointing to the side directed them to the library entrance, which led them to a smaller gate carved into the same wall. A corridor segmenting it from the main castle stood behind it, leading further into the castle.

As they approached, one of the guards turned to them, his gruff voice catching them off guard.

“Are you looking to enter the library?”

“Uh, yeah. We wanted to see a book about Soleannian history.” Tails answered.

The royal officer nodded, opening the gate to let them enter.

“Please keep your voice to a minimum at all times.” He informed them. “If you are having trouble finding a book, please speak to the clerk at the central desk.”

“Will do, officer!” Sonic chirped, making a mock salute before skipping past him.

Tails gave an apologetic glance to the scowling guard before quickly following.

After a short walk down the corridor and up a flight of stone steps, the duo found themselves in front of a large wooden door, studded and railed with ornate iron patterns. It was propped open, leading to a small antechamber with a desk-- atop which rested a sign-in book. Behind that was another set of doors, adorned with brass push-handles. Sonic quickly scribbled his name onto one of the open sheets before moving past it. He quickly pushed it open, only to stop and marvel at the room he had just entered.

The library itself was massive, so much so that he felt it was larger than the castle in which it resided. A small pathway led to the center of a circular room, along which were countless shelves carved out of slabs of marble. The shelving units seemingly melted into the support columns that lined the entire building, which depicted fiery birds spiraling upwards into the sky. The columns transitioned smoothly into a domed ceiling, atop which was a large skylight that illuminated the entire building and bathed it in sunlight.

In the center of the room was a large desk, meant for the clerk. Surrounding it were concentric rings of smaller desks intended for individuals to read at once they grabbed their books.

“Do they say where the book is on the catalog site?” Sonic whispered to his partner. He winced, hearing his voice echo around the stone walls despite his attempts to keep quiet.

Tails only shook his head.

The hero’s eyes narrowed in on the clerk working behind the desk, who was currently busy organizing books. She was dressed in a modest, navy-blue dress with silver accents. A frilled turtleneck peaked up from the collar, stopping just short of her jawline. Her reddish-blonde hair was tightly pulled back, tied into a bun.

He padded across the carpeted floor, making his way over to the center of the room. His eyes could just barely peer over the edge of the lacquered wooden desk, clearing his throat to catch the clerk’s attention.

“Can I help you?” She curtly asked, pushing her glasses up.

“Yeah, uh, we’re looking for a book. Tails?”

“It’s called--” The fox began, cutting himself off as his scratchy voice bounced off the walls. “Er, it’s called ‘Memoirs of Iblis.’ We were hoping you could tell us where it is.”

The librarian’s eyes widened for a moment, before returning to a neutral gaze.

“My apologies, sirs, but that book is not available to the public. If you’d like to see it, you’d have to sign a Special Request form. It would take a few days to process.”

“Yeah, no can do.” Sonic butted in, shaking his head. “Is there some way we could speed the process up?”

The woman shook her head, before pulling out a piece of paper and sliding it towards the duo.

“Again, you’d have to sign the form and wait--”

“Hold on a sec. I’m too small for this.” The blue hedgehog cut her off, before jumping up on the desk. He smiled wide, pointing his finger in the air as he struck a pose. “Recognize me? World-saving hero Sonic the Hedgehog?”

“I know who you are.” She replied blankly, her eye twitching at the shoe marks left on her desk.

The hero sighed, jumping back off the desk.

“I get you’ve got your own thing, but we kind of need that book to save the planet.” He leaned forward, doing his best to make a puppy-dog stare back at the clerk. “Can’t you make an exception, for little old me?”

The woman just stared at him blankly, looking back and forth between him and the yellow fox who currently had his face buried in his hands from embarrassment.

“...Let me see what I can do.” She muttered, sliding away the book in her hands. “Please stay here, I’ll be right back.”

“Thanks a lot, ma’am!” Sonic cheerily replied, winking as he gave a thumbs up to her. He watched as she walked away, disappearing behind a door in the back wall of the library.

The hedgehog sighed, his smile fading away as he looked back at his little brother. The fox was gripping his minicomputer tightly, looking away towards the floor.

“What’s up?” He asked, causing Tails to jolt slightly.

The young inventor nervously laughed, rubbing the back of his head.

“Oh, uh-- nothing.” He replied, still unwilling to look his older brother in the eyes.

“I have a feeling it’s more than nothing.” Sonic crossed his arms, leaning back against the side of the desk. “...Did something happen between you and Shadow?”

“Wh-What makes you say that?”

“You’re both acting weird around each other, it’s not hard to tell.” He replied plainly. “...Do I need to give him a beat down?”

“What? No!” Tails nearly dropped his Miles Electric, shaking his head vigorously. “I-- Sorry, it’s just... a lot happened, and...”

“Take your time.” The blue hedgehog nodded. “I’m here for you.”

The fox sighed, clenching his eyes shut as he wrung his wrists.

“Look, it was nothing. Shadow was just trying to be nice to me, and I overreacted. Let’s just drop it, okay?”

The young child looked back up at his older brother, feeling his stomach sink as the hero stared back at him with an unconvinced stare.

“I don’t want you to feel like you’re forced to talk about it.” He quietly replied, his grip on his arms slowly tightening.

There was a part of Tails that wanted to take the opportunity he was given-- Sonic didn’t need to know about it.

But the guilt of withholding something like that from someone so openly willing to care about him gnawed at his innards.

“I... saw Shadow... while he was fighting Eggman.” He whispered, letting out a deep breath. “It wasn’t... Sonic, he was going to actually kill him.”

Sonic stayed quiet, allowing his younger brother to continue.

“I know Eggman’s always done bad stuff, but... it’s just... seeing it up close... I’ve never seen someone so angry .” Tails paused, his voice just barely audible as he finished his thoughts. “He looked just like he did in Westopolis--”

“...What?” The blue hedgehog felt his blood run cold. “Tails... I thought you were at Circus Park when that happened!”

“I was.” The young child hung his head in shame, curling his tails around his torso as he clutched them closely to his chest. “I wasn’t aware of what had happened at first, but... any time I asked, you didn’t want to talk about it. So... I requested reports from GUN... along with any footage of the invasion they had.”

The hero grimaced, his own eyes closing in defeat as he felt his shoulders slump.

That invasion was a dark day for everyone, and it hung onto Sonic like a lead weight. It was one of his greatest failures-- not only did he lose the city, but he had utterly failed in bringing someone he genuinely cared for back to his senses.

“I... should have figured something was up when you stopped asking about it.” The blue hedgehog muttered, his head falling in shame. “Sorry. I don’t know what to say.”

“I know... I know he’s changed a lot since then.” Tails admitted. “But when I saw him like that, I was scared. All I could see was... how he was back then.”

“Shadow has... a lot of issues, and he’s not the best at working through them.” The hero grimaced, shaking his head as he tried to sound a bit more assertive as he continued. “But with everything Eggman has put him through, I don’t think it’s the same. To be honest... if he did anything on the level of what he did to Rouge and Omega to you... I don’t know if I’d really be all that different.”

The fox opened his mouth to reply, only for the words to halt as he looked back down at the ground. His mind was awash with conflicting emotions, all battling for attention as he did his best to make sense of it all. Hearing that Sonic may have been as violent as Shadow under different circ*mstances... wasn’t really comforting to hear, but it did give him something to chew on for the time being.

Their conversation was cut short as the library’s back door opened, the metallic clicking and wooden creaking bouncing harshly across the solid surfaces of the room. The library clerk strode out, flanked by a squad of royal guards that quickly fanned out from behind her.

The hero quickly fell into a defensive posture, his hand instinctively coming up to shield his little brother as he rapidly gauged the situation. He opened his mouth, ready to launch whatever quip came to his mind, only to be interrupted as the Soleannian woman he had talked with earlier spoke up.

“Princess Elise has requested an audience with you. Please, follow me.”

Despite the insistence from the clerk that the guards were there for their protection, Sonic couldn’t help but feel that they were more akin to a shepherd dog leading them to a slaughterhouse. He could practically feel their stoic and judgmental stares burrowing into the back of his neck, the intensity only increasing as they were led deeper into the castle.

The hallways they were led down were no less ornate than the rest of the castle. Sonic was never quite one for the kinds of aesthetics that royals, both former and current, tended to lean towards. It was far too gaudy for his tastes. But despite the veneer of fanciful architecture, he hadn’t been able to shake a sense of unease that dominated pretty much every aspect of Soleannian expression-- as if something was lurking just under the surface, and he was the only one left unaware.

His feelings were made emblematic as he was led past a large mural that spanned the entire surface of the wall next to him, stretching from the floor to the ceiling, whose sides were only stopped by smooth marble columns that depicted a flock of eagles that were sculpted to give the impression that they were holding the painting up by their beaks. The massive piece of art depicted an eagle-headed being that radiated a massive white halo, arms outstretched and wings unfurled to look like the rays of the sun. Beneath it was the historical district of Soleanna-- bathed in flames and half-reduced to ashes from the raw destructive power of the supreme entity that lorded over it.

Sonic felt his feet stop as he took in the artistry, overtaken by a blend of dread and familiarity. Tails went to open his mouth, only to look over at the mural and find the same emotions encroaching upon him.

The clerk paused for a moment, noticing what they had been engrossed in. She cleared her throat, pulling their attention away as she spoke up.

“That is our god, Solaris.” She began, pointing to the being at the top of the mural. “He rules over the sun. It is said that one day, he will eventually destroy Soleanna-- and possibly take the world with it. In order to appease him, we worship him and perform the Festival of the Sun to prove our devotion.”

“Doesn’t sound like a god worth worshiping to me.” The blue hedgehog immediately replied, shaking his head as he turned away from the painting. “And trust me, I’ve met my fair share of them.”

“Sonic!” The fox chided, huffing. “That’s not something you just say to people.”

“It’s a formality, really.” The clerk responded, idly waving her hand to the side. “Most of us don’t actually believe in him. We just celebrate some of the old rituals to keep in touch with our cultural roots.”

“Can’t you find something... happier to celebrate?” Sonic sighed in exasperation, causing Tails to let out another groan from his brother’s insensitivity.

The woman just blankly stared at him for a moment before turning back around.

“Princess Elise will see you in the chamber ahead.” She informed them, leading the group to a pair of ornate oaken doors set seamlessly into the wall. “Should you need anything, the guards will remain just outside.”

The blue hedgehog felt a sense of apprehension come over him as the doors opened. That horrible sense of nostalgia washed over him once more, sending his stomach churning as he tried to make sense of it all. There was a part of him that wanted to simply explain this entire debacle as some kind of delusion, but the peculiar behavior that so many of his friends exhibited made that impossible.

His thoughts were cut short as the large wooden doors behind him and Tails closed, granting them some semblance of privacy. They were in a parlor of sorts, large windows bordering the walls and bathing the room in even more sun rays than the corridor they had been in. A fireplace crackled along the far wall, throwing off a pleasant heat that helped to combat the cold stone flooring. In the center of the room was an exquisitely carved table, surrounded by similar chairs with gilded trimming. In its center was a delicate porcelain tea set embossed with even more Soleannian eagles.

At the far end of the table was a young human adult-- tall with a snow-white complexion that accentuated the brilliant red hair that swooped back behind her shoulders. She wore a flowing white dress that matched the opera gloves she was wearing, and the white feathers that had been clipped onto her hair. She delicately took a smooth sip from the teacup in her hand before lowering it back onto the saucer in front of her. She stood up, walking over to the duo before deeply bowing her head and extending her hand out towards the blue hedgehog.

“I’m pleased to meet you again, Sonic.” She greeted, smiling gently at him.

“I... uh...” The hero was caught off guard by the familiarity of her words, pausing for a moment before taking her hand and slowly shaking it. “I’m not sure we’ve met-- though I did see you a few years back at the festival, if that’s what you mean.”

She paused for a moment before nodding.

“That’s not quite what I meant, but I suppose given the circ*mstances...” She released her grip on the hedgehog’s hand, gesturing back towards the table. “Please, take a seat. I feel we have much to discuss.”

“Listen, I appreciate the hospitality and all, but we were here looking for a book.” Sonic explained, pointing back towards the door. “I think the clerk may have misunderstood what we were asking for.”

“Not at all. She performed her job exceptionally.” Elise gently rebuffed, her voice light but still assertive. “The book you’re looking for does not exist.”

“...What?” Tails asked, his brow furrowing in confusion. Sonic’s face took over a similar look of dismay. “Was it destroyed?”

“No, it never existed to begin with.” The princess reasserted. “You’ll have to forgive the bit of deception-- I’ll be more than happy to explain everything. Please, sit.”

The two Mobians exchanged glances with each other before slowly approaching the table. They both pulled out chairs, to find that they had already been fitted with a booster cushion that allowed them to properly sit at eye level with the taller human. They took their seat, eyes trained on her as she took her own seat and wrapped her index finger around the teacup.

“Feel free to pour yourselves some tea. It’s grown locally.”

Not wanting to turn down the hospitality, Sonic poured himself a cup from the teapot, taking a sip before sticking his tongue out in disgust.

Blech! Sorry princess, this is way too bitter for me-- you might like it, Tails.”

Elise let out a small giggle as she slid the sugar pot and milk pitcher towards the blue hedgehog. He quickly took both and quickly dumped their contents into his cup, diluting the mixture until barely any of the original taste remained. He looked over at his younger brother to see him pour the straight tea into his own cup, taking a sip and letting out a pleased hum as his eyes lit up.

He couldn’t understand how anyone liked stuff like that.

“Oh, and uh...” Sonic trailed off, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly as he took another sip. “...I heard about your father on the way here. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“It’s fine.” She shook her head, setting her own teacup back down. “To be honest, he was... not quite present for a long time. Still, I am grateful for the extra time I was given to spend with him-- but I don’t wish to bore you with tales of my family. You wished to see a certain book, correct?”

“Yes, that’s why we’re here.” Tails nodded. “But you’re saying it doesn’t exist?”

“That is correct. I assume someone of your skillset is familiar with the concept of a honeypot?”

“Of course!” He chirped, almost immediately pausing as a look of realization overcame his face. “Wait, does that mean you--”

“Uh, little bro?” The blue hedgehog cut him off, looking back and forth between the other two people in the room. “You mind explaining in words I understand?”

He was met with the unfortunately familiar sneer that the fox would don whenever the hero was out of his technical depth. He shook his head before he opened his mouth to explain.

“A honeypot is like... a fake target you put out onto the internet to attract hackers. Someone who breaks in thinks they’re getting some good info, but in reality, it’s being closely monitored to track who is breaking in and what they’re trying to get.”

“So... basically the book was a trap to lure someone in?” He asked, looking back at Elise for confirmation.

“Indeed, it is. I designed it myself with the express purpose of finding people who know about something that they shouldn’t.” She calmly replied, her pale blue eyes meeting his jade.

Sonic felt himself shifting slightly from under her gaze, her expression strikingly calm and analytical, picking him apart. She opened her mouth again, tilting her head as she spoke.

“If I may ask, how exactly did the two of you learn of Iblis?”

The name, spoken from her lips, hit Sonic like a mallet on the side of the head. He cracked a smile, not willing to let himself be dissuaded by the woman sitting across from him.

“I just heard it in passing while strolling the streets. I was curious, that’s all.” He shrugged, closing his eyes as he took a sip of his tea-tainted milk.

“Is that so?” Elise asked. “Are you sure it wasn’t some kind of memory that appeared in your head? Something from a life you never lived?”

Tails froze in place, his face quickly hanging towards the ground. Sonic cracked one eye open, suspiciously looking back at the princess as he kept the teacup to his lips.

“And if it was?”

“Then it would make more sense. I hope it was little more than mere curiosity that convinced you to chase this thread.”

“Hold up-- make more sense?” Sonic asked, leaning forward as he stared back at the princess.

She nodded.

“Iblis is the name of a... creature of sorts that you had a hand in defeating. I believe a companion of yours, Silver, also called you the ‘Iblis Trigger ’ at one point.”

The blue hedgehog felt the memory he saw while he was brain dead flash before his eyes, causing him to wince in pain.

“I... that...” Sonic trailed off, rubbing his temples with the tips of his fingers. “What... happened?”

“It’s a long story, but...” Elise paused, slowly tracing the rim of the teacup saucer in front of her with her fingers. “To sum up the important parts-- You, Shadow, and Silver all teamed up to stop a threat that threatened the very fabric of time. After you won, the timeline was reset before those events could repeat themselves.”

“But you remember it just fine.” Tails pointed out, looking back up at the princess.

“I don’t know the exact reason, but... it is probably because I am the one who created the paradox that reset time.” She paused. “If I’m being honest, I’m not entirely sure if I’m supposed to take it as a gift or a curse-- I try to make the best of it.”

“Shoot!” Sonic cursed, halting the conversation as he clenched his eyes shut in frustration. “We forgot about Shadow.”

“Did he travel with you?”

“Yeah. We can fill him in when we get back--” Tails began, only to get cut off by Elise.

“That won’t be necessary.” She replied. “I can have my guards bring him here.”

The princess pressed her fingers lightly against the bunch of feathers clipped into her hair. The Mobians turned their heads towards the entrance as the wooden doors swung open, the pair of guards walking in before bowing their heads.

“Please inform the SSF and the Royal Guards to locate Shadow the Hedgehog and bring him here.” She politely informed them, before returning her attention to her guests. “Oh-- While we are waiting... Tails, I apologize for the uncouth request, but would you mind waiting outside for a brief moment? There is something I would like to speak with Sonic privately about. I can have one of the guards bring you back in once we are done.”

The fox glanced back at his older brother, an uncertain look of hesitancy in his eyes. The hero paused for a moment before giving him a reaffirming nod.

“...Take your time.” Tails muttered, pushing himself out of the chair and following the guards outside.

As soon as the door closed, Elise took a deep breath in. She closed her eyes, letting the air slowly drift out her nose as she clasped her hands in front of her.

“I have no doubts you may find this to be... strange, given your lack of memory.” She admitted. “But I promised myself that I would not hesitate once the opportunity presented itself to me.”

Sonic wordlessly returned a questioning stare, watching closely as she slowly stood from her chair. She walked over to his seat, towering over the hedgehog and casting him in her shadow.

Then, in that very same moment, he saw her collapse into a kneeling position, her torso hunched over as she pressed her forehead into the ground.

“From the depths of my being, I’d like to apologize for the... way I imposed myself on you last we met.”

The gesture caught the hero wildly off guard, sputtering as he jumped out of his chair. He reached down towards her, freezing in place as waves of confusion washed over him.

“I-- uh... That’s fine? L-Look, you don’t have to-- You can get up now. Really, you don’t need to do that.”

The princess pushed herself back up into a sitting position, letting out a small giggle as she saw the flustered hedgehog’s face.

“I thought you might have reacted this way.” She admitted, straightening her back as she looked at Sonic at his eye level.

“Did... something happen?”

Elise slowly nodded her head, a pained look flashing across her face as she recalled memories of events that never existed.

“My story was... a lot more tragic in that old timeline. I was only a small child when the responsibility of ruling this country fell on my shoulders.” Her voice fell to a faint whisper. “I hated it. There were times I wished that Solaris would just burn everything to the ground. And then... you came along.”

Sonic’s mind flashed back to one of the memories he had encountered while submerged in his near-death state. He could recall the lush grassy fields, leading a younger version of this princess through the hills by the hand. She could barely keep up with him, her legs practically falling out from under her, but her smile and laughter were something to behold-- a sound that she herself had never heard from her own lips.

“Your free spirit quickly became a beacon to one such as me. I grew to appreciate your willingness to just... go .” She paused, looking away. “But I let that desire to escape my own responsibilities consume me, and it grew into an obsession that I mistook for love. To be honest, I was just looking for an escape. It led me to... acting in ways that were unconcerned with your own consent. It is a grave mistake that I do not wish to repeat.”

“I... uh, I’m still not entirely sure what happened back then, but... well, I’m not the type to hold grudges anyway.” He chuckled, holding a thumbs-up out towards her as he winked. “Besides, you don’t seem like the kind of gal in that story anymore.”

Elise gave Sonic a gentle smile as she got back to her feet.

“You’re right about that. I’m not the same weak girl that I once was.” She ran her fingers through her hair, sighing. “To be honest, I’m rather embarrassed by it-- it seemed the only thing I was good for at the time was getting captured. I’m rather proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish in this new reality. Eggman has not once managed to pierce our defenses, and I intend to keep it that way.”

A knock on the door caught their attention. Elise pressed her fingers against her feathers once more, and the door opened. The guards entered, followed closely by Tails as she gestured for them to re-take their seats.

“We have located the hedgehog, Your Grace.” The guard began, bowing his head before standing taut. “He was apprehended by the SSF in connection to the Duke’s murder.”

Tails’ eyes widened at the information. Sonic let out a frustrated groan, slamming his palm over his face with an audible ‘ slap !’

“Of course .” The hedgehog hissed. “Leave it to him to get in trouble the moment he’s out of sight.”

“Wait... The Duke was murdered ?” The young fox asked, pausing before he returned to his seat.

Elise’s face darkened for but a moment, closing her eyes as she let out a heavy sigh.

“...Yes. Due to the... circ*mstances surrounding the incident, we haven’t made this public information.”

“What do you mean?”

“...I won’t go into the details of his death, but... it was horrifically cruel. He had a Chaos Emerald in his possession at the time. It was stolen afterwards, of course.” Her hands slowly clenched up, returning to her sides as she gracefully moved back to her seat. “There was only one eyewitness-- a maid, who said she saw the perpetrator was a Mobian of some kind with upturned hair. I suppose that it would be natural for Shadow to be a suspect.”

“He was killed a few days ago, right?” Tails asked, pulling out his minicomputer.

Elise nodded.

“In the middle of the night. He was out walking the corridors of the main castle.”

The two-tailed inventor held his breath for a moment, biting his lower lip as he felt his grip on his minicomputer tighten. He closed his eyes for a moment as he let the air in his lungs out, looking back at the princess with an unsteady expression.

“I can provide an alibi. He... was trapped underground with Sonic at that time. I can provide reports from GUN and video recordings taken by a friend of mine to corroborate this.”

“I trust that you are telling the truth, but I would certainly appreciate any evidence you can provide.” The princess nodded. Her eyes turned back towards the guards still standing in the doorway. “Please inform the commanding officer of the SSF that Shadow is no longer a suspect and have him escorted here.”

The soldiers quickly stood to attention, saluting before receding through the closing doors.

“SSF?” Sonic asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Soleannian Special Forces.” Elise looked back at the hedgehog as she sat down. “They’re a special tactical operations unit outfitted with the latest exoskeleton technology and highly trained in most forms of combat. I spearheaded their formation in order to deal with any situation that our main force was not.”

“Like Eggman?” Tails asked.

“That... and if another being like Solaris were to reappear. We can’t always rely on you.”

“Solaris?!” Sonic exclaimed. “Like... the same god you all worship?”

“The very same. You helped defeat him with the aid of Shadow and Silver, though by that point the world had already been destroyed.” She paused. “Afterwards, you brought me back in time, long before he could be a threat. It was there that I snuffed him out before the calamity could begin.”

“...And the timeline was altered, where it never happened.” The fox muttered, placing his curled hand against his mouth. “Then... who exactly are we fighting against?”

“So there is a threat.” She nodded grimly, her eyes faltering for a moment as she pondered the situation. “Are you certain that it is from the erased timeline?”

“Without a doubt.” Sonic nodded.

“Then let us speak more of it once Shadow reconvenes with us.” She nodded, her tone slowly growing more authoritative. “He should only be a few moments out.”

The other two Mobians took their seats once more, quietly sitting as they waited for the other hedgehog’s arrival. Sonic idly sipped his tea, looking at the princess from the corner of his eyes. She was lost in her own thoughts, her downturned chin resting lightly against her thumb and index finger as she quietly pondered the situation.

He could feel a semblance in qualities with Amy Rose coming from this woman, though it seemed that her candor and demeanor were far less outgoing. She may have the appearance of a dainty individual, but the sparks of determination that flashed behind her eyes showed she was anything but.

His eyes trailed back over to Tails, who had been quiet since learning of the hybrid’s impending arrival. His head was pointed almost directly downwards, his expression blank as he mindlessly stared at the computer screen that was resting on his lap. Sonic opened his mouth for a moment, feeling the urge to say something to his little brother... but found himself pausing. He quickly closed his lips, shaking his head ever so slightly. Now was not the time.

It wasn’t long before another heavy knock from the door bounced around the solid stone walls of the castle chamber, pulling their attention away from their thoughts. Elise quickly granted them access, and as soon as the wooden slabs swung back on their hinges, the familiar black and red hedgehog strode through. A deep scowl was etched on his face as he practically stomped forward. A black-clad human followed closely behind, shutting the doors behind them.

“Seems like you can’t keep yourself out of the slammer, huh?” Sonic asked, his tone teasing but with an undeniable hint of anger beneath his words.

Not. A. Word. ” Shadow growled, glowering at the other hedgehog.

Elise looked past the bickering hedgehogs, focusing on the Special Forces member that had stayed in the room with them.

“Agent Moretti. Is there something you wish to discuss with me?”

“Not personally, ma’am.” The man replied, smiling wide as he spoke with a singsong voice. “But the CO was not happy with your order. He provided a copy of our eyewitness sketch, for you to review.”

The SSF agent smoothly walked over, sliding a folded piece of paper across the lacquered wood surface of the table towards her. Shadow kept his eyes trained on them, glaring harshly at the man who had bested him not too long ago.

The princess quietly took up the paper, unfolding it to look at its contents. Inside was a fairly detailed depiction of a Mobian hedgehog, with its quill patterns in the exact configuration as Shadow’s.

“No doubt they look similar.” She replied, placing the sketch back down on the desk. “But we have reports from GUN and video evidence proving his innocence in this matter.”

“Wait!” Sonic cried out, practically scrambling across the table to snatch the paper. “This is the guy we’re after!”

Elise and Moretti’s heads both snapped towards the blue hedgehog.

“Are you absolutely certain?” She asked, her tone grave as she slowly pushed herself up from her seat. “The same one you are chasing is the one who murdered my father?”

“No doubt. He... looks like Shadow. But they aren’t the same.”

“That... doesn’t make sense, then.” She leaned forward, pressing her hands into the table as her brow furrowed. “I thought you were chasing after Iblis?”

“You know who that is?” Shadow asked, his expression returning to a more neutral disposition as he addressed her.

“It’s a long story.” Sonic shrugged. “We’ll fill you in on the details in a sec.”

“Actually, I don’t think you’ve told us who or what Iblis is.” Tails noted.

Elise sighed, pulling herself back into a standing position. She grabbed her teacup, taking a small sip of her drink before properly replying.

“...My father once tried to control the flow of time using the power of Solaris. In the other timeline, he did just that-- and failed horribly.” She admitted, her voice faltering for a moment. She took a deep breath, gathering herself as she continued. “The resulting accident fractured Solaris. Iblis was one of those creations, and one you all dealt with. It is... Solaris’ rage and raw power, concentrated into an immortal and mindless being that would have engulfed the world in its flames.”

“Yeah... that’s not who we’re fighting.” Sonic replied. “Whoever this is, they’re definitely not mindless.”

“But you said you knew him from there?” The princess confusedly pushed back.

“Well, I didn’t exactly meet him, but... I’m pretty sure he’s from there.” The blue hedgehog replied, brow furrowing as he looked down at the table. “I think... he killed me in that timeline.”

“He did what to you?” Shadow spun around, shock on his face as he looked back at his rival.

“I don’t know exactly.” The hero quickly explained. “I just... I remember something piercing by body... and a laugh just like his behind me as I fell to the ground--”

The sound of porcelain shattering caught everyone’s attention. They all turned to Elise, who stood wide-eyed and stone-still at the end of the table. Her hands were trembling slightly, held close to her chest. A trail of orange-brown liquid trailed down the side of her dress, pointing towards a puddle of tea and shards of a broken cup next to her feet.

“Of all of the things that could have come from that wretched timeline, it had to be him.

The rest of the room stared at her quietly as she tried to recompose herself, to little success.

“Uh... Princess?” Sonic asked, unable to hide the concern growing in his own voice. “You know who that is?”

She closed her eyes for a moment, nodding slowly.

“We never actually met him, but... Shadow and Silver were kind enough to tell me all about him after we defeated Solaris.” She quietly began, clasping her hands tightly together. “Iblis was not the only thing to have been created out of that experiment... and both of you said that we were incredibly lucky to have not dealt with him directly.”

Shadow felt his back stiffen at the description. He had no memories of anything this woman was saying, but the sense of familiar dread that slowly formed in his chest was undeniable.

“He was made of Solaris’ malice and intellect... and gifted with the ability to alter the very flow of time itself.” She looked back at Sonic, a grim look in her eyes as she continued. “A cruel and cunning beast that revels in inflicting as much suffering that he can.”

“Does this guy have a name?” Sonic asked, glancing back and forth between the distressed princess and the equally distressed hedgehog next to him.

“...Mephiles the Dark.”

“Ah... So that’s what I am called. I thank you for providing me with what I could not recall myself.”

The deep voice resonated throughout the room, effortlessly moving through each and every surface in the quickly chilling room. Shadow felt his blood turn to ice, a sharp spike of pain running through his head as he quickly spun around to find out where its source came from. The others followed suit, the unease only growing as the rays of the sun slowly began to fade away.

Moretti quickly grabbed Elise by the arm, pulling her back behind her as he scanned the room for the new intruder.

“Though it saddens me to think that my powers have been diminished, if your account is to be believed.” The voice echoed once more. “But that is no matter. What I have at my disposal is more than sufficient.”

Without warning, a bolt of black lightning crashed into the center of the table. A blast wave ripped out from the point of impact, causing the old wooden furniture to crack into pieces as everyone was sent flying back towards the ground from the force of the blow.

Sonic and Shadow were the first to scramble to their feet, pulling their arms up into a defensive posture. Their eyes were locked onto the cloud of dust and burning debris that had formed where they were once standing, tensing up as it slowly began to clear and the being at its epicenter slowly took form.

The figure raised its hand, swinging it to its side. The movement created a large gust of air, immediately dispelling the haze that obscured it.

The blue hedgehog immediately recognized them-- the same crystalline hedgehog-like entity that had emerged from his partner while they were imprisoned deep underground.

“You...” He felt himself grunt out, unable to conceal the anger quickly building in his chest.

Curious. There is someone who has memories of the erased past.” Mephiles began, holding his hand out towards the princess.

Elise pulled herself out of her agent's grasp, taking a defiant step towards the malevolent being in their midst.

"Whatever you want, you will not have."

Mephiles could only laugh, shaking his head as his sickly green stare intensified.

“Come now, Princess, there is no need for hostilities. Let's have a small chat-- I would love nothing more than to pick your brain.”

Notes:

I wanted to get this out sooner, but my computer has broken. It seems life really doesn't want me to write this sometimes. Luckily, I have a laptop so I'll continue to write what I can!

I hope you enjoyed things so far-- let me know what you think in the comments! I'll try to get the next part of the story out as soon as I can.

Chapter 33

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Run away.

Shadow shook his head, trying to beat back the unnatural fear that was quickly rising in his system. He felt his chest ripple as he tried to hide the shakiness of his breath, tightening his fists as he furrowed his brow. The sharp pain in his forehead steadily grew worse, causing him to wince as it slowly dug further into his brain like a hand-cranked auger.

The creature in front of him-- this thing called Mephiles, apparently paid him no mind as it kept its eyes unwaveringly trained on the Soleannian princess near the other end of the room. Its form was wholly unnatural, resembling a rock formation more than an organic being. Every part of its body ended in impossibly sharp crystals that simultaneously glowed hideously while draining the light from its surroundings.

The hybrid felt his breath freeze in his throat as the entity’s head slowly tilted to the side, settling on him. Its baleful green reptilian irises bored into his body, threatening to sear his flesh away like some caustic acid. The gaze set a primal urge off in his body, a wordless voice screaming at him that the thing in front of him should not be, and that he should be putting as much distance in between them as possible. It was something he had never felt before-- not even at the hideous Biolizard that predated him.

He gritted his teeth, refusing to expose the emotions inside of him as the pain in his head continued to heighten.

Eventually, Mephiles had deigned to move on to the other occupants of the room, slowly taking in their features as they stared back at him. The tension in the room was overwhelming, the air itself thick like sludge.

His eyes eventually settled back onto Elise, who clutched the jewels dangling from her necklace as her protector stood defiantly in front of her.

Everyone’s attention was drawn towards the door as it burst open, the Royal Guards rushing through with their guns drawn.

NO!” The princess cried out, hand outstretched towards them as she commanded their retreat.

However, her intervention was too late. Mephiles rushed across the marble floor, cracks trailing in his wake as he approached the intruders.

Shoving down his fear, Shadow quickly leapt forward to intercept him with Sonic-- only to stumble and come crashing to his knees as the pain in his head increased tenfold. He clutched his head, a gravelly groan of agony dribbling from his mouth. The blue hedgehog’s own advance was halted as he turned to check up on his debilitated partner, giving the crystalline beast the opening it needed to pass them by.

The guards stood no chance, barely able to let out a cry of surprise as the evil creature grabbed them by their faces, forcing them to their knees as he stood defiantly over them. Black lightning poured out of his hands, coursing through their bodies as it lashed outwards. Every bit of material the energy struck slowly decayed; stone turning into sand, metal rusting away, and wood dry rotting into nothingness.

By the time the lightning had ceased, Mephiles stood alone, with little more than two piles of dust at his sides.

“Now, then.” He turned around, looking back at the horrified people before him. “If it would please the princess, I would like to discuss--”

“There is nothing for us to discuss.” She quickly cut him off, matching his glare with a look of controlled authority.

“Now, now. I would hope that there is no need to make matters more complicated.”

“Then I shall make it simple for you.” She immediately countered, shaking her head. “I will not yield to one such as you. You may have fooled those who cannot remember you, but I know well enough that nothing you can offer would be worth sullying my hands.”

“Even if it were to save your kingdom?” Mephiles tilted his head, holding his hand out as if to offer a handshake. “I could protect your kingdom for you. Imagine... Soleanna the Eternal Kingdom, lasting throughout the ages as a beacon of prosperity as long as the planet will allow.”

Elise was wholly unconvinced by the offer, unmoving in her graceful stance as she opened her mouth to respond.

“A very enticing vow... but I have no doubt that your offer would only last until the moment you decide that the ‘planet should no longer allow’ our existence.”

Shadow let out another cry of pain, his fingers digging into his skull as he hunched over.

Sonic’s attention immediately snapped back to his partner, kneeling over him as he clutched his shoulders.

“...Shadow? What’s happening?”

The black and red hedgehog did not respond, his muscles spasming and shivering as his head slammed into the floor.

The hero looked back at towards the crystalline entity, who only sneered back as it reveled in the diminished form of the incapacitated hybrid.

“What did you do to him?!” Sonic snarled back at them, baring his teeth as he pulled Shadow closer to him.

“Me? What I’ve done?” Mephiles mockingly asked, pointing a finger at itself. “This is not my doing. Our dear Shadow is simply battling his own mind. Worry not, he shall be victorious soon. After all...”

Shadow felt his breath hitch as a chill ran over his curled-up body, completely wiping away Sonic’s warm touch. His ears twitched as the sounds of the voices around him quickly faded out, leaving nothing but a silent void. His eyes slowly cracked open, only to find an infinite darkness that had even swallowed his own body.

He felt his quills rise on end as a pair of ice-cold hands slid around his shoulders, clawed hands effortlessly raking through his fur as they gripped him tightly and pulled him back against a body that sapped every ounce of heat in him away. A heavy weight rested against his head, settling next to his ear as it sank itself in further.

...That’s just who you are, Shadow.”

A howling scream ripped itself out of the hybrid’s throat as he tore himself from Sonic’s grasp. He fell back onto the ground, kicking wildly and nearly pulling the quills out of his head as he rolled around.

His mind flooded with lucid memories; the familiar chilling touch of Mephiles, the words it spoke into its ear with its mocking sympathy and disgusted malice.

Shadow’s eyes snapped open, the pain from his head gone as he realized just what the creature had done to him. Another scream came rushing out of his mouth-- one of anger instead of agony. Energy boiled within him as he slammed his fist into the ground, causing the marble to deform and crack from the raw force as he pushed himself to his feet.

“You...” He growled, glaring balefully at the enemy in front of him. “How dare you?!”

The crystalline beast let out a maniacal laugh, looking up in the air as it basked in the hedgehog’s anger.

“Something the matter, Shadow the Hedgehog?” It taunted, resting its cheek against the tips of its clawed fingers. “You look like you’ve been possessed by a ghost.”

“...Shadow?” Sonic quietly asked, stepping forward to gently grab his partner by the wrist. “What’s he talking about?”

Shadow looked back at him, his mouth opening instinctively to respond. The blue hedgehog could only watch as his eyes widened in realization of something, before quickly slamming shut. He turned his torso away, pulling his hand out of the hero’s grasp as he clenched his fists.

“Oh, how sad the Ultimate Lifeform must feel.” Mephiles called out, feigned pity doing nothing to hide the cruelty in its voice. “Yet again, he fears that the truth will drive a wedge between him and those he cares for. Shall I say what you will not?”

“Shut up.” The black and red hedgehog grunted, gritting his teeth.

“Sonic, you witnessed my glorious escape from confinement within Shadow’s body... did you truly think that was all that happened?”

“...What?” The blue hedgehog’s eyes widened.

“I said shut up.” Shadow growled again.

“I left a piece of myself in his head this whole time, keeping an eye on you all. He’s been an unwitting spy for me, and he played his part marvelously. He would even suppress the memories of our conversations all on his own!”

ENOUGH! How DARE you defile my memories of Maria like that!” Shadow roared, his air shoes flaring to life as he leapt towards the malevolent entity.

Mephiles deftly stepped backwards, watching as the hybrid’s fist came crashing into the ground. He reached forward, lightning charging down his outstretched arm before exploding out of his fingertips. The blast sent the black and red hedgehog flying backward, crashing into the stone wall on the opposite end of the room.

The crystalline creature did not wait for him to recover. With blinding speed, he rushed to his side, rushing towards Agent Moretti. He sent the special forces agent sprawling to the ground with a backhanded slap, before cornering Elise and grabbing her by the bicep.

“I have been patient with you, princess, but you would be wise to not test the extent of my charitability. Tell me, how many dead Soleannians do you think it would take before you finally relent?”

Elise looked back at the others. Her operative remained on the ground, unmoving. She could see Shadow get back to his feet, only to reluctantly freeze in place as he saw the hostage situation that had just developed. Sonic and Tails were in a similar position, silently trying to find some avenue of progression.

She clutched the gems on her necklace, taking a deep breath in as she steadied herself. She opened her mouth for only a moment, before closing it back and looking down at the evil creature with the gentlest of smiles.

Her grip tightened even further, a cracking noise sharply piercing the air as she quickly ripped the jewelry from her neck and threw it to the ground. In that instant, a bright blast filled the space between them, causing Mephiles to let out a wounded grunt.

The princess herself was flung back by the explosion, a pained cry escaping her as she sailed through the air. Sonic was quick to rush forward, catching her in his arms before she hit the ground.

Mephiles appeared to be unfazed, pushed back by the force of the blast but otherwise unharmed.

“Clever--"

The crystalline beast was unable to finish his sentence as a rage-filled shout from the Ultimate Lifeform filled the air. Shadow rushed forward, crimson irises overflowing with fire as he slammed into the crystalline beast, sending them both crashing through the stone wall and into the hallway outside.

The dark creature quickly raised its hands into the air, unleashing another blast of decaying lightning that struck the ceiling. Chunks of solid rock began to fall, crashing into the hybrid and giving the malevolent entity an opportunity to slip past him and back into the room. It cast a momentary glare at Elise before rushing past the other heroes, crashing through the massive stained-glass window.

Out of the rubble burst Shadow, who quickly gave chase. His eyes glanced over to the blue hedgehog, only to snap away in shame before he leapt through the hole Mephiles had made to pursue them.

Sonic quickly let the princess back onto her feet, who rushed over to look through the opening that the two hedgehogs had made. She could see two streaks of light rush across the ocean, curving in an arc towards the main island.

A groan slowly echoed out behind her. She turned to see Moretti slowly push himself to his feet. He let out a nasty cough, glancing back at the scene in front of him.

“They’re heading towards Castle Town!” Elise cried out.

“No time to waste then--” Sonic started, crouching down to get a runner’s start.

“Wait!” The special forces operative cut him off, causing the hedgehog to give him an annoyed look. He took a deep breath before continuing. “Please, take Princess Elise to the mainland first.”

“I will not leave my people!”

“If you die, they will have no leader!” He quickly rebuffed. He turned to the two Mobians, his gaze hardening. “If you can take care of her, I can stay back here and evacuate the rest of the castle. The royal guard and the SSF can handle the rest of the island.”

“If you’re okay with that, Princess.” The blue hedgehog reluctantly replied. “But I’m coming back to help Shadow once you’re safe.”

“...I can stay with you once he leaves.” Tails offered. “We’ve got friends on the way here-- they can be your protective detail when they arrive.”

Elise looked conflicted as she exchanged glances with the other three in the room. She sighed, her shoulders falling in apparent defeat.

“Very well.” She disdainfully replied. “But please don’t waste any more time than you need with me.”

“That’s the plan!” Sonic chirped, rushing over to scoop her up in his arms. The two were gone in an instant, leaving Tails to trail behind them as they all sped away from Soleanna.

Shadow could tell that Mephiles was taunting him, despite the lack of words they shared as they raced across the surface of the ocean. The crystalline beast was only just out of grasp, the distance between them slowly closing only to widen as the black and red hedgehog reached out to clutch at his foe.

It wasn’t long before they reached the main island, racing through the canals as the screams of surprised and frightened Soleannians whizzed past them. With a furious roar, Shadow pulled his hand back, forming a spear of energy in his hands and launching it. It sailed through the air, only just missing as Mephiles leaned to the side and embedding itself into the brick-and-mortar wall of a nearby building before dissipating into nothingness. The failed attempt did nothing to dissuade Shadow, who began launching as many as he could towards the laughing entity in front of him.

They continued to slide and drift their way over the corridors of water and stone, eventually breaking off as the malevolent entity suddenly veered to the side and over the low edge of the marble ground that floated on the ocean’s surface. With a burst of his air shoes, Shadow quickly flung himself in the air, his eyes burning with fury as he slammed into the ground in front of the now still Mephiles. A wave of clamorous shouts rushed forward, catching Shadow off guard as he turned to face the noise.

He had landed just on the edges of a large plaza, lined on three sides by multistory buildings with the fourth sparsely dotted with trees that had been transplanted from the forest on the island proper. Much of the hewn stone surface was covered by several tables and chairs for the nearby restaurants-- many of them now upturned by the rush of people scampering away from the two hedgehogs that had just landed. Many of them scattered towards the bridges that led away, though most remained near the edges of the building-- unwilling to make an escape as it would bring them closer to the battling duo.

Shadow turned back to see the sharp crystalline hand rushing towards his face, overflowing with lightning that blinded his vision. With a sharp snap he was sent flying back, crashing into one of the trees that began to shrivel and whither as the decaying energy traveled into it. The screams intensified as the black and red hedgehog burst through the thick trunk of the tree, sailing back and crashed onto the hard ground. The momentum sent him rolling, the decapitated tree trunk crushing into his stomach and pinning him down.

Another haughty laugh seeped out of Mephiles’ form as he slowly sauntered forward. He paid no mind to the people who scrambled away as he passed them, eyes solely trained on his prey.

“Come now, Shadow.” It calmly chided, the sharp points of its legs creating cracks in the marble as it continued moving forward. “Your anger compels you to fight, yes? Then get up.”

The Ultimate Lifeform gritted his teeth, heaving as he pushed the heavy log of wood off him. He rolled to the side, letting out a burst of air from his shoes that allowed him to spin in place. He kicked down towards the ground, using the momentum to quickly jump to his feet.

“That’s more like it.” Mephiles hissed, its muzzle contorting as if to form a grin with its nonexistent mouth. “Tell me, how does it feel knowing that you have yet again become the cause of Sonic’s suffering?”

Shadow felt his body trembling as the words wormed their way into his skull. He clenched his fists, snarling furiously at his adversary.

“That is your fault!” He growled, feeling the unbridled rage boil over his form and cascade down his body.

I was imprisoned inside you.” The crystalline hedgehog corrected, shaking its head. “Had it not been by your own hand, I would have never been able to escape. If you weren’t here... none of this would have happened.”

“Shut. UP!”

Shadow blasted forward, Chaos Spear formed in hand and gripped tightly. With a mighty roar, he plunged the weapon directly into Mephiles’ chest, passing through him with little resistance and impaling itself into the ground below. Adrenaline coursed through his system as he watched the entity fall limp, a twisted grin forming on his own face as the prospect of him finally disposing of this evil beast came into his mind.

That smile was wiped from his face as the parasitic entity raised its head once more, its laugh bouncing through his head as it reached up to grab him by the wrists. He leapt back, barely escaping the attempted grapple as it set its sights on the energy spear embedded into its chest.

With little effort it wrapped its hands around the bolt of energy, pulling it out of the ground and ripping it from its body.

“How--”

“Don’t you remember, Shadow? My existence is one that should not exist. How could you expect conventional attacks to harm me?” It shook its head before lolling it to the side. Its sickly green irises swiveled in their sockets, staring down the black and red hedgehog from the corner of its eyes.

“I would have hoped that you would understand that, given that you and I are similar in that manner.”

“...What?”

“Is it not obvious?” It asked, straightening its back as it pointed accusingly at the hybrid. “You were a scientific abomination made of a genocidal alien race and an old man’s pastiche of an ancient Echidna mural. Your immortality defies the very laws of nature. You cause discord and suspicion everywhere you go, because everyone around you instinctively recognizes you as something that does not belong. You should not exist, just like me.”

“...That’s not true.” He quickly rebutted, despite his voice sounding weaker than he intended. He took in a deep breath, clenching a fist against the puff of fur on his chest. “If you are truly in my head, then you would know that there are those who do not believe that.”

“Ah yes, we could never forget Professor Robotnik... and your precious Maria, of course.” Mephiles languidly replied, resting a solitary claw against its cheek. “Though I must wonder how much the former truly thought as much. If he truly thought that of you, then why did he rewrite your memories to force you to destroy the world and take yourself with it? Are those the actions of a man who thought you deserved to exist?”

Shadow’s eyes widened, his fists clenching as he bared his teeth.

The crystalline beast continued.

“And what of Maria? The desperately lonely girl whose scant moments of life were spent in the company of a living weapon. You wanted nothing but a normal life for her, but can you really say that her thoughts of you would remain intact if she was not confined to that metal hell in space?”

“Don’t you dare sully her name.” The hybrid growled, eyes burning in rage.

“What, like you have?” Mephiles taunted, taking a step forward as it sneered. “You didn’t just fail to cure her-- the only reason you were created. She took a bullet for you, the creature who cannot die. She dragged her crippled body, bleeding and suffering, to the escape hatch to allow your escape-- which you failed yet again. The only thing you can cling to is a memory of her begging you not to hate humanity--"

Shadow didn’t let the creature finish its scathing lecture. He practically ripped the emerald from his quills, clutching it tight enough to cut into his hand as he felt its energy rush into him. It began to blend in with his furor, tinting the edges of his vision red as the boundaries between the supernatural energy and the rage-induced adrenaline amalgamated.

The black and red hedgehog disappeared in a green flash, reappearing directly behind the crystalline beast. It spun around just as he launched a massive uppercut to his chin, sending the creature flying straight up into the air.

He didn’t wait for him to come down. As Mephiles reached his apex in the air, he teleported right above him, clutching the emerald with both his hands as he pulled his arms back behind his head. He brought them rushing downwards, slamming them directly into the evil creature’s head. Pouring as much rage as he could into the gem in that instant, he watched as it glowed brilliantly before expelling all its excess energy into a massive Chaos Blast that set the sky ablaze.

Shadow watched as Mephiles was sent flying to the ground. Letting out another roar, he began launching a volley of spears down towards the malevolent being. Just as it crashed to the ground, it was immediately impaled by the energy bolts, sinking gruesomely into its limbs.

Not satisfied, the hybrid rushed downwards, slamming down into the pinned creature. A huge cloud of atomized rock blew up into the air, cracks spidering out onto the ground as Shadow’s feet crashed into the crystalline hedgehog’s chest.

He felt himself fall to his knees, unbridled rage still coursing through him as he began to wildly wail onto Mephiles’ face, his grunts becoming more and more feral as each blow caused the creature’s head to fling from one side to the other. His eyes narrowed onto the pinned entity, silencing everything else until he was totally consumed with the absolute annihilation of this thing beneath him. Not even his sense of time was spared, the passing of seconds fading away until his only idea of how long he had been there was defined by the number of strikes he imparted on his adversary.

He wasn’t sure how long he had stayed like that, continuing his furious beatdown. His limbs burned, his throat ached, and the constant rage continued to boil away within him. With a final scream, he brought his fist back, slamming the right hook into Mephiles’ muzzle and hoping it would, by some miracle, cave the monster’s skull in.

The entity let out another peal of hideous laughter, only heightening Shadow’s silent rage.

“Yes... Yes... That’s the Shadow I know you to be.” It sneered, tilting its eyes to look back at the hedgehog who still had his fist planted against its face.

The hybrid snarled, unwilling to respond to the beast’s provocations. It continued regardless.

“Look around, weapon. Witness those who were able to see what you really are.”

Shadow felt a chill run down his spine as the words settled against his brain. His heart froze as he slowly pulled back, staring at the tattered gloves that barely clung to his hands. He slowly turned his head, peering over his shoulder as he stared back at the other end of the plaza.

The bystanders who had not been able to escape were still as stone, deathly silent as they stared back at him with a look of unbridled terror in their eyes. He watched as children who met his gaze recoiled, hiding behind the legs of the adults next to them. Even the royal guardsmen who had placed themselves in front had their hands on their weapons, taking the slightest steps back as if they were concerned they would be his next target.

They all had the same look Tails had given him.

The crackling sound of the Chaos Spears dissipated caught his attention, but by then it was far too late. He turned his head just in time for Mephiles’ hands to slam onto the sides of his skull, claws burrowing in and piercing his flesh. He didn’t even have time to cry out in pain before the crystalline creature blasted him with a massive storm of black lightning, coursing through his brain and causing his body to spasm uncontrollably as he was slowly pushed back.

His limbs grew numb and limp, and before he knew it the malevolent entity was towering over him, its eyes growing with a mad glee as it continued its assault.

“Immortal being that you are, you are immune to the decay my energy brings.” It stated plainly, before tilting its head and bending over to whisper in Shadow’s ear.

“...But that doesn’t mean I can’t make it hurt.”

NO!

Shadow barely registered the frantic cry as his vision blurred. He watched as something crashed into Mephiles’ side, knocking it back and releasing its grip on the black and red hedgehog.

He felt himself slowly crumple to the ground like a discarded puppet, head lolling and crashing into the cracked marble as vision began to tunnel.

He desperately tried to keep his eyes open, but any attempt to make sense of the visual noise was useless. He couldn’t tell where the colors ended and the shapes began, only worsening as his eyelids slowly closed.

With the last bit of his consciousness, he begged his rescuer to stay safe, and for his own recovery to be quick enough to keep them from fighting this beast alone.

Notes:

Nothing like listening to horror choir and Death Grips instrumentals to get the right tone down. Hope you all enjoyed it so far! I was honestly debating delaying this chapter to write some more scenes, but I feel like this is a good cliffhanger moment. I'll be sure to completely ruin it by making the next chapter a completely unrelated slice-of-life scene that will diffuse all the tension that's been built up.

Please let me know what you thought of it in the comments! I look forward to giving you all a continuation as soon as my fingers allow. Thanks!

Chapter 34

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

For once in his life, Tails felt grateful for all the physical training of his twin namesakes that Sonic had pestered him into. While he couldn’t skip across the ocean surface like his older brother could, the strength and endurance he had gained was enough to carry him the handful of miles between the island nation of Soleanna and the mainland continent. He could feel his rear muscles begin to ache, but with the coastline in sight there was little doubt he had that he would make it.

He looked down to see a familiar blue bolt race in the opposite direction, rocketing past him with enough speed to blow a fine salty mist in the air. He winced as it stung at his eyes, pushing forward to rendezvous with the princess. Sonic was no doubt returning to aid Shadow against... whatever this ‘Mephiles’ thing was.

He tried to quell the anxiety digging into his heart at the sight of the creature that made its presence known in the castle. There were too many unknowns already; its true intentions still seemed utterly alien to the young inventor, let alone the circ*mstances of its arrival. It was so unlike anything they’ve faced before-- he found himself almost wishing he was fighting against Eggman instead.

He shook his head, doing his best to push the thoughts out of his head as his eyes settled on the coastline. Elise was standing tall against the beach, heels dug in the sand as she looked down at a device in her hands. Her attention was only torn away as the whooshing sound of Tails’ helicoptering namesakes drew near.

“How are you?” He called out, slowing his descent to land smoothly on the white sands.

The princess looked back down at her phone, biting her lip as she read the status updates that came in.

“It appears that evacuation of the Castle Town is underway... and that Shadow has engaged Mephiles at the fountain square.” She gently replied, sighing as she let her hands drop.

“I see...” Tails shifted uncomfortably, grimacing as he tried to think of something to say. He looked down at his minicomputer, pulling up a map with some pins drawn on them. “Some friends of ours are on the way-- about two hours if they maintain their current speed.”

“...That won’t be fast enough.” The princess’ voice faltered. She looked out to the horizon, gazing at her island, its outline just barely peeking over the horizon.

The fox shook his head, taking a step towards her as he clenched his fists.

“I’m sure Sonic and Shadow will be able to hold out long enough!” He reaffirmed, his voice more forceful than he would have liked.

“If the Mephiles here is anything like the one I learned of, they won’t.” She shook her head. “He only draws things out when he is the one in control.”

The two stood there quietly for a moment, staring back out at Elise’s nation as they pondered their next action. It was the princess who eventually spoke up, her voice dim but determined.

“...We need to go back. I know what to do.”

“Wha--” Tails sputtered, looking back at her with wide eyes. “After Sonic just got you out of there?!”

“I won’t be going to Castle Town.” She quickly corrected, a fire burning in her eyes as she turned back to him. “We know what Mephiles wants-- we can use that against him. We need to head to New City.”

“...I’m sorry.” The fox grimaced, nervously rubbing his shoes into the sand. “I... don’t have the energy to carry both of us there.”

“Not a problem.” She quickly replied, walking past him down the coastline. “There’s a fishery co-op not too far from here that pays us for the rights to fish in our waters. We can just borrow one of their vessels. Even a small motorboat would do.”

“H-Hey! Wait!” Tails stammered out, kicking his namesakes up to fly to the woman’s side. “Are you sure about this? What if you get hurt? That guy said there won’t be anyone to lead them if you--”

“Agent Moretti is well-intentioned, but I realize now that I cannot agree with him.” She cut him off, continuing her march down the beach. “Soleanna will continue to exist whether or not I live. But there will be no Soleanna if everyone dies for my sake.”

The fox took a deep breath in, letting out a small “okay” as he exhaled. He looked back at Elise, mirroring her determination as they took off.

“Let me bring you up to speed on everything, then.” He replied, a newfound confidence in his voice. “And if you don’t mind, please tell me everything you know about this other timeline.”

Sonic could barely keep his breath in his lungs as he raced across the still waters of the ocean. He felt his brow furrow as he looked towards the rapidly approaching town, a small bit of relief flowing through him that the place still seemed largely intact.

He threw his hand out to the side, catching one of the brilliantly colored canal poles that sprung up out of the water. Using his momentum he spun around the pole’s lacquered surface, pulling himself up and flinging himself onto the stone surface of the Castle Town corridors.

The streets themselves were densely packed with the townsfolk, most of whom were rushing away from Sonic at the behest of the military guiding them towards the island proper. It wasn’t long before the streets were completely deserted, the only signs of life being the rapidly receding chattering and the random items that had been left on the abandoned bridges and terrace tables.

The hero’s ears twitched as a muffled booming noise ripped through the streets, sending a just barely perceptible tremble through the ground. His ears twitched as he tried to discern its direction, but to little avail. Hoping to get a better vantagepoint, he rushed towards a nearby bistro, spring-boarding off one of the chairs and tables out in the front and using the building’s awning like a trampoline to propel him onto the roof.

His eyes quickly narrowed in on a brilliant green flash that bounced off the facades of a plaza on the other end of the town. Wasting little time he rushed forward, leaping to and from the rooftops as he tried to keep his eyes on his destination. He watched as another flash burst into the air, followed by the familiar sight of a hellfire volley of Chaos Spears.

Another tremor rolled through the city, forcing Sonic to skid to a stop as he watched the courtyard fill with a plume of dust. He felt himself cough hoarsely as he breathed in some of the floating grime, his eyes singing as he furiously waved it away. Luckily, it didn’t affect him for too long, and he was able to see the ground once more--

Sonic’s heart froze into place as the sights beneath him became clear. Mephiles had been brutally impaled countless times into the ground, apparently helpless as Shadow knelt over him. The hybrid’s eyes were full of uncontrollable rage as he ceaselessly wailed into the creature, each blow accompanied by a guttural growl or grunt more fitting for a feral predator than a sentient being.

The blue hedgehog’s eyes grew wide as his breath hitched. He felt himself taking a step back, unable to tear his vision from the violent scene playing beneath him. His mind flashed with images he wished he didn’t have to remember-- the only other time that Shadow had ever looked like that.

Westopolis.

The hero clutched at his chest, clenching his eyes tightly shut and trying to control his breathing as the memories of that horrific day bled into his consciousness. He was there, unable to stop anything as the carnage played out around him. He could feel the heat of the orbital blasts once more as he chased Shadow down the streets, desperately reaching to stop him but unable to do anything as he continued to mercilessly destroy everyone who stood in his way. The sense of raw confusion and betrayal he felt clung to his ribcage, manifesting as a sharp pain that felt as if he had been stabbed with a blade.

He wasn’t fast enough then. He wasn’t strong enough.

And the fact he had to rely on that stupid chaos emerald to even move now didn’t help.

His eyes shot open as the sounds of lightning cracked through the air like a whip. He scrambled forward, looking over the edge of the roof down at the plaza once more.

Mephiles now stood over Shadow, clutching the hybrid’s head with both hands as it poured an ungodly amount of lightning into him. The hero could see his rival’s body spasm and give out, hanging limply in the entity’s grasp.

“NO!”

Sonic could feel his throat sting from the hysterical yell that burst from his throat. He could feel his heart quickly kickstart back to life, beating as furiously as a war drum and flooding his body with an adrenaline rush that burned his skin.

He leapt forward, feeling his sense of time slow down as he curled into a ball and aimed himself at the crystalline beast.

He cursed himself for his momentary falter. Physical injury be damned. He would not allow himself to fail.

Not this time. Whatever it takes.

He felt Mephiles’ spikes dig into his skin as he crashed into the malevolent entity’s side. He gritted his teeth, silently hissing as he continued to spin forward, sending him and his adversary skidding across the plaza and into the walls of one of the nearby buildings. He could feel the brick and mortar begin to crumble from the impact, and with a mighty kick in the crystalline hedgehog’s stomach sent it flying through the building, where it crashed through multiple segments of drywall and stucco. He watched as a part of the building collapsed in on the creature, burying it and covering the immediate area with another plume of dust from the debris.

Sonic turned back around to see the group of Soleannians who had been trapped at the back wall of the plaza. They remained frozen in place, staring quietly at the unfolding scene like a herd of deer in headlights.

“What are you waiting for?!” Sonic called out, pointing at one of the nearby bridges leading deeper into the island. “Hurry up and go!”

The hedgehog’s sharp words seemed to spark the Royal Guard to life, who quickly rounded up and escorted the remaining civilians as they rushed away. It was only a brief moment before the courtyard was completely cleared, allowing him to breathe a small sigh of relief.

His ears twitched as a laugh began to rumble from within the building. He could feel the air grow cold around him as the raucous cackling grew in intensity. He instinctively leapt backwards, his hand rushing to his chest as if to feel that it was still intact. The hero shook his head, brushing away the foggy memory of his death.

“As expected, you always arrive when your presence is not warranted.” The creature’s voice echoed, a clear hint of disdain in its voice.

Sonic did his best to shove down his less heroic emotions as he cracked a grin.

“Well, I guess the cops and I have that in common.”

The blue hedgehog watched as the inside of the residential building began to crackle with purple-black lightning, its arcs growing longer as it continued to grow across every surface it touched like a dark spider web. The hero’s nose burned with the scent of ozone as the building was quickly consumed, crumbling away until almost nothing remained.

Floating out of the atomized rubble came the crystalline creature, who effortlessly floated above the air with its arms outstretched.

“You may be able to fool others, but I can smell the fear in the air.” It taunted, sickly green eyes growing brighter. “You know you cannot defeat me. Not in your state.”

Sonic felt his eye twitch as he brought his clenched fists up.

“If I wanted a lecture from a moody hedgehog, I’d wake up the one I actually like.” He quipped, jerking his head towards the unconscious Shadow. “Now come on!”

The blue hedgehog rushed forward, eyes squarely trained on the unmoving Mephiles. Planting his foot on an errant chunk of rubble, he launched himself into the air curling into a tightly spinning ball before throwing one of his feet out for a mighty kick--

He blinked in surprise as the crystalline beast caught his leg, claws digging into his flesh as it turned and flung him forward, redirecting the hero’s momentum to slam him into the ground.

Sonic quickly rolled over, clutching his muzzle in pain as he hoarsely coughed. He wheezed loudly, struggling to regain the air that was knocked out of his lungs from the impact. He opened his eyes, feeling another surge of energy rush through him as the sight of Mephiles’ outstretched hand filled his vision. He kicked backwards, sliding out of the way before flipping back onto his feet. He winced, looking down to see the deep scratched that the malevolent entity had left from his last attack.

“Don’t hurt yourself too much, hero.” Mephiles taunted, slowly sauntering forward. “I need you alive and healthy.”

“...What?” The blue hedgehog stepped back, clearly confused. “Why?”

“Is it not obvious?” The crystalline beast paused, tilting its head. “If you were incapacitated, you would cease your efforts in hurting Shadow.”

“What on Gaia's Earth are you talking about?!” Sonic exclaimed, an indignant anger overcoming him. “I would never--”

“Oh, but you have.” The creature cut him off. “Are you not familiar with the Hedgehog’s Dilemma? It’s rather aptly named.”

“The only dilemma I have is figuring out how to best wipe the floor with you.” Sonic hissed back, clenching his fists tighter.

Mephiles only shook its head, not willing to engage with the blue hedgehog’s comebacks.

“Hedgehogs are compelled to huddle together during the winter to share warmth. However, doing so would mean they could not avoid hurting each other with their quills.” The entity explained, idly flexing its claws in front of its face. “It’s a metaphor, of sorts-- in order to open oneself to the possibility of affection, one must also open themselves to the possibility of harm.”

The blue hedgehog felt his eye twitch, frustration growing within him as he kept his defensive stance up. His mind screamed at him to simply cast aside anything the creature was saying... but there was a part of him that gave him a momentary pause. Deep within his thoughts, there was a part of him that knew exactly what point Mephiles was getting at... and with it came a chilling fear that he didn’t want to acknowledge.

“Enough!” The hero angrily yelled, rushing forward. He leapt into the air, curling up into a tight ball as he rushed towards the beast--

The crystalline hedgehog snapped its hand out, snatching Sonic clean out of the air. Its clawed fingers effortlessly wormed its way into the hero’s compacted form, wrapping around his neck and forcing him to stop his assault as he let out a choked ‘grrk!’

Sonic felt the grip around his neck grow tighter, cutting off his airflow. His own hands clutched at Mephiles’ arm, trying to tear it away to little avail. The hero’s eyes widened as he saw the malevolent beast plunge its free hand in his quills. He kicked wildly, both hands relinquishing their grasp to reach back and bat the searching arm away...

But it was too late. He could feel Mephiles’ grab the Chaos Emerald in his possession. In an instant it was yanked away, his limbs falling limply to his sides as he struggled to stare back at the blood red and toxic green eyes that bored into him.

The crystalline beast’s grip loosened, allowing Sonic to breathe once more as they stood there. Keeping him suspended in the air, Mephiles walked him towards the other end of the courtyard, stopping just short of the canal.

“Now, allow me to dispose of this crutch of yours.” It taunted, eyes focused squarely on him as it held the yellow Chaos Emerald over the surface of the water. “It’s not as if you liked it anyway.”

Sonic could only watch as the gem slipped from the malevolent entity’s fingers, tumbling helplessly into the deep blue waters. He could feel his heart sink as it plummeted downwards, its glow slowly fading from sight.

“You won’t...” He choked out, barely able to speak with the hand clutching at his neck. “...get away... with this...”

“Oh, but I will.” Mephiles corrected, slowly receding from the water’s edge. “Now that your temper tantrum is dealt with... shall we continue?”

The blue hedgehog could only quietly glare down at the entity holding him aloft, unwilling to entertain him further.

“You said it yourself, you are cruel and selfish when you want to be. And I was trapped in his heart, forced to experience every bit of his emotions as you toyed with him.”

It paused for a moment, leaning in so that its eyes were the only things Sonic could see.

“Even before your little spat in Shamar, you were at work tearing down his defenses, so desperately wanting to receive his affection to make up for a love you never had.” It hissed, an undertone of glee breaking through as it saw the hero’s eyes widen. “You won, of course... you broke him open, tearing down every lock and chain he had carefully placed around his heart. You left him vulnerable and exposed, like a chick pulled from its egg. You taught him the warmth of your embrace so much that he can’t help but crave it. And yet...”

With a rough heave, the blue hedgehog was tossed aside, landing roughly next to Shadow’s own limp body. The black and red hedgehog’s features were contorted, a look of sadness etched into his unconscious face.

Sonic’s attention was drawn back to Mephiles as the creature slowly floated behind the hybrid’s body, kneeling down and lifting his head into its lap. It slowly raked its claws through his quills, each stroke causing his features to grow even more pained.

“...In your foolish endeavors to make him love you, you also taught him the pain and fear of rejection. How sad his existence is now, that all he wants is to be accepted by the world that wholeheartedly wants nothing to do with him. And it’s all thanks to you. Had it not been for that, I never would have even been able to escape my confinement within him.”

Let him go.” The hero growled, baring his teeth at the entity in front of him.

“I will soon enough, don’t you worry.” The crystalline beast shook its head. “Believe me, I wouldn’t dare to destroy this relationship you have built with him. You’re the perfect poison for each other, clutching together tightly, licking each other’s wounds as you continue to carve more deeply into each other.”

Shadow let out a groan of pain as his eyelids twitched, his lips pulling back into a grimace as he began to stir awake.

“Sh-Shadow?” Sonic called out, his attention wholly focused on the hybrid. “Wake up, man!”

“...So...nic?”

Mephiles slowly pushed the black and red hedgehog’s head forward, watching as it slumped to the ground in a heavy thud.

“Now, now... He’ll be awake when he’s required to be.” The malevolent entity shook its head, getting up as it walked back to the blue hedgehog. “But until then, allow me to give you some parting words regarding Shadow’s future.”

The crystalline creature grabbed the hero by the neck once again, pulling him back up to its eye level. Sonic could only watch as the two began to float up into the air, higher and higher until the Castle Town beneath them resembled a miniature set.

Mephiles held out his free hand, purple energy crackling between his clawed fingers and coalescing into a swirling black orb that pulsed as it seemingly consumed the light around it.

Sonic hadn’t ever seen anything like it before, but it wasn’t a hard guess as to what it was.

Antimatter.

“Sonic the Hedgehog, you might be pleased to know that Shadow is destined to win his confrontation with me. However, if that comes to pass...”

The evil beast pulled the blue hedgehog inwards, bringing his ear right against its featureless muzzle as it whispered the words to him.

The hero felt his eyes widen, face contorting to a snarl as he tried to jerk his head away from the creature to little effect.

“You... liar!” He barked, a mixture of anger and fear overcoming him. “I won’t... let that happen!”

“If that is the case, then there’s only one thing you need to do-- make Shadow lose.”

He didn’t give the chance for Sonic to respond as the crystalline entity loosened its grip, allowing the blue hedgehog to slip from its hand. A furious scream pulled itself from the hero’s throat as he plummeted towards the ground.

Mephiles watched coldly as its adversary’s form slowly shrank away. He let the orb of antimatter roll off his fingers, following the hedgehog’s descent. Now freed of his burdens, he set his sights on the rest of the island, finally settling his vision on New City.

Sonic felt his body slowly rotate in the air; his heavy head now pointed squarely at the ground as his limbs dragged uselessly behind him. His heart pounded furiously in his chest, growing only stronger as the stone ground rapidly approached, threatening to leave him splattered like a bug on a windshield.

Shadow?!” He called out with all his might, clenching his eyes shut. “SHADOW!”

He desperately hoped the sound would reach the ground before he did. His eyes snapped open again, his sense of time slowing to a crawl as he rocketed past the rooftops. The ground quickly came up to meet him, ready to crush his face in--

Just as he was about to hit the stone ground, he saw a pair of hands fill his vision. They were black and red, torn gloves just barely hanging on as they slowly grabbed at his body, quickly pulling him into a familiar set of arms.

Sonic looked up to see a terrified Shadow, clutching him tightly against his chest. He could see a momentary expression of pain flash across the hybrid’s face as his knees bent from the force of his partner’s fall, wiped away just as soon as it appeared.

The cerulean hero felt a torrent of emotions wildly surge through him as he tried to make sense of everything. He felt... messed up, broken apart... physically, mentally, emotionally...

Mephiles was full of sh*t. Elise was right in not giving it a chance to speak-- nothing good could ever come from giving its words the time of day.

And yet...

Sonic’s eyes widened as his eyes snapped towards the rapidly approaching orb of antimatter that the malevolent entity had dropped-- aimed right at Shadow.

“Look out!”

The hybrid turned his head just in time to see the orb careen past his vision, slamming into his back. He yelped out in pain, a searing pain plunging into him as it rolled down his spine.

The blue hedgehog’s stomach churned, everything happening too quickly to form words. He could only hope that Shadow’s wit was fast enough to get them out of there before it hit the ground.

“Chaos Contr--”

It was then that the ball of antimatter collided with the stone pavement.

In that very instant, the entire Castle Town was enveloped in a brilliantly white blast. It continued to grow, seeping into the ocean and overtaking much of the mountainside that sheltered the district.

When the explosion finally dissipated, nothing remained.

Notes:

Seems to be a recurring pattern for me that I plan on writing out a number of scenes but end up delaying stuff to next chapter because I already wrote so much. Hope you enjoyed the battle! Next chapter should be the conclusion, so please look forward to seeing how it wraps up.

Let me know what you thought of this one! I kept having a back and forth because I kept feeling like maybe I wasn't getting the wording right. Honestly I'm not sure how I managed to get this one out as fast as I did with that because normally that kind of internal conflict usually delays it by quite a bit.

I look forward to bringing you more content soon!

Chapter 35

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Tails had to admit, his current circ*mstances with Elise were a strange sight to behold. The fox and human woman were on a small crabbing boat, just barely big enough for the two of them. The floor of the vessel was covered in muck and well-used tools, ranging from stained nets on wooden poles to metallic hoops covered in mesh. In the back were two faux-leather seats, seams bursting open and exposing the yellow padding beneath. Atop one of those seats was the princess of Soleanna, looking just as elegant and refined as ever as she stared out at the horizon towards her domain.

From their distance, it was difficult to tell if anything was going on. The city-state seemed as tranquil as ever, its historic district standing proud against the waters as it jutted up against the forest-covered mountains. Along the other end was their destination-- New City. It certainly sported a more modern complexion-- the buildings stoutly planted against the solid ground. He could just barely make out the warehouses that hid themselves behind the office and retail buildings that made up the space.

The young inventor swallowed thickly as he tried to quell the anxiety welling within his stomach. Neither hedgehog had given any kind of status report, leaving him in the dark. He could only hope that things turned out okay.

He shook his head, tilting the tiller on the motorboat further. The nose of the boat began to tilt upwards slightly, kicking more water behind them as the engine revved up to its maximum speed. He could only hope that there weren’t any complications as they continued to move.

“So, uh...” Tails trailed off, clearing his throat as he raised his voice over the low roar of the engines. “...I don’t think we finished talking about the other timeline. After Sonic helped beat Solaris, what happened?”

Elise turned back, her naturally soft tone just barely overcoming the motor.

“You worked with Eggman to see if we salvage what was left of our reality. While you were off doing that, I spoke with Shadow and Silver and learned about their adventures.”

She paused, cupping her hands around her mouth to make herself better heard as she continued.

“Solaris had consumed too much, so we had to abandon that project. Sonic and I traveled back in time instead. I got us through the security systems in the aquatic base to the chamber where Solaris’ first flame was being held. It took a little convincing, but we realized there wasn’t any other choice but to blow it out. Once that happened, Solaris and his split halves ceased to exist, which erased the old timeline and set this one on its current path.”

Tails nodded quietly, turning to look at the rapidly approaching docks of New City. He let go of the throttle, allowing them to drift smoothly into one of the open spaces. The fox jumped out of the seat, flying towards the wooden pier and holding out his hand. The princess graciously took it, stepping out of the vessel and back onto her island.

“It sucks that there wasn’t another way.” He mused, looking off to the side. “Chaos sounded a bit like that, though we managed to calm him down. He... had a lot of hate in his heart, but he’s changed quite a bit.”

“I wish it could be so.” Elise nodded, momentarily looking out towards the setting sun. “I... often wonder if the prophecy of his destructiveness was solely due to the abuse he suffered at our hands. Perhaps he could have been a kind and caring god, warm and nourishing like the summer sun he represents.”

“...If you had the chance, would you go back and try?”

The princess let out a heavy sigh, her shoulders sinking slightly as she turned around and walked away from the ocean waters.

“I don’t know. For now, I am content with accepting the consequences of my actions. Perhaps a part of that is why Mephiles is here.”

Tails paused for a moment, wringing his wrists as he nibbled on his lower lip.

“I still don’t get how it was hiding in Shadow.” He muttered, spinning his twin namesakes to catch up with the Soleannian woman.

“I can only guess it has something to do with the fact it was resurrected through his shade. But let’s save this conversation for another time. We should hurry.”

Tails nodded, idly looking around as he followed the princess. The streets were largely empty, creating ominous echoes that sharply bounced around as her high heels struck firmly against the cobblestone pavement.

“...Where is everyone?”

“Everyone in Castle Town is currently being relocated to the main castle in Kingdom Valley.” She quickly replied. “Everyone here has been escorted to the warehouse district-- we have a fleet of boats at the ready to take them off the island. It’s not too far away. We’ll only be there for a moment-- I need to pick something up.”

“Sure...” The fox trailed off, still unsure of her plans but continuing to go with them. At the very least, if she got in over her head, he could fly them both out.

They turned the corner, the small alley between buildings giving way to a large throughway that led to a set of iron gates. In front were a number of Royal Guardsmen, standing shoulder-to-shoulder to block all entry. Standing before them was another man, clad in a black suit with short-trimmed hair. His eyes widened upon seeing the princess, and in that instant, he rushed forward, moving at inhuman speed to meet her.

“Your Grace!” He called out, bowing deeply. “I heard you had evacuated--”

“I did, Commander Pavan.” She gently cut him off, holding her hand up as she urgently pressed forward. “Circ*mstances have changed. Any recent developments?”

He nodded. “We’ve concluded our sweep of New City. We just received a report of a group who had been trapped in Castle Town that just made it to the forest. Rough headcount leaves about fifty people unaccounted for, but it’s possible that they were already off-island.”

“Let’s hope that it was convenient timing on their part. Have a squad do a final search of both regions-- and comb the forest, too.”

“Ma’am.” He saluted, heels clicking to attention. “What about you?”

“I will deal with the threat myself.” She replied, holding her hand out. “I am going to need your weapon.”

The man’s eyes widened, his mouth hanging open in shock as he tried to process her request.

“Your Grace, whatever you have planned--”

She immediately shook her head, not allowing him to object any further.

“Your candor is appreciated, but I do not have the luxury of arguing this with you. I don’t have to remind you that I am still the commander-in-chief of the Soleannian military.”

Commander Pavan glanced over at Tails, whose own gaze quickly shied away. He let out a discontented huff, pulling his pistol out of its holster. He let it rest flat against his palm, the grip pointed towards the princess.

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“...Me too.” She replied, gingerly grabbing the weapon from her subordinate. “Let me know when operations have completed.”

“Ma’am.” He chirped, saluting once more as she turned and walked away.

Tails quickly followed her, looking around to see the coast was clear as they walked through the streets.

“...A gun.” He questioned her, furrowing his brow in confusion. “...I don’t think you’re going to be able to hurt him with that.”

“It’s not for him.” She quietly acknowledged, keeping her finger off the trigger as she tightened her grip.

“Well, what--”

His words were cut off as everything around them grew bright, causing them both to wince in pain as their eyes slammed shut. A wave of heat washed over them, burning their lungs.

The sensations felt horrifyingly familiar to Tails. It felt like one of his failed Chaos Energy experiments, if the catastrophe had been a magnitude stronger--

He felt himself gasp in the hot air, his blood running cold as he realized exactly what would happen next.

“Cover your ears!”

Just as the words left his mouth, a shockwave rocked the area, causing the ground to split as the air itself crackled around them. Tails could feel the raw sound waves blow through his frame, his bones creaking and vibrating as it ripped through him. He cracked an eye open just wide enough to see Elise in the blinding white light, gun discarded on the ground as her hands clutched at the side of her head. Her mouth was wide open, her screams completely drowned out by the overwhelming boom still reverberating through them. They both held tight, barely able to keep their balance as the rumbling began to subside.

Tails slowly lowered his hands, ears still ringing from the blast. He felt himself stumble forward; his equilibrium still upset as he looked back at the princess. He opened his mouth to speak.

“...ARE YOU OKAY?” He shouted, barely able to hear his own voice.

The princess looked back at him, nodding as tried to get her own bearings. Her eyes widened as she looked up, pointing off into the distance.

The fox turned to see what she was pointing at, eyes widened as he saw the last bits of pure white energy dissipating from over the tops of the forest. An entire chunk of the mountainside had been scooped away, leaving it dented and bent from the force of the blast.

It was from Castle Town.

His heart nearly jumped in his throat as he realized what had happened. He quickly pulled out his minicomputer, pulling up his map and desperately hoping he would find what he needed...

He let out a sigh of relief, seeing Sonic and Shadow’s GPS markers appear on the map of Soleanna. They appeared to be somewhere within the Soleanna forest, a safe distance away from the blast site.

He looked back at Elise, turning the computer screen to show her the map. She looked back at him, silently nodding as she bent over and picked up the pistol she was given.

“Let’s go.”

“Sonic!”

“...Tails?” The blue hedgehog muttered, grunting in pain as the nerves of his immobilized limbs slowly came back to life. He felt his eyelids twitch, dragging across his sclera like sandpaper as he slowly wrenched them open. Everything seemed... darker than it should have been. He found himself blinking over and over, trying to clear his vision.

It was then that the hero realized just how much weight was pressing down on him. His lungs struggled to take in air, fighting against the force compressing his chest.

“What the--” He grunted, jerking his head back and forth to little avail. “Tails... buddy? Little help?”

He heard the sound of footsteps lightly padding up to him on the soft ground, stopping just short of his head.

“Hold on!” The fox reassured him. He let out a small ‘hup!’, and before the hedgehog knew it the weight had been rolled off to him, slumping into the ground next to him.

Sonic winced as the now unimpeded sunlight dug into his corneas. His vision went white, slowly sorting itself out until he could see the concerned face of his little brother hovering over him against a blue sky.

“Hey, little man.” He cracked a smile, his voice hoarse from the strain his attacker had put on his throat. “You okay?”

“Wha-- I should be asking you that!”

“I’m fine.” He grunted, closing his eyes as he let out a small laugh. He opened them back up, sighing as he saw the fox purse his lips with a clearly unimpressed look etched into his features. “...Okay. I’m not really all that fine. Where am I?”

“...Soleanna forest.” Tails replied, his expression softening.

“What?! You came back?”

“Of course I did!” He bit back at the hedgehog, his own scratchy voice cracking. “I was worried about you-- and Princess Elise was going to come back either way.”

“What?!” He exclaimed, eyes widening as he tried to swallow the pain building in his throat.

“...I apologize for your wasted efforts.” The princess softly replied. “But my presence is required here.”

Sonic turned his head towards the source of the voice, seeing the elegantly clad aristocracy bowing her head in apology.

“Wish you told me that sooner.” He sighed, rolling his head back upwards to look at his younger brother. “Where’s Shadow?”

“He’s...” The fox trailed off, looking next to him with a pensive look on his face. “...He was on top of you.”

He tilted his head over, feeling his insides churn as he looked at the black and red hedgehog next to him. He was breathing-- but only just barely. He looked absolutely beat up, covered in scratches and burns.

“Man, we...” He trailed off, a pained laughter rumbling from his chest. “We really lost, didn’t we?”

“...Can you get up?” Tails asked, slowly pulling the blue hedgehog up into a sitting position.

The hero felt his eyes widen, ears instantly flattening themselves as he turned his head away.

“Uh... I... can’t move my arms. Or legs.”

“...What?” The fox drew his hand back, quickly rushing forward again to hold his older brother up as he began to slump over. “Did Mephiles...?”

A stab of guilt ran through the blue hedgehog’s chest, his eyes slamming shut as he let out a deep breath.

He should have known it would catch up with him sooner or later. He just didn’t expect it to be this soon.

“No.” He replied plainly.

“Then what--”

“He’s here.” Elise cut the young child off, her head tilted towards the sky.

The two Mobians followed her line of sight, almost immediately drawn to the purple and black aura that slowly trailed its way across the sky.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Sonic coughed out, scowling at the floating figure. “Hasn’t he had enough--”

The hero yelped as a loud ‘bang!’ cracked through the air, stinging his ears and leaving them ringing. He looked back at the source of the noise to see the princess... holding a gun?

“What in Chaos’ name are you doing?!” He cried out loud, looking back at his just-as-surprised little brother.

“...I was getting its attention.”

Sonic felt his stomach plummet below the ground at her curt words.

“Elise, please. I don’t know what you have in mind, but a gun isn’t going to help things--”

“For once, I’m inclined to agree.”

The blue hedgehog felt his words die in his throat as the crystalline beast slowly descended, eyes trained squarely on the princess. Nestled precariously between its clawed fingers was a single lead bullet.

“Still, I must commend you for your bravery.” It tilted its head, unceremoniously letting the metal slug fall to the ground. “Have you reconsidered my offer? Not too many Soleannians have died yet.”

“...I’ve been considering a great deal of things since I learned of your return.” She admitted, her voice quieting as her firearm fell to her side. “Such as how your new powers have manifested.”

“...Oh?”

“I’ve yet to see you demonstrate your ability to manipulate time. In its stead, you can use your energy to accelerate the aging of anything you want. You can predict future events, but only to a certain point.” She took a deep breath in, steeling herself as she continued. “It left me wondering... Why don’t you remember anything, and why didn’t you know I retained my memories?”

The malevolent entity’s eyes began to glow a sickly green, slowly sauntering forward. With each step, the grass around its leg spikes withered away, leaving a brown trail in its wake.

“Pray tell, your highness. It changes nothing.”

“...You have become a parasite.” She stated simply. “You may be able to still see the future, but only from the perspectives of those you infest-- and only significant events, for that matter. You seem to be capable of limited manipulation of their bodies as well. However... the fact that you cannot simply take over my body implies that there must be some kind of consent obtained before you’re allowed to do so.”

Mephiles paused, its back straightening as it stared down the young princess.

“...Interesting.” It tilted its head, a small laugh pulsing outwards from its featureless muzzle. “What you have said may be true, but your perceptiveness only fuels your overconfidence.”

In an instant, the crystalline creature disappeared in a puff of smoke-- only to reappear next to Tails. It snatched the young kit off the ground, causing him to yelp in pain as its claws dug into the back of his neck.

“YOU LET HIM GO!” Sonic roared, his head struggling wildly as he fell back onto the ground.

“Or what, you’ll lie to him again?”

“I didn’t--”

“A lie by omission is still a lie, Sonic the Hedgehog.” Mephiles chided, shaking its head as it effortlessly carried the struggling fox away. “Especially one you forced Shadow into.”

“Put him down!” The hedgehog barked, baring his teeth with a fury that would rival the hybrid at his worst. “If you harm even one hair on his head--”

That will depend entirely on our dear princess.” It cut him off, placing the young child on the ground in front of Elise. It kept its grip firm on his neck, leaning down into his ear to whisper. “I promise you that you will not like the consequences if you attempt to escape.”

It held out its free hand, the hauntingly familiar black and purple lightning running down its arms and crackling wildly. Tails flinched, slamming his eyes shut as he tried to keep as still as possible.

“Well, your highness?” The crystalline beast taunted, slowly bringing the hand bursting with decaying energy slowly closer to the fox. “Your memories or the fox. What is your decision?”

“...Your weakness is the unknown.” She replied, taking a deep breath as she stared him down with a brilliant fire in her eyes. “You can’t predict anything when your hosts aren’t around to witness it. It’s why you aren’t trying to use your knowledge of the future against me-- instead relying on brute shows of force to get your way.”

She slowly raised the pistol, pressing the barrel squarely against her temple.

Mephiles halted its movement, its grip on Tails’ neck tightening.

“...What do you think you are doing?”

“You presented me with a choice. It’s only fair that I give you one of my own accord.” She replied, her voice calm as still waters. “If you harm any of my subjects or any of Sonic’s friends, then I will end my existence here and now. Any knowledge of the timeline in which you thrived and succeeded will be lost forever, and all your efforts here would be rendered meaningless.”

“And if I don’t?”

“...Then I will still be alive, and the possibility for you to acquire such knowledge will remain. Tell me, which reality would you prefer to live in, Mephiles the Dark?”

The crystalline entity stood still as stone, its blood red and acrid green gaze boring deeply into her. They stood in tense silence, their gazes locked in a fierce battle of determination.

“...You will do no such thing.” It finally spoke up, eyes glowing brightly as it lowered its energy-bathed hand back towards Tails. “I will start with him, then I will hunt down and destroy every single Soleannian citizen. And you will do nothing but watch, until you give in.”

“NO! I’LL... I’LL...” Sonic screamed, head wildly jerking back and forth, desperately trying to force his limbs to just move--

“Very well.” She sighed, closing her eyes. “Then if your decision is made, so is mine. But know that I do not make promises I don’t keep.”

Tails eyes widened, a terrified scream ripping out of his throat as he saw the princess’ finger squeeze on the trigger of the pistol. He watched it slowly bend back, almost resisting her before it finally gave way. The metal lever snapped back, causing the hammer at the end of the barrel to rush forward--

He stumbled forward as the clawed grip on his neck suddenly released. He caught his bearings just as another loud crack pierced the air, his heart freezing as the reality of the situation set in. He could feel his body trembling as he forced his head up, feeling as if he was about to throw up.

His eyes widened in abject shock at the scene before him. Elise still stood, her posture as proud and graceful as ever. Mephiles was right in front of her, floating in the air with its hand clutched tightly around the barrel of her gun. The fox could only watch as the gun quickly rusted away, staining her clothes with a fine red-orange powder. With the firearm gone, it pulled its hand back-- with the metal slug the princess had just fired held tightly in its claws.

With the crystalline beast’s decision made apparent, all that was left was for Elise to open her eyes. Her composure remained rock solid as she looked back towards her adversary, a knowing smile growing on her face.

Mephiles took a step back, descending back to the ground as it crunched the bullet within its fingers, grinding it to dust.

“I will admit that I was not expecting someone of your stature to have such tenacity.” The creature shook its head. “Perhaps I was influenced by the echoes of old memories that painted you as weak-willed and ineffectual.”

“Had we been in our old timeline, you would have been right.” Elise noted, her rust-stained hand falling to her side. “But I have learned a lot since then... it wouldn’t be wrong to say I learned from you in particular.”

“I’ll give you this victory, for calling my bluff.” It replied, pointing its finger back at the princess. “But do not think for a second that we are finished. Your memories are but a secondary objective of mine, only meant to satisfy my curiosity. Regardless of your memories, I will take great pleasure in breaking that spirit of yours with my own hands.”

“No matter what you might try, I will not give in.” She defiantly declared, keeping her burning gaze squarely focused on the crystalline beast.

Mephiles returned her stare, tilting his head.

“We shall see. In one months’ time, my plans will come to fruition. I look forward to visiting you then, and seeing how rebellious you may be when the corpses of your kingdom are laid at your feet.”

Tails quietly took a step back, eyes widening at the timeline that had been set by the malevolent entity. Almost as if sensing the shift of his weight, the creature whirled around, sickly green eyes bearing down on him.

“And where exactly do you think you’re going?” It hissed, flying forward and stopping just short of the fox.

“You said you wouldn’t harm him!” Elise angrily cried out.

“Oh, of course I’m not going to harm him. I was simply going to leave him some parting words, that is all.”

“Tails, no!” Sonic cried out, his voice cracking as he lay helpless against the ground. “Don’t listen to anything he says!”

A laugh rumbled from Mephiles’ featureless muzzle as it gingerly grabbed the fox by his shoulders, gently turning him around and walking him over to face the two incapacitated hedgehogs.

“You’re free to take his advice, but would you really listen to someone who lies to you?”

“He-- No! Sonic would never!” Tails angrily shouted, trying with little effect to wrench himself out of the malevolent beast’s grasp.

“Oh, is that so?” It replied, mock concern in its voice as it turned its head towards the blue hedgehog. “Well, Sonic? Would you?”

The fox continued to struggle, only to feel his movements slowing as a chill came over him. He looked back at his older brother, confusion growing in his eyes as he realized that no answer came.

“...Sonic?”

Another laugh reverberated through the crystalline beast, vibrations carried through its arms and running through the young child’s smaller frame.

“He never told you how bad he was really off, did he? That his brain was still heavily damaged from his suffocation? That he couldn’t even move without a Chaos Emerald in his possession?”

“...What?”

“In fact, the only one to know about this was our dear Shadow.” He replied, watching as Tails’ wide blue eyes slowly dragged their way over to the black and red hedgehog. “Don’t blame him too much, however. Sonic was the one who convinced him to keep it a secret. Though one could say he was at fault for making that choice in the first place.”

“...Tails, it wasn’t like that--”

“It wasn’t like what, did you just not trust him?”

“No! I... I just...”

Mephiles just shook its head, leaning over as it poured more poisoned words into the fox’s ear.

“They’re destroying each other. I know you’ve seen it.”

It continued, pointing his claw at Shadow.

“The one who chases who he could never be...”

It slowly dragged his finger over to Sonic, watching closely as Tails silently followed its instruction.

“...and the one who chases what he couldn’t have. And you’ll be here, watching them slowly break each other down until they are nothing but shells of themselves.” It sighed, an almost wistful tone in its voice. “What you do with this information, I leave up to you. But don’t worry about it too much-- nothing you do can change the course that they are on now.”

Tails felt his legs give out from under him as Mephiles slowly let go of him. He spun around, landing on his rear as he tried to look for the crystalline creature.

But all that was left for him was open air.

He heard Sonic say something to him, but it was drowned out by the static that raged in his head. He felt cold, an icy void left inside of him that slowly continued to grow within him. He clenched his eyes shut, gritting his teeth as he found himself quickly overwhelmed by the clashing waves of fear and confusion, betrayal and dread. It was a horrid sensation, feeling such a raw sensation of hurt but being unable to do anything about it.

He felt the urge to run away, and for the first time in a very long time he found himself unable to withstand it. He kicked his twin tails into action, hearing Sonic’s calls grow louder and more desperate as he rose into the air and sped away, eventually fading away into the wind that whistled past his ears.

Shadow felt a groan escape his lips, a searing line of pain racing down his throat as he realized just how dry it was. His already closed eyelids clenched even tighter, seemingly unwilling to allow him to wake up. He shook his head, feeling the soft cushion of a pillow beneath him, beckoning him to stay down and just--

His eyes shot open, alarm ringing through his head at the unfamiliar sensations he was feeling. Another wave of confusion washed over him as he struggled to untangle himself from a blanket he hadn’t realized was draped over his conscious form.

Something was clearly wrong; his last memory was him just barely activating Chaos Control before that orb detonated...

“Hey-- Hey! You’re okay Shadow, calm down!” A light, nervous voice called to him.

He felt a set of hands quickly press onto his form, before pulling the blanket off him. He quickly leapt up to his feet, shocking the person speaking to him and causing them to fall back on their rear with a pained ‘Oof!’

He looked around, eyes quickly adjusting to the dim night sky. He was surrounded by densely packed trees, located not too far from a stone trail that branched off in different directions. He quickly recognized the place-- Soleanna Forest, the very place he intended to be.

A quiet groan caught his attention, ear twitching slightly as he spun his head to see who was next to him. His eyes widened as he saw Silver rubbing his back, eyes clenched shut as he hissed air through his teeth. He quickly knelt down, an apologetic look in his eyes as he helped the other to his feet.

“...Sorry.” He quietly muttered, looking down at the ground.

“It’s fine, really.” The time traveler shook his head, anxiously running his fingers through the quills on the back of his head. “It probably wasn’t the best idea for me to do that. A lot... a lot’s happened while you were out, but things have mostly calmed down for now.”

“...What are you doing here?”

“I was pretty worn out after flying everyone here, so the others asked me to look over you while you were down. No one was sure if we should move you... Amy ended up getting a blanket and pillow for you.”

The hybrid looked back down at the materials in question, now soiled from their time spent on the forest floor. He grimaced.

“...Something else I’ll have to thank her for later.”

“Well...” Silver trailed off, nervously laughing. “Don’t thank her too much. She kinda stole them from an abandoned store in New City.”

They both stood in pensive silence for a moment. Feeling another wave of anxious energy quickly surge, the grey hedgehog quickly opened his mouth to fill the void again.

“In case you’re wondering about the others--” He began, pausing for just a moment as Shadow’s eyes rose to meet his. “Rouge is currently accompanying Elise. Knuckles is with Amy by... where old Castle Town used to be. They’re trying to find the yellow Chaos Emerald. Sonic’s there too.”